Changes in the Social Context

Jennifer Lee '99 (English 27, Spring '97)

It is clearer now why Levine and Henare stress the importance of a pan-Maori movement rather than a tribally based movement. The fact of rampant poverty and unemployment, illiteracy and violence within the Maori community is probably the most compelling evidence there is. Desperation makes for separation, as tribal groups like O'Regan's Ngai Tahu who bolt for the cash at the expense of the whole Maori movement, will demonstrate. And that tribe is considerably wealthy. What happens when economic situations are so bad that the government can buy off individuals, or tribes, one by one? Then how will any of the rights that are promised under the Treaty of Waitangi ever be fulfilled? This is perhaps a question for the long-term survival of the Maori people, but there is also the short-term situation to consider. Who is going to provide for the estimated 150,000 Maori living in cities alienated from their tribal roots, if not the tribe, and if not the state? The solution to the problems of urban Maori especially, but also rural Maori must be tackled by the Maori themselves, looking out for one another and looking to make sure that the state does what it pledged to do in the Treaty.

n the Social Sector

The situation in terms of social services has improved considerably as time has passed. During the 1960s, after the notorious Hunn report was issued, Maori services suffered an enormous loss, as the report recommended that a policy of integration be adopted. The problem with the non-Maori specific programs in the Maori welfare that grew out of this policy was that they were insensitive to Maori cultural needs. Indeed, the prevailing idea behind this policy was that the Pakeha system was modern and sympathetic and universally applicable whereas the traditional Maori ways were backwards and inefficient. This attitude led to the dissolution of the Native Schools Division of the Department of Education, the extension of general social services to all Maori, and the repealing of the right of the Maori Land Court in deciding adoption cases.

This last action was especially difficult for the Maori to accept because their ideas on family are completely different from Pakeha ideas. The concepts of community-rearing and extended family are crucial in the upbringing of a Maori child, and unfortunately under law, they were no longer recognized during the integration period the 1960s. Like everything else in New Zealand, however, family services also underwent dramatic change in the following decade when the Maori ethnic resurgence occurred.

One of the most important developments during the 1970s had to do with language. Anderson referred to the vernacular language as essential component of the original nationalizing process in conjunction with capitalism and the printed word. For Anderson, the formation of a nation is contingent upon the existence of a common vernacular, and in the case of the Maori, it is te reo Maori. Ever since Pakeha schools wre introduced to the Maori people, English has been the language of school children and then of their children. The Maori language was in true danger of dying out. Then in 1985, a complaint was filed with the Waitangi Tribunal declaring that te reo Maori should be recognized as an official language in New Zealand. To this end, the Tribunal once again evoked the notion of taonga and set down favorable recommendations which the government subsequently accepted. Prior to the decision, a common complaint among Maori parents had been that "their efforts are nullified by the present education system and that their children lose their Maori fluency after six months or so at primary school where they are swamped with English and never hear so much as one word of Maori." Afterwards, however, the complaints were from the Pakeha:

Revelations in the past few days that four out of five South Auckland children can't read or write sufficiently to cope with secondary school have "horrified and astounded" the Education Review Office's Judith Aitken, but here is nothing remarkable about it when you consider one of the worst results of treaty worship is the elevation of Maori culture to the number one spot in schools. Teachers increasingly dismiss reading, writing and arithmetic as unimportant "pakeha" concepts, irrelevant to kids growing up in a Polynesian culture.

In addition, another important result of Maori ethnic moblization was the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act. This piece of legislation was designed so that the family is always consulted in the case of a child welfare or juvenile correction case to avoid taking those cases to court. There is no doubt that this act was designed with specific cultural needs in mind, however, there are still concerns with the act. To be effective, this required an environment in which the introduction of different processes, different types of spirit and underlying philosophies and different outcomes from those traditionally available in criminal justice contexts was made possible. That this has not yet fully occurred speaks to the power of traditional systems to resist reform. And it speaks to the power of resources. The failure to fund adequately iwi and cultural authorities as envisaged under the act has meant that the new system cannot fulfill its true potential. Much of what was intended has remained rhetoric.

The future looks bright for the same Maori activism which brought about these changes. Clearly, the state must respond to the Maori, as such events as the annual Waitangi Day Celebration have a tendency to attract much Maori wrath and much international media coverage as well. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the Maori and the Pakeha seem to play a zero-sum game - a gain for one is a loss for the other, and it is doubly so that activism in the name of the Treaty, in particular, will always be antagonistic. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Waitangi is inherently a binding mechanism, bringing together two different peoples who must learn to live together on equal ground, one way or another.

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