I had just got home on Sunday after spending the afternoon at The Point in Ngaruawahia with my family and I was already thinking about race relations in New Zealand when I picked up the story.
It had been a beautiful day at the place where the Waipa River meets the Waikato, but I had been left with a feeling of unease after reading the plaque that commemorates the gift of that piece of land from the Ngaruawahia Regatta Association to its community.
Sitting there in the heart of Tainui on the site that had once been a pa of the second Maori King, Tawhiao, I listened as two Muslim women chattered a way in their mother tongue and wondered how the Ngaruawahia Regatta Association had come to own the land in the first place.
Brewing on these thoughts I read the news that Amnesty International had told the United Nations that New Zealand is continuing to discriminate against Maori through the Marine and Coastal Area act.
Reported first by Radio New Zealand the story outlined the submission made by Amnesty to the UN committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights meeting in Geneva.
In the submission Amnesty had said the Marine and Coastal Areas Act had been intended to replace discrimination against Maori in the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act. However it said the international group believed the new act was also discriminatory because the customary interests it promotes exclude the right to exclusive occupation, preventing Maori from excluding the public as freehold owners can.
Attorney General Hon Simon Power agreed with the view in the article, but justified the act as a balance between the rights of Maori and the general public.
And this is it, the issue that probably will be debated forever; what are the rights of tangata whenua versus the right of the general public?Obviously it is not the first time that issues concerning race relations in New Zealand have been discussed by an international organisation and yet so often you still hear people say that New Zealand is not a racist country.
Or even that Maori are racist for wanting separate rights to every other New Zealand citizens.But what would these people know? Have they ever really asked why Maori can’t simply let things go and move on? Have they ever wondered what the Maori word and understanding is for ownership?
It is these people who do not understand this country’s history. They simply want to move forward and say things like “we are one nation, why can’t we be one people”. Is it because they do not want to look back and acknowledge what happened?It got me thinking back to those days of the Seabed and Foreshore hikoi in 2004. Many of those who were critical of the hikoi and its purpose were so because they do not understand the debate.
I clearly remember the prevailing thought I had then because I still wonder about it now – why doesn’t anybody ever explain that most Maori would never think about charging New Zealand families to use the beach because this debate is not about that. It is not even about ownership; it is about kaitiakitanga, mana and rangatiratanga.It has been two days since Radio New Zealand ran the snap about the submission made by Amnesty and I have not seen any other report about it. Why has it not been discussed by more of our media? After all, doesn’t the issue strike at New Zealand’s very foundations – surely that must be important?
While I think Te Reo Maori should be taught in our schools, and good on Tim Groser for suggesting it, I also have an overwhelming belief that our country’s history should also be understood by all. Our history should also be a compulsory part of our schools and community. What better place to start than in the media?
Instead of wasting time and resources on debates like the Close Up one that featured Ansell vs Harawira or producing a show that is more concerned about ratings than informing people, we could actually be discussing race relations in this country – I mean, if you ask me, we desperately need to.
Because for me the old saying of: if you don’t know where you’ve been, you will never know where you are going, rings true.The Point at Ngaruawahia is a beautiful place to reflect, it is also a very important part of our history that has a lot of questions which need answering. What do you reckon?