“It’s a mythical kindness because it’s always conditional on us being submissive. As soon as we stop submitting to Crown authority, that kindness, as we are seeing now, disappears.” — Tina Ngata on ‘kind colonialism’. (Photo: Qiane Matata-Sipu/NUKU)

In Aotearoa, there is an enduring belief that the type of colonising the British undertook here was kind, and beneficial to Māori. Here’s Tina Ngata assessing that belief.

 

“Kind colonialism” operates on the false idea that colonisation is necessary, beneficial, and inevitable. The reason it became the dominant form of colonisation in Aotearoa is because we were the most expensive place for Britain to colonise, being so far away.

It’s damned expensive to keep sending troops and ships and guns and cannons from the other side of the world. Colonisation by military force was simply not economically sustainable, and our tīpuna, to my enduring pride, wouldn’t stop playing up. And so the Crown had to come up with other ways of carrying out the colonial project. Enter “kind” colonialism.

“Kind” colonialism rests on three actions:

First, convince the local populations that colonialism is beneficial, necessary, and inevitable.

Second, rapidly and aggressively assimilate them.

Third, recruit local populations to carry out colonial work.

And, boy, did the colonial government pick up this baton and run with it. One of our very first parliamentarians, Isaac Featherston, a medical doctor, is famously quoted as saying:

The Maoris are dying out. Our plain duty, as good, compassionate colonists, is to smooth down their dying pillow.

It seemed to never have occurred to him that, seeing as it was colonisation killing us, maybe they should just STOP colonising us. But no, his suggestion was to make our death more comfortable. Because, in his world, colonising us was necessary and inevitable, even when it resulted in our genocide. Making that genocide “comfortable” was the mark of a good, kind colonial government.

And so the New Zealand government poured significant energy into assimilation policies. They relied heavily on assimilative education and media to convince us that colonialism was beneficial, necessary, and inevitable.

For the population to believe that it was necessary, beneficial and inevitable, we required the myth of racial harmony. This is something the New Zealand government sold wholesale to the world: that our colonisation was a better colonisation. Not like in mean Australia, and how they treated their Indigenous peoples. Not like in the big mean United States, and how they mistreated their native peoples. No, our colonial experience was a “kind” one. We were the exception, and our model of colonisation was something to be proud of. Something even to enshrine in our national coat of arms.

As a nation, we’ve explicitly based our identity on the myth of racial harmony. Even though our economy is built on stolen Māori land and our form of government is a violation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Our mythical harmony assumes Māori are happy with Crown paternalism — that, in fact, we invitecolonialism, because our Crown is a kind and generous coloniser. It’s a mythical kindness, of course, because it is always conditional on us being submissive. As soon as we stop submitting to Crown authority, that kindness, as we are seeing now, disappears.

What does kind colonisation look like today?

It looks like the Crown expecting us to be thankful for every tax dollar it “grants” to us even though the Crown only has that money because it assumed the right to tax us in the first place.

It looks like the Crown recruiting our own cuzzies to help develop colonial policies and telling us it’s an “opportunity” to make their laws less harmful, or their actions more beneficial.

It looks like the Crown “allowing” cultural performance, so long as that performance never calls them to account or points out their red necks. (Tēnā koutou Ngā Poua!)

It’s the Crown assuming the authority to redefine Te Tiriti all by itself, so it can call itself a good Tiriti partner, and our protector, while still denying us full political authority over our worlds, which leaves us at the whim of white supremacists, whether they are behind a gun, a keyboard, or a ministerial desk.

Racism came here on a boat, from another land — and protecting Māori from overseas harm is exactly what Te Tiriti was intended to do. And, as violent and extreme as this current government is, we can also say that it’s simply the most honest about its own racism.

Heck, even when the cuzzy called the government “white supremacist” at Tūrangawaewae, the best that Māori development minister Tama Potaka could offer in defence was that this was “premature”, like they’ve yet to hit their stride.

The truth of the matter is that every New Zealand government we’ve had since 1852 has been white supremacist, because every government has wrongfully assumed the final word — an assumption based on Crown supremacy. Every New Zealand government has violated Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the most important way, which is to presume total, rather than shared, authority. Which is why every New Zealand government has continued to carry out more Tiriti violations.

The New Zealand government has never operated under the provisions of Te Tiriti. It has been, from day dot, operating under the provisions of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Simply voting this government out will not change that because the doctrine is at the heart of the governmental system. It was set up to dispossess us from the beginning, and you can’t tweak that away. The only thing that will change this is to change how we do government, which means that it must have He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti at the heart.

That’s what we mean when we talk about constitutional transformation and a Tiriti-centred constitution.

Political authority over our world is not something we should ask for. It is a whakapapa right that we must uphold and demand now. Not, “if the government continues down this track”. And not just in response to this government, but as a response to every government we’ve ever had.

No government formed under the Doctrine of Discovery can be kind, or even safe, for Māori. Nor is that the point, because that was never the agreement that our tīpuna signed up to in the first place.

The Crown is not the ultimate authority and doesn’t hold the final word on these lands, because this whenua always has been, and always will be, whenua Māori.

 

This is an edited version of a talk given as part of this year’s M9 kōrero held earlier this year.

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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