Look at the state of our nation

The Treaty Resource Centre has been publishing Pakeha State of the Nation speeches online annually on Waitangi Day for the last few years.  It’s a great idea – invite Pakeha with an interest in just and fair negotiations with tangata whenua about how we share this land to share their views – but it doesn’t get much coverage or interest from most of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Previous years have featured commentary from historian Robert Consedine, academic Ingrid Huygens and journalists like Carol Archie and Rod Oram.

This year’s speech was from Green Party Co-Convenor Moea Armstrong.  It probably worked well oratorically – repetition of key idea, that Maori did not cede sovereignty in Te Tiriti, and that this fundamental misreading is an insulting transgression as difficult to recover from as any overt taking of land or trampling of culture.

But its substance, as a speech about Pakeha state of nationhood, feels all wrong to me.  There are bits which feel right:

Everyone has their own penny-dropping moment when it comes to understanding the injustices of colonisation.  The popularity of the new film Avatar will hopefully have pennies dropping like the Jaffas in theatres of earlier times ­‐ the Na’vi do not cede their sovereignty.

This bit feels right because it is about acknowledging today’s cultural influences on how Pakeha might think about the world and our place in it.  Avatar is astonishing for a mainstream film – and the pennies were certainly dropping for me when the Na’vi’s home tree was being destroyed by the business colonisers seeking Unobtainium – all I could think about was Parihaka being invaded and people sitting down peacefully, on their own land, being arrested and imprisoned by the state without trial for years.

I’m not saying I want Pakeha State of the Nation speeches to be movie reviews of the latest big thing from Hollywood.  But if this year’s one leaves me cold – and let’s face it, is there more of a target audience than anti-racist lefty liberal feminists?  Well, if it leaves me cold because essentially it’s explaining Maori concepts and ideas to me without developing Pakeha responses or engagements – without developing a Pakeha place to stand – then how on earth will it hope to influence majority Pakeha viewpoints?

Maybe that’s not what this speech is for.  Maybe it was about letting Nga Puhi know they had been heard.  I just felt disappointed in the lack of new thinking in one of the few reliable places I go to regularly for progressive anti-racist Pakeha thought.


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