Tauranga: the racism friendly city

In the last week, my friend and local notable Pat Spellman has kicked off a campaign with Moana FM to make Tauranga a te reo Māori friendly city. As Pat, notes there are three simple goals in Tauranga Te Reo: embracing diversity; improving knowledge of basic te reo Māori; and bringing the city together. The Bay of Plenty Times has given Pat plenty of column centimetres and have been, if not supportive, at least interested in debating the idea.

Cue hate fest.

It was, of course predictable there would be a hate fest. The leading contender for hater of the year wrote into the Sunlive all the way from Wanganui (I have it on good authority that this a place that is somewhere near Whanganui). It’s worth reading in full:

I read Pat Spellman from Tauranga wants Tauranga City to be the first to have signs in public places both in English and Te Reo Maori.
Before he does that, why don’t we also have Mandarin and Gaelic language included as well, as Chinese and Celts were here long before Maori arrived. The Celts (Scots), who were here first were the indigenous people of New Zealand, and one of their languages is Gaelic.
Maori were never a race of people, they were a group of coloured people that were abandoned here as slaves, no women, by a Chinese pirate/trader Admiral Zheng He.
A great number of these people were sick with chest complaints, TB suspected. The Scottish people who were already living here took them under their wing and nursed them back to health.
As none knew where they came from, the Scots called them “’Populi de mare’ (Latin for people from the sea). This became simple ‘mare’, then ended up as Maori and has presently reverted to its original pronunciation.
Ian Brougham, Wanganui

Ian is obviously an idiot. His letter is at the extreme end of the hate fest. However it demonstrates in bold caricature three important priniciples that are racist, that are about the use of power, and are the hallmark of the Pākehā attitude to Māori in Tauranga Moana (to my Pasifika, Sikh, Indian and other brown brothers and sisters, don’t be sad, they feel the same about you too).

The Orientalist Gaze

“Orientals were rarely seen or looked at; they were seen through, analyzed not as citizens, or even people, but as problems to besolved or confined” (Edward Said, Orientalism, 1978, p. 207)

Ian’s letter starts from a presumption that he is, and whoever his informed sources are, quite within his rights to analyse and judge Māori as would a scientist regard a virus; it’s a problem, perhaps interesting, but ultimately needing to be confined or destroyed. Ian does not see Māori as people; he sees us as a threat.

Within our public, political and media discourse in Tauranga Moana, a more nuanced but similar process is in place. Whether it be the variety of formal committees that the council and others have with Māori, or commentators on Māori issues, or Māori commentators themselves, or any of the other myriad interactions; Māori are not partners, a related party, or fellow residents. Māori present a range of problems that require resolution.

For example, in land development, Māori are consulted because that is a required legal step. The appropriate resources and pressure are applied to move from that step to the next one. Māori are a problem to be resolved in land development. In council events, Māori are invited to open with a karakia and do kapa haka. This ensures the problem of how to appropriately acknowledge iwi is resolved. Māori are included to avoid problems.

Tauranga Te Reo is being treated in the same way. Consider the editorial from the Bay of Plenty Times after Ian’s letter: the editor is the scientist, with no “firm view,” open to all opinions, because in that process of dispassionate consideration of all views he will find the solution to this problem that has presented to the Pākehā community.

Controlling the Voice

Ian, in his blunt fashion, removes the voice from Māori: they had no language except that gifted to them by the Scots; they had no past, except that of their slavemasters.

Controlling the Māori voice in Tauranga is an art form.

The city council has an advisory body of kuia and kaumātua. They are regularly consulted, but have no authority to direct the council. More important is that in establishing the committee, the council sought kuia and kaumātua, thereby excluding younger Māori from having a role in governance of our city. Our kuia and kaumātua carry wisdom; it is nonsensical to expect them to have the energy and space to engage, to fight, and to drive change in the rapid and changing landscape of local government. This is particularly the case when the council sets the agenda for the discussions. Clearly Māori are hear to listen first, not use our voice.

In the mainstream media, I cannot remember when we last had a reporter of Māori descent, let alone one who was immersed in their taha Māori. There are reporters on Māori issues; but the Māori voice is not brought into the ivory towers as a voice with power. Tommy Kapai has done a stirling job, but he has done that through years of building a reputation as a safe person in the Pākehā community. At times I have seen Tommy speak truth to power in his columns; but I know he has to surround said columns with plenty of motherhood and apple pie. The Māori voice must be a safe voice if it is to get in the media.

A population rather than partners

Finally, we are always regarded as one pressure group, one group to consult, one part of the population in all of our interactions in Tauranga. Māori are never talked about as civic partners because of our rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Woe betide the fool who knows what was in the articles and the import for the role Māori should have in decision making at all levels in our city.

You see Tauranga Te Reo should not need to be a campaign. Te reo Māori is a tāonga under Article Two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. So public signage in te reo Māori and the use of the language by Crown funded institutions like the council is not a request; it’s a requirement.

Instead, Māori are constantly reminded that we are a minority and are lucky to have everything we have. Sunlive is particularly vocal in reminding Māori to know their place, but the example that stands out is Murray Guy (ex-city councillor, local gruff celebrity). He was Pat’s friend on Facebook, and a regular contributor on his radio show. Their views were often different, but Pat always took Murray’s outrageous stuff on the chin. During the Tauranga Te Reo launch, he got to see that Pat had a few strong views of his own; so he took it on the chin like Pat had been doing for years. Oh no he didn’t. He defriended and blocked Pat on Facebook and has been vocal with his own views that Māori need to know their place.

Ian’s letter is not remarkable; it is just a poorly written demonstration of the three principles that undermine our continued, insidious and oh so local colonisation of Māori. Welcome to Tauranga, the racism friendly city.

8 thoughts on “Tauranga: the racism friendly city

  1. Ian certainly does not represent the staggeringly overwhelming majority of Pakeha, that needs to be said. I’m Welsh, not just Welsh heritage but Welsh born, raised, bi-lingual and still got my accent despite 17 years living in Wellington, and Wales has all road signs in Cymraeg (Welsh) and English. It’s a simple courtesy to acknowledge that a culture is important to a place, and what is more definitive of one’s culture than one’s language? I applaud Tauranga’s plan to have those signs in both languages. It’s not a threat, it’s not frightening. Ian is misguided. And as mentioned, most certainly not representative of the views of most Pakeha. Please don’t judge us on this person.

    1. Kia ora Jack, and thanks for your comment. I certainly do not judge Pākehā by Ian’s letter. He is an extreme that served as a useful cast study to pull apart to identify some worrying trends in our community. There are people who are supporting the Tauranga Te Reo campaign in the Pākehā community, but their voice is muted to date, and I suspect it relates to the principles I identified in the blog.

  2. Good one, Graham. Your comments need to be repeated again and again, until steps towards a real partnership are taken.

  3. I am not going to comment on the letter from Whanganui because where would you start with such historical inaccuracy and racism. I felt compelled to post when I saw Jack’s because I have to agree with it completely. (Fellow Welsh person raised in NZ: whose own native language has had a ‘similar’ history of suppression, decline and subsequent revival). I not only support dual signage for Te Reo in Tauranga but all of Aotearoa. Te Reo is recognised officially/legally (and of course is taonga as mentioned) so what is the debate? I hope Pat receives wide support for this campaign from the public and the media. I won’t hold my breath though… when I visit the bay these days, I am constantly shocked by the racist tones inherent in letters to the local newspapers. I do despair that many fellow pakeha are completely ignorant of the history of this nation…

  4. so anyone who disagrees with the version of NZ history that is taught in schools is a hater ? Really?

    1. Kia ora Garry, the label “hater” doesn’t encourage any debate and it is not one I would use. Nevertheless, if you are saying that you believe the NZ history curriculum – which teaches about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, injust land sales, confiscation of land, broad conflict in which atrocities were committed against tāngata whenua, and an ongoing experience of racism and colonisation of Māori in our country – is flawed and inaccurate, then you and I will not be able to agree on some salient points. Greater unity in our country has come from the greater honesty about our history; I’d rather not turn the clock back on that.

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