interesting reading

September 27th, 2007

Here’s an interesting article by Colin James entitled “Time to end cultural cringe towards Maori“. Well, just glancing at the headline, I thought, Oh no, just another redneck rant. But no, there does actually seem to have been some thought put into this, not just some kneejerk bullshit.

First up, I like his characterisation of New Zealand society as a settled, Pacific society rather than a European settler society.

We are becoming Pacific: no longer a settler society stranded in the Pacific but a settling society of the Pacific. A hundred years on from Ward and his nationalist-imperialist triumphalism on Dominion Day we are a distinct society, rooted in our geography.

He then takes issue with our lack of a real National Day and what he sees as misunderstandings of or myths about the Treaty. He makes some good points, but I don’t entirely agree with him. I like this bit, though:

The Treaty unites because its signing sanctioned the inextricable intermingling of two peoples: he iwi tahi tatou, we two peoples are one nation. It separates by lending formal credence to the claim that only those with Maori ancestry are people of the land and others cannot ever be, regardless of contribution and number of generations lived here. A country cannot be a nation unless all people feel fully part of it and that requires that all are people of this land. The very word “nation” implies nativity.

I have no problem with Maori taking their proper place as tangata whenua, but at the same time, it would be nice for people to recognise that for us Pakeha, New Zealand is just as much home as it is for Maori. Our families may not have lived their as long, but it is the only place we are capable of recognising as home. For me, Ireland and Scotland and England are foreign countries, just as foreign as China, just as for Maori the Cook Islands, Tahiti and Samoa are foreign countries. We’ve moved on from the settler society of the colonial period; we are settled. We are a Pacific people- of European origin, obviously, but still a Pacific people. The same applies to New Zealand’s various Asian and Pacific and other peoples- at least those who have been there long enough to settle.

Second, we lack strong symbols. Symbols don’t define us. But what are outsiders to make of a society which has no symbolic day to celebrate itself and its heritages, of which the titular head of state is in London, the flag features another country’s flag and the national anthem enjoins it to leave everything to God?

Well, I’m not convinced that we lack strong symbols, nor that we lack any symbolic day- we have both Waitangi and ANZAC Days- but there are some good points here. Especially about the flag. It’s an historical relic, a symbol of the colonial past, and it doesn’t bear a particularly huge relationship to the proud, independent, Pacific present. I would not object to the retention of the current flag for its historical context, but really, we have moved beyond the colonial days and mindset, and its long since time we updated our symbols to recognise that.

Slight tangent: I suppose I could contribute to this discussion. But I won’t.

But he continues:

That risks consigning us to the margins of sensible world society, truly an outlier, not just in the inescapabilities of geography and demography but in our conception and projection of ourselves. A fully settled society needs symbols that tell a confident story. That points us to the third challenge for the century ahead: to ensure that we remain independent in the world, not independent from the world – that we are outward-looking in an increasingly connected, globalised world, not inward-looking, self-obsessed and insular.

Excellent point. Post-colonial nation building can go in two ways: An insecure retreat into oneself, or a secure, confident opening to the world. Unfortunately I see both trends happening at the same time in New Zealand.

Anyway, interesting read, check it out.

There is a note at the end of the article, though, that reads:

This article is taken from an address given by Colin James to the “Concepts of Nationhood” symposium held in Wellington yesterday under the auspices of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Department of Internal Affairs.

This leaves me wondering when the Herald is going to catch up with the rest of us and move into the 21st century. Links, please? The Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Department of Internal Affairs both have websites, which are pretty easy to find through this portal (which doesn’t always work so well from China, but the NZ Herald is based in Auckland, and so should have no trouble), and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage website has this link right on its front page taking us to more information about the symposium at which Colin James gave the address that led to this article. And could this be Colin James’ website? And to think, it took me less than ten minutes to find all those sites….

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