Steve Baron: Waitangi Day and the growing underclass

A large hikoi marches towards the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Natalie Slade
A large hikoi marches towards the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. Photo / Natalie Slade

In 1875, a year before Colonel George Custer fought the battle of Little Bighorn in the USA and after a passage of 114 days on the ship Edwin Fox, my great-great-grandfather George Wilcock arrived in the wild, wild west of Wellington, New Zealand. He was one of the growing number of immigrants who flooded into the country under Premier Julius Vogel's immigration scheme, which offered wholly or partially paid assistance to get to New Zealand.

He was typical of New Zealand's early settlers, fleeing from Britain's industrialisation and wanting a better way of life for his family -- and no doubt for his future generations to come.

Maori and Pakeha didn't get off to the best of starts. Some 233 years before Wilcock arrived, Dutch sailor Abel Tasman had discovered what he called Staten Landt (renamed Nieuw Zeeland and later known as New Zealand) in 1642. This new discovery proved to be very inhospitable with four of his crew being killed by Maori in Golden Bay, or as he called it at the time, Murderers Bay.

A century later New Zealand was circumnavigated by Captain James Cook. The first real settlement was established in the Bay of Islands around 1800 where traders, whalers and farmers had set about doing their business.

Around 1840 Captain Hobson had been sent from New South Wales to establish a government in the Bay of Islands where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The intention of the Treaty was to safeguard British interests, protect Maori from the inevitable consequences of depopulation and extinction, encourage the rapid and peaceful amalgamation of the races and to ensure there was self-government.

Since these historical days New Zealand has come a long way and there has been much controversy, none more so than the controversy surrounding the Treaty of Waitangi. This day has now become a day of protest. I have grown up in a different world to George Wilcock and as a Pakeha I have listened to many of what I believe to be racist comments toward Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi. Many Pakeha have commented to me that they are tired and frustrated with the long drawn out Treaty settlement process and the special treatment Maori appear to receive with taxpayer money.

Some even feel Maori have no rights to be making their claims after all this time has passed and feel no obligation to right the wrongs of past governments. There is a number of things these people need to understand -- Maori do have a right to feel aggrieved and a right to have their claims settled to their satisfaction. Maori are also tired and frustrated with the slow progress. They want their Treaty settlements so they can get on with their lives and do something to benefit Maori.

The trouble is, issues like these take time to work through. What happened so long ago cannot be settled quickly and if it is settled properly so that both sides are happy with the deal, then it only causes problems at a later date. Maori were badly treated -- just consider for a moment how you would feel if the government confiscated your land without giving you compensation, killing your relatives in the process. Pakeha also need to understand that when Maori signed the Treaty, their perception of what they were signing was quite different to that of the Crown.

Maori did not believe they were giving up the right to their land and the word 'sovereignty' had no counterpart in the Maori language. Neither did Governor Hobson wait for all Maori Chiefs to sign the Treaty.

If we are ever going to settle the differences between Maori and Pakeha then the 'haters' from both sides need to be more understanding and walk a mile in each others shoes. There is no alternative because neither group is going to leave this country. What has also been divisive is the growing underclass in New Zealand, with Maori and Pacific Islanders representing a disproportionate share of that -- unfortunately. This underclass is stuck in a poverty trap and if they are lucky enough to even get employment, it is in minimum wage, low skilled jobs, that barely allow them to survive.

The only way out for this underclass is education and that begins with learning to read and write at a very early age. With these skills a person can educate themselves at any later point in their lives and lift themselves out of this poverty trap. The trouble is so many of this underclass do not have these skills and their lives quickly become a downward spiral.

When young children cannot read and write they get picked on, ridiculed, lose their self esteem, become aggressive and end up rebelling against society -- I have seen this in my own family. This is where special funding is needed if we are to make a difference. It should not be race based and it must not be wasted on inappropriate and poorly conceived money wasting projects.

* Steve Baron is the Founder of Better Democracy NZ, a former businessman and Waipa Mayoral candidate.

- NZ Herald

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