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Waitangi Day 2009: towards new reconciliation and community development?

In Aotearoa New Zealand we have just commemorated Waitangi Day, which is the equivalent of our National Day.

On February 6th 1840 an agreement was signed between indigenous Maori and the British Crown around issues of sovereignty and partnership.

In most countries a national day is one of celebration, but in New Zealand it has often been one of discomfort about how we recognize and live this bi-cultural relationship.

Many Waitangi Days have been notable for protests expressing Maori grievances, and media coverage of how various Prime Ministers and dignitaries were treated and their reactions. However, this Waitangi Day passed fairly quietly.

To some extent this new-found comfort is the result of a recent amicable post-election coalition agreement between Prime Minister John Key’s National Party and the Maori Party.

Some have expressed surprise that Prime Minister Key appears to get on so well with Maori. This even though the National Party’s resurgence in popularity had been largely as a result of former leader Don Brash’s speeches alleging “Maori privilege,” (the most well known Nationhood, 2004) and the Labour government’s alleged support of it.

I’m not surprised that John Key relates well to Maori. I have noticed that John Key talks widely to people from diverse backgrounds.

Before entering Parliament Key was an international financial investor. He has a background making judgments, not on the basis of race or ethnicity, but on the basis of opportunity and taking a risk to make an investment.

I think he recognises Maori not simply as having political power (the Maori Party won 5 seats in the recent election) but also on the basis of their current and potential economic resources and power.

That is not to say Key isn’t basically a nice guy who talks with people anyway. He does appear to be making time to build up a relationship with Maori.

While the previous Labour government took the relationship with Maori seriously, quite a lot of their policy discourse was taken up with a need to deal with what was referred to as a “long tail of disadvantage” and “bad social statistics.” Such an emphasis on problems seemed to obscure discourse about what Maori might have to contribute.

For a long time I have thought Maori have much to teach the rest of us (in New Zealand and in general). Maori have had many generations in Aotearoa/New Zealand living with each other and the environment, and have had to retain, adapt and develop their culture through tough colonial, post-colonial and now global times.

Of course, Maori have their share of challenges to deal with. However, I think there is a danger of getting so mesmerized in discourse about problems that we cannot see the way ahead is clear and what is more, offers new possibilities. Perhaps John Key can see some new ways that others of us could usefully learn from. I do hope so.

Personally, I see the Maori village model as being suggestive of the kind of national model for the “well-connected smart villages” that this website was set up to explore.

I think the following stand out as general features and protocols:

  1. Socially constructed communicative processes and structures around authentic forms of care: care about each other and the environment and having the autonomy to make the time needed to do this.
  2. Effective related communication processes and structures: the welcome, hospitality, (at times) vigorous social discourse, decision-making based on this, and on-going narrative creation. In these narratives, traditional and new ways of doing things are blended, with the assistance of new technologies. Cultural and inter-cultural communication also has a mutual reflexivity about it – what matters both to you and to us, to your people and to ours, including your and our place, river, mountain, etc.
  3. Developing well-connected or networked villages, both internally, with other “villages” and areas nationally and internationally (again, assisted by the use of networking technologies, including internet, film and television)
  4. Above all, creating and maintaining time for people – for conversations and relationships. There is a well known Maori answer to the question, “what is most important in life?” That is:  “it is people, it is people, it is people.” Of course other factors like material goods, technologies and various forms of innovation are also important, but primarily as means to living out that maxim.

Your comments are very welcome.

Picture by Rebecca Osborne from series: Paintings inspired by Maori Culture and Theme

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