Monday, 29 December 2014

Education and the End of the Myth of Racial Harmony in New Zealand


Education and the End of the Myth of Racial Harmony in New Zealand

By David Small, University of Canterbury.

In November 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal, a statutory body charged with investigating and ruling on matters pertaining to New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi issued a startling statement. It declared that, in signing the Māori version of the Treaty on 6 February 1840, the leaders of indigenous Māori tribes “did not cede their sovereignty to Britain”.  Despite the fact that the Māori version of the treaty is substantially from the English one, the political history of New Zealand since1840 has been based on an assumption by the British Crown and later settler governments that they enjoyed uncontested political authority which derived from the Māori chiefs’ voluntary cession of sovereignty in the Treaty.

Not surprisingly, the government adopted a this-changes-nothing response to the Tribunal’s finding. However, Prime Minister John Key, one of the most popular politicians in modern times, went on to comment "In my view New Zealand was one of the very few countries in the world that were settled peacefully". Fifty years ago, such a comment would have been uncontentious.  

For decades, one of New Zealand’s most enduring national myths was the notion that it was a world model for harmonious race relations. New Zealand saw itself as a fair and tolerant society, one where colonialism was at its most benign. "Māori probably acknowledge that settlers had a place to play and brought with them a lot of skills and a lot of capital”, John Key added to his peaceful settlement remark. It was not always plain sailing but there was give and take, and one clear benefit for Māori, by this benevolent view of colonialism, was education.

Since the Prime Minister’s childhood in the 1960s, New Zealand has undergone a major transformation with respect to its understanding of its colonial history and consequently, the country has had to wrestle with the challenges that this reinterpretation has been presenting. There has been an awakening of Māori consciousness and a growing insistence that injustices of the colonial period should not go unaddressed. Eventually, this resulted in official recognition of the legitimacy of Māori grievances and a degree of commitment to righting the wrongs. For many of the predominantly Pākehā settler society, however, change has been rapid, misunderstood and resisted, and a backlash has been emerging.

This article traces this transition. It begins with an examination of the basis of New Zealand’s myth of racial harmony and shows how the emergence of a radical Māori cultural and political movement forced significant changes in how both Māori and Pākehā came to see themselves, each other and the country they share. It also demonstrates how education contributed to the creation of the racial harmony myth and its dismantling. It concludes by considering how the power of the meritocratic myth is constricting options for finding solutions.

The origins of the racial harmony myth

New Zealand was colonized by Britain as a settler colony. Wolfe has described this form of colonization as a project “whose dominant feature is not exploitation but replacement”[1]. In line with this, the colonial policy towards Māori was for them to be assimilated into the new society that was being set up by the settler population. At the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Queen Victoria’s representative, Governor Hobson, declared in Māori “We are now one people”.

In 1901, this theme was restated by New Zealand’s most famous suffragette,
Kate Sheppard who said “Māori and Pākehā have become one people, under one Sovereign and one Parliament, glorying alike in the one title of New Zealander.[2] This approach of defining a New Zealander as including Māori was an important ingredient in the making of the myth of New Zealand’s harmonious race relations.

Colonisation, especially in the enlightened manner it was being established in New Zealand was portrayed as a noble and benign process. This view was promulgated in the education system as shown by this comment in a turn of the century school reader, in which a Māori boy is the interlocuteur for a grateful race:

“The men of our race sometimes complain because the white people have taken away so much of their land; but I am sure that our teacher is right when he tells us that we have more land left than we can use. He says, too, that the white men have given us peace and order, and a thousand blessings that we could never have enjoyed but for their coming to settle among us”[3].

Even the land wars of which this fictitious boy speaks so acceptingly, are presented in a way that has them contributing to harmonious race relations by leaving each side with respect and admiration for the other. As another school text explains:

“You will also, if you hear the story aright, feel a warm admiration for the courage and determination of the Māoris against whom we fought in some of the Māori wars. It is because of our great respect for the Māoris that white man and brown man now live side by side as friends and fellow citizens of New Zealand”[4].

While positioning Māori as someone other than “we”, this story that Pākehā told each other presumed to speak of and on behalf of Māori, a characteristic that was to be an during feature of New Zealand national myths. Embedded in its praise for Māori was indirect praise for Pākehā. As McGeorge notes, this all contributed to the image in which

“… race relations in New Zealand were a shining example to the rest of the Empire; and white New Zealanders in their dealings with Māoris once again displayed the purity of their heritage, their sense of justice and their characteristically British appreciation of courage and chivalrous conduct in war”[5].

Early twentieth century school readers presented a view of Pākehā and Māori equality, teaching that “the good Māori stands as high as the good Pākehā and the bad Pākehā sinks as low as the bad Māori”[6].

The myth of New Zealand’s harmonious race relations also drew heavily on national comparisons, especially with neighbouring Australia. Pākehā society mirrored much of the stratification of the British Isles, the source of most migration, particularly in relation to the position of the working-class, largely illiterate, Irish settlers. However, the one thing every New Zealander knew about Australia was that its colonial origins were as a penal colony. New Zealanders, by contrast, saw themselves as having been specially chosen and were “not only British, but the ‘best British’”[7].

Comparisons were also made between the indigenous peoples of the two lands. Old notions of racial hierarchy persisted and the idea that Māori were a superior race to Australian Aboriginals was widespread. According to Bennett, “the image of the superior Māori or ‘best black’ was such a powerful one that it was adopted and disseminated in overseas literature, and was a stereotype driven home repeatedly to Australians”[8]. Included among those promoting this idea was Mark Twain, who wrote of Māori:

“There was nothing of the savage in the faces; nothing could be finer than these men‘s features, nothing more intellectual than these faces, nothing more masculine, nothing nobler than their aspect. The aboriginals of Australia and Tasmania looked the savage, but these chiefs looked like Roman patricians”[9].

This view became received wisdom and was taught in schools. Longman’s School Geography for Australasia, for example, with one text book describing Māori as “the most intelligent of all natives whom the Europeans met with on the Australasian colonies”[10]. This myth of a society constructed by the harmonious union of the best colonizers with the best colonized was actively promoted, and it stoked nascent New Zealand nationalism.

The Māori aim of getting ahead in the Pākehā world whilst retaining their own culture was always going to be difficult to achieve in a settler colony. Nowhere was this more apparent than in education where, as Simon has noted, Māori and the colonial authorities embraced the colonial school project with starkly different objectives in mind.

"Māori embraced schooling as a means to maintain their sovereignty and enhance their life-chances.  The government, on the other hand, sought control over Māori and their resources through schooling.  Māori wanted to extend their existing body of knowledge.  The government, with its assimilation policy, intended to replace Māori culture with that of the European.[11]"

Similar challenges were confronted when it came to the use of Māori language in schools where it was not always clear to Māori how best to proceed. Influential Māori leader Apirana Ngata, reflects this ambivalence. In 1930, he was of the view that, while Māori language should be retained in the home, “Māori parents do not like their children being taught in Māori, even in the Māori schools, as they argue that the children are sent their to learn English and the ways of the English”[12]. By 1939, he had changed his mind and thought Māori language should be taught in schools. However, this was simply not possible as only a tiny percentage of the overwhelmingly Pākehā teaching workforce had any facility with Māori[13].

By the 1950s, New Zealanders had been telling themselves about themselves for so long that they had become deeply engrained in how the country saw itself, what it meant to be a New Zealander.

With the post-war economic boom, employment was plentiful in New Zealand’s towns and cities, and Māori moved there in very large numbers. While just over a quarter of Māori lived in urban areas in 1945, over 60 percent were urbanized two decades later. This posed significant challenges to this first generation of Māori to adjust to urban life, and to their children from whom Walker says this urban minority status exacted a high price.

“Without grandparents and elders the traditional teachers and minders of children in the extended family arrangement, the urban family unit is culturally cut off and disorganized… They know they are stuck with minority status as Māoris but they know little or nothing about Māori values and pride in their cultural heritage”[14].

By the 1950s only about a quarter of Māori entering Auckland secondary schools could speak Māori[15]. Although Māori sought to create urban marae to compensate for this dislocation, there was no getting around the fact that urban Māori were having to play the game by Pākehā rules. On worksites, on the sports fields, in hotels, and in school classrooms and in hotels, Māori and Pākehā were brought into much closer proximity with each other than previously as a result of this migration. This more direct contact was putting the notion of racial harmony to the test.

The 1960s: A Turning Point

In 1960, a year that Evison has described as a “watershed year for racism in New Zealand”[16], the race relations halo started to slip. Stories of Māori being discriminated against in hotels, cinemas and barbers’ shops started to surface in the media for the first time. Pākehā professed to be shocked by these accounts, while the Māori response was more one of surprise to learn that this was not common knowledge.

1960 was also the year that, despite vocal objections from some quarters, the New Zealand Rugby Union agreed to tour South Africa with a team from which, out of respect for Apartheid South Africa’s approach to racial segregation, they agreed to exclude Māori players.

In the same year, a visiting American Fulbright scholar, David Ausubel, shocked New Zealand with a highly critical assessment of the country’s race relations. “The most striking impression an American receives of race relations in New Zealand”, he wrote, “is that, although they are generally much better than in the US, they are not nearly as good as people think or claim they are”[17]. Ausubel referred to “… the national delusion which blocks recognition of the existence of a problem and thereby renders impossible the adoption of appropriate preventative and remedial measures”[18]. He went on to predict that the situation he had identified would “intensify Māori racial nationalism and eventually compel Māori leaders to dig their heads out of the sand and organize a self-protective movement”[19].

Most New Zealanders who publicly responded to Ausubel at the time were incensed and affronted at the temerity of an American making such disparaging remarks about their country[20]. This hostile response did nothing to undermine Ausubel’s claim that he could find nobody in government or professional life in New Zealand who was prepared to admit publicly that race relations was a problem.

That very year, however, a wide-ranging investigation into the state of Māori was conducted and revealed Māori to be experiencing significant inequality and hardship in a number of key social areas. In education, the Hunn Report described Māori underachievement was described as a “statistical blackout”.

If 1960 was the year that New Zealand lost its deluded innocence about race relations, it was not the start of meaningful change. The Hunn Report saw a change from an official policy of “assimilation” to one of “integration” but Hunn was convinced that the solution to the problems his report had identified was to intensify the process of Māori moving to the cities and adopting Pākehā ways.

“Here and there are Māoris who resent the pressure brought to bear on them to conform to what they regard as a Pākehā way of life. It is not in fact a Pākehā but a modern way of life, common to advanced people in all parts of the world… Full realization of this fact might induce the hesitant or reluctant Māoris to fall into line more readily”[21].

The 1970s: The Birth of Radicalism

Inspired by the radical politics of the late 1960s and their own lived experience growing up Māori in Pakaha-dominated towns and cities, young Māori forced their way into the consciousness of the country by their confrontational politics and methods. In addition to reflecting on individual experiences of racism, they learned of the dispossession of Māori and the impossibility of obtaining justice from the “proper channels” for airing grievances. Māori petitions had fallen on deaf ears and while civil society and the political system relied on the Treaty of Waitangi as the country’s founding document in which Māori ceded sovereignty to the British Crown, the judiciary had rendered impossible any appeal to guarantees given to Māori in the Treaty, declaring it a legal “nullity”[22]. In growing numbers, young Māori saw through the historical myths of New Zealand’s benevolent colonial past.

In the early 1970s a group called Nga Tamatoa (the Young Warriors) emerged as the “public face” of the new Māori movement[23]. Their actions through the 1970s turned the official government celebrations of nationhood each Waitangi Day into a recurring focus of protest focusing on the failures of successive governments to uphold guarantees given to Māori in the Treaty. In 1972, the group occupied Parliament Buildings in the capital, Wellington.

In the same year, the Race Relations Act came into force. In his 1972 annual report, Eric Missen, the Justice Secretary, echoes the still widely-held belief that New Zealand was a model of racial harmony:

“Hitherto this legislation (the Race Relations Act 1971) has been regarded with some suspicion in New Zealand, not because of any lack of commitment to racial equality but in part because of a feeling that the great degree of harmony and the genuine fund of goodwill between different races in New Zealand, and in particular between Māori and Pākehā, renders legislative intervention unnecessary.[24]

By 1975, the Māori protest movement had grown to the point where protesters demanding the loss of not one more acre of Māori land marched over the course of a month the 660 miles from the top of the North Island to deliver their demand to Parliament. This was also the year that the treaty of Waitangi Act was passed which created the Waitangi Tribunal and gave it the powers to hear grievances from 1975 onwards and recommend remedies to Parliament.

In 1977, Māori from New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, began an occupation of Takaparawha (Bastion Point), an area of contested land that was to be subdivided for upmarket residential housing development. The occupation lasted 506 days and ended with a heavy contingent of police and army evicting the protestors, destroying their encampments and making 222 arrests.

The decade ended with this growing conflict coming to blows on 1 May 1979. Auckland University engineering students had a long-standing tradition of dressing up in caricature of Māori traditional dress and painted faces, and trawling the city doing drunken renditions of the traditional Māori war dance, the haka. Their antics were was halted by the violent intercession of an offshoot group from Nga Tamatoa called He Taua (the war party).

The He Taua incident shocked the country and cemented in the minds of many a clear impression that Māori were prepared to take the law into their own hands to achieve their political objectives. Unlike previous actions that had been directed towards government policies, He Taua engaged privileged young Pākehā male university students in a most direct manner. Besides the court cases, it provoked many complaints to the Race Relations Conciliator, a position established in 1972, who responded by initiating a series of forums inviting “representations from the public concerning racial (dis)harmony in New Zealand”[25]. The resulting report reproduces verbatim accounts of very diverse responses volunteered by people and serves as a snapshot of a debate whose themes have endured in the years since. If there was a single moment when New Zealand’s myth of racial harmony burst, He Taua may have been it.

Many of the responses in the report parallel those that Wetherell and Potter elicited for their research a decade later. In their discourse analysis of
antagonistic responses to the upsurge of radical activity amongst Māori, they identify some common rhetorical strategies: questioning the genuineness of motives and the effectiveness of tactics; accusations of adopting inconsistent positions, violating laws of moderation and infringing the rights of others; and claims that the activists were not representative. The activists were a minority and many who were shocked by the radicalness of both their tactics and their message sought to distinguish them from those whom they saw as the sensible, normal or average Māori.

The emergence of radicalism also generated the first responses where people spoke nostalgically of the time when society was harmonious and untroubled before it was all shattered by the conflict initiated by the activists. They report:

“ On several occasions, those we interviewed explicitly linked the before and after contrast to a golden age in the recent past, to times, typically when the speaker was a child, when Māori-Pākehā lived in harmony, before the days of ‘activism’”[26].

The 1980s: Radicalism Rampant

The 1980s began with what was to be the defining political moment of late twentieth century New Zealand; the conflict over the tour of the South African national rugby team, the Springboks. The anti-tour movement had begun in response to Māori players being excluded from the All Blacks tour to South Africa in 1960 and had seen African nations boycott the 1976 Montreal Olympics because of a New Zealand rugby tour of South Africa earlier that year. By 1981, it had grown to represent the majority opinion in a rugby-loving country. The conservative National Government’s insistence that the tour be allowed to proceed ignited a year of widespread mass protests throughout the country culminating in major civil unrest and thousands of people being arrested.

Amongst those engaged in radical action and civil disobedience were “respectable” people, including elderly Pākehā clergy and judges, who were protesting side-by-side with radical Māori activists who had come to prominence during the previous decade. The emphasis was on preventing New Zealand from breaking the international boycott and supporting Apartheid.

The anti-tour protests ushered in the new decade with a heady mix of race and radicalism. Because of the wide cross-section of society that participated in the protests, public perceptions of radical action and radical ideas about race were altered. So too was awareness about racial injustice in New Zealand. As a result of relationships formed and ideas exchanged during the anti-tour protests, the vast array of primarily Pākehā community groups that had opposed the tour began to take more seriously the concerns that radical Māori groups had been highlighting over the previous decade. Through informal meetings and exchanges as well as with the support of programmes such as the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism, many Pākehā began to question, often for the first time, the versions of history and myths of nationhood and racial harmony that they had been raised on.

This process was often far from harmonious. Growing numbers of Māori who were becoming policitized and radicalized broadened their targets beyond government policies and racist engineering students. Pākehā groups and individuals, many with long-established principled commitments to social justice, were confronted by Māori activists who demanded that they give their attention and commitment to the issues that mattered most to Māori.

Two weeks before the He Taua incident, the flagship annual national gathering of what had been a big and vibrant New Zealand feminist movement was the first to feel the brunt of this anger. The United Women’s Convention was thrown into turmoil by radical Māori women who claimed to have been not included and branded the gathering a “white women’s convention”. Throughout the 1980s, similar encounters took place at the heart of national and local organisations throughout the country: the anti-apartheid movement and other international solidarity groups; a progressive New Zealand aid and development organization[27]; peace groups, anti-nuclear groups and environmental groups. This rich and complex web of community groups mirrored the society from whence their members came; they were predominantly Pākehā groups run along Pākehā lines. Like the rest of the country’s institutions, Māori were not prohibited from joining if they wished but few felt comfortable doing so.

Within these groups, people had grown up with the myth of racial harmony. Many considered themselves reasonably sympathetic to the Māori radicals they had seen on television. They were, therefore, stunned to discover the extent of the colonial dispossession of Māori, and no less taken aback by how keenly this was felt and expressed by Māori. Perhaps because of continuities with their own orientation towards identity politics, feminist groups were among those most receptive to the new politics of biculturalism that was asserting itself. As one participant at the 1979 United Women’s Convention said:

“I felt ashamed of my ignorance of their cause… I had neglected the genuine oppressed minority group of the convention”[28].

Between 1982 and 1983, the country’s leading feminist magazine, Broadsheet, came to devote increasing attention to the voices of Māori radicals and in 1982 and 1983 published three articles by Donna Awatere which were later to comprise the book, Māori Sovereignty[29], “an extremely important articulation of the analysis and goals of Māori radicals”[30]. Hard and uncompromising, the book crystallized the transition the movement had been making from an objective of promoting Māori rights to one of demanding Māori self-determination.

The hard-line stance and uncompromising demeanour of the Māori radicals who confronted these groups of well-meaning Pākehā, as exemplified by Awatere’s exacting requirements of how non-Māori could be allied with the cause of Māori sovereignty, created powerful emotional cauldrons. It was not uncommon for people’s initial response to be one of stubborn indignance, but this was a stance that was seldom sustained within liberal circles. Many simply drifted away. Of those who stayed, a good number continued to harbour resentment towards what they interpreted as continual encroachments by Māori in ways that were diverting their group even further from its core business of promoting peace, or the environment, or effective aid delivery. The for-or-against-us tenor of many of these interactions had the effect of the objectors feeling brow-beaten into submission or shamed into silence. As Tremewan argues:

“These polarities were routinely read as code for being for or against all Māori and the pressure to categorise opinion according to them appeared to prevent more nuanced consideration”[31].

Many openly embraced and committed themselves to constructing what they saw as a new form of progressive politics in New Zealand. They set about the task of re-educating themselves and reorganing the groups and institutions within which they operated. This task was seen as one of transformation away from cultural beliefs and practices that assumed as normal Pākehā understandings and values that were steeped in the country’s colonial history and towards “bicultural” models that promoted Māori culture and aspirations as equally important. This move toward biculturalism was also being pursued in departments of government, including in social welfare[32], education[33], and in professional degree programmes as exemplified by the introduction of compulsory components on cultural safety in nursing degrees and the predictable objections to these components from Pākehā students[34].

These sorts of initiatives were seen as essential to change an education system that critics said was “inextricably locked into the reproduction of dominant Pākehā culture, premised on the imperialist assumption that Pākehā-defined cultural capital is the most appropriate for all New Zealand peoples”[35]. Awatere’s discussion of education begins by describing the New Zealand education system as a gate that keeps the Māori out.

“There is an invisible sign over every kindergarten, playcentre, school, and university. That sign reads: ‘Māori Keep Out: For White Use Only’. White people can’t see the sign, you have to identify or be identified as Māori before you can see it”[36].

The solution offered by the state, more than two decades after the Hunn Report had first recognised the crisis in Māori education was the 1984 announcement of a Māori cultural awareness programme called Taha Māori. Literally the Māori side, Taha Māori was a schools-based cultural awareness programme in which “aspects of Māori language and culture… should be a normal part of the school climate with which all pupils and staff should feel comfortable and at ease”[37]. For conservative Pākehā, this was a step too far. The Concerned Parents Association said that they regard Taha Māori as “politically-motivated social engineering” and feared that it would lead to racial and linguistic divisions and a “strife-ridden society”[38]. For Māori educationalists, however, Taha Māori was too little too late. They branded it a “sticking plaster solution” and rejected the programme as “a Pākehā defined, initiated and controlled policy which serves the needs and interests of Pākehā people”[39].

By the time Taha Māori had been launched, Māori had already taken matters into their own hands. In 1980 and 1981, a series of meetings had been held where Māori considered how to address the dual crisis of the persistent underachievement of Māori in education and the more fundamental challenge of the state of Māori language. Extensive research conducted during the 1970s had revealed that the Māori language was seriously endangered with only 15% of those under 15 years old (which was half the Māori population) able to speak Māori and 38% of fluent Māori speakers aged 45 and over[40].

The response was to establish Kohanga Reo[41], a Māori immersion pre-school programme run according to Māori kaupapa or philosophy. The aim was to create a new generation of young Māori who were confident in their identities as Māori and fluent speakers of the language. Kohanga Reo would immerse children from the earliest age in the cultural and linguistic expertise of the older generation, with the added advantage that the children’s parents, many of whom had missed out on learning the language, would learn it as well so they could communicate in Māori with their children at home[42]. By nurturing and revitalizing Māori language, culture and traditions, these kohanga reo were an attempt by Māori to create “an education that maintained their own lifestyles, language and culture while also enhancing life chances, access to power and equality of opportunity”[43].

Kohanga Reo was followed by the establishment of Māori immersion school, kura kaupapa Māori, as well as tertiary education through waananga. Collectively, this new force in Māori education became known as kaupapa Māori initiatives, an approach which is based on three fundamental themes: that the validity and legitimacy of Māori are taken for granted; that the survival and revival of Māori language and culture is imperative; and the centrality of the struggle for autonomy over Māori cultural well-being and lives[44].

The political claim for the right of Māori to organize their own educational institutions was referenced directly to guarantees in the Treaty. Specifically, the Māori version of the Treaty guaranteed Māori tino rangatiratanga (ultimate chieftainship). Rangatiratanga was affirmed in an official report on guidelines for government agencies as the “right of Māori to live and develop in a Māori way, whatever that may mean over time and in changing circumstances”[45]. Māori were, therefore, asserting their political right self-determination in important dimensions of life, areas in which Māori hitherto had no alternative but to function according to Pākehā-domainted mainstream institutions.

The kaupapa Māori approach that had begun in education was soon being pursued in other areas including justice, health, employment, housing and other social services. As Pihama describes it:

“Kaupapa Māori theory is politicising agent that acts as a counter-hegemonic force to promote the conscientisation of Māori people, through a process of critiquing Pākehā definitions and constructions of Mari people, and asserting explicitly the validation and legitimation of te reo Māori and tikanga”[46].

The year Māori Sovereignty was published began with a hikoi (a march) of more than 3,000 people at Waitangi on Waitangi Day. The 1984 hikoi was not only bigger than ever before, but it featured so many prominent and older Māori that it became impossible for it to be simply dismissed as the disruptive antics of a handful of radicals. The demands of Māori could no longer be ignored or dismissed. When a new Labour Government was elected to replace a three-term National Government in July of that year, the pressure from Māori was unmistakeable and irresistible.

The momentum was maintained by the staging of a major hui (meeting) of 1,000 people representing leading Māori organisations at Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia in September 1984[47] which was followed in October by the government-initiated Hui Taumata focused on Māori development. In response to this pressure, the government took the major step of empowering the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate claims of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi dating back to 1840, the year it was signed, and make representations to Parliament as to appropriate remedies for any claims that it upheld. Perhaps still captive to the myths of relatively benign colonization, Labour pushed the legislation through, rejecting concerns from conservative MPs that it would raise false hopes, open the floodgates and “cause a Pākehā backlash such as this country has … never seen”[48]. Kelsey’s assessment was that:

“National was right. Labour had not assessed the implications of the policy… The hard realities of delivering Māori expectations, quelling Pākehā hostility and meeting the economic costs had simply been ignored”[49].

The newly empowered Waitangi Tribunal was constituted and run in ways that would attract and facilitate Māori participation and succeeded in gaining acceptance from Māori.

At the same time as it was seeking to take Māori concerns more seriously than any previous administration, the Labour Government of the 1980s was also implementing one of the most radical neoliberal restructuring processes that had ever been undertaken. With a few rare exceptions, including Awatere[50], few advocates of kaupapa Māori education explicitly embraced neoliberalism. Nevertheless, Māori capacity to obtain significant amounts of institutional autonomy in some key areas was made easier by a tendency towards devolution of power within government agencies which was integral to the neoliberal model. As Openshaw has noted, this meant that “neoliberals and biculturalists drew upon each other’s discourses to successfully challenge existing bureaucratic structures and the post-war liberal ideology that traditionally underpinned them”[51].

In the lead-up to the 1987 election, it became clear that the Labour Government was planning to bring the education system in line with the rest of its neoliberal restructuring of society. The market model that was emerging called for the abandonment of one-size-fits-all educational provision in favour of corporatization and competition between institutions, and the championing of notions of devolution of power and consumer choice in education. A key document was a volume devoted entirely to education in Treasury’s brief to the incoming government of 1987[52] which seized on the success of “the vigorous and fast growing Kohanga Reo movement” as evidence of how a disadvantaged group was by-passing a system that was failing to meet its needs.

This flagship of Māori cultural and political radicalism and renaissance was accommodated by the state as it intersected both with the increasingly undeniable claims of Māori rights derived from the Treaty and with the neoliberal move towards devolution of management and administration of educational institutions. However, it was greeted with suspicion and hostility by those who rejected as separatist and damaging to New Zealand any such moves towards Māori autonomy. As one right-wing blogger wrote: “the Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori movements are designed to foster a separatist (sic), radical, even revolutionary culture among young Māori”[53]. 

The 1990s: The Settlement Solution?

In 1990, the year that New Zealand marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand voters replaced a three-term Labour Government with what would be a three-term National Government. National approached the Treaty claims process with a degree of impatience, declaring in its election campaign that it would “resolve misunderstandings relating to the Treaty … (and) quickly resolve outstanding Māori grievances that are genuine and proven”[54]. Sensing Pākehā anxiety about the number, scope and cost of the claims that were being lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal along with the length of time the claims process was taking, National sought to reassure the electorate by promising to have everything concluded by the year 2000.

The government’s first major breakthrough was to secure a pan-tribal treaty settlement regarding fisheries in 1992. The move, which was prompted by a successful Māori challenge to the new quota management system of commercial fisheries with the Waitangi Tribunal, saw the Crown provide Māori with $150 million to purchase a half share in the country’s biggest fishing company, Sealords, as full settlement for Māori claims under the Treaty. The difficulty facing the Crown was that the English version of the Treaty had guaranteed to Māori “full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of … their fisheries”. The Waitangi Tribunal found that the quota management system was “in fundamental conflict with the Treaty’s principles and terms, apportioning to non-Māori the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of the property in fishing that to Māori was guaranteed” and noted that a literal interpretation of the Treaty could “create an awkward result today”[55].

Although it took a decade-long wrangle between Māori iwi and other entities to determine how the asset should be apportioned between them, Belgrave has declared the Sealords deal a resounding success:

“Māori had gone from being marginal participants in the industry to becoming its leading commercial players, with significant interests in fishing, fish processing and distribution”[56].

Others have been less convinced, with serious concerns about trading off political, economic and cultural rights for a slice of a corporatized industry run by a government ministry[57].

After being re-elected in 1993, the National Government made a bold move aimed at reducing the significant uncertainty in both the time and potential cost that were part of the Waitangi Tribunal process. In 1994, with claims lodged at the Waitangi Tribunal totaling 400[58], the government announced its intention to settle all outstanding claims within ten years and set the finite sum of $1 billion as a “fiscal envelope” to cover all compensation. To this end, it established an Office of Treaty Settlements and Minister for Treaty Negotiations to engage in direct bilateral negotiations with the major claimants. After ten years of engaging in good faith in the proper processes of presenting claims through the Waitangi Tribunal rather than through direct political protest and mobilization, Māori reacted in shocked disbelief that the Crown had unilaterally decided that this process was now to be bypassed[59].

Māori felt deceived and betrayed by this announcement and responded with widespread condemnation. [60]  However, the government managed to conclude settlements with two major claimants, Ngai Tahu and Tainui, and this increased the pressure on others to either take what was on offer or risk losing out altogether. Such was the outcry and the risk of Māori abandoning the established managed process in favour of a return to more radical extra-legal activism that the government eventually abandoned the fiscal envelope concept[61]. Although that model together with its accompanying figure was dropped, the government retained an approach that was based on six guidelines which included that “the Crown has a duty to act in the best interests of all New Zealanders” and that “settlements will take into account fiscal and economic constraints and the ability of the Crown to pay compensation”[62]. Furthermore, as Mikaere and Milroy note, the Crown continued in subsequent negotiations to use the term “benchmark settlements” to refer to the Tainui and Ngai Tahu settlements, which had “the practical effect of perpetuating the fiscal envelope policy”[63].

Research conducted by the Crown Forestry Rental Trust details the experiences of several Māori representatives on the other side of the negotiating table from the Office of Treaty Negotiations and reveals some common themes. The Crown set the terms of the negotiation and the parameters for settlement creating such a power imbalance that it was simply a matter of how much compromise the Crown could force the Māori representatives to accept. “Each of the participants in this study accepted that their settlements were compromise deals, which did not fully compensate their people for their loss. However, all believed it was the best deal they could secure under current settlement policy”[64].

One of the government’s aims in framing the settlement process with an exclusively financial and economic focus was that it would, as Sueffert notes, serve to “redefine Māori claims for political sovereignty in economic terms” and to do so without departing from “the dominant legal, political and economic framework”[65]. This approach stands in contrast to what Kelsey claims is the goal of “almost all” Māori for their economic future: “Māori control of a Māori economy, built upon Māori structures, values and priorities, using available Pākehā technology and knowledge to Māori advantage”[66].

In 1999, Labour won office after three terms of a National Government. The flagship of Labour’s social policy programme was called “Closing the Gaps”. Labour’s leader, Helen Clark, explained the importance of the approach as not just recognizing Māori entitlements under the Treaty but as essential because, without addressing the many inequalities still suffered by Māori in comparison to non-Māori, “our whole community is going to be very much the poorer for it”[67]. After Labour’s election victory, the new Minister for Māori Affairs, Parekura Horomia declared that Closing the Gaps was a “new partnership approach between Māori, the state sector, business, local government and the wider community”[68].  Within a year of taking office, however, Closing the Gaps had been abandoned as Labour got wind of a backlash in the air and first diluted it to include gaps between “the skilled and the unskilled … the cities and the province”[69] and then abandoned it altogether.

The 2000s: The Pākehā Backlash

Labour had every reason to worry. The New Zealand public had seen Treaty settlement payments in the hundreds of millions of dollars without being privy to the documented dispossession upon which they were based, let alone extent of the compromises Māori negotiators had agreed to in the interests of reaching a settlement. They had seen references to Treaty rights included in legislation. They could see Māori being given what they saw as payouts as well as preferential treatment. This sat uneasily with the notions of fairness and equality that they had long understood to be defining features of New Zealand society. Their notions of nationhood were being unraveled. The “Massey Study of New Zealand Values” in 1999 revealed almost 34 percent of respondents thought the Treaty should be abolished. Another survey conducted in 2002 found that 63.5 percent of respondents agreed with the proposition that the process of settling Māori claims had gone on for long enough and should now be discontinued[70].

Conservative Māori politician, Winston Peters, read this mood when in parliament in 2000, he branded “Closing the Gaps” as a form of “social apartheid”. Labour was anxious to retain the electoral support of Māori which it had just won back from Peters’ party but also needed to keep its non-Māori support. The in June 2003, the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment that sent the country into a frenzy[71]. It ruled that a group of South Island tribes were not precluded from taking a customary rights claim over sections of seabed and foreshore to the Māori Land Court. Although the Ngati Apa ruling itself was tame, it gave rise to public hysteria, political opportunism and sensational media reports that Māori would deny the public its long-cherished access to the country’s beaches. The day after the judgment was reached, the government announced that it would ensure that no such claim could be made by introducing legislation to ensure that the seabed and foreshore was held in public domain and regulated by the Crown on behalf of “all New Zealanders”[72].

In January 2004, the Waitangi Tribunal issued a report on the Government’s Seabed and Foreshore Policy which it described as clearly in breach of the Treaty:

“But beyond the Treaty, the policy fails in terms of the wider norms of domestic and international law that underpin good government in a modern democratic state. These include the rule of law, and principles of fairness and non-discrimination”[73].

Labour pressed ahead, ignoring a 20,000 strong march (the biggest since the protest marches of the 1970s) on Parliament on 5 May and the resignation two weeks later of a Māori cabinet Minister, Tariana Turia, over the issue. After resigning from Labour and Parliament, Turia was re-elected in a by-election in which she won almost 93 percent of the vote.

The legislation that Labour passed in November 2004 was later condemned as discriminatory in 2005 by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and in 2006 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People.

A significant reason that Labour adopted such a hard line over this issue at the time is that on 27 January 2004, the new National Party Leader, Don Brash, delivered a game-changing speech. In the National Leader’s traditional state-of-the-nation address to the Orewa Rotary Club, Brash warned of a “dangerous drift towards racial separatism in New Zealand” and attacked what he called “the now entrenched Treaty grievance industry”. He criticized race-based policies in education and other areas and insisted that his concerns had to be addressed because the current approach would “ultimately undermine the very essence of what it means to be a New Zealander”.

The Brash Orewa speech saw the National Party’s popularity jump by 17.9 percent, the biggest single jump in the history of political polling in New Zealand. Among over 60s, support increased by 24 percentage points and among retirees the increase was 29.4 percent[74]. Brash had picked up on the public mood of discontent that had been brewing through the 1990s decade of settlements, that had led Labour to drop “Closing the Gaps”, and that had fuelled the extraordinary over-reaction to the Court of Appeal ruling in the Ngati Apa case. He had sensed the backlash and sought to mobilize it to the political advantage of his party. Brash tapped into a groundswell of political opinion that has changed what is now perceived as possible to achieve in New Zealand. In the lead-up to the 1990 election, National Party Leader, Jim Bolger, reports that he replied to suggestions that he should not rule out playing the race card with the comment: “Playing the race card may help us win – then come Monday, how do we run the country?[75]

The challenges of addressing these legacies of colonialism in New Zealand are rendered even more complex when applied to education. This was demonstrated by the response to a proposal from Pita Sharples, a leading Māori politician who was also a founder of the first kura kaupapa Māori. His suggestion in 2009 that one way of addressing Māori under-representation at universities might be to lower the entry requirement provoked intense and immediate criticism. At the time he floated this idea, many Pākehā were already bristling at what they saw as Māori getting special privileges on the basis of their ethnicity. For Treaty settlements to be based on rectifying historical injustices was difficulty enough for people to accept. But New Zealand’s history of open access to free schooling made educational concessions seem even more unfair because of the assumption that New Zealand education was meritocratic.

A Facebook group called “Māori getting a free pass to universities is bullshit” went viral, attracting thousands of outraged members, many young, who fervently believed that Māori had the same educational opportunities as they did, but chose not to take advantage of them. The group was at pains to point out that it was “in no way racist towards Māori” but it questioned why “a minority could get such an unfair advantage over the rest of the NZ population” and said that the proposal “defeats the purpose of primary and secondary education”. United by a common commitment to a colour-blind approach to racism and a meritocratic view of education, the group rejects positive discrimination on the basis that it is racist and unfair.

The intensity of the responses against positive discrimination in favour of Māori is an indication of the ongoing strength of the belief by Pākehā that they are not privileged in comparison to Māori. Indeed, many Pākehā now believe that they are now disadvantaged in comparison to Māori whom they see as a privileged group. In line with the findings of Augoustinos et al, these positions serve to “justify social inequities between groups in ways that present the speaker as fair, just and egalitarian, but … also legitimate the maintenance and reproduction of these inequities”[76].

Potter and Wetherell have identified a set of three themes underlying New Zealanders’ objections to positive discrimination: “1) New Zealand society has social mobility allowing everyone to have equal opportunity; 2) people have natural levels of ability which the education system is able to access by, for example, examinations; and 3) the people who have the most ability should get the places in advanced courses and the most demanding and best-paid jobs”[77]. This is consistent with Augoustino et al’s review of the literature that confirmed “the pervasiveness of a meritocratic discourse in which individual merit was constructed as the most important principle determining entry into tertiary education”[78].


In the second decade of this century, New Zealand finds itself confronted by the legacy of a colonial past that it is struggling to understand and agree upon, let alone address and rebuild from. While the Treaty settlement process is providing some economic redress that may fuel aspects of Māori development, the development models that are being pursued are predominantly mainstream. Furthermore the deep social problems that continue to weigh heavily on Māori communities are ones that are notoriously intractable - health, housing, employment and, of course, education. They are not ones that societies tend to resolve easily.

The more simple perceptions Māori and Pākehā had of themselves and each other over decades and until relatively recently, have through a messy mix of personal, cultural and political interaction been dismantled, re-examined and now all but abandoned. In their place is emerging a much more unsettling mix of hopes and fears, understandings and misconceptions. The nation-building role of education used to be the promulgation of common beliefs, attitudes and knowledge. Its purpose in today’s society is much less clear but no less important. 

Wolfe described settler colonization as “at base a winner-takes-all project” [79]. Perhaps the common purpose of all New Zealanders could be to prove that it does not have to be like that.

[1] Wolfe, P. (1999) Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event. New York: Cassell, p. 163.
[2] Jock Phillips, The New Zealanders – Māorilanders‘, Te Ara, updated 4 March 2009,, accessed 6 November 2009.
[3] Imperial Readers: Second Reader. Christchurch, 1899, p.20.
[4] Whitcombe’s Primary History Series: Our Nation’s Story: A Course of British History: Standard IV. Christchurch, 1929, pp.11-12.
[5] McGeorge, C. (1993) Race, Empire and the Māori in the New Zealand Primary School Curriculum 1880-1940”, in J.A. Mangan (ed.) The Imperial Curriculum: Racial Images and Education in the British Colonial Experience, London: Routledge, p.71.
[6] School Journal. (May 1909) Volume 3, number 4, p.116.
[7] Irvine, R.F. & O.T.J. Alpers (1902) The Progress of New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh: W & R Chambers, p.421
[8] Bennett, J. (2001) “Māori as Honorary Members of the White Tribe”, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. Volume 29, number 3, p.38.
[9] Twain, M. (1989) Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World. New York: Dover, p.287.
[10] Chisholm, G.G. (1901) Longman’s School Geography for Australasia. London: Longmans, p.113.
[11] Simon, J. (1994) “Historical Perspectives on Education” in E. Coxon, K. Jenkins, J. Marshall, L. Massey (eds.) The Politics of Learning and Teaching in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Palmerston North: Dunmore, pp. 58-59.
[12] Quoted in Barrington, J.M. & T.H Beaglehole (1974) Māori Schools in a Changing Society: An Historical Review. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research, p.206.
[13] Beaglehole & Barrington (1974) p.207.
[14] Walker, R. (1979) “The urban Māori” in He Matapuna: Some Māori Perspectives. Wellington : New Zealand Planning Council, p.38.
[15] Biggs, B. (1968) “The Māori Language Past and Present”, in E. Schwimmer (ed.) The Māori People in the Nineteen-Sixties. Auckland: Blackwood and Janet Paul, p.75.
[16] Evison, H.C. (2010) New Zealand Racism in the Making. The Life and Times of Walter Mantell. Christchurch: Panuitia, p.402.
[17] Ausubel, D. (1961)The Fern and the Tiki. An American View of New Zealand: National Character, Social Attitudes and Race Relations. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, p.149.
[18] Ausubel (1961), p.155-6.
[19] Ausubel (1961) p.229.
[20] See Kersey, H.A. (2002) “Opening a Discourse on Race Relations in New Zealand: The Fern and the Tiki Revisited, Journal of New Zealand Studies, Number 1.
[21] Hunn, J.K. (1961) Report on the Department of Māori Affairs: with statistical supplement, 24 August 1960. Wellington: Government Printer, p.16.
[22] 'Chief Justice declares Treaty 'worthless' and a 'simple nullity'',, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 21-Oct-2014
[23] Walker, R. (2004) Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle without End. Auckland: Penguin, p.210.
[24] Quoted in
[25] Human Rights Commission (1979) Racial Harmony in New Zealand - a Statement of Issues. Wellington: Human Rights Commission, p.1.
[26] Wetherell, M. & J. Potter. (1992) Mapping the Language of Racism. Discourse and Legitimation of Exploitation. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, p.160.
[27] Corso
[28] Juliet Seule, quoted in “Reports on the United Women’s Convention 1979”, Broadsheet. June 1979, p.22.
[29] Awatere, D.(1984) Māori Sovereignty. Auckland: Broadsheet.
[30] Dann, C. (1985) Up From Under: Women and Liberation in New Zealand 1970-1985. Wellington: Allen & Unwin, p.37.
[31] Tremewan, C. (2005) “Ideological Conformity: A Fundamental Challenge to the Social Sciences in New Zealand”, Sites New Series. Volume 2, number 1, p.8.
[32] See the 1988 report on institutional racism in the Department of Social “Welfare Puao-Te-Ata-Tu”.
[33] Openshaw, R. (2010) “’Disadvantaged by a Pākehā Based Education System’. The Impact of Biculturalism on Radical Educational Reform in New Zealand”, Journal of Pacific Circle Consortium for Education. Volume 22, number 2, pp.6-8.
[34] Ramsden, I. & P. Spoonley. (1994) “The Cultural Safety Debate in Nursing Education in New Zealand”, New Zealand Annual Review of Education. Volume 3.
[35] Smith, G. (1985) “Taha Māori: Pākehā Capture” in J. Codd, R. Harker & R.Nash (eds) Political Issues in New Zealand Education. Second Edition. Palmerson North: Dunmore, p.187.
[36] Awatere, D.(1984) Māori Sovereignty. Auckland: Broadsheet, p.21.
[37] Department of Education (1984) Taha Māori: Suggestions for Getting Started. Wellington: Department of Education.
[38] Spoonley, P. (1988) Racism and Ethnicity. Auckland: Oxford University Press, p.56.
[39] Smith, G. (1985) p.183.
[40] Benton, R.A. (1979) The Māori Language in the 1970s. Wellington: NZCER, pp.23-24.
[41] Literally “language nest”.
[42] Te Rito, J.S. (2008) “Struggles for the Māori Language: He Whawhai mo te reo Māori”, MAI Review, Volume 2, p.3.
[43] Bishop, R. (1996) Collaborative Research Stories: Whakawhanaungatanga. Palmerston North: Dunmore, p.5.
[44] Smith, G.H. (1997) The Development of Kaupapa Māori: Theory and Praxis. Auckland: Department of Education, University of Auckland.
[45] Cited in Pihama, L., K. Smith, M. Taki, J. Lee (2004) A Literature Review on Kaupapa Māori and Māori Education Pedagogy. Auckland: International Research Institute for Māori and Indigenous Education, p.44.
[46] Phiama, L. (1993) Tungia te ururua kia tupu whakaritorito te tapu o te harakeke: A Critical Analysis of Parents as First Teachers. Auckland: Department of Education, University of Auckland, p.57.
[47] Kelsey, J. (1990) A Question of Honour? Labor and the Treaty. 1984-1989. Wellington: Allen & Unwin.
[48] Ian McLean quoted in Kelsey, J. (1990) p.58.
[49] Kelsey, J. (1990) p.59
[50] Small, D. (1996) “Education, the New World Order and National Sovereignty”, Access. Critical Perspectives on Cultural and Policy Studies in Education. Volume 15, number 1, p.90.
[51] Openshaw, R. (2010) p.5.
[52] The Treasury. !(1987) Government Management: Brief to the Incoming Government. Volume II, Education Issues. Wellington: Government Printer.
[54] New Zealand National Party (1990) National Party Policies for the 1990s, Creating a Decent Society. Wellington: NZ National Party, p.
[55] Waitangi Tribunal. (1985) Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Muriwhenua Fishing Claim, Wai-22. Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal, p.211.
[56] Belgrave, M. (2014) “Beyond the Treaty of Waitangi: Māori Tribal Aspirations in an Era of Reform, 1984-2014”, The Journal of Pacific History. Volume 49, Number 2, p.203.
[57] See, for example, Milroy, S. (2000) “The Māori Fishing Settlement and the Loss of Tino Rangatiratanga”, Waikato Law Review, Volume 8.
[58] Tauri, J. & R. Webb. (2011) “The Waitangi Tribunal and the Regulation of Māori Protest”, New Zealand Sociology. Volume 26, p.15.
[59] Craig Coxhead (1997) "Settlement of Treaty Claims: Full and Final, or Fatally Flawed?" (1997) 17 New Zealand Universities Law Review. Volume 13, 24.
[60] Gardiner, W. (1996) Return to Sender: What Really Happened at the Fiscal Envelope Hui. Auckland: Reed.
[61] Treaty of Waitangi Settlements Process. (26 August 2006) Background Note. Information Briefing Service for Members of Parliament. p.16
[62] Office of Treaty Settlements (2006) Healing the Past, Building a Future. A Guide to Treaty of Waitangi Claims and Negotiations with the Crown. Wellington: Office of Treaty Settlements, p.28
[63] Mikaere, A.L. & S.T. Milroy. (1998) “Māori Issues”, New Zealand Law Review. P.476.
[64] Crown Forestry Rental Trust (2003) Māori Experiences of the Direct Negotiation Process. Wellington: Crown Forestry Rental Trust, p.61.
[65] Sueffert, N. (2005) “Nation as Partnership: Law, ‘Race’, and Gender in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Treaty Settlements”, Law and Society Review. Volume 39, number 3, p.504.
[66] Kelsey, J. (1993) Rolling Back the State. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, p.245.
[67] Quoted in Humpage, L. & A. Fleras (2001) “Intersecting Discourses: Closing the Gaps, Social Justice and the Treaty of Waitangi”, Social Policy Journal of New Zealand. Issue 16, p.38.
[68] Horomia, P. (2000) Te Puni Kokiri’s Role in Capacity-Building – A Key Measure in Closing the Gaps. Wellington: Te Puni Kokiri, p.1.
[69] Cullen, M. (2000) “Budget 2000: The Speech” New Zealand Herald. 16 June, p.D4.
[70]  Surveys cited in Johansson, J. (2004) “Orewa and the Rhetoric of Illusion”, Political Science. Volume 56, number 2, p.117.
[71] Attorney-General v Ngati Apa [2003] 3 NZLR 643
[72] Humpage, L. (2008) “Revision Required: Reconciling New Zealand Citizenship with Māori nationalisms”, National Identities. Volume 10, number 3, p.256.
[73] Quoted in Poata-Smith, E.S. (9005) “Aotearoa-New Zealand” in S. Stidsen & D. Vinding (eds.) The Indigenous World. Denmark: IWGIA, p.231.
[74] Cited in Johansson (2004) p.124.
[75] Bolger, J. (1998) Bolger: A View From the Top. My Seven Years as Prime Minister. Viking: Auckland, p.177.
[76] Augoustinos, M., K. Tiffin & D. Every. (2005) “New Racism, Meritocracy and Individualism: Constraining Affirmative Action in Education”, Discourse and Society. Volume 16, number 3, p.318.
[77] Potter, J. & M. Wetherell. (1989) Text. Volume 9, number 2, p.183.
[78] Augoustinos et al (2005) p.336.
[79] Wolfe, P. (1999) Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event. New York: Cassell, p. 163.

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