Denis O’Reilly — “I’m proud to be tangata Tiriti.” (Photo supplied)

After the excitement of the Matariki celebrations back in June, when it seemed that we were finally coming together as a nation, Denis O’Reilly wonders if former PM Keith Holyoake was right about our racial divide being solved in the bedrooms of the nation.


In late June this year, I joined many other New Zealanders in celebrating Matariki.

Māori-led and Māori-defined, Matariki has emerged as our first recognised Indigenous holiday or, if you prefer, holy day, seeing that it pertains to metaphysical concepts. It also has secular dimensions in terms of the practical wellbeing of the water, land, and people.

Here at Waiohiki, we had a marae-based event focused on whānau and non-commercial fun activities. My Pākehā friends at Te Awanga decided that cucumber sandwiches, shared with the extended family at afternoon tea, were the order of the day.

Whatever, the message that Matariki is a time for quiet reflection on the past and for emotional and spiritual preparation for the year ahead has been well received and widely practised.

I thought: “How wonderful. We are coming together as a nation. We tangata Tiriti are learning to collaborate and to stand upright in Aotearoa.” As the poet Alan Curnow put it:

     Not I, some child born in a marvellous year, 

     Will learn the trick of standing upright here

With a skip of the heart, I imagined that “marvellous year” is here. Whoa, Neddy! Not so fast. The pushback against Matariki, slow to start, has begun to increase in incidence and volume.

So, too, the illogical railing against Three Waters which has become a code for opposition to the sort of co-governance implicit in Te Tiriti. In the Listener (August 6, 2022), there was an editorial “Divided We Fail”, written by Anna Curnow, the deputy mayor of Kaipara, in Northland, where she records her experience in explaining to the Kaipara citizens the logic for the Three Waters reforms.

Anna wrote: “The conversation trots along happily until I mention Taumata Arowai — the new name for our independent water services regulator — or “Te Mana o Te Wai” or having iwi/hapū representation on regional representation groups. At that point I’ve had people shouting at me about Māori taking over our water assets. To be fair, the government has perhaps been naïve about how deep the racial divide still is.”

Yes, that deep racial divide. To get a good perspective on our social and racial topography, it’s useful to step away and look at ourselves from abroad.

Before Matariki, bored at an airport, I picked up a copy of the Spectator, Australia. The editorial of June 14, 2022, was a general rant about New Zealand’s socialist Labour government pushing the agendas of identity and race politics, which it somehow mixed with climate change. And it had this to say: “The New Zealand Labour government has created two classes of citizen based on genetics and elevated iwi rights above others.”

This morning, Monday October 3, 2022, reading my local paper Hawke’s Bay Today, I encountered Heather du Plessis-Allan’s opinion piece on ACT’s potential political impact on next year’s election.

She wrote: “They also want to tackle our simmering national identity debate head-on. The party wants a referendum on co-governance. They also want the country to decide (rather than have it quietly imposed on us) whether we want to be two distinct camps of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti or all just Kiwis.”

The good old “Iwi or Kiwi?” binary division, the Cartesian duality. As Dame Anne Salmond writes: “Current debates that seek to revive animosities between ‘iwi’ vs ‘Kiwi’ . . . are classic Cartesian devices — anachronistic, divisive colonial throwbacks.”

I’m not buying it. I look for a reciprocal, mutually respectful relationship between the mana whenua and those of us whose roots arise from different whenua. I’m proud to be tangata Tiriti, nō Aotearoa.

Ko Airani te whenua tupu

Ko Tara taku maunga

Ko Lagan taku awa

Ko O’Reilly te tangata

U te waka Ōtaki

Ki Ōtautahi

Ki te take o Aoraki maunga

Ko Denis O’Reilly ahau

He whanaunga au o te roopu Pākehā nō Aotearoa

Ko tangata Tiriti

E ngā mana whenua,

E ngā tuakana, ngā tuahine, ngā rangatira, ngā iwi Māori

Tēnā ra koutou katoa.

A final word or two. “Kiwi Keith” Holyoake reckoned that whakapapa would eventually resolve the conceptual binary divide. Keith didn’t quite put it like that, referring rather to miscegenation and the solution to our racial issues being found in the “bedrooms of the nation”. Cheer up!

Denis O’Reilly is a writer, social activist and consultant (

© E-Tangata, 2022

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