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Kaua e whakatauira Maori tena koe

Alan Titchall, managing editor, Contrafed Publishing

Maoridom has become a ‘political’ football in recent years and if you need to translate the heading (‘Don’t stereotype Maori, please’) then think about the way Maori words are being gratuitously thrown into communications; not to foster our second official language but to appear ‘politically’ PC under a Government pushing its contentious dual-governance/partnership ideology.

So many news services, associations, and government departments and local council communications are throwing around te reo Maori as if the country is already articulately bi-lingual (and with some very odd pronunciation: kora – kia ora; Moldy – Maori; and cudy – kauri tree).

The percentage of Kiwis that claim to be able to hold a normal conversation in Maori in the last census was 21 percent of the 16.5 percent of us who ‘identified’ as being Maori. Those who can read tuhi Maori in any depth would, I suspect, be far less. 

This hasn’t discouraged a trend over recent years for government departments and associations rebranding in te reo and labelling new entities and reforms in long-winded, abstract titles with Maori words with multiple meanings. Waka Kotahi (our national Transport Agency) means ‘lone canoe’; ‘Taituara (previously the Society of Local Government Managers) simply means, even with a macron, ‘support’. Both were apparently gifted by Maori. How one is gifted one of their own official languages is not clear. 

The Crown-recognised iwi (Maori tribes) and hapu (sub-tribes) organisations around the country have a vital legal and social role as tribal representatives and trustees of valuable assets and the well-being of members and their future. However, they are very independent and different in terms of their identities, including rohe (territorial boundaries), customs, mythologies, kawa and tikanga (marae protocol), and even their tuhi and te reo accents. Yet, these different cultural tribes are often stereotyped as ‘iwi’ and one collective identity. Or worse, described as ‘mana whenua’ which means ‘territorial interest/authority’ not Maori, and can be applied to anyone, as te reo Maori is an official language. 

The expression ‘tangata whenua’ (people of the land) has poetic license, but what waves of immigrants should it be applied to, and how many generations later does it take to earn this entitlement, and at what point does it draw thin in terms of diluted DNA? Again, politics usually dominates meaningful social anthropology and councils and government departments are fond of stereotyping and lumping ‘anyone’ of Maori descent (who ticks the box, anyway) into some imagined indigenous ‘race’ to be treated differently than other Kiwis in the 21st century. It’s an approach that better reflects a 19th century Western social anthropological view of indigenous peoples (particularly Rousseauian) than the realities of 200 years of immigration, mixed DNA and acculturation in the 21st century.

The broader community of  New Zealanders with Maori heritage (through genealogy and social whanaungatanga) have little or no tribal affiliations and many of them, including some of my rellies, do not identify with the taha Maori world view. Respect that, tena koe.

While I whole-heartedly endorse the fostering of spoken and written Maori language, and general culture (I was raised surrounded by it), I suggest that the next time you throw te reo Maori into your communications – ask yourself – is this is just being gratuitous and, unintentionally, stereotyping Maori culture for political purposes? 

The next time you write “consulted iwi”, try elaborating on the actual tribe/s you refer to, what it was about, what for, and what did you and they get out of it? Otherwise, it just sounds like platitudinous political PC box-ticking. And that’s nui at the moment.

The author has no political party affiliations.

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