Monday, 7 July 2008

multiculturalism in a bicultural society

i wrote the piece below last week, and sent it off to the herald and the dom post. the dom agreed to publish it, although i haven't seen it cos we don't get that paper here in hamilton.

All political parties were out in force at the Federation of Ethnic Council's AGM last weekend. This is not surprising. Many parties have finally realised that ethnic minority communities are not only a significant bloc of voters, they are discerning voters.

Peter Dunne appeared to offer what our community most wants: recognition. His call for a "Multiculturalism Act" is aimed to please. The idea sounds very nice, but is it in our best interests? Those who do not have an in-depth knowledge of this country's history and the struggle of our indigenous peoples might believe it to be so.

Bi-culturalism is a result of the Treaty of Waitangi. The parties to that Treaty were most Maori chiefs and the Crown. Because that "crown" basically belonged to the British monarch, those of us who don't have a British heritage and aren't Moari often feel excluded from the Treaty. The injustices around colonisation and breaches of the Treaty didn't involve ethnic minority communities. We weren't here in significant enough numbers to make a difference, and often had our own injustices to deal with, such as the poll tax on Chinese New Zealanders.

This lack of connection with the Treaty is exactly what Mr Dunne was playing on in his speech over the weekend, especially using words like "privilege" in relation to Maori (shades of Dr Brash). He failed to point out that the loss of the bi-cultural model will make it much harder to "recognize the unique place that hapü, whänau and iwi have had in our country" (from United Future policy on the Treaty). Note the wording "have had", which implies Maori should no longer have that unique place once Treaty claims are settled.

Therein lies the problem. For Maori, New Zealand is the only country where there language and culture can survive and thrive. It is the only place where they can lobby the government of the day to ensure funding for Maori language television and radio, and for educational institutions that incorporate the learning of Maori culture such as kohanga reo and kura kaupapa. For the rest of us, whether our ancestry is British, Asian or Pacifica, there is another country in the world where our culture and heritage is preserved. Maori have no such back-up.

The issue then remains: how do ethnic minorities gain recognition in this beautiful land? How do we take our place along side our fellow New Zealanders and feel that we belong here? I believe we can do so within a bi-cultural framework, because we belong to "the Crown" part of the relationship. Since the Crown includes us, it needs to incorporate our needs and our issues when developing policy in any area.

Some of that work has already begun. The NZ Police are the best example. The ten-year ethnic policing strategy has resulted in zero-tolerance of race-based crimes, recruitment of ethnic liaison officers and a push to recruit more ethnic police officers. A similar strategy needs to be replicated across other sectors. Some of the groundwork is being done, such as the new curriculum which incorporates the study of a variety of cultures.

Of course more can and should be done in this area. But I'd hate to see a situation where ethnic minority communities and Maori communities are pitted against each other, and a sense of anger grows as each community feels it is missing out. That is what Mr Dunne's proposal, taken in the context of his statements on the Maori seats and Treaty issues, is setting us up for.

It doesn't have to be an either/or situation. Ethnic minority communities have nothing to lose by recognising Maori as tangata whenua, and by encouraging fair settlement of Treaty claims. Rather, we gain because it embeds New Zealand's commitment to justice and to developing an inclusive society. Embracing the bi-cultural model benefits us because it shows we understand the importance of preserving indigenous cultures and languages. Understanding the rights and aspirations of Maori by making ourselves part of the Treaty partnership will improve our sense of belonging in this land.

Ethnic minority communities are already moving in this direction. They have sought to build bridges in a variety of ways. On 8 June 2008, members of the Hindu Council visited Te Puea Marae. It was the first time many had visited a marae. When the Hamilton Mosque was built, Maori elders were asked to perform a blessing when the foundations were laid and when the building was opened.

This shows there is goodwill and a desire to develop understanding between communities. It's vitally important that we don't get diverted by politicians using the language of exclusion and playing up feelings of resentment. Yes, ethnic minorities want recognition, but not at the expense of our Maori brothers and sisters.

1 comment:

Ben R said...

"The issue then remains: how do ethnic minorities gain recognition in this beautiful land? How do we take our place along side our fellow New Zealanders and feel that we belong here?"

Who exactly do you want recognition from?

I'm just asking, because if I moved to a non-European country I would simply want the liberty to practise my own religion (if I was religious)& to be treated like anyone else.

Doesn't NZ already have laws that ensure that happens (Human Rights Act 1993, Bill of Rights Act 1990 etc)?