Why does Don Brash think it is so important that we are one people?

Hearing the use of the Maori language on mainstream media during Maori Language Week provoked Don Brash to again demand that we be "one people" united in our Britishness. No doubt there are many people who agree with him. But is the tide of history leading to a more diverse society and is Maori language and culture becoming part of all of our lives? 

Don Brash has been here before. In his (in)famous Orewa Rotary speech he argued that there was too much Maori "privilege" and everyone should be treated equally. As part of the Hobson's Pledge organisation he promoted the view that we are all "one people". Now he is telling us, via his Facebook page, that only one language - English - should be used by the mainstream media. At least he is consistent. 

In his most recent outburst, he made it clear that he had no problem with Maori being spoken by Maori for Maori. But, as a speaker of English he does not think he should have to listen to Maori because he does not understand what is being said. 

He felt compelled to express his latest concerns because during Maori Language Week Maori words were used by media outlets he watched and listened to. RNZ's Guyon Espiner came in for special attention because he insisted on speaking several sentences at a time in Maori on Morning Report. 

Brash says that he is not being racist when he talks of Maori privilege, one people or his preference for English. He just wants everyone to be treated equally - united by their Britishness. 

He is not alone in his view. Writing in the Otago Daily Times (24/11/17), Dave Witherow echoed Brash when he complained that broadcasters were "inflicting te reo on the entire population" (my emphasis). No doubt there were many people nodding in assent. 

The question worth asking is - why is it so important to Brash (and others) that we are one people? The answer can only be that Brash believes British language and culture is superior. Brash can live with Maori being Maori as long as they do not intrude into the space that he believes we should all have in common. 

What worries him is having to concede any part of that common ground to anyone elese. 

But that is what is happening. Ever since the Treaty of Waitangi became the basis for settling long standing greivances, we have seen Maori move out of the cul de sac Brash, apparently, would like to see them tucked away in. 

A powerful reason for this is that New Zealanders of other ethnic backgrounds discovered that in a globalising world the only thing that distinguishes them from other nations is the culture that is unique to the land they live in - Maori. That is why they sing the Maori version of the national athem with gusto, learn the haka, learn the language at school, value Maori brand names and support the use of the Maori language in everyday life. 

One day (this is a prediction) all New Zealanders, regardless of their ethnic background (mine is Scottish), are going to define themelves in part by the uniqueness Maori offer to them. 

In the meantime, many are ok, enthusiastic even, with this vision of the future. That is why, even if they do not understand every word that Guyon Espiner says on Morning Report, they want to hear the language so they can be familiar with it and they want to incorporate aspects of Maori culture into their lives. With each generation, it is likely that the influence of things Maori will grow. 

But not without argument. Brash and people who share his views, are going push to, in effect, "make New Zealand great again" by demanding that English language and culture dominate the main stage. Like Donald Trump they long for a romanticised simpler time when everyone lived under the hegemony of the colonising culture.

This is problematic thinking not only because it marginalises Maori culture but also because it has a material impact on the lives of Maori. The position of Maori in New Zealand has changed dramatically over the past thirty years but only people like Brash believe their life chances are equal to everyone else's. 

Behind the "one people" slogan sits a belief that Maori are at no disadvantage. Afterall, they enjoy the same opportunities and play by the same rules. It is, Brash suggests, patronising to think otherwise. The disturbing story told by prison, health, housing, education, employment and income statistics can, therefore, have nothing to do with the history of Maori as a colonised people. Any problems can be placed at the feet of Maori themselves.

Any attempt to address problems Maori face by doing things differently (e.g.Whanau Ora and guaranteed representation of local body Councils) is met by the criticism that it will lead to seperatism. It will not. But it might lead to what was actually promised in the Treaty of Waitangi which, as SIr Mason Durie has noted, means being able to live as Maori in New Zealand, be employed, healthy and housed and have the skills to be a global citizen.

The argument Brash advances reflects the view that colonised people should be grateful for the supposedly superior way of life they were given when Governor Hobson pronounced them citizens. He finds it aggravating (it makes him "utterly sick") that a culture he can't understand should make its way into his world. 

He is, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history. But we should not dismiss him as out of date and irrelevant. That was the mistake many Americans made as they cracked jokes about Donald Trump. Brash represents a view that has an audience. That is why his Orewa speech had such an impact. We should debate with him making it clear that hearing Maori on Morning Report is the future. And there is much more to come. 

NB. New Zealand has two official languages - Maori and Sign. English is a de facto official language because it is the language most used.