What Is Being Indigenous in Aotearoa/New Zealand Today?
March 21, 2004
What is being indigenous in Aotearoa/New Zealand today? by Pat Snedden*
A public talk at St Johns College on Race Relations Day, Sunday 21 March 2004
Earlier this week I called a cab to go to town. The driver made to head off in a direction that I didn't expect. E te alu ifea? (Where are you going?) I said in my best and only Samoan. He nearly leapt out of his seat hearing this from a palagi and we both fell about laughing. How had been his morning, I asked. Busy, he replied, taking people to the cricket test at Eden Park.
Oh, the Pakeha hui I said. What do you mean, he responded with eyes raised. Well, it goes on for five days, everybody gets fed at least twice a day, there's lots of controversy, for long periods nothing seems to happen and then suddenly people seem to be at each other's throat. In the end they shake hands and mostly it ends in a draw. Sounds like a hui to me, I said. He had the grace to chuckle.
There's only one place in the world where that conversation could have taken place and be understood inclusive of all the cultural nuance. That place is New Zealand.
What therefore does it say about belonging?
I want to stay with Eden Park. My great grandfather, Alexander Nesbit Snedden was one of six Auckland businessmen who in 1903 purchased the swamp, drained it and turned it into a sports ground. Such has been our continuous connection over four succeeding generations that when members of our family played at Eden Park at either rugby or cricket, it was hard to escape the feeling that with this sporting whakapapa we had home advantage!
Now not all Pakeha have this same sense of ownership about our country. Last week I read a commentator suggest Don Brash's speech at Orewa tapped at a very emotional level the sense of Pakeha feeling "strangers in our own land". In short we need to reclaim our sense of belonging.
Brian Turner wrote recently in the Listener asserting a deep and intimate Pakeha connection with the land, a connection denied he believed by many Maori, including Ranganui Walker, to whom he was responding. When he says, "I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday", he (Walker) very clearly denies a similar depth of feeling to almost everyone else. He rails against a relentless presumptuousness about the way in which non-Maori feelings for land and water are dismissed as less heartfelt, less sensitive, less spiritual.
So am I, as a Pakeha, indigenous? Well, yes and no. For me to claim my 140 years of direct ancestry here is a source of pride and this is my home. But can I fairly claim to be indigenous in the same way as Maori who have been here from around 1300 AD? To do so would be to sideline 500 plus years of Maori experience prior to my forebear's arrival. Not only would that be unfair it is un-factual and if there is one matter that we need to do today is to stick to the facts.
But nor do I wish to tug my forelock in this matter. As Pakeha we claim our belonging through being descended from the settlers who agreed the treaty.
On one side of my family my migrant ancestors arrived at Port Albert near Wellsford in the 1860s. They became farmers. At the Port Albertland wharf there is a plaque thanking Ngati Whatua for their assistance in settlement and acknowledging that without that they would not have survived.
Today we are shaped by a set of cultural reflexes toward the land, our environment and as the taxi driver conversation shows, the interaction between Maori, Pakeha and Pacific peoples that exists nowhere outside of this place. For the vast majority of us, we no longer have a bolt-hole to escape to anywhere else in the world that accepts us as their own. I have visited the heart of my Irish and Scottish roots and except for the most surface of acknowledgement they did not see anything of themselves in me nor me in them.
I am here in Aotearoa New Zealand for good because I have nowhere else to go. And I am content with that.
And it is this concept that so many of us post-Treaty migrants have emotional difficulty with. We passionately and intuitively know we are not strangers in our own land, but we are unresolved as to how to describe ourselves.
Resolving this will help us deal with this current debate. At present my observation is that Pakehas (and for that matter many new migrants) look at the Treaty as being not our Treaty but their Treaty, a method of leverage for resolving Maori claims. So once we finalise their grievances the relevance of the Treaty will be no more.
How much more satisfying would it be if we all claimed and acknowledged our own sense of belonging, different but authentic to its core? Then this discussion would be quite different. The Treaty would become our Treaty and our behaviour in relation to the principles of that Treaty would be inclusive not exclusive.
Patrick Snedden is Pakeha New Zealander with 22 years involvement as a senior executive and owner in publishing companies serving the educational, medical and farming sectors. He was a founding director of Mai FM, Auckland's first Maori-owned commercial radio station.
Most recently he has been involved in high level public sector governance roles as deputy-Chairman with Housing NZ Corporation and as an elected board member of the Auckland District Health Board He is also deputy-Chairman of the ASB Trusts and chairs their Investment Committee and serves as a director of Watercare Services Ltd, the water and wastewater company for Auckland.
For over 20 years he has been an economic adviser to Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board and is a member of their Treaty negotiation team. He also works as a business adviser to Health Care Aotearoa, a primary health network involving Maori, Pacific and community not-for profit health providers.
He has professional degree qualifications from Auckland University in commerce specialising in accounting and economics. He is also trained in anthropology which equips him with a mix of skills suitable for addressing the emerging issues of commerce in a cross cultural context that is New Zealand today.