Dividing-a-Nation-Front-CoverLegislation demands that we all follow the diktats of tikanga, while the great majority have no idea what that means. —John Robinson

Are we becoming two nations?

By Roger Childs

When we support the All Blacks, Silver Ferns or other top sports people we are barracking for Kiwis representing New Zealand with pride. Ethnicity doesn’t come into it. However, if we did an analysis, we would find a mix of people with ancestors from Samoa, Ireland, Scotland, China, Fiji, India, Tonga, England, Dalmatia etc .. And some of them would be part-Maori. 

In sport there are no ethnic distinctions, but in legislation and accepted practice it’s different. There are over 90 parliamentary Acts which make special provisions for part-Maori and their tikanga (culture). But there are no references to people of British, Irish, European, Asian or Pacific Island descent. Why not? Well Maori are regarded as special because of their links to the first Polynesian settlers to arrive in the country. It doesn’t matter that these ancestors might make up a very small part of their DNA and that part-Maori only make up about 15% of the population.

In his book Dividing a Nation; the Return to Tikanga John Robinson analyses why Maori have special status and rights based on a new tikanga which bears little resemblance to the culture of pre-European times. And he examines the ever-increasing implications for all Kiwis of the impact of this latter day tikanga on the New Zealand way of life.

An excellent analysis of the race-based realities

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. —United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. —Proclamation by the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. 

John Robinson starts his book with some observations on the implications of present race-based divisions in New Zealand, defines the term tikanga and the ways it has changed, and examines how adherence to its precepts has split the nation in the modern era.

He provides plenty of examples of how tikanga has seeped into many aspects of modern practice and endeavour, even science! As a scientist I have been particularly concerned by the quite absurd demands by the Royal Society of New Zealand for matauranga Maori ( the Maori way of thinking) as a basis for scientific work, in a reversal of the concept of scientific endeavour, which seeks provable facts, without any particular cultural bias.

A major section of the book covers the period before the Treaty of Waitangi where tikanga was dominated by the inter-tribal wars, utu, widespread killing, cannibalism, slavery and infanticide. He then deals with aspects of post-Treaty history through the appeal of various religious movements, the implications of the rural-urban rift that followed World War Two and how tikanga was reinvented from the late 20th century. 

In looking at this latter period he analyses the explosion of race-based legislation and the implications of the growing power of the racist, all-powerful Waitangi Tribunal.

1830s interaction (1)Along the way, he dispels plenty of myths such as the popular notion that colonisation, and the western development that accompanied it, were devastating for Maori and resulted in a fall in the population. Based on sound demographic principles and data, he demonstrates that it was the killing of thousands of women and girls during the inter-tribal wars and the consequent lack of breeding stock, that caused a delay in the population recovery of Maori.

A major strength of his fluent writing – he has written a number of books on New Zealand history — is the frequent reference to what people, and particularly Maori leaders, were saying at the time. His research is always very thorough and his conclusions are soundly based on the evidence available. 

Waitangi_Tribunal_logoDividing a Nation is laced with historical and literary references, and includes many examples from the author’s own experience of working for Maori institutions such as the Waitangi Tribunal and Te Puni Kokiri, and his family’s experience of racism. 

The realities of the present and possible futures

Waitangi Ngai TahuThere is plenty of analysis of the realities of Maori life today from dependence on the Domestic Purposes Benefits and disagreement with the actions of Oranga Tamariki to protect vulnerable children, to the problems of gangs and unemployment. He also give many examples of where pressure from Maori groups, sometimes involving violence, has led to unpleasant confrontations in places such as in the Urewera, Northland, Kawhia, Lake Taupo, Te Mata Peak, Opotiki and most recently, Ihumatao. Invariably Maori have got what they wanted.

The underlying message of the book is that the reborn tikanga has divided the nation in the modern era, underpinned by a plethora of race-based legislation. 

John Robinson is not confident that problems which this has created can be resolved, however, he offers three possible futures –

  • Coming together as one people
  • Drifting 
  • Maori Anger

He feels strongly that the present issues need to be understood, discussed and debated so that a better way can be found for the nation to move forward. This is an important book which should be widely read to appreciate how our country has been changing for the worse.

Dividing a Nation; the Return to Tikanga by John Robinson is published by Tross Publishing and retails for $35. It can be bought with postage paid from the Tross website.