Another Comment on the Media, Education and Co-Governance
This article first appeared at https://breakingviewsnz.blogspot.com/2022/12/david-lillis-another-comment-on-media.html
Another Characteristic Media Piece
Recently I was motivated to write a piece on the media and co-governance (Lillis, 2022). I expressed the opinion that New Zealand is on a dangerous path that advantages a small minority on the basis of genetics or self-reported ethnicity. I expressed the view that our media presents co-governance almost exclusively as the desirable pathway to our future, and seldom publishes alternative opinions.
I discussed an article from a former mayor of Kapiti Coast (Gurunathan, 2022a) and stated my perspective that it was well-meaning and positive in intent. I did note that he appeared to cast disagreement with co-governance as bias, or even racism, and to discount the possibility that dissenters articulate genuinely-held views, also advanced with positive intent.
Since then, the same author has published another piece in Stuff (Gurunathan, 2022b). I believe that this piece is well-intended, as was his previous, and we can understand his position. Nevertheless, it is notable that he presents a particular line that seems to cast any individual or body standing up to a minority as committing wrong and possibly engaging in racism. The title is already provocative: Councils should think twice before insulting their Treaty partners.
The author refers to an incident where Kaipara mayor, Craig Jepson, who had banned the reciting of karakia during council meetings, interrupted councillor, Pera Paniora, when she tried to recite a karakia at the first meeting of the new council. Apparently, Jepson had stated that councillors were there to do business and specific religions or cultures should not be included in meetings.
But did his interruption constitute an insult or an act born of racism?
Actually, many believe, as I do, that Jepson was ill-advised to interrupt the councillor and should have foreseen the reaction that indeed ensued. It would have been polite and respectful to have allowed her to proceed with the karakia. But did his interruption constitute an insult or an act born of racism? Surely, his statement to the effect that religions and cultures should have no place in council meetings states his position clearly. What would he be expected to do if other councillors from half-a-dozen other cultures and religions stood up to sing and speak too? Surely, Councillor Jepson’s primary role was to convene a meeting rather than to conduct a concert.
“These First Nation people underwent a colonial occupation that has witnessed the confiscation of their land, undermining their economic independence and sustainable relationship to their environment.
They were forced through a systemic assimilation policy that alienated them from their language and culture.”
Of course, there was colonial occupation but just how much land was confiscated? The confiscation law was aimed at Kīngitanga Māori in order to restore the rule of British law. Much land was purchased, rather than confiscated. For example, the Crown and the New Zealand Company had purchased some 99% of the South Island by 1865 (New Zealand History, 2022). Diverse sources of information are broadly in agreement that, as punishment for rebellion (e.g. the New Zealand wars of 1845 -1872), approximately 1,200,000 hectares, or 4.4 per cent, of land was confiscated, mainly in Waikato, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty, South Auckland, Hauraki, Te Urewera, Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast (Wikipedia, 2022).
Some land was given back but in any case we may agree that the confiscations were wrong. However, Peter Winsley reminds us of another precursor to confiscation, the Musket Wars, that were fought between Māori tribes from about 1807 to around 1837. These wars claimed approximately 40,000 Māori lives, compared to the deaths of less than 3,000 people from all sides in all the New Zealand Wars (Crosby, 2020; cited in Winsley, 2022).
Gurunathan refers to the undermining of Māori economic independence and sustainable relationship to their environment. He makes a valid point here, but could have conceded that Māori and other minorities have also gained greatly in economic wealth, education and improved health, and that the relationship between indigenous or traditional communities and their environment was not always sustainable.
The author proceeds:
“ . . . why Mayor Jepson should refocus his navel-gaze on his understanding of council business is the brutal realpolitik that, if you piss off your Treaty partners by insulting their mana, legal tools are available to them to grind down council’s decision-making process and, worse, get it tangled up in court.”
Where in the Treaty of Waitangi do we read of partnership? Was anyone’s mana insulted deliberately? If an observer referred in our media to a minority person’s “navel-gaze”, what would be the reaction? And what would be the point of grinding down council’s decision-making process or getting it tangled up in court?
“Aotearoa New Zealand is making some significant steps towards a unique hybrid democracy – a fusion of the Māori worldview and what we inherited from Britain. The journey will be challenging.”
By whose authority is this new hybrid society being forced on everyone? Why should a minority world view be imposed on a twenty-first century nation, even that of a minority which, to be fair, was present in these islands before others? Any such journey imposed through legal or other force on an unwilling population will indeed pose a great challenge if indeed many see it as socially, politically and economically retrograde and simply do not want it for this and future generations.
We live in the Here and Now
No longer do we live in Victorian times. Over the last half-century we have become a very multicultural society and the relevant population statistics were given in my last article (Lillis, 2022). Asians, Pacific people and Middle Eastern, Latin American and African people now make up approximately 40% of our total population, or more than two-and-a-half times those who self-identify as Māori (Ehinz, 2022). Every person must count as equally important as everyone else and deserves both equal social, economic and political decision-making power and equal opportunity to achieve success and lead a fulfilling life.
Is it truly sensible, in the twenty-first century, to value traditional knowledge and resource it equally to modern science? If we have Māori providing for Māori, then shall we have the same for Pacific people and immigrants from Ethiopia and Somalia? Why should our public service become bicultural and support self-determination for one group and not others? Why should our law, policy, processes and entities support a bicultural, but not a multicultural, joint sphere of governance and management of resources, taonga (treasures) and Crown lands? Why must we have a bicultural, mātauranga-informed, but not a multiculturally-informed state service? Why should one cultural and ethnic group co-govern and/or co-design and deliver services, but not Asian people or immigrants from Iraq, Eastern Europe, Latin America or Afghanistan?
We live in dangerous times! For example, in relation to treatments for cancer and other illnesses, some of the material currently available online is deeply worrying. For example, one three-minute video exemplifies very real risk when traditional knowledge is taken literally (ACC, 2022). Much of what is in this video we can agree with, especially in relation to addressing a patient’s needs holistically. However, the healer who features in the video tells us that:
“The Western health and healing system is awesome. It’s not better. It’s not worse than Maori healing.”
She also tells us that it is for everyone; not only for Māori. From the perspective of many readers, her concession that western medicine is no worse than Māori medicine may seem very broad-minded and convincing, just as the notion of equality of traditional knowledge with “western science” may appear to be quite progressive and respectful towards indigenous and other minorities. However, all cultures and societies have developed and used proto-scientific rules of method but putative science, which has no experimental basis, has no place in the twenty-first century.
The problem here, of course, is that some Māori and others, presenting with cancer or other serious conditions, listening to this and other similar messaging, may opt for traditional methods. With what result? In a broader sense than health and wellbeing, what messages are we sending to our young people as they access our “new and improved” education curricula and other online material? Well-meaning traditional faith healers may guide many of their trusting devotees along a pathway to disaster, and feel-good messaging, such as in that video, is in fact highly dangerous.
Education and Polarization
Right now our secondary education system is being revised and matauranga Māori is being woven into our national science curriculum in a way that defies logic. It will make New Zealand a laughing stock and lead to loss of confidence in our education system, both across the world and at home. No mauri, or indeed any other “life force” that features within the mythology of any cultural or ethnic group, exists within inanimate things and therefore including such a concept in any national science curriculum is extraordinarily naive, betrays wilful neglect of duty on the part of those responsible, and compromises the education of future learners. There should be no place for political or ideological doctrine within the curriculum. Only objective politics and history are permissible and then only in social studies, anthropology and history class.
We need to match the quality of our education with that of leading nations, particularly OECD nations. We must provide education that enables New Zealand students to compete in the domestic and international marketplaces and we want New Zealand secondary and tertiary qualifications to be respected internationally and to remain portable to other countries. To achieve such objectives, we can teach and value traditional knowledge but must at all costs keep it out of our science curriculum. At present our education is set to become a world-leading mediocrity and we should bear in mind that, behind the statistics, our failures will have many human faces.
How about a different set of rules? What about these, as a beginning?
1. We work together towards the good of all New Zealanders
2. We ensure that all citizens of New Zealand enjoy equal social and political rights, and address effectively any significant social and other problems, irrespective of ethnicity.
At present we see considerable social and political polarization in New Zealand and we now have duty of care to take corrective action. We remember the statement from John Stuart Mill, made in an address to the University of Saint Andrews in 1867:
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.
Here, we are not in open confrontation with bad men, but instead with bad ideas.
The New Zealand Media
As I said in my previous article, when people such as Gurunathan publish their views, most probably they have good intent and we should listen and learn from them. Like others, Gurunathan reminds us that prejudice is real, that minorities often experience marginalization when others do not, and that we must do our best to ensure fairness and equality of opportunity. However, our media should give alternative perspectives equal opportunity for dissemination within the public domain but today contrary views are all but banished from the public square. Finally, we can achieve good things without adversarial or vindictive behaviour. We should also remember the words of Abraham Lincoln:
Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?
We will not make the desired progress if every dissenting opinion is cast in negative light and if insults are taken where none are intended. All of us must learn to accept constructive criticism without unnecessary outrage. We must expose hate, racism, prejudice and bias wherever they appear, but invoking the straw men of racism and hate is especially unhelpful when we are genuine in wanting a better world for everyone. Equally, we will not make progress if our media presents only one acceptable political perspective and crushes everything else.
ACC (2022). Rongoā Māori: A traditional healing choice for all.
Crosby, R. (2020): The Forgotten Wars. Why the musket wars matter today. Arataia Media.
Ehinz (2022). Ethnic Profile: New Zealand has a diverse ethnic mix.
Gurunathan, K. (2022a). Fanning the flames of fractiousness around co-governance.
Gurunathan, K. (2022b). Councils should think twice before insulting their Treaty partners.
Lillis, D. (2022). The Media and Co-Governance.
New Zealand History (2022). Māori land loss, 1860-2000.
Wikipedia (2022). New Zealand land confiscations.
Winsley, P. (2022). Comment on Fair Chance Inquiry Interim report.