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Through the Portal

What we need is a great big melting pot

Yes I know, I have flogged the title of this week’s article from a pop song; the original by Blue Mink but also a great local version from When the Cats Away. A song with a message that I was thinking a bit about over the past week or so.
 |  Trevor Ammundsen  | 

The message is really quite simple; if we all want to get on peacefully with each other then we need to do away with the barriers that prevent this; barriers that are related to geography, ethnicity and class.

One of the things that stirred me to dwell on this subject was the upcoming By Election for a vacant Maori Ward seat in Hamilton.

The Herald article on this event reported the rules for standing are that the candidate must be a New Zealand citizen, the candidate must be enrolled as a parliamentary elector and the candidate must be nominated by two electors whose names appear on the electoral roll for the Kirikirikoa Maori Ward. That amazed me somewhat as it appears that, the candidate does not have to be a Maori. Anyone can fill this vacancy.

When you think about the reasons why the wards have been created like this it becomes fairly obvious in that it is difficult to define a Maori in a way that is accurate in all situations.

Until 1974, with the passing of the Maori Affairs Amendment Act, a Maori was defined as someone with “half or more blood”. Since that time the method of classification has changed and is generally based on values such as ancestry, ethnicity and tribal affiliation. The widest definition is if you identify as Maori you can be Maori.

Coming back to the rules for the By Election, it would seem it was felt best not to legislate that the candidate must be Maori as any election could result in legal challenges to any candidate’s legality. Easier not to have a rule than have one that is so easily challenged.

Legally it would appear that the various ethnicities that make up our country are slowly blending, through breeding and identification. The 2018 Census showed that 13% of our population identified with more than one ethnicity. More than half of respondents of Maori ethnicity identified at least one other ethnicity.

Over 3 million New Zealanders (over 64%) identified as New Zealand European rather than English, Scottish etc. In other words, these people were also identifying as being from multiple ethnicities. I am one such statistic, being a fifth generation New Zealander of Norwegian and Scottish background, I prefer to call myself Kiwi.

There are signs of this blending of our peoples gaining pace, the most obvious one being with language. There are not many of us who can carry out a fluent conversation in Maori, only about 4%, yet the use of Maori is growing through blending Te Reo with English. I can remember we always used the occasional Maori word, but in recent years this blending has gained pace. It has become acceptable at any level to use words such as whanau and mahi alongside English words when making conversation or making announcements. This list is growing and will continue to grow so long as we all bother to learn what they mean.

As we continue to blend, we are presumably getting closer to the peaceful goal of the great big melting pot. But no, we are still failing because we struggle with the concept of equality.

A recent event that illustrated this is the Waitangi Tribunals decision that they believed bringing back of referendums for Maori Ward seats was a violation of the Treaty of Waitangi and would cause “significant prejudice to Maori”.

Maori Wards are a recent thing with the first being introduced in the Bay of Plenty in 2001. They weren’t around in 1840 and are something that has been created by the society that has evolved over the 160 years prior to their introduction. There is a wide body of thought that says what our modern society created our modern society can change, quite a reasonable thought. When changes are mooted for our laws, we either accept them, try to have input through various processes or support lobby groups that will hopefully have some influence on our behalf.

When the Maori Wards were created, the Waitangi Tribunal was not concerned. When the necessity to hold a referendum was removed, the Waitangi Tribunal was not concerned. Now that there is a potential change that they do not like they become concerned. In matters such as this they become a lobby group. In essence this does not worry me too much except for the fact that the taxpayer is paying for this lobby group, not the potential beneficiaries. As the Waitangi Tribunal morphs from a “righting of land wrongs” entity into a full-fledged lobbyist it needs to be changed to represent the duality of its nature.

So I agree with the direction Shane Jones is heading with his calls for re-defining the purpose and functions of the Waitangi Tribunal. Any group, be it Kiwi, Maori, or anything else, wishes to have a lobby organisation then they can form it and support it – their choice. We all have equal rights. Once this is done, we might start to hum the second verse.