Brash has right idea, but wrong words
Don Brash must have said something really wrong if even Winston Peters criticises his comments on Maori. As much as Peters would seek to deny it, he and Brash do have rather similar ideas when it comes to Maori policy. Where they differ is that Peters—uncharacteristically—didn’t go as far as Brash. Whereas Peters simply said preferential treatment for Maori must end, somewhere along the line, Brash dropped in that increasing racial intermarriage has meant that there are few, if any, full-blood Maori left.
The Maori Party, somehow, managed to interpret this as “Maori no longer exist”. Tariana Turia argued that the blood portion of an individual should not determine whether or not he is Maori; rather, being Maori is based on “beliefs, philosophy, customs and aspirations”. Pita Sharples simply argued that Brash implied the extinction of Maori. They seem to have missed the point. I don’t think Brash ever intended to question what it is to be Maori. He seems perfectly happy with people calling themselves Maori. His statement about racial intermarriage was to support his idea that separate treatment for Maori must end.
Mind you, I don’t mean to say that Brash is perfectly correct. If you ask me, his statement on Maori blood ventures off the point a bit. The relationship between the blood proportion of Maori, and their separate treatment, is not immediately apparent. But under his poorly-worded and poorly-interpreted comments, I sense a good point. Government policy should not distinguish Maori people from other people just because those people seek to identify themselves with a certain culture, or because they follow Maori beliefs, customs or aspirations. The cultural practices of a person—which is, according to Tariana Turia, what defines a Maori—should be completely independent of how they are treated, how they vote, how we consider their success. Put another way, a person’s opportunities should the same irrespective of their culture.
If I seem like I’m twisting Brash’s words, I probably am. But I have not twisted his point. All he wanted to say was that Maori do not need specially allocated seats in parliament, they do not need to be specially recognised, and that more recently, the under-representation of Maori in law school does not imply a social failure. For us to be one people, we must, for starters, be one people, and as long as Maori people are differently treated in some way, that cannot happen.
In this policy, though, we must be careful that we are not eradicating Maori culture. It would be on a different plane to say that, for example, Maori should not be one of New Zealand’s official languages, or that we should ignore a concerns about a proposed road impeding on a taniwha. Every immigrant should be prepared to accept a certain degree of Maori culture. It is perfectly reasonable to provide bilingual government resources, or to carry out some Maori practices in state functions. Maori culture is something not just for Maori, but for all of New Zealand to be proud of.
Nevertheless, Brash was correct to point out what has become a double-standard for the Maori citizen, just as Peters did a few years ago. An attitude that Maori people are separate from everyone else, as he says, must stop. He would be wise, though, to take care of how he makes his point. The last thing he wants is someone who he’s in agreement with labelling his comments as “evil”.
- NZ Herald: Brash outrages Maori by questioning their identity (25 September)
- NZ Herald: Peters labels Brash race statements ‘evil’ (1 October)
- NZ Herald: Don Brash: Aid according to need, not race (2 October)
- NZ Herald: Peters denies hypocrisy on Maori-blood attack (3 October)
- NZ Herald: Topic: Maori