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CHRIS TROTTER: The Pakeha Quest

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT the words “Pakeha theologian” that causes my hackles to rise. Not because I am averse to discussing theology – far from it – but because today’s Pakeha theologians almost never talk about the God of the Old and New Testaments. Their deity is te Tiriti o Waitangi. A god from whom all Pakeha New Zealanders are expected seek absolution for the colonial sins of their fathers.


In an article entitled “Pakeha Identity And The Treaty”, posted on the E Tangata website, “Pakeha theologian” Alastair Reese argues that those New Zealanders who are not tangata whenua can put an end to their “Pakeha existential dilemma” by acknowledging themselves tangata Tiriti – people of the Treaty.


Reece contends that: “Pākehā are gifted an identity in the Treaty, along with associated rights and responsibilities. Māori identity is affirmed in the Treaty, as are their rights and responsibilities.”


Did you spot the not-so-subtle distinction in Reese’s formula? Māori identity is “affirmed”, but the identity of Pakeha is “gifted”. Whatever the nature of the relationship Reese sees emerging from the Treaty “covenant” may be, it is not a partnership of equals.


There is something deeply offensive in the image of Pakeha New Zealanders, wracked with existential angst, drifting, like so many rudderless colonial ghost-ships, twelve thousand miles from “Home” in the terrifying vastnesses of the South Pacific. It is an insulting caricature of the men and women (my own ancestors included) who put all those dangerous miles behind them to find a better life, and to build a new and fairer society – one very different from the society they left behind.


Like many of the Scots who settled in Otago, my great, great, great, grandfather abandoned a Scotland whose hereditary clan chieftains were betraying and harrying their own people. While in the salons of London these great lords spoke movingly of the indissoluble bonds of duty that bound them to their dependents, their agents were busy evicting thousands of crofters from their homes to make way for the considerably more profitable flocks of Cheviot sheep.


This quest for a just society informs the history of Pakeha settlement in these islands. The impulse to build a “Better Britain”, where the injustices of the Clearances, and the state-sponsored violence of the “Peterloo Massacre”, could never be repeated. High on a hilltop, just 50 kilometres north of Dunedin, stands the memorial to John Mackenzie, Lands Minister in the Liberal Government of John Balance. It was Mackenzie who oversaw the breaking-up of the great landed estates belonging to the wealthy elites who historian Stephen Eldred-Grigg dubbed the “Southern Gentry”. Mackenzie had witnessed at first-hand what landed “gentlemen” could do.


Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his New Zealand Company may have dreamed of replicating Mother England, and all her proud injustices, in the South Pacific, but the story of Pakeha New Zealand is the story of the seekers, dreamers and political campaigners who constructed what foreigners would come to call (with a mixture of admiration and surprise) “the social laboratory of the world”.


Back in the 1980s my wife and I rented the upper-floor of the St Andrews Presbyterian Church manse, once home to Rutherford Waddell, the clergyman whose sermon against sweated labour, “The Sin of Cheapness”, sparked the formation of the Tailoresses Union of New Zealand. The Otago Daily Times itself led the campaign which culminated in its creation.


The quest for social justice, for a nation better than the benighted realms of Europe could ever hope to be, is woven into the fabric of Pakeha New Zealand. That it is being unpicked now by the very forces the Mackenzies and Waddells struggled against is the true tragedy of our times.


So, no thank-you, Mr Reese, Pakeha New Zealanders have no need of te Tiriti’s “gifts”. What we need is to break the neoliberal spell under which this country continues to languish – drifting without purpose or direction. That awakening will not be assisted by “historians” writing the achievements of the Mackenzies and Waddells, the Seddons and Savages, out of our children’s textbooks, and replacing them with decontextualised horror stories of colonial murder and mayhem.


The greatest gift of the Treaty of Waitangi was its pledge of equality for all New Zealanders. My identity as a Pakeha New Zealander is bound irrevocably to the fulfilment of that historical promise.



This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times, and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 March 2023. Chris Trotter blogs at Bowalley Road

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75 Comments


100% of people with Māori ancestry also have non-Māori ancestry. if there are historic sins to be atoned in this country, we all must kneel in what we share. God help us if we must verify what % of what racial group we originate from: that way leads backwards to the darkest shadows of the 20th century

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OJB
OJB
Mar 06, 2023

I think the vast majority of New Zealanders see this "principles of the Treaty" BS for what it is: an excuse to make up whatever stuff is politically expedient. The fact that an "old lefty" like Chris also sees it to some extent is cause for hope. Not sure exactly what he means about the "neoliberal spell", I would say this more relates to the "postmodernist spell" or the "critical theory spell", but there's probably more than one cause, to be fair.

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Aaron Shanahan
Aaron Shanahan
Mar 06, 2023

Their is only one way forward, for new Zealand, one people, together, a multicultural society accepting each other, without hate, color blind , and just knowing that we are one.

There is only one way forward for new Zealand people.

No one deserves the right to dictate cultural acceptance, and no race is paramount in the make up of the social fabric in new Zealand. No one.

We all have a part to play, and i am sick and tired of seeing the social fabric or what we used to be get torn to shreds by those that know nothing, and simply don't care. No one had the guts to address this, so I will.


There is no place, i…


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While the Treaty of Waitangi asked the tangata Maori to give up their governments to the Queen and in return, they would become British Subjects with the same rights as the people of England, that is all it did! No more, no less! New Zealand's true Founding Document and first Constitution was Queen Victoria's Royal Charter/Letters Patent dated 16 November 1840.

See: http://onenzfoundation.co.nz/queen-victorias-two-royal-charters-letters-patent/.


The Royal Charter was removed from the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand in 2017 and hidden from the public for very obvious reasons.


There is no other document in New Zealand's history that comes anywhere near to our true Founding Document and first Constitution than Queen Victoria's Royal Charter. It referred to all the people o…

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Replying to

I’m not sure what you are objecting to; who said Māori were a nation? In Normandby’s 14 August 1839 instructions to Hobson it was acknowledged that New Zealand was a sovereign and independent state. Māori signed the treaty with the Crown to guarantee them tino rangatiratanga as well as the right to become British Citizens. The Crown signed it to gain sovereignty and purchase land. If stating facts is being Devil’s advocate, why is it getting warm under someone’s collar… 😈

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From ACT's Co-Government Discussion Document:


"ACT believes that the principles of the Treaty are based on all three articles of the Treaty - that the New Zealand Government has the right to govern; that the authority and ownership of land and property of all New Zealanders is protected; and that all New Zealanders are equal under the law. ACT will pass a law stating that these are the principles of the Treaty and that Government and the Courts must use this interpretation when considering Treaty principles. This law will go to the New Zealand public for their approval in a referendum."


This would be the same process through which the End of Life Choice Act became Law, and would offer…

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winder44
winder44
Mar 05, 2023
Replying to

Sounds like a solid democratic plan. Go for it.

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