Bruce Bisset: Forging a future in light of past

By Bruce Bisset

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Seems to me while we are slowly moving forward in addressing Maori grievances there remains an undercurrent of resentment at the supposed inequality of the process - an undercurrent that unfortunately has many adherents here in Hawke's Bay and is, at base, racist.

Or, at best, ignorant. People who were not taught and have never bothered to examine our national history in any detail make free with the rights and wrongs of things they know little about and, in doing so, help build and maintain a mass misconception of the state of play in this debate.

That they are then goaded and swayed by intentional racists into thinking their opinions have some validity is a sad but all too common result. Manipulation of the media has become an art form, and those with the biggest axes use that art best to grind them.

When we first came to Hawke's Bay, my wife and I were shocked at some of the racist comments we heard and read, particularly in letters to this paper. And while in recent years that garbage has diminished in quantity and tone, the supremacists still manage to slip a few words through the cracks from time to time.

Akin to climate deniers, who refuse to recognise the problem and so act to prevent solutions, white racists continually reprise ethnic fantasies about the founding, growth, and future of New Zealand/Aotearoa designed to "dignify" European settlement while denigrating Maori contribution.

History insists such a view is nonsense. But then, truth is inconvenient when it doesn't fit your outlook, eh?

Fact is this land was colonised with subtle brutality - and sometimes not so subtle. That subtlety arose through the Treaty of Waitangi and its promises of partnership and equality but, for the first century after signing, those principles of Te Tiriti were brutalised at will.

Maori were decimated, stripped of resources and marginalised as low-class beings at the whim of successive waves of money-grubbers, mercenaries and muck-rakers, and every Pakeha who can trace their history back to the days of sail has ancestors in one or more of those categories.

Why now pretend to deny it? Surely the guilt can be left where it belongs - in the past.

However, the product of that guilt cannot. As much as people may wish to sanitise and gloss over the actions of their tupuna, atrocities committed in the name of greed do not conveniently get forgotten by those on the sharp end of the bullets.

Nor the decades of grinding poverty after, enforced by numerous land and cultural acts designed to strip Maori of the ability to be competitive in farming and business - can't have the "darkies" actually prospering can we, when the money better fits white pockets.

Grievances are not an "industry". They are simply wrongs that need be set right - or as right as can now be achieved - in order for us to finally move forward with equanimity as a nation.

Moreover, that iwi are willing to accept the tokens of out-of-the-way reserves and some cash as recompense for the devastation they endured shows which side has generosity of spirit. And if some dare ask for more, that can hardly be an affront.

However as the debate widens to include "ownership" - or at least co-management - of natural resources, there is a danger that the partnership principles of the Treaty may be undermined in the opposite direction.

Because Pakeha who know and honour these truths know also that our side of the story is not being heard - except vicariously through Maori aspirations.

We as a people are not spoken for - not as equals in the Treaty's great partnership ideal - for the government, councils, churches and corporations, which are all mistakenly perceived as somehow entirely "Pakeha", do not speak for us.

Our place at the table has been usurped by those institutions, which more correctly should do everyone's collective will - and our participation is being given away without our voice being heard.

Not a divisive voice, but one of harmony. One that sees Te Tiriti's ideal as worthy of a nation's foundation, and wishes only to share and empower it.

We must find ways to blend our voices together, Maori and Pakeha, to forge a future in the light of the past.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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