Jacinda Ardern will be long remembered for many things, not least her mantra, "We are one," after the horror of Christchurch on March 15. Her superb human response to that tragedy rightly won her plaudits around the globe, elevating her to a status that few world leaders, past or present, have ever achieved. It was her finest moment.

However, when she insisted that New Zealanders, whatever their ethnicity, wherever they have come from to make this country home, are one, she was wrong. We have never been one, we are not one now, and from where we are sitting at this moment it is doubtful that we ever will be.

It is one thing to offer hospitality, understanding and acceptance to other cultures from a stage, a rally or in front of a television camera. Living that hospitality, understanding and acceptance is quite another. Since March 15 we have seen evidence of the indisputable fact that New Zealanders are not universally hospitable, understanding or accepting. We saw it again when the pou marking the boundaries of Te Rarawa's rahui at Tauroa, imposed to save priceless paua beds from extinction, were felled.

Dropping the pou was a gratuitous act of vandalism, achieving nothing but hurting those whose relationship with that piece of coast goes back countless generations. People who value it far more than those who simply see it as a place to have fun, to fish or to harvest paua. It is a part of them, their past, their present and future, yet, despite the abuse it has received from others over many decades, they continue to share it with all who wish to go there.


Te Rarawa's generosity knows (almost) no bounds. Yet some who are effectively Te Rarawa's guests treat it, and the iwi's hospitality and tolerance, with disdain. When the tribe erected fences to protect dunes that are not only of immense cultural significance but are environmentally fragile, the response from some was to heap abuse upon them. When the iwi asks people to show respect for Te Kohanga, it is ignored, by some. When it imposed a rahui to protect the paua beds, it was, and continues to be, ignored by some.

Last week some members of the iwi closed the gate at the top of the road leading down to Te Kohanga, which they had every legal right to do. Te Rarawa owns the road. It is not a public thoroughfare. And the point was quite reasonably made that some people don't listen until actions directly affect them.

A bit tough, perhaps, on those who just wanted to spend a day at the beach or to catch a wave, but the iwi clearly had to do something to reinforce the message that access to the coast is not a right but a privilege (as stated by spokesperson Tui Te Paa). If closing the road leads to some people understanding that they must cross private land to get to Te Kohanga, that the paua beds are not an infinite resource, and that Te Rarawa is in every respect their hosts, then that will be no bad thing.

One might be able to understand, a little, if felling the pou had been designed to achieve anything other than to display utter disrespect, but it is not easy to come up with another motive. At best we might console ourselves with the thought that the person responsible was just one individual idiot, the sort who these days would be described by some as an oxygen thief. The reaction from most of those who found their way to Te Kohanga blocked on Saturday suggested a heartening degree of understanding and empathy, but this cretin will not be in a class of his own.

If he was, the behaviour of some others who visit the beach would be better. We would not have seen the reaction we did to the fencing of the dunes. And there might not even be a need for a rahui to protect a resource that even the greediest dimwit cannot fail to appreciate is in danger of being wiped out.

Greed, arrogance and stupidity are, it seems, integral parts of the human condition, and we have our fair share of them in the Far North.

Since the earliest days of colonisation, or at least since the Anglican Church founded the Kaitaia mission in 1834, Māori and Pākehā have arguably enjoyed a stronger, more mutually respectful and beneficial relationship in the very Far North than perhaps anywhere else in the country. That is probably still true today, thanks in no small part to the efforts of and concessions made by the iwi of Te Hiku o Te Ika, none more so than Te Rarawa.

It would be difficult to blame the iwi if it permanently blocked access to Te Kohanga by road, but it hasn't. And, as provoked as it is on occasion, it has never threatened to do that. It is a great shame that some people do not value that generosity, and the value and strength of the relationship between the iwi and others that it underpins.


Mind you, respect goes both ways, and one does not recall any great agitation being displayed by Te Rarawa, or Māori in general, when the last visible sign of the wreck of The Favourite, which gives Te Kohanga its more widely-known name, was cut down in 2017. A very recent addition to the history of the beach the wreck might be, but the crank shaft was widely held in some affection, and the vandalising of it angered and saddened many people. That, perhaps, was an opportunity for solidarity lost.

And while we need to accept that racial harmony will never be achieved by government decree, or politicians spouting aspirations as fact, we at last seem to have a Race Relations Commissioner who has some understanding of his role.

Former Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon, who has succeeded a number of patently ineffective commissioners (or conciliators, as they used to be known), has said that he wants to showcase New Zealand as a great country in which to live, and hopes that we can all tell our stories so we can understand more of each other's ethnicities, our cultures, the way that we do things ... and continue to enhance harmonious relations. Hear hear.

More importantly, he accepts that racism is here to stay. There isn't a society on this planet that does not harbour racism of some degree, and, contrary to the opinion of some, practising racism does not require numerical, economic, social or any other kind of superiority.

New Zealand will never be free of racism, but it behoves every one of us to shun it, and to simply show respect for others. Te Rarawa, to its great credit, does that on a daily basis, despite the extraordinary testing of its tolerance from time to time. We in the very Far North should be grateful for the foundation that attitude provides for the sort of community that many here no doubt aspire to, but few have any realistic chance, as things currently stand, of achieving.

The very Far North does not have an especially significant recent immigrant population, but it is growing. And, if the six-weekly citizenship ceremonies are any guide, today's immigrants are happy, and grateful, to be here, and feel welcome. As they should. But some of us need to try a little harder when it comes to sharing what we have, and understanding what is important to others.

Generally we all rub along together pretty well in this corner of the world, but there is still work to do. Looking at what's happening in the rest of the world, we should be grateful for what we have, but we need to build on that. And we should never be tempted to take what we have for granted.