Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An Opinion Piece By - Brian Turner - Mainland Poet

  by Brian Turner 
 Article in New Zealand 'Listener' 
A response to the recent open letter from Ranginui Walker.

"No one would doubt or challenge Ranginui Walker when he asserts that his sense of attachment and belonging to the place where he was born and brought up runs deep.
But when he says, “I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday”, he very clearly denies a similar depth of feeling to almost everyone else.
Are Maori Feelings
More Authentic?
Walker’s empathy with his surroundings, he implies, is more authentic and valuable than that of, say, farming families of the Maniototo, or the people of the Waitaki Valley, or the townsfolk of Dunedin or Timaru. In New Zealand today, there is a relentless presumptuousness about the way in which non-Maori feelings for land and water are dismissed as less heartfelt, less sensitive, less spiritual. In this regard, Walker, and those like him, leads the way.
Am I Indigenous?
Living here, one often hears tiresome, incessant talk from Maori, and non-Maori urban-liberals especially, saying that if you are of European extraction, you can’t possibly truly belong here, in the way that those with even the most attenuated Maori ancestry do.
I vehemently disagree. Try telling that to the people I live among, and others, who go back generations here. I am indigenous.
Stop The Bigotry
I say, stop the bigotry whereby one culture or another claims greater moral virtue and/or spiritual sensitivity. Recognise the worth and strength – and the reality – of hybridisation.
Isn’t this what just about all of us are, hybrids. This will continue to the point whereby, in less than 50 years’ time, it’s likely that more than half of the population will be able to claim some Maori connection. Then what?
Who Is A Minority?
Who is a “minority”? Recently, a friend drew my attention to a marvellous address by Susan Sontag, when she received the Friedenspreis (Peace Prize) from the German Book Trade Association. At one point, she said:
“A good deal of my life has been spent trying to demystify ways of thinking that polarise or oppose. Translated into politics, this means supporting whatever is pluralistic and secular.”
I hope that Ranginui Walker and anyone like him might reflect on that, in this country where a sanctimonious culture of reprimand is rife.
To Disagree With Maori
Is To Be Racist?
I have found that, for many years now, to disagree or take issue with almost anything that Maori assert guarantees that you will be attacked and deemed anti-Maori, Eurocentric and racist, among other pejoratives. Some of those attackers, oddly, include a number of strange birds, predominantly of European ancestry, who insist that, in order to live here, we have to atone for the sins of some of our fathers and be prepared to keep on atoning until Maori say “enough”. All nations, all societies, all families, all individuals know and accept that their pasts are murky, that, at one time or another, they have transgressed, often badly. So, contrary to the remorseless line that we are fed by various, mainly government agencies, it is not ignorance of the past that makes most people unwilling to forever make amends, it is a belief that little of benefit is to be gained from it.
Shouldn’t Assistance
Be Based On Need, Not Race?
We all know that many people here live in, by New Zealand standards, impoverished circumstances. Would it not be best to provide assistance on the basis of need, and remove the racial component? For years now, I have heard people express resentment that goes something like this:
If Maori are down and out, the cry is, “It’s Pakehas’ fault.” If non-Maori are in strife, “It’s their fault.”
It might be better if, instead of alleging that New Zealand’s social problems are racially based, we accepted that they are, principally and more accurately, related to ideology and the changes wrought as a consequence since the early 1980s. (Rogernomics)
All Races Can Be Racist
I hasten to add, before the ranting begins, that I am not saying there isn’t racism in New Zealand. Human beings are often racist, and to varying degrees, wherever one goes.
In this country, there are racist Maori and racist non-Maori. There is also a high degree of preciousness and a scary, sometimes farcical eagerness to take umbrage.
With respect to the issue as to who owns the foreshores and seabed around New Zealand, Walker in effect says that although he and his tribes folk are happy, in the main, to share the seas and beaches with other recreational users, he reserves the right to exercise control. He expects the rest of us to defer, which is patronising and unacceptable.
Tribal Arrogance
He often seems to advocate a kind of latter-day tribalism, a society based upon a wish to replicate conditions and a world that no longer exists. And what Walker is really saying is:
“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.”
It’s cake-and-eat-it country. He reminds me, again, of how proselytisers, when referring to rights conferred by article three of the Treaty, seldom acknowledge their corresponding responsibilities.
Maori Signed Up To Be British
Whether anyone likes it or not, they signed up 163 years ago to being British (read New Zealand) citizens. As such, that means a responsibility to work to improve and safeguard this society for the social, cultural and economic benefit of all.
I can’t see any point in us reverting to a system that boils down to pitting tribe against tribe. To me, the seas and rivers and coastlines and lakes are part of our common heritage. It is time for us to confirm that recreational activities involving access to those parts of the outdoors are the customary right of all. That is what the overwhelming majority of people who appreciate them want, and expect their democratically elected government to protect.
Not Only Maori
Have Customary Rights
A great many people would be happy to define a customary right as a practice that citizens who live here are accustomed to engaging in. Walker insists on ownership, but it would be good to reconsider what it is that we have a right to own. Our own property and personal possessions, but little else, in my view. Ownership of things we have created or, possibly, had a hand in making: but who among us made birds, fish, native forests, land and water? Give permits to use, in some cases, but more than that, no.
The Vision To Say “Our”
And when it comes to recreational use, make the same regulations apply to all.
The date of arrival of one’s ancestors (or, often, a selected few of them) should be no excuse for the awarding of preferential rights. Walker writes repeatedly “my coastline”, “my shores”. This country will remain divided until he, and others like him, acquires the vision to say “our”, until he will say that not only “some … Pakeha intermarried” with him, but “some Maori intermarried” with Pakeha. "
           -------- Brian Turner


Ben said...

Not an easy peace regarding language and content. Can Brian Turner still cross the street in peace? I hope so. Sadly enough cultural sensitivities still are everywhere. See for instance the “Zwarte Piet” discussion in the Netherlands and the slave trade past of the West-Indische Compagnie that suddenly popped up. This opinion peace gives me more insight in the New Zealand cultural and political situation. Thanks.

Alden Smith said...

Brian Turner is one of my favourite New Zealand Poets. He has a deep, deep love of this country, especially Central Otago where he lives, and this is very evident in his poetry.
I guess his voice is a bit of a rallying point for Pakeha people like myself who also love Aotearoa New Zealand - especially Northland where I now live and the Canterbury / Banks Peninsula area where I was bought up and where I had those important formative experiences.
I agree with him that you don't have to be Maori to have a deep love and spiritual attachment to the natural environment here in New Zealand.
Ranginui Walkers attitudes are understandable because he brings the deep, informed, intelligent and educated understanding of a Maori academic who understands fully and deeply the impact colonisation has had on Maori language and culture - and there has been much injustice. But in terms of the issue of spirituality,the fact is this - the landscape of any country has an impact on the psyche of its inhabitants and for one group to claim exclusive rights to those sentiments is factually wrong in my opinion.

Alden Smith said...

I don't think Brian Turner is in any danger at all and I am sure he can "Cross the street in peace".
You write "Sadly enough cultural sensitivities still are everywhere" - and you are correct, there certainly are. I guess they will always be around so long as the hurts of the past are passed from one generation to another or as in the Middle East many of these issues directly affect peoples every day lives.
One of the fortunate things concerning colonisation in New Zealand is that those concerned (the colonisers) were aware of the bad deal indigenous peoples in other colonies had had to contend with and how negative the effects of that colonisation - This is why "The Treaty of Waitangi", a treaty enshrined in British Law was instituted. It was hoped that this treaty that gives guarantees to Maori would help to mitigate some of the more negative aspects of colonisation. Of course land was still taken and in many ways Maori were treated unjustly - but this Treaty has meant that in contemporary times the Treaty of Waitangi is a legal framework in which redress to historical injustice can be remedied in the courts and backed by the law of the land.
In the 1990s a special "Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal" was instituted and Maori tribes bought cases of injustice to be heard by the Tribunal. Many Maori tribes has 'settled' disputes regarding land seizures and have been compensated many millions of dollars for historical injustices - The whole process has not been without controversy but the tribunal has been a legal way of redress for past wrongs and has worked pretty well. I personally think that Democracy, non segregation (as opposed to racial segregation in South Africa and the USA), The Treaty of Waitangi and intermarriage are the ways that huge issues have been able to have been addressed.
Big problems remain, and there is still racism, but at least Maori and Pakeha are talking to each other in this country.