The absence of New Zealand history in our schools over many generations has meant too many of us are only just learning about colonisation and its ongoing impact.
So, the concept of decolonisation, of undoing the harms of colonisation and forging a new reality based on respectful political relationships, can seem too far beyond our understanding and reach.
As Moana Jackson writes in Imagining Decolonisation, a new BWB text published last week:
“It will require courageous wisdom to change, and some will say it is impossible and unrealistic. But when the ancestors crossed Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, they overcame what seemed impossible and realised that courage is simply the deep breath you take before a new beginning.”
In this extract from Moana’s chapter “Where to next? Decolonisation and the stories of the land”, he writes about the importance of stories in helping us to cross what may seem an impossible distance.
Māori people have discussed the need for a different constitutional arrangement ever since it became apparent that Te Tiriti was being dishonoured by the Crown.
The formation of the Kīngitanga in the 1860s and the establishment of the Māori Parliament in 1892 are just two examples of that desire for change.
The recent Matike Mai programme of nationwide discussions about constitutional transformation built upon those initiatives. It was established in 2010 by the Iwi Chairs Forum with a brief given to a representative working group to develop new constitutional models based upon tikanga, He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti.
More than 5,000 Māori participated in the various hui held between 2012 and 2015 and discussed a number of different constitutional “houses” or models based upon the constitutional importance of iwi and hapū independence.
The discussions were always drawn from Te Tiriti and assumed that, if the Crown was to finally honour the interdependence promised within it, then the terms of iwi and hapū political authority had to be acknowledged.
But the kōrero also focused on the values which might underpin the models. In doing so they were drawing from the stories in the land. For example, all of the values they identified were based on relationships. In particular they recognised the need to re-place Papatūānuku at the centre of all political and personal relationships. To rehonour the responsibilities of a mokopuna to the earth is especially important in the current crisis of climate change.
Although the values were discussed as prerequisites for constitutional transformation, they may also be seen as interrelated parts of a wider ethic of restoration.
- The value of place — the need to promote good relationships with and ensure the protection of Papatūānuku.
- The value of tikanga — the core ideals that describe the “ought to be” of living in Aotearoa and the particular place of Māori within that tikanga.
- The value of community — the need to facilitate good relationships between all peoples.
- The value of belonging — the need for everyone to have a sense of belonging.
- The value of balance — the need to maintain harmony in all relationships, including in the exercise of constitutional authority.
- The value of conciliation — the need to guarantee a conciliatory and consensual democracy.
Together, the values reflect what Max Harris and Philip McKibbin call the “politics of love”, in which love is seen as both critical and constructive.
The politics of love is a values-based politics, which affirms the importance of people and extends beyond us to non-human animals and the environment . . . it holds that all people are important — and as such it incorporates a commitment to radical equality.
Constitutional transformation is only one way in which the ethic of restoration may be achieved. The earlier chapters in this volume have outlined a number of other ways in which individuals and communities can work towards the same goal. The writers are aware that change will require long-term social and economic as well as political and attitudinal transformation, but they also have confidence that such change is both necessary and possible.
Martin Luther King Jr often said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. It may take a while, but with stories anything is possible. They can even shift time — it simply takes belief. As the Cherokee writer Thomas King has said: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”
Ben Okri has noted that rescuing the truth from old stories in order to make new understandings is essential if a country is to be all that it can be.
Nations and people are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for future flowerings.
Because whakapapa traverses time between the past, present and future, the building of new relationships and the telling of new stories begins with the identification and “un-telling” of colonisation’s past and present lies. Stories for and about transformation rely on honesty about the misremembered stories and the foresight to see where different stories might lead.
That is the ethic of restoration. It offers the chance, or challenge, to clutch truth and justice for “future flowerings”. It is concerned with the balance of relationships rather than a will to limit what they might be.
And in giving back to Māori the right of self-determination, it offers everyone a place to stand — giving substance to the insight of the poet Allen Curnow that such a place could be found:
Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year,
Will learn the trick of standing upright here.
Such standing comes with the reassurance of Te Tiriti. Many people find comfort in that, and it is never too late to journey towards a tikanga-based future. Witi Ihimaera, too, encourages us to start right away, in the now-time:
It’s our watch now
The time to make dreams come true
Today is a good day to begin . . .
This extract is from a chapter written by Dr Moana Jackson in Imagining Decolonisation, published last week by Bridget Williams Books.
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