Rawiri Taonui: Time for New Zealand to show all its colours

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The Tino Rangatiratanga flag flying alongside the national ensign is a symbol of unity, says Rawiri Taonui.

The Tino Rangatiratanga flag is hoisted on One Tree Hill on Waitangi Day, 2007. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Tino Rangatiratanga flag is hoisted on One Tree Hill on Waitangi Day, 2007. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Flying the Tino Rangatiratanga flag alongside the blue ensign is good for New Zealand. The blue ensign symbolises the historic link with Britain, the first Pakeha settlers, the positives and negatives of colonisation, and the modern nation we are immensely proud of.

The New Zealand ensign represents these things mainly from a Pakeha viewpoint, which is OK. They are one of two original partners under the Treaty of Waitangi; today they are the majority. And, whether Maori like it or not, to a certain extent the blue ensign represents two peoples, in one nation with many cultures.

There are important things the blue ensign does not represent. The red, black and white Tino Rangatiratanga flag with koru, designed by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Dobson and Linda Munn in 1990, represents the pre-European Maori history of Aotearoa-Te Waipounamu, which is five to 10 times longer than the 169-year post-Treaty infant nation.

The colours encapsulate a mythology that extends back into Polynesia, ancient Austronesia and beyond. Te Korekore is the primal void from which came all creation, black can also depict Papatuanuku (Earthmother); white, Ranginui (Skyfather); and red the dawn and sunset of the cycle of life and earth. The koru has been a tohu (symbol) of life and youth centuries before Air New Zealand appended it to the back-end of a noisy turbo-prop.

The Tino Rangatiratanga flag also represents the 40-year Maori renaissance, beginning with Maori coming to terms with colonisation, depopulation, subjugation, assimilation, marginalisation, near obliteration, forced urban migration, and, dare I say it, generations of ripping off Maori.

The Tino Rangatiratanga standard symbolises the contribution of two generations of constructive protest. Maori an official language, kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, te reo on television, multiple Treaty settlements, the principles of the Treaty in legislation. Flying both flags is a best expression of our ongoing growth in nation-building.

Credit must go to Te Tino Ata Toa, another in a long line of Maori youth activists whose original protest inspired the decision. They exposed the baggage many New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, still carry. Who remembers the Transit New Zealand spokesman with the South African accent speaking the hypocrisy that only sovereign flags can fly on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. What about the America's Cup flag? And Parekura Horomia trying to defend the indefensible.

Then Prime Minister John Key stepped in and with a few simple words shed generations of defensive baggage: "I asked myself, if we looked back in 20 years from now would it matter if two flags flew over the Harbour Bridge? I thought it wouldn't."

Kudos also to the Maori Party and Hone Heke Harawira who led the charge, consulting Maori communities.

Whether Pakeha see two flags as divisive or unifying is directly proportionate to the extent of hangups about race. Those who have difficulty relating to Maori, especially if they are dark skinned, physically large and/or overtly ethnic and tribal, and have not spent much time on a marae, will see the flag as separatist simply out of fear of difference and diversity. Fortunately, this lot are in rapid decline. New Zealand will be 50 per cent brown by 2030. Those who are at ease with themselves, respect Maori and like other cultures will see the flags as representative of an over-arching unity, of every colour, hue and creed. They are the New Zealanders of the future.

Labour protestations that the flag represents the Maori Party are hollow recantations of self-inflicted guilt-ridden anguish that Maori have turned their backs on their "we know what is best for you" philosophy. Although the suggestion that the Maori Party is good at getting trinkets, rather than substance, from National is gathering momentum.

Some Maori are also unhappy with the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. Tuhoe, Ngati Whatua, the Kingitanga and others have their own flags, many a red ensign equivalent of the blue standard. There is no reason why they can't fly their own on Waitangi Day in their own tribal areas.

The white ensign of the north-oriented Confederated Tribes is the main challenger at a national level. I am tribally loyal to that flag; it represents Ngapuhi and our contribution to the nation. We were the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, adopt the Bible, sign the Treaty of Waitangi, and invade a Pakeha settlement, Kororareka (now Russell). In that way, we contributed the four fundamental ingredients of our democracy, tribal autonomy, a common belief system, a constitutional document, and ongoing conflict we call discourse.

Nevertheless, as much as it rankles, wider Maoridom has not supported our ensign. Very few tribes actually adopted the Confederation flag, and however honourable, the St George Cross is, unfortunately, a little colonial.

Moaning about the consultation process holds little credibility; 1200 submissions, 80 per cent in favour of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.

The Tino Rangatiratanga flag best represents the wider identity, struggle and renaissance of all Maori. For that reason, I'll fly it alongside my Confederation flag on Waitangi Day.

* Dr Rawiri Taonui is the head of the Aotahi School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at Canterbury University.

- NZ Herald

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