Anger at 'Maori holocaust' comment

By Michael Dickison

Six million people, mainly Jewish, were murdered in death camps like the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo / Thinkstock
Six million people, mainly Jewish, were murdered in death camps like the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo / Thinkstock

A Maori academic has been slammed for saying that the colonisation of New Zealand resulted in a holocaust for his people.

Keri Opai, a Taranaki-based language teacher, told a Radio New Zealand discussion that Maori had been through some "awful stuff that really does break down to a holocaust".

He cited the pillaging of Parihaka - where 1600 troops burned houses after being greeted by singing children - as a damning episode, and said many New Zealanders did not realise the extent of the devastation.

"I would hope that the average Pakeha New Zealander would perhaps throw their hands up in dismay," Mr Opai said. "I'm still amazed, still a bit perplexed at how this country is in a state of denial."

The trauma had been passed down through the generations - he called it post-traumatic stress disorder - and was behind many contemporary problems. "We're still recovering from it."

There was no direct comparison to the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed.

But Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman said calling what happened a holocaust was ignorant and improper.

"It tries to elevate Maori grievances by associating with the Holocaust, and I find it very hard to draw a comparison between the European colonisation of New Zealand and plain genocide," he said.

The genocide in Rwanda could be a holocaust, but the New Zealand context was different.

"It works on trivialising the Holocaust and diminishing the suffering and sheer horror of it all. [Maori] have every right to draw attention to their issue, but there are ways to go about it, and there are inappropriate ways - this is a highly inappropriate way."

New Zealand children did not learn enough about the Holocaust's history at school, Mr Goodman said - echoing Mr Opai's call for more education about Maori suffering.

The comments have been highlighted in Britain's Daily Mail under the headline: "Academic sparks outcry for comparing Britain's colonisation of New Zealand to Holocaust."

Disability Issues Minister and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia drew similar criticism in 2000 for mentioning "the holocaust suffered by indigenous people, including Maori, as a result of colonial contact and behaviour".

DEATH TOLL

NZ colonisation
* The Maori population fell by 40 per cent.
* More than 21,000 killed in warfare and 120,000 other deaths.
* Causes: War, disease and deprivation of resources.

Nazi Holocaust
* The European Jewish population fell by 60 per cent.
* Six million people, mainly Jewish, were murdered in death camps.
* Cause: Mass exterminations under the Nazi Party.

Sources: Te Ara, Telegraph

- NZ Herald

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