Maori deserve apology for 'hidings' - Labour

By Peter de Graaf

5 comments
Dover Samuels.
Dover Samuels.

An acknowledgment of past wrongs in the Maori Language Bill making its way through Parliament is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough, former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels says.

He is still hoping for a formal apology for the generations of children, including himself, who were beaten for speaking Maori at school.

Mr Samuels, now a regional councillor based in Kerikeri, first called for an apology at a Waitangi Tribunal hearing in Matauri Bay last year.

He told the Tribunal he was beaten with a metre-long supplejack vine "for no other offence but speaking the language of my people" throughout his time at Whakarara Native School.

The punishment, which left welts and bruising and sometimes drew blood, was an attempt to humiliate him and "cast a degrading image about me as a young Maori child".

Mr Samuels' cause has been adopted by Labour's Maori Caucus with MP Nanaia Mahuta drafting an apology to be added to the Maori Language Bill wending its way through the Select Committee. The latest version of the Bill includes an acknowledgment of the detrimental effects of past policies but not an apology.

Mr Samuels said it was a step forward, though he was still hoping for an apology from the Prime Minister once the Waitangi Tribunal delivered its findings from the Ngapuhi hearings. Redress could, for example, take the form of a trust aimed at improving the education of young rural Maori.

Mr Samuels said people had made submissions to him on the same issue while he was Minister but it was difficult to get support from colleagues and Parliament because the issue was a "historical time bomb".

Attitudes towards corporal punishment and te reo Maori had turned 180 degrees since his 1940s schooldays, Mr Samuels added.

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell had called him on Thursday to discuss the matter of acknowledgment versus apology.

Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said the Bill was the right place for an apology "for the hidings our people got" for speaking Maori at school.

While some argued that Maori themselves insisted their children speak English at school so they could get ahead in a Pakeha world, Mr Davis said that was a broad generalisation.

Many others reluctantly stopped speaking Maori with their children because they did not want them to be be beaten or endure misery at school.

The current wording in the Bill is as follows: "The Crown acknowledges the detrimental effects of its past policies and practices that have, over the generations, failed actively to protect and promote the Maori language and encourage its use by iwi and Maori, matters that (a) have been recorded in evidence given to the Waitangi Tribunal; and (b) the Crown has acknowledged in deeds of settlement entered into with iwi to settle their claims under the Treaty of Waitangi.

- Northern Advocate

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