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August 14, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Rich White Men Have Guns, Want Land

Maori language week. What a hoot, eh. As a whitey, there’s nothing quite like hearing from Maori to make me feel like a bigot again. So bring out the cheap shots, the worn-out arguments, hypocrisy, and stereotypes. Let’s get cultural.

I hear in Australia they call them ethnics. Quaint. We gave the ethnics the run of Salient a few weeks ago, and boy look what they did with it. Barely understood a word. What I did get was LeRoy Crawford’s you-racist-bastards vibe in his editorial. To recap: “Legislation and continued attacks at Te Reo Maori have led to the near extinction of our taonga tuku iho (precious treasure) – our language.”

Language is a big thing to Maori. I know it’s easy to knock something when you don’t have the same beliefs, like Salient on Christians, or the Dutch on Mohammad. Bloody Dutch. The point, really, is that I want to be critical, but it’s not because I don’t support Maori. It’s just that I don’t believe LeRoy, at least not completely. He completely missed a fundamental aspect of the argument. It seems to me that the reason why te reo is dying is obvious: Maori aren’t speaking it anymore.

Only from this vantage point can anyone honestly explore the issue. The question it begs, then is why Maori are not speaking Te Reo. This is where LeRoy jumps the gun, whips out the discrimination line, and shoots the discussion dead in its tracks. Like a kid wielding a weapon, I’m not sure he understands the danger of his actions to his own people.

Leroy gives the impression that te reo is on a respirator, wheezing its final breaths, dependent on the government for life-support, and that the government is pulling the plug. It’s a disturbing metaphor, and sends the message that Maori feel they survive only because the government sustains them.

To regurgitate this theme not only upholds division between Maori and Pakeha, but removes culpability from himself, his culture, and the way the world has changed. He turns a complex problem into a onesided issue, which is disastrous for his campaign. It’s irresponsible because it can take the focus away from other potential causes. It’s like George Dubya focusing on foreign policy, at the expense of domestic. George accrues a deficit of, oh, eight trillion dollars, but keeps the media largely focused on explosions and the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters in the Middle East.

The key difference between George and LeRoy, I gather, is that George is a moron, and most likely deliberately deceives his nation. LeRoy I’d guess isn’t, and doesn’t.

So what’s the solution? When I pay attention to Maori culture, there’s a particular vibe I often pick up, a strong sense of putting the culture back to what it was, a return to the days of pre-Pakeha. Maori images are of men in flax skirts, tongue out, wielding a club. Maori don’t live like this today, and if the way they reference themselves is by recalling yesteryear’s glory, then love-it-or-hate-it the culture needs revitalising.

My fear is that this self-image keeps the culture rooted in yesterday, a novelty. Do Maori really want to see themselves on the telly like the Aboriginies in Australia, who claim that “we’ve been rehearsing for over 40,000 years.” Bastard Australians. They’ve reduced a culture into an advertising gimmick.

Granted, there’s a tightrope to walk between living in the past and forgetting your heritage. Maori must be oh-so-careful about turning their culture into chic. When you have Madonna and Angelina Jolie flying into town and adopting little brown boys in your neighbourhood, you know you’re in trouble, and when you pitch yourself like a brand, you cease to be a viable culture.

My solution is pragmatic. I’m well-aware of the sins of our fathers, but today we have growing Pacific and Asian communities, and we have an international media. We have a multiplicity of cultures in New Zealand, as well as the Treaty. Can any culture survive intact in this environment?

Don’t rely on social engineering by the government – culture cannot be imposed to those who don’t want it, by evoking a treaty to a generation who ignorant of its relevance. Culture can only be grown by those who love and nurture it.

I hope you all had a happy Maori language week.

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