He Iwi Kotahi Tātou – Guest Post by Philip McKibbin

Me mihi atu ahau ki ōku hoa ako me ōku hoa mahi.

Ko tēnei kōrero mā ngā tāngata katoa.

This article is for everyone.

There is only one way to address the problems that afflict us. That way is love. It can be difficult, though, to imagine love as something more than that which a family shows to a child, that which so many of us seek in romantic partnerships, or that which some of us believe we will find in God – and yet, we must. As bell hooks tells us, there is only one love, and it has the potential to transform our world …

Love is a way of relating. We can relate to different things: to ourselves, to other people, and to the natural environment. Togetherness, then, is an extension of love with other people. Friendships help us to appreciate this: these relationships – which are loving – are freely chosen, and they endure because they allow us to both be ourselves and be together. Love leads us to togetherness; and in togetherness, we learn how to love.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, this way of love is not achieving expression. Our lack of togetherness is evident in our inequalities, especially those between Pākehā and Māori. The idea that, because ‘we’re all New Zealanders’, we have achieved equality is false: it ignores Pākehā privilege and fails to account for disadvantage. The crises that confront Māori in education, health, and justice are not only Māori problems; nor are they only Pākehā problems. They are our problems, and when we understand them as such, they affect us all.

These problems are symptoms of our lack of togetherness, but they are not the only ones: interpersonal racism, on the part of both Pākehā and Māori, taints our thinking and poisons our relationships. The lack of trust between us – be it an unreasoning response to misrepresentation, or a weary wariness resulting from oppression – prevents us from seeing the potential benefits in working together to generate solutions to our problems.

As Hone Heke signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi, William Hobson – trying to say, ‘we are now one people’ – said to him, ‘He iwi tahi tātou.’ Heke corrected his grammar: ‘He iwi kotahi tātou,’ he said.* We can think about this story in a number of ways. We might remember the haste with which The Treaty of Waitangi was prepared, or think about the incompetence of those who drafted it. It is tempting, indeed, to read into this story all of the problems that have plagued us, as a people and as peoples, since 1840.

I think about the story differently. I choose to imagine both Heke and Hobson as well-intentioned, and as engaged in a joint project. As a Pākehā learner of te reo Māori, I sympathise with Hobson. I know – as do my hoa ako – that it takes courage to speak in a language different to the one you are most used to. Perhaps Heke knew that, too? Well, he could have responded to Hobson’s suggestion that we are one people by saying, ‘No, we aren’t!’ Instead, he strengthened the sentiment.

What is very clear is that Heke knew togetherness cannot be based on exploitation – that he understood this is evident in what he did, and did, and then did again to that flagpole in Kororāreka, cutting it down in acts of protest against the Crown. Togetherness is not a one-sided thing. Whether it involves people or peoples, it acknowledges our plurality, our mutuality. It also involves a commitment to equality: the opposite of equality is oppression, and as bell hooks says, when we choose to love we move against oppression.

We cannot ignore the racism – interpersonal, institutional, and internalised – under which Māori continue to suffer. And if we really are committed to overcoming it, we must understand it as it is: a weight, which we will only lift by pulling together. It is only by working with Pākehā that Māori will overcome racism; and by working with Māori to overcome racism, Pākehā will finally be deserving of the right to live in this country.

What should we do? We must all seek understanding, which we will gain by being together. We must then challenge ourselves with that understanding – and if we find fault in the way we think or feel, try our hardest to right it. And we should form friendships, because in friendship we will find the strength we need to transform ourselves and our world…

When we look on it alone, the way of love seems difficult – but because we will be walking it with friends, we will know how to respond to the challenges we encounter. As individuals, we must start on that path. We should invite other people to walk with us, and welcome them when they do. As we walk, more and more people will join our hīkoi.

And then – then, when we are all journeying together – we will explore our Universe, drawing on the strengths of our many cultural heritages, navigating new ways of being that benefit all of us as equals and that will continue to benefit our descendants…

Togetherness requires trust, and trust takes courage. Unfortunately, trust is something we lack here in Aotearoa New Zealand – but whether we are Māori or Pākehā, or Māori and Pākehā, or strong in our other ways, courage is something we have plenty of.

And we can always choose to love.

* This story is related by Papaarangi Reid in “Te Pupuri i te Ao o te Tangata Whenua.” (In Health and Society in Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Davis, Peter and Kevin Dew, 51-62. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1999.)

This guest post was contributed by Philip McKibbin, a freelance writer living in Auckland, New ZealandYou can find more of his writing at http://www.philip-mckibbin.com/.

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