Tina Ngata: “We’ve been very clear that racism in every form will not be eliminated until colonialism is eliminated.” (Photo: Qiane Matata-Sipu/NUKU)

This week, the National Iwi Chairs Forum walked away from the National Action Plan Against Racism.

Here, Tina Ngata, a member of the tangata whenua caucus, explains why.

“There comes a time where you must assess whether your presence is making a positive difference for your people, or whether your presence constitutes a part of a larger weapon against your people,” she writes.


Every few years, as a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the New Zealand government is assessed by the United Nations on their progress to eliminate racial discrimination.

Within the convention, every country must develop a targeted policy to eliminate racial discrimination. In their 2017 assessment, the UN noted, with concern, that New Zealand is still yet to develop such a policy, and made a strong recommendation that a national action plan be developed.

It was very clear that the plan should be developed in partnership with Māori and other relevant groups, and that it needed to identify actions and measurable results to reduce inequality in areas such as health, employment, education and housing — with an emphasis on adequate, affordable and safe housing by 2030.

There were a range of other recommendations for the government made in that review. They include:

  • A review of government policy and legislation in relation to racist hate speech and hate crimes.
  • Progressing co-governance with Māori, and securing Te Tiriti within New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.
  • Ensure full respect for the rights of Māori communities to freshwater resources, and the enjoyment of our customary areas within the takutai.
  • Undertake concrete measures to reduce the disproportionate incarceration of Māori.
  • Robustly increase access to appropriate healthcare for Māori.
  • Take effective steps to reduce the number of Māori and Pasifika children in state care, including through the policy of “whānau first” placement for Māori children.

The Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) made these recommendations because it understands that the New Zealand government is operating on a colonial foundation, and is a Treaty nation. It must therefore take specific actions to restore the equality ripped away by colonisation, and to be compliant with the Treaty on which our nation is based.

It’s not rocket science.

In fact, under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which New Zealand ratified in 1972, the government has a responsibility to condemn racist propaganda, prohibit racist discrimination by organisations, and to prohibit all public (that is, government) institutions from promoting or inciting racial discrimination.

But if you listen to the government, it’s clear they’ve been using language in very specific ways to justify breaching all of their responsibilities under the review, and the convention itself.

For instance . . .

Winston Peters, the deputy prime minister, has used emotive language to liken co-governance (as recommended by CERD) to apartheid and the Nazi regime in Germany — which clearly falls within the realm of propaganda and inciting racial hatred towards Māori.

Winston and the Act party have referred to designated spaces for Māori and Pacific students at the University of Auckland as separatist, and compared them to the Ku Klux Klan, again creating racial hatred towards Māori and Pacific students.

The Act party, a coalition partner, has been miscasting Te Tiriti as undemocratic, and seeking to redefine the principles of Te Tiriti in a way that reduces Crown responsibilities.

And, by ditching reforms which have been put in place to address the inequity and harm caused by colonial racism (in the space of the Māori wards, the Māori Health Authority, and Te Mana o Te Wai, to name a few), the coalition government is maintaining racial inequity for Māori — all the while claiming that these moves will enhance democracy and equity for all New Zealanders.

I could go on. The list is long, especially for a government that’s only been in power for four and a half months. But the overarching theme is pretty consistent: the government is erasing and ignoring the role of white supremacy and colonial racism in creating inequity for Māori, so that it can claim that every measure put in place to address that inequity is unnecessary and unfair.

What they are less explicit about is that these moves are usually fuelled by ideas that pro-Māori legislation harms “white rights”. At times, they’ve also tried to pit Māori against other ethnic groups by suggesting that Tiriti justice measures amount to a form of Māori supremacy that harms other marginalised communities.

The coalition government’s actions seem to be “fuelled by ideas that pro-Māori legislation harms ‘white rights'”. They also  “pit Māori against other ethnic groups by suggesting that Tiriti justice measures amount to a form of Māori supremacy that harms other marginalised communities.” Pictured, a 1975 protest in Boston against federal court-ordered busing of black students to all-white neighborhood schools. (Photo by Spencer Grant/Getty Images)

Repeatedly, this government has sought to erase and ignore its own colonially racist underpinnings while pointing to racial justice initiatives as divisive and harmful. The irony is that this was also the practice of white supremacist governments in Nazi Germany and pro-apartheid South Africa, and in the Jim Crow era of the United States where racial segregation and persecution was rife.

Of course, all of this functions to point the finger away from Crown as a driver of racial inequity, and towards Māori.

So when justice minister Paul Goldsmith signalled to the tangata whenua caucus of the working group for the National Action Plan Against Racism that he wanted to reduce the focus on colonial racism and institutional racism, this was merely the last straw in a very concerning time for race relations in Aotearoa.

Coupled together, these two changes to the national action plan for racism indicate another move from the government to evade accountability for its own racism.

Layered on top of the distinctly anti-Māori racism of this government’s actions to date, it is a tacit acknowledgment of just how fundamentally important anti-Māori racism is for the continuation of this government’s business.

There comes a time, when working with colonial governments, where you must assess whether your presence is making a positive difference for your people, or whether your presence constitutes a part of a larger weapon against your people. Where you are enabling the government to perform a charade of inclusiveness so that it can evade the very important accountability measures (like CERD reports) that would halt the harm it is delivering in other spaces.

Taking into account all the actions of this government, as well as the changes signalled by Paul Goldsmith, it was clear that we had reached a point where our participation would amount to complicity in the oppression of our people.

And so we withdrew our support. We did this to protect the integrity of the work to date, to respect the decades of work that has gone into creating value for Māori participation, and in response to the clearly expressed concerns of Māoridom towards the actions of this government.

Minister Goldsmith has responded to our departure with the same rhetorical tools we’ve seen from this government to justify their other racist actions — by suggesting that “all racism is unacceptable”, adding that migrant communities experience racism too, and that it would be unfair to focus on just one form of racism.

This, again, is an abuse of the language of “fairness”, to obscure the significant and distinct role of colonialism in the racism of Aotearoa. He’s further indicated that he will simply “get more Maoris” to replace the tangata whenua caucus, which is never difficult, although it’s not clear what the mandate of that group would be.

Claiming the authority to define appropriate mandates for Māori representation is another overreach that we commonly see from the government — in line with their overreach in defining what’s best for Māori, and defining the principles of Te Tiriti.

To be clear, it has always been the position of the tangata whenua caucus that all racism in Aotearoa operates on the bedrock of colonial racism against Māori. This has also been the documented position of migrant ethnic communities who, just last year, affirmed overwhelmingly that their experiences of racism in Aotearoa stemmed from the fact that Aotearoa is a colonised country.

(Excerpt from Ki te whaiao, ki te ao Marama report, 2023 Human Rights Commission)

Acknowledging colonial racism as the bedrock of racism in Aotearoa doesn’t erase or negate other forms of racism — rather, it provides a whakapapa to the arrival, and development, of racism in all of its forms.

Had the minister read the report and the incoming brief regarding the national action plan, he would have seen that the report already includes measures to address all forms of racism against all communities. And he would have seen too that there is already a tauiwi caucus with representatives from a wide range of ethnic communities who have helped to develop the plan.

Any suggestion that the draft plan didn’t already address racism for all communities is quite simply not true. Nor is it true that the draft plan positioned anti-Māori racism as more important than other forms. But we’ve been very clear that racism in every form will not be eliminated until colonialism is eliminated.

For a minister who believes that colonisation has been beneficial for Māori, this is, of course, a sticking point, but it’s a crucial point that can’t be overlooked if we hope to make progress on an action plan to eliminate racism.

Nor can institutional racism be overlooked — and it’s of particular interest that the justice minister has offered no insight into why he wanted the focus on institutional racism reduced.

All instances of interpersonal racism are driven by institutional settings — either through a lack of protective mechanisms (such as adequate hate speech or hate crime legislation), or because of policies and legislation that directly reproduce racist outcomes (like the Treaty Principles Bill, the Fast Track Approvals bills, or the reintroduction of racist referendums for Māori wards).

An action plan that ignores the role of institutional racism is no action plan at all.

It’s important to note that taking action on racism need not wait for government. In fact, all anti-racist movements of consequence have occurred from within communities.

The tangata whenua caucus has stepped away to preserve the integrity of the plan’s work to date, and we will continue to work with our valued tauiwi/tangata Tiriti communities across Aotearoa to identify, respond to, and eliminate racism in their communities, organisations and institutions.

We will continue to maintain that the denial of tino rangatiratanga by all New Zealand governments is a driver of racist outcomes for all communities in Aotearoa.

And we will continue to hold this government to account through reporting back to the UN Committee to the Elimination of Racism, and other relevant UN mechanisms.

An anti-racist Aotearoa is possible, but not in the absence of an anti-colonial Aotearoa. This government can’t get us there, but the people can.


Tina Ngata (Ngāti Porou) is a researcher and scholar, and the author of Kia Mau: Resisting Colonial Fictions. Her work involves advocacy for environmental, Indigenous and human rights. This includes local, national and international initiatives that highlight the role of settler colonialism in issues such as climate change and waste pollution, and which promote Indigenous conservation as best practice for a globally sustainable future

© E-Tangata, 2024

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