Rawiri Taonui: Paul Holmes, a cheeky Pakeha?

Mr Holmes levelled a staggering number of half-truths, stereotypes and inaccuracies into a 470-word tirade, writes Rawiri Taonui. Photo / File
Mr Holmes levelled a staggering number of half-truths, stereotypes and inaccuracies into a 470-word tirade, writes Rawiri Taonui. Photo / File

It is a sad day when a great writer repeats the prejudices of the past. The latest offering from Paul Holmes regarding Waitangi Day is one such fall from grace.

Mr Holmes is an intelligent, insightful and witty writer; few match his ability to engage readers as if in conversation.

Using that brilliance, Mr Holmes levels a staggering number of half-truths, stereotypes and inaccuracies into a 470-word tirade depicting Maori as ghastly, smug, politically neurotic, uneducated, violent child-bashing, greedy fat over-eating weirdoes filled with hate, hate, hate (yes, three times).

While racially offensive and possibly grounds for complaint to the Race Relations Office, he has a right to his views. Talkback radio and reader responses to newspapers columns clearly show many Pakeha hold similar views.

The theory of White Privilege explains how dominant European groups consciously and unconsciously maintain the advantage of the inter-generational wealth they accrue from the subjugation of subordinate ethnic and indigenous groups.

They do this by lauding their domination as progress, denying history and their prejudice, praising passive subalterns as good natives and demonising those who protest injustice.
Our Treaty of Waitangi history is that. Before the Treaty, when Europeans depended upon their indigenous hosts, Maori were Noble Savages.

As Maori expressed concern about what was unfolding after the Treaty, prominent European writers began describing them as ungrateful, depraved, polluted, immoral, degraded, vain, arrogant and cowardly uncivilised savages lacking moral courage and even living in servile bondage as the iniquitous slaves of Satan.

When Maori sought equal voting rights, James Richmond described them as politically destitute, ignorant, and dangerous. Yet as Pakeha gained large tracts of land undermining Maori communities, Governor Grey reported to Britain that 'Both races form one harmonious community'.

When Maori resisted land sales and war ensued, the NZ Settlement Act provided for confiscation of land from "evilly disposed natives", which the Southern Cross newspaper described as a fatherly and moderate 'act of Christian charity'.

When Maori protested the iniquities of the Native Land Court system, which Pakeha MPs promoted as freeing them from the "evils" of their "communism", MP Robert Bruce praised the courts as an "ingenious method" for "destroying the whole of the Maori race".

In 1900, Pakeha MPs refused Maori chairpersonship of new Land Councils as "contrary to all that is English". Similarly, when Maori preferred to lease rather than sell land, a prominent editorial protested that such 'coloured rule' was un-British.

Fast forward to 2004, when Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples led the hikoi against the Foreshore and Seabed Act, Prime Minister Helen Clark described them as "haters and wreckers".

Mr Holmes laments the behaviour of protesters towards Pakeha dignitaries, but is blissfully unaware of the vilification and ridicule Maori human rights advocates face on a daily basis.

He reinforces rather than questions prejudice. He generalises all Maori as child bashers. There is a serious child abuse problem in poor and culturally bereft Maori communities.

Between 2002 and 2006 28 Maori kids were killed in this way. We know their names. But who remembers the names of the 48 Pakeha children who suffered a similar fate.
Mr Holmes characterises Treaty claims as "bamboozling" the Pakeha. However, all successful Maori claims derive from British Colonial policy, the Treaty, its principles, precedents in common law, Tribunal reports, or from recognised international legal declarations, charters and covenants - the vast majority framed by Europeans.

Mr Holmes talks of "millions" going to the Maori elite. However, the major beneficiaries of the "Treaty industry" have been Pakeha who make up 98 per cent of professional researchers, and the majority of legal teams acting for the Crown and Maori.

Treaty settlements which now total $1.3 billion are less than the $1.77 billion paid to compensate mainly Pakeha investors in South Canterbury Finance.

Treaty settlements concede more than they gain. The Tainui Treaty settlement included the Crown paying a paltry $160 per hectare for 468,000 hectares of confiscated land not returned. How many billions of dollars have Pakeha derived from that land?

Mr Holmes laments the sacrifice of his Pakeha forebears in two World Wars. He forgets the Maori Contingent and Pioneer Battalion of World War One. Initially refused a combat role because they were brown, they made the same horrendous sacrifices as their Pakeha comrades from Gallipoli onwards; then as veterans, did not receive the same benefits.

The Maori Battalion's 70 per cent casualties in World War Two were amongst the highest of the allied campaign. While Pakeha fought for their country, Maori fought to be accepted by their country. Many were the ancestors of today's protesters. Were they not New Zealanders?

As with our Pakeha forebears, he wants Maori to be good, meaning silent.

Protest has been the principle driver of improvements in our race relations over four decades. Nothing has been freely given.

Protest is a powerful force for positive change because it raises the consciousness of the disempowered, the awareness of the silent majority and emancipates bigotry.

Protest is by nature mobile and will easily accommodate changing the name or location of Waitangi Day. As long as there is injustice there will be protest.

I commend Mr Holmes for coming out. Only in the open can reason and compassion overcome such views. A truly brilliant writer, one who probably eats quite sensibly, he is also a cheeky Pakeha.

* Rawiri Taonui is Adjunct Professor of Indigenous Studies (AUT)

- NZ Herald

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