"Thousands of people in this country left South Africa to get away from apartheid, only to find New Zealanders gagging to constitutionalise it."Featured comment
A New Zealand academic of Maori, Irish and French descent believes the pendulum has swung too far in redressing Maori grievances.
Dr Brian McDonnell, a senior lecturer in film studies at Massey University, says New Zealand’s “polite middle ground has become too fawning and the government too accommodating to the shrill cries of extremists”.
He told NBR ONLINE: “Maori people have certainly been marginalised in the past and there are specific wrongs to be righted, but it’s time to draw back to the centre.
“In an effort to be nice you can be seen as a soft touch, so who can blame Maori groups for asking for the stars when the government and the Auckland Council seem ready to grant power and funds while ignoring democratic processes.
“It has been the move to enshrine the Treaty of Waitangi in a written or more formalised constitution that I feel should be the 'bridge too far' for well-meaning, reasonable, moderate people, both Maori and Pakeha, to say 'enough'.
“I would certainly place myself among their number and for me it is not Maori bashing to say so.
“I am part-Maori and I want success for all Maori people, but I think dependence on a Treaty-burdened constitution will not help Maori, as its advocates claim.”
Dr McDonnell believes such a constitution will trap Maori in a “suffocating self-definition as in need of special pleading and a special status”.
“True equality comes with being treated as responsible adults who shoulder responsibilities as well as crying out for rights.
One standard of citizenship
“We must have one standard of citizenship for all and the over-arching identity in the progressive New Zealand state must be unified citizenship, not class divisions based on 1840 groupings.
“If a Maori and Pakeha marry and have children, why call the children Maori and not Pakeha?” he asks.
“I can whakapapa back to my Tuhoe forebears and am proud of that, but a huge part of my make-up is Irish, those first 'sufferers' of British colonising zeal.
“Children of mixed parentage should not increase the census count of one ethnicity at the expense of the others.
“I experience consternation when academic speakers at conferences parade their iwi affiliations but are mute on the subject of their European ancestry.
“Just because a Waldorf salad calls itself an apple doesn’t mean it actually is an apple!”
Exasperated and amused
Dr McDonnell says that working in a university has by turns “exasperated and amused me as one witnesses:
- The opening of anything bigger than a broom cupboard ceremonialised with a Maori blessing at dawn.
- The imposition of grace before meals with staff bent forward silently, hands clasped while someone prays, all this in a supposedly secular institution.”
“I enjoy the haka done well and have performed it myself while playing rugby overseas but, like Valerie Adams, I’m haka’d out.
“It's over exposed and overdone as with Maori welcomes, even to people who’ve been to the place often before.
“And I tire of the self-indulgent, meandering rants of self-aggrandising old men from any ethnic group, especially when few present know what they are talking about.”
Dr McDonnell says he bases his ideas on a strong wish for New Zealand to progress and prosper in the future “and to look forward, not back, to be united in what will be a trying world environment and for people to have equal opportunities to succeed and prosper”.
He believes personal advancement should be the result of merit and not the consequence of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
“Constitutionally, we cannot have two types of citizenship, two groups of citizens depending on your ethnic group – one made up of people like myself who whakapapa back to iwi and hapu and those who don’t.
“The order in which your ancestors arrived as migrants, settlers to this country cannot give you a constitutional status that is different from anyone else.
“To embed this in some permanent way is intolerable. People who are born here belong to the land equally.
“We are at a risky time in our nationhood and are like a boat being rowed by people looking fixedly towards the past.
“We need someone looking ahead to steer us where we need to go, not onto the rocks or off-course.”