Bruce Bisset: Racist views still hold sway

By Bruce Bissett

CHB Mayor Peter Butler has brought his views out in the open with his so-called "private" email to his councillors. Photo / Paul Taylor
CHB Mayor Peter Butler has brought his views out in the open with his so-called "private" email to his councillors. Photo / Paul Taylor

Nothing beats a good scandal or bit of skulduggery for raising blood pressure and selling papers, and the Ruataniwha water storage scheme is proving to hold a veritable flood of contentions and controversies.

So far we've had everything from departmental reports being doctored and council ones sanitised, to ministers being grilled for misleading Parliament; accusations of secret negative campaigns, to lawyers ridiculing the public for daring to make submissions; and now we have the race card.

I'm only surprised it's taken this long for that joker to turn up.

Publicly, anyway. I'm sure in private there's been a lot of banter along the lines of "bloody Maori don't know what's good for them" and cynical dismissing of Ngati Kahungunu's challenge to the scheme as a means to "get their slice of the cake"; and so on.

Aimed at reminding members of the iwi their place is at the back of the bus, and they should damn well keep quiet and let the rich white folks do as they please.

But now CHB Mayor Peter Butler has brought that sentiment out in the open with his so-called "private" email to his councillors. Which, to paraphrase only slightly, said: "Maori don't use or care for the rivers anyway, so if they think they're getting any benefit from the scheme they've got another thing coming."

Racial intolerance based on a complete lack of understanding of cultural perspective, 101.

I'm not sure why it's called "Central" Hawke's Bay, since it's really south - Deep South, on the evidence. Given Butler and his self-proclaimed "henchmen" keep getting elected, one can only surmise the liberal view is a small (and doubtless despairing) minority.

These good ole boys and their mates can't wait to get their share of the promised wealth water and oil are said to be bringing. And you can be sure their share will be a large one, since they own a fair slice of the land that will have wells and sprinklers proliferating across it.

The fact most of Heretaunga was effectively stolen in an underhand deal that Donald McLean knew - even as he arranged it - was grossly unfair seems to have completely failed to register in their awareness.

Nor that regardless of the legal niceties awarding "rights of ownership" to names on paper, Maori retain a role as kaitiaki (guardians) of all their traditional rohe (tribal area) - a role they take seriously, even if Butler and co seem oblivious to it.

Regrettably, Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana is correct to label Hawke's Bay "very racist"; a condition I believe arose from the lies and double-dealing of some of the original settlers and their government-backed usurpers, since compounded by the blind refusal of their descendants to admit to any wrongdoing.

Incidents like this prove there's still a very long way to go before we achieve cultural harmony. The first step, after all, is learning to understand the other culture's values.

Including why they still hold grievances, and why they inherently believe they have a primary right to say how resources should best be managed.

Unfortunately greed and self-interest run amok over such intentions; and because those are facets that sadly are not one-sided, get firmly in the way of true bicultural progress.

Butler got one bit right though. His description of he and Terry Story's dissembling over who leaked what as telling "one or two white lies" is perfectly apt.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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