Waitangi: it’s time to break the leash

WARNING: This is not a positive feel-good Waitangi Day column. I begin as did Paulo Freire:

To the oppressed,
and to those who suffer with them,
and fight at their side.

This image appeared in the NZ Herald newspaper on Waitangi Day:white power nz heraldLike others, I hope the use of a White Power image was inadvertent, though the gleeful tone suggests an editor and staff were drunk on the white privilege they are so at pains to ignore. Supporters of the NZ Herald’s stance again lamented that Māori protest ruined a perfectly good celebration of what a great place New Zealand is.

I discovered my Māoritanga at the end of college. In the first year of varsity, I began a journey that immersed me in te Ao Māori, and my experience of that is now a rich mix of the language, the culture and belonging. And ever since that journey began for me, I have borne the burden of every Māori who does not want to be a good Pākehā; I have been subject to comments from Pākehā who feel the oppressor’s right by conquest to judge Māori people. My life has been replete with the Pākehā mythology that Māori are bludgers, criminals, stone age, luddites, abusers, radicals, fraudsters, liars; failures, one and all.

Initially I thought it was growing up in Christchurch, but I have found geography is unimportant. The views of Tauranga people about Merivale, Tauranga correlate exactly with the views of people in Merivale, Christchurch about Aranui. Māori are the risk and danger in our wider society. The New Zealand Wars never ended with the surrender of Tawhiao; we are still at war with an oppressive society that wants us to kneel before their systems, to give up our identity and to serve as slaves in the machine of profit.

I am sick of excusing people. People are not ignorant in their comments; people are racist. Māori are subject to Pākehā hate every 6 February because we remind them that colonisation is incomplete. The NZ Herald’s desire to ignore Māori (the “1 or 2 individuals who hijack the day” – @ShayneCurrieNZH) is not an outlier; it is representative of the middle of the road views in the country.

More seriously for me, the decreasing numbers of protestors at Waitangi is not because we are making progress on settling past grievances and building an honest nation that honours all people. The decreasing numbers are because the colonisation project is succeeding, particularly as Māori leadership is compromised and paid off with flash positions and comfortable lives. Our marae and our language are slowly dying as they play with the baubles of power.

We are in the endgame in the war for our sovereignty, and we are losing.

I believe our only hope of having a language, a culture and and a place to pass on to our mokopuna is to eschew our failed leaders and our desire for comfort and return to first principles or revolution.

We are afraid to be free

“Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom openly… They give their doubts and misgivings an air of profound sobriety…. But they confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo…” (Friere 2000; 36)

We are a colonised people. We have been taught that our systems and ways of life failed and we fear going back to them. We need to be decolonised more urgently today than ever before, and we cannot trust even our own leadership because all they are is the brown face of a colonising system. Never be confused about where the loyalties lie for a Māori who arrives in a Crown car. True freedom will destroy the status quo; you know you are exploring true freedom when the Police turn up at your house and it is bugged by the SIS.

Our task is not to compromise; it is to free ourselves

“They will not gain this liberation by chance but… through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it.” (Friere 2000; 45)

Friere talks about the problem of ‘adhesion’ of the oppressed to the oppressor. In Tauranga Moana, we have adhered to the oppressor through the Church, through business and profit, through co-operating with the councils in development of land, through having most of our tamariki in mainstream schools, through giving up our sovereignty for a treaty settlement. At each point we have hoped for liberation, but again we have mistaken the status quo for freedom. There is no life for us in these compromises. We need to revolt against these processes and systems. To refuse compromise and to build an alternative.

The Crown will not free us; we will free ourselves and the Crown

“The oppressors… cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either themselves or the oppressed. Only the power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.” (Friere 2000; 44)

It is the urgent task of building our own lives and our own society that will actually save those who would seek to oppress us. The Crown must play out the systems it has put in place, even as it destroys wider society around it. The inequality in incomes, the centralisation of resources and the destruction of the environment speak to the tunnel vision that will actually destroy wider NZ society in time; these are the things violent revolution are built on. Māori can provide an alternative to violent revolution by living lives in their own society that demonstrate another way of life that is in relationship with each other and our environment, and that instructs and welcomes others into an alternative world.

But we are not doing any of these urgent tasks. Māori are like a dog on a leash, barking and growling. We are full of potential power to change reality; but we are emasculated because we don’t understand the enemy is not the dog-whistlers who infuriate us, it is the leash.

Break the leash.

At the next Waitangi Day, let the politicians, media and onlookers fear more than a few fish, a blob of dirt or a bit of jostling. Let them hear words of revolution.


Paulo Friere Pedagogy of the Oppressed Contiuum: New York, 2000.

6 thoughts on “Waitangi: it’s time to break the leash

  1. At first I thought the Herald pic was a parody. For real? I think that incites race hatred.
    The “confiscation” of Patricia Grace’s land is a good illustration of your point. I remember in the 80s as a trainee journalist being educated by Manu Paul about colonial confiscations of land (contemporary orchards in Hawkes Bay and on the East Coast) and the ongoing “legal” seizure of Maori lands by district councils to make town reserves up into the 1980s. District and city councils justified it by saying the reserve lands were for “all” New Zealanders and that Maori weren’t doing anything with the land anyway. Apparently it was happening all over. Such an eye opener and a very tangible way to understand the bedrock of institutional racism – the seizure of land wealth.

  2. Excellent article. I don’t really have anything to add – I just wanted to say I agree, and think this is awesome, and that you’ve done a great job. Keep up the good work, and thanks for writing this!

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