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Lindsay Mitchell: Stoush between collectivist and individualist Māori


A stoush between collectivist and individualist Māori is long overdue. It has simmered for a long time but this week boiled over when Kelvin Davis exposed his thinking for all and sundry to examine. He confirmed that a Māori world with its own set of values exists, and that anyone with even a smidgen of Māori heritage should get themselves into it. It wasn't a kindly suggestion. It was a command. The cost of not complying? Derision and ostracism. It's reminiscent of the treatment handed out to those who don't want to be part of the Gloriavale commune.


The tribe is a communistic unit. The tribe takes precedence. It owns you. Its culture is all-encompassing. It provides strength in numbers, security and identity. But it is also stultifying and limiting depending on which lens it is viewed through. Ultimately, inevitably, whether at the micro or macro level, the question must be answered. Is your allegiance to the tribe or is it to yourself and your chosen group of family and friends?


If the two overlap, all well and good.


But in New Zealand (and Australia), for tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Māori, they don't. Mixed partnerships are more common than those with the same ethnicity. And each of these partnerships - many producing children - will face issues of concurrent cultures.


Increasingly, through media and public services, through health, justice and education, the Māori culture is being prioritised. To the point of being romanticized and lionized. Long-standing rules about the state being secular are broken to accommodate Māori spiritualism. Te reo - or knowledge of te ao - is de facto compulsory inasmuch as, if you don't have it there are now careers that are barred to you. The Māori 'team' propelling this are on a roll. They are in ascendancy. They have gathered non-Māori into their tribe with astonishing success and seeming ease, though reflecting on the creeping compulsion maybe 'ease' is the wrong word. As far back as the nineties you wouldn't progress through a public service job interview if unable to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the Treaty.


Prior to this compulsory cultural renaissance people managed their own conflicts. Where they had a foot in both camps - the tribe and the alternative - they made their own decisions. Some stayed, some divided their time, some rejected. In the middle of last century sociologists observed Pakeha men who married Māori women tended to move into the tribe; Māori men who married non-Māori moved into the non-tribal society. Tension would have existed always but so did the freedom to choose.


What kind of society wants to remove that freedom? One in which the collective trumps the individual.


Forget all the hoo-ha about culture, values and Māori mysticism. Colonisation, oppression and racism. They are only trinkets to tempt followers of fashion.


What is happening is a clash between philosophies. Politics is the practical expression of philosophy.


So it isn't surprising that the strong-arming to get with the Māori worldview programme is coming from the left (the Labour Māori caucus, Green and Māori Party MPs). And those resisting are coming from the right (National and ACT). What played out in parliament this week, and is still reverberating with non-politicians now entering the fray, is the age-old stoush between collectivism and individualism. It's New Zealand's cold war.


If we are going to be forced to take a side, and mounting evidence points to this eventuality no matter your ethnicity, think of the conflict in these terms.


Do you want to own your own life?




Lindsay Mitchell blogs here




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