By all means, let's do what the Swedish do!

Jamie Whyte thinks Sweden's example of how to approach indigenous peoples is a good one to follow here. That means he supports a separate Maori Parliament for New Zealand.

Jamie Whyte obviously has decided to double-down on his whole "Maori are the noblesse de race of New Zealand" schtick, because if nothing else it's gotten people to pay him some attention. And he's also obviously decided that (as many a blogger also has realised) there's a lot more traction to be gained from generating a feud with someone else (damn you Scott Yorke! Damn you to hell!!) than there is in just shouting your views into the empty air.

So he's penned an "open letter" to the country's Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, asking her why she's being so mean to him when all he is calling for is something that other nice, respectable places are pursuing with alacrity.

Now, sure, the fact that he included Fiji on his list perhaps is a little surprising, given that we usually associate that place with somewhat brutal military rule rather than good public policy modelling. But he's the politician who must know what he's doing, not me, so I'll pass over that choice in silence.

Because his open letter also notes with approval that:

The Swedish Immigration Minister, Erik Ullenhag, considers that “the fundamental grounds of racism are based on the belief that there are different races, and that belonging to a race makes people behave in a certain way, and that some races are better than others.” The government rejects these sentiments.”

 “The concept of race is included in around 20 Swedish laws, including criminal code, student financial aid laws, and credit information laws. On Thursday the Swedish government began an investigation into how to remove the concept from all legislation, as has been done in Austria and Finland.”

This is then used as a basis for Jamie Whyte's challenge to Dame Susan; "do you consider it 'grotesque' that these countries are taking steps to ensure that race has no place in their laws?" Which is, one assumes, meant to be a rhetorical question. Because how could anyone regard the home of Robyn as being "grotesque"?

Well, it should not come as a complete shock to you to learn that Whyte has got his example pretty much completely wrong. A hint as to why this might be is that he claims to have sourced his information about Sweden from the "News Letter of the", which is a bit like relying on The Daily Blog for learning about the benefits of free-trade agreements (and Boom! another blog-war kindled!!).

For it is true that Ullenhag is proposing to remove the term "race" from Swedish legislation. But this doesn't mean that Swedish law is going to become "the same" for everyone, in the way that Jamie Whyte claims Act wants for New Zealand:

After the coming election, ACT’s MPs will work to have all race-based laws repealed. The precise mechanism or process must be decided once a government is formed. But the particular process followed is not as important as the goal.

Here's a follow-up interview with Ullenhag, discussing what is intended by his Government for Sweden:

"First, we need to determine if we need something instead of race, a different expression," Ullenhag explained.

He said that in many laws the terminology should be an easy fix - it will still be illegal to discriminate against ethnic background or religion, for instance. The government also needs to make sure the new Swedish law proposals are in line with international human rights conventions.

"There are many international conventions that use the word race, so we have to make sure we don't miss anything. The problem is that the word 'race' is used differently in different countries," Ullenhag said.

Sweden must ensure that the decision complies with the EU Anti-Discrimination Directive, which demands that EU nations provide protection against discrimination on the grounds of "racial or ethnic origin".

And from that same article, here's a discussion of what happens in other European nations that Sweden is proposing to follow;

But Sweden's step, although seen by some as bold, is hardly ground-breaking. Austria has already "rejected the idea of separate races" and replaced the term race in legal texts with the term "ethnic affiliation", as is also done in Hungary. In French legislation references are made to "real or assumed" race, another method of watering down the term.

So far from creating "one law for all"  by entirely getting rid of all laws that are "race-based", these countries are instead simply revisiting and revising the way that they talk about "race" as a concept in their legislation. An equivalent in New Zealand would be to take s.3 of the Electoral Act 1993, which states:

Maori means a person of the Maori race of New Zealand; and includes any descendant of such a person

and reword it to read:

Maori means a member of an Iwi or Hapu; and includes any descendent of such a person.

That may (or may not) be a wise thing to do - but it certainly isn't the call that Jamie Whyte issued in Hamilton last week, which is what Dame Susan criticised him for.

Furthermore, if Jamie Whyte really wants to hold Sweden up as the model for New Zealand to follow, maybe he should take a closer look at how that country treats its own indigenous people.

Oh - what's that, you say? You didn't know that Sweden had an indigenous people?

Well, it does. The Sami, who have raised their Reindeer herds across the Nordic countries since the last ice age. They are Europe's sole recognised "indigenous people" at international law. So just how does Jamie Whyte's role-nation approach its equivalent to New Zealand's Maori?

Well, on 1 January 2011, the Swedish Constitution was amended to explicitly recognize Sami as a people. This followed a long-standing request of Sami to be distinguished from other minority groups in Sweden. Furthermore, in Sweden, 3,000 Sami practise reindeer herding, managing approximately 250,000 reindeer in areas scattered across the northern 40 per cent of the country.

Sweden's 1971 Reindeer Grazing Act then allows Sami to use land and water for themselves and for their stock. These reindeer-herding rights are exclusive and limited to those Sami who live within designated communities, called samebyar, and practise reindeer herding as their principal livelihood. And when it comes to accessing land for grazing purposes, Sweden's Supreme Court ruled in April 2011 that customary land use, showing due consideration to reindeer-herding practices, as opposed to Swedish property law, should determine the matter.

What is more, the Sami people have their own Parliament, the Samitinget, recognised by Swedish law and part-funded by Sweden (along with the other Nordic countries where the Sami live). While its powers are somewhat limited (it can't tax or legislate), it does have a bunch of administrative and financial responsibilities which are exercised in a special (dare one say it, seperate) way:

When it comes to State agencies, the norm is that the government has the right to stipulate directives for the operations, and the agency shall then act on the politics of the government. The government’s directives are formed through a special ordinance or instruction. Through their organization and objective, the Sami Parliament has a special status. The tasks of the Sami Parliament are written in an act, the Sami Parliament Act, and not in a government ordinance. The basic idea itself with a popularly elected body is that the Sami can independently take care of certain own concerns.

Just in case you're wondering who gets to vote for members of this Sami Parliament, here's a hint - it isn't all Swedish people. Instead, you have to be just like the Ancien Régime to take part in its elections.

So, for the second time today, a word of advice to my friends on the right of the political spectrum. Before putting out an "open letter" (or a media release, or other public document), make Google your friend. Because it really can save you from talking an awful load of garbage.