New Zealand's support for the Declaration of Indigenous Rights ends one debate for Maori. But it begins another, one which strikes at heart of what it means to belong to this country

Indigenous. It's a word that has been used a lot this week after Dr Pita Sharples popped up unexpectedly at the United Nations to offer New Zealand's endorsement of the Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples. And it's a word that I think must become key to our identity politics in the next generation.

For the Maori Party, April 20 was a special day when some fundamental beliefs – beliefs that are shared by a distinct minority of Pakeha, I suspect – were validated on the world stage.

On one level the Declaration is mom and apple pie. Its essential message is that discrimination and racism are bad, as is inequality, forced migration and genocide.

But in its specifics lie the spark for endless division.

  • Article 4 promises "the right to autonomy or self-government"
  • Article 18 offers the right to "indigenous decision-making institutions"
  • Article 21 commits, without limit, to "improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of housing, education, employment, vocational training..."
  • Article 23 guarantees the right to administer health, housing and other services "through their own institutions"
  • Article 26 says indigenous peoples "have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired"

You get my drift. This is the controversial heart of every race relations issue in history. Forget access to the beaches, this is the whole territorial enchilada.

The 'get out of jail' card is Article 46, which says nothing in the Declaration amounts to dismembering or impairing the integrity and unity of a sovereign state. In other words, this is a blueprint for separate self government... but it also isn't.

It's a fascinating exercise in reconciling two incompatible ideas in one document. Of course, New Zealand added its own coda protecting its own consitutional framework. So we're doubly covered.

The Prime Minister explained it all away by describing the Declaration as aspirational, which seems an odd word to choose. I'm assuming he doesn't aspire to Maori self government, nor does he assume that it is the hope a majority of New Zealanders. So I can only take it that he defines 'aspirational' as, "over my dead body".

Is this all so much theatre, then? Politically, pretty much. Constitutionally however, it raises some interesting questions, the most fascinating of which to me is, who's indigenous?

Interestingly, the United Nations has decided it can't define the word. There are too many cultural versions around the world to fit under a single definition. The closest it has got is one offered by Jose R. Martinez Cobo, the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities:

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system." (It goes on even longer, but that's the guts of it).

For me, that's a terribly 20th century definition, and one that's not sustainable, if not now, then by the end of this century or soon after. Colonisation cannot stand as the pivotal point of history forever; for one, Euro-centric culture will not dominate forever, and for another, how do you handle unjust counter-colonisations, as in Zimbabwe? And what about future colonisations, be they by migrants, money or culture? Aren't we somewhat colonised by American culture even now?

And I don't think the simpler definition of "first peoples" can last much longer either, as second peoples and others develop attachments to lands and states that date back generations and even centuries.

New indigenous peoples are appearing that are also deserving of the word.

The simple fact of time means that questions of indigeneity are changing and will continue to change. In this country, that means the evolution of an indigenous Pakeha culture, one that is "distinct" and which some will be "determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations".

I'd argue you can see it here already. I can see it in myself.

I'm patient. We've got historical grievances to clear up before we go muddying the indigenous waters. But a tipping point is inevitable, when a Pakeha New Zealander, who is not of Europe or any northern hemisphere motherland, demands recognition under that Declaration.

I don't see that as something to fear or a reason for new race tensions. I suspect it could be useful as we figure out post-Waitangi Tribunal race relations.

To use the local language, Maori New Zealanders will always remain tangata whenua in this land, and there will be a status that goes with that. But Pakeha New Zealanders, of which I am one, are also unique to this land and we have to work out how to recognise that.

Do I need affirmation under a UN declaration? No? Do I and mine need the focused attention of government to overcome by poor social statistics? No. I am not a minority, neither do I carry the burden of historical crimes. My rights are respected and the law has not and does not discriminate against me.

But I am indigenous to this country. I am from here and nowhere else. I belong here. I have historical continuity in these few isles. My life has been spent trying to figure out the trick of standing upright here, and I'm sure will continue to be.

When we come to debate the rights and responsibilities of indigenous people in this country, that's a simple fact we're going to have to face one day.

I'll write more on this, I'm sure. But in finishing I'll add that I hope it's a fact we start to face in this year's constitutional review.

 

Comments (22)

by Ewan Morris on April 23, 2010
Ewan Morris

Tim, there are many points I could take up in this post, but I'll limit myself to two.

First, there is nothing incompatible between recognising the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy or self-government and maintaining the integrity of sovereign states. There are many ways in which autonomy or self-government can be recognised within states. Some form of regional self-government is one (for example, the predominantly Inuit region of Nunavut within Canada), although not one that is very applicable to Aotearoa New Zealand, except perhaps in Te Urewera. But autonomy or self-government can also be recognised by allowing or facilitating the creation of institutions that give expression to indigenous self-determination and that sit alongside the institutions of the majority culture - I'm thinking of things like kohanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori and wananga; Maori heath providers; iwi and hapu authorities; and so on.

Second, your main concern seems to be that recognition of indigenous status for Maori devalues your position as someone who is "from here and nowhere else". But why should it do so? You accept that "Maori New Zealanders will always remain tangata whenua in this land, and there will be a status that goes with that." So why do you feel, if I understand you correctly, that recognising Maori as the indigenous people of this land diminishes your own status? Isn't "indigenous" just a latinate version of "tangata whenua"? There is nothing in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that questions your right to be here or your deep connection to this land. It simply recognises that Maori, as tangata whenua, have some rights that are distinct from (not superior to) yours and mine as Pakeha.

by Tim Watkin on April 23, 2010
Tim Watkin

Ewan, our disagreement over your first point is largely semantic, I think. The sort of thing you're describing
I would call self-determination. But self government seems to go further, certainly in the language of the declaration; look at article 26.

And as I think you're suggesting, Canada has the advantage of vast land mass and traditional communities in remote locations (not exclusively, I know, but in large part). That model doesn't fit New Zealand. In the US there are first nation states within the US, but you get into the 'reservation' model that I don't think would appeal to many New Zealanders, and again would be difficult because we're a small country.

Having said that, I agree that you can have self-government within a state. My post didn't pass judgment on that, just on the tension within the Declaration, which, as I say, in Article 26, for example, seems to go further than selg government within a state.

As to your second point, I don't feel Maori being recognised as indigenous diminishes my place here. Indeed, they are indigenous with or without some UN declaration. I thought my line about their being tangata whenua and the later pars would have made that clear. I was pretty blatant in saying that Maori will always have a distinct status - you even quote me back.

My argument was that Maori will not be able to claim unique ownership of that word forever... that the indigenous vs. tauiwi distinction is fading... that Pakeha are, or will, be an indigenous people as well... and that will change our race relations conversation, perhaps sooner rather than later.

by stuart munro on April 23, 2010
stuart munro

@ Ewan, whenever there are parallel political institutions, they compete for power, and create public injustices. It is in principle possible to have amicable and cooperating separate representation - but then it is also possible in principle to have honest, credible and hard-working governments. Haven't seen that yet.

I'm a fifth generation New Zealander, now living abroad, and one of the many benefits of this is not being called a racist three times a week by some self-serving part-Maori demagogue.

Let us see what is made of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by all means. But don't hold your breath waiting for anything good to come of it.

by Joe Lane on April 23, 2010
Joe Lane

Ewen,  you mentioned Nunavut - I strongly advise you to check it out on Google, look for articles by Hodgkins or Widdowson.  The place is a disaster, with almost no employment except for the 10 % looking after the other 90 %, no industry (the last mine closed down in 2002) and no significant production, not even trapping for skins.  All the fondest dreams of many people over many years have been dashed against the mountains of reality. 

But many in the Indigenous industry and in academia have done quite well out of it, thank you.  Same over here in Oz. 

Meanwhile, 25,000 Indigfenous people in Australia, and about 55,000 in Canada, have graduated from universities.  Of course, they are mostly in the cities, where land rights is not on the agenda, but where working for a living is.  They are the heroes.

by william blake on April 23, 2010
william blake

Hi Tim,

I suspect that you threw in the " mom and apple pie" phrase just to back up the cultural colonisation concept.

It may or may not be helpful to apply terms used by ornithologists here.

endemic: native to a  specific place. (Kakapo etc.)

indigenous: native to a particular place but occuring naturally elsewhere. (Pukeko etc.)

introduced: brought about by human intervention, especially when an environment has changed to the extent that endemic species cannot survive. (Sparrow etc.)

I suspect we are all heading to being Pukeko as the Kakapo is seriously endangered and who wants to be a sparrow?

Stewart: just in case it's only happened twice this week, you are a bloody racist.

 

 

by Ian MacKay on April 24, 2010
Ian MacKay

It does seem that over time we will all be such a mixture of heritage that most people will be all indigenous people, by virtue of intermarriage. In 4 more generations the colour will probably sort of creamy brown and everyone will claim rights. I'm only being partly facetious.

by Chris de Lisle on April 25, 2010
Chris de Lisle

You're suggesting that NZ will end up something like Britain? Where Celtic peoples were there first, but no one can really dispute that the English belong there also?

If I've understood, I think this is right. Certainly it's getting harder and harder to see where else Pakeha belong but in New Zealand. Because of the ways England has changed and because of the ways this country has changed us, going back to England is no longer realistic.

by Rosa on April 25, 2010
Rosa

I think it helps to be clear about the difference between "ethnicity" and "race"--your quote from the UN Special Rapporteur speaks of ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.

Basically, those markers of ethnicity are the very things that everybody takes with them when they move to a new location--be it as dominant "colonizers" or non-dominant "immigrants".  In New Zealand, as in anywhere else in the world, the process of time has created hybrid cultural patterns, social insitutions and legal systems that are unique to that location.

But that doesn't annul what was there in the first place.

For an interesting look at how race and ethnicity are perceived around the world, you should go to the American Anthropological Association's interactive webpage here:

http://www.understandingrace.org/lived/global_census.html

On the same website, the AAA's Response to OMB Directive 15 (which established what race/ethnicity questions would be asked in the 2000 Census) is also worth reading.

by Tim Watkin on April 25, 2010
Tim Watkin

@William, yeah I was being playful with the mom and apple pie comment... gotta weave some mischief in when you're making big, fat serious points! I'm assuming you're just winding up Stuart. Be nice!

@ Ian. My family is an example of that. I consider myself indigenous of this country – fourth generation on both sides. But my son is 1/32nd Maori and so has his own tribal affiliations, which my wife and I intend to ensure is an important part of who he is.

@ Chris. Yeees. I'm wary of comparisons to other countries. In the UK might get into arguments about the Celts and the Picts and the Angles and on and on. But the principle is much the same. And the core point is that when I go back to Wales or Cornwall or Scotland, I feel the call of my Celtic roots... but it ain't home.

@Rosa. Interesting link. I'm uncertain though. I thought race was a pretty dead concept. I use the phrase race relations because it's the lingua france, but I really mean ethnicity.

 

by william blake on April 26, 2010
william blake

to continue the bird brained thinking and to address the question of where else do Pakeha belong; if we see Pakeha as an introduced species that conform to a heavily adapted eco system (colonisation of land and resource,deforestation,farming,capitalism etc.) and Maori as the indiginous species whos habitat has been eroded to the point of collapse. Then to have some formal acknowledgment of the rights of the indiginous people can work as a caveat on the continuation of a colonising culture.

Pakeha is the dominant culture and have determined the eco system in New Zealand. To share this system fairly and wisely does not mean we do not belong but probably the exact opposite.

by stuart munro on April 27, 2010
stuart munro

@ William - sharing fairly and wisely has proven to be an insuperable problem for all races and nations. It is a problem of fearful symmetry.

Creating a secondary layer of corrupt politicians will do little to improve outcomes for New Zealanders of any ethnicity. Nor should it be supposed that very many Pakeha have benefitted from the ideologies that have controlled NZ for the last few decades. But we have good records. The families that dispossessed Maori are readily identifiable - & half their descendants are in politics.

Given that you are the kind of fool who offends strangers by calling them racists without evidence - ie that you are a victim of your own prejudices - why do you suppose that your vision is broad enough to add anything of merit to the discussion?

by william blake on April 27, 2010
william blake

"I'm a fifth generation New Zealander, now living abroad, and one of the many benefits of this is not being called a racist three times a week by some self-serving part-Maori demagogue."

This is all the evidence I based my supposition on Stuart; shall we unpack it?

One of the things I enjoy about Maori / Pakeha relationships is the robust nature of the dialogue, the challenge and the willingness to re-engage on issues repeatedly. Something that King, Belich, Binney and Salmond all comment on; the resilience of Maori in the teeth of the colonialists.

No I won't "be holding my breath" waiting for the good to come from the Decleration of the Rights of Indiginous Peoples given the glacial pace the good came from the Treaty of Waitangi but I wont be cynically talking it down or writing it off either.

At the very least we can stop being ashamed at the opposition to the Decleration on the international stage.

by stuart munro on April 28, 2010
stuart munro

@ William - let us by all means unpack it, you trivial and worthless bigot. You disgrace the memory of a great poet and a remarkably moral human being - and it seems that you are too ashamed, or too insincere to use your own name. Perhaps both.

I hope you have something better to offer than the usual post-colonial claptrap - but I will be very surprised, given the quality of your posts to date, if you can put one idea in front of another. Go ahead and surprise me. Surprise us all.

by Tim Watkin on April 28, 2010
Tim Watkin

Alright Stuart and William, cool it. William, your original dig had some wit, so I let it slide. But please don't escalate it. And Stuart, you go too far in your last comment... Play the ball please! I'm sure you're both capable of disagreeing without attacking each other's character.

by stuart munro on April 28, 2010
stuart munro

@ Tim - WB set out to insult me, he has neither apologised nor retreated from his slander.

The default use of racism as the leading intellectual insult in NZ is not an ornament to our society. It smacks of laziness and intellectual dishonesty, because of the impossibility of proving a negative.

'William' perhaps needs to learn that other people can play ad hominem too, and the resulting mudslinging is never pretty.

Until he apologises, (and post modernists & post colonialists are incapable of conceiving that they might have erred) there will be between us contempt, slight regard, and defiance.

by william blake on April 28, 2010
william blake

yep Tim enough said, this not kiwiblog.

by stuart munro on April 28, 2010
stuart munro

So once again the Pomo or Postco slithers off the hook... without validating his assertions.

[email protected] 'William', if you're competent to discuss it.

by william blake on April 28, 2010
william blake

OK Stuart you are only 'part racist'.

by stuart munro on April 28, 2010
stuart munro

'William', you are all blackguard, and no substance.

by Tim Watkin on April 28, 2010
Tim Watkin

Last warning guys. You've both made your points. Another comment like those and I will take you off-site. I don't care if there's all the contempt of Rome between you, we don't do this on Pundit. Get over it or take it elsewhere.

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