The Christchurch mosque shootings on 15th March 2019 tarnished forever New Zealand’s reputation as a low-threat environment. Many commented that the nation had “lost its innocence”. Dave Tims reflects on that statement and asks whether we have forgotten our New Zealand history.

“How could this happen in New Zealand?”

“Things like this don’t happen here.”

A Muslim man sat with our local Baptist pastor and cried for us, fully knowing what the massacre meant for New Zealand.

Since that terrible event we have seen an outpouring of grief and love towards our Muslim brothers and sisters—a beautiful response of warmth and care. People have attended local mosques, leaving flowers and cards. Others have organised gatherings to remember and to pray together. Workmates of Muslims have opened their hearts, whispering words of tenderness, sympathy and concern. Our Prime Minister visited Muslim centres and listened to Muslim leaders and families. She responded with outward compassion, strength and carefully chosen language aimed at unifying New Zealand and not giving any central place to division, difference or racism.

Eric Mailau, an Urban Neighbour of Hope member in Wainuiomata, remembers a comment that a Muslim teenager made shortly after the event: “But will New Zealand remember in a month’s time or in a year’s time?” I think her concern is legitimate and we do need to have a closer look at who we are, our past and our present, so that we can make enlightened and deliberate choices towards a better land.

Maybe we are not so innocent?

My wife Denise and I have lived in the Randwick Park community in South Auckland for eight years. I am aware of three gun incidents that occurred during that time. Two of those involved a gun being pointed into the face of a teenager.

Anne-Marie, a local hero and school youth worker, recently expressed her concern at the violence of female students towards each other. The concern was not about girls scratching or pulling hair, but instead deliberate, aggressive and violent punching, kicking and stomping upon victims. Last month, the news reported that police respond, on average, to a domestic violence incident every four minutes. These are examples of something not right in our land. Maybe we are not that innocent?

Some of my South African friends have commented on the ‘unwritten’ rules of segregation and class in New Zealand They note that neighbourhoods of beauty, with good solid and warm housing, trees, gardens, clean streets and good shops, are commonly settled by European descendants, while poor housing, rough and dirty streets seem to be housed by non-European. In some ways, it’s the same as the old South Africa; the difference is it wasn’t a ‘rule’ in New Zealand, or was it?

I do not want to undermine the pain and grief being suffered by Muslim families and communities following the tragic events that occurred on our shores. There are no words or actions that can replace their loss. What happened was evil and unacceptable and we should be vigilant to express our disdain at such actions and pray that this type of tragedy never happens again. But this isn’t the first time a people group in Aotearoa have been targeted and terrorised.

Targeting Māori

Historian James Cowan suggests that 2,000 Māori warriors may have been killed in the New Zealand Land Wars (between the years 1845 and 1872).1 Many battles occurred after Māori tried peacefully to protest the illegal taking of their tribal lands. The story of Parihaka is a key example and this history is still vastly unknown by many New Zealanders.2

During World War II, the targeting and relocation of Māori to urban areas became official policy (the Manpower Act 1944).3 In the 1960s, “rural Māori families were encouraged to move to the cities with the provision of accommodation [state housing], employment [low paid, low-skilled jobs] and general assistance in adjusting to a new life.”4 This, and the encouragement of Pacific people into factory jobs and state homes, explains why we now have ghettos of state housing from the ’50s to ’70s era.

Many Māori would argue that this was about removing the stronghold of Māori from their connection to their tribal lands and marae (see note 2 for land loss). “Under the Māori Affairs Amendment Act 1967, Māori land owned by no more than four people was reclassified as ‘European land’. These changes made it easier to alienate remaining areas of tribal land, and Māori were outraged by them. A new generation who had been raised and educated in the cities realised they were in danger of losing one of the foundations of their Māoritanga.”5

The 1867 Native Schools Act declared that English should be the only language spoken at school. One hundred and twenty years later, New Zealand finally recognised and acknowledged the Māori language, with the Māori Language Act in 1987 declaring te reo Māori to be an ‘official’ language of New Zealand.6 This gave the right for te reo Māori to be used in all aspects of life—courts, education, etc. In New Zealand today we are seeing a resurgence of te reo Māori but what are the effects on a people group when their language is deliberately targeted to be wiped out?

To help us understand this, imagine if Japan had invaded New Zealand during World War II and then demanded that everyone had to speak Japanese, that all land and homes had to be handed over to Japanese control, and that everyone was expected to live, think and behave Japanese. The Kiwi way of life was to be forgotten. In many, many ways, I think, this is what Māori experienced.

A personal reflection

What happened in Christchurch was disgusting, evil and so wrong. I am proud to be a Kiwi and to see how our nation has responded to the Muslim community and to gun reforms in Parliament. But, I am also afraid that the words of the young Muslim student will still ring true: “Will New Zealand still remember in one month’s time or in one year’s time?”

Our past often indicates to us what our future will be like. Will we forget Christchurch, in the same way that many Kiwis have either forgotten our New Zealand history, chosen to ignore it, or are completely unaware of it? When you are the victim or your family has suffered injustice, you don’t forget. Time can cause the events of the past to fade, but if we care to seek out and to ask the deeper underlying questions relating to poverty, injustice and inequality, we will find the shadow side of ourselves, our land and our people.

Our innocence wasn’t lost in 2019; it was lost a long time ago. I think it’s time we took courage to reflect upon our past as a nation. As a Pākeha, married to Denise of Ngāti Porou (East Coast, Gisborne), Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Whakaue descent, I have watched her come to terms with her struggles. Her struggle and frustration in learning the native language of her grandparents, while aware of their story of corporal punishment at school for speaking te reo Māori. To understand what it means to follow Jesus as a Māori woman and to wrestle with a theology that has been taught from a Western perspective. To see the poverty and pain that many Māori face and to taste the bitter fruit of colonisation, even today. To choose to live in a community of poverty that screams injustice and to commit her life to make a difference for her people.

I have also struggled, but my struggle relates to grappling with the reality of white privilege.

“Whiteness is connected to economic power and class — and is probably least understood by those it privileges. Most white people seem blind to its existence, while most non-white people are not,” writes Max Harris for E-Tangata.7

As a Pākehā, I am proud of my heritage and roots. However, I also need to be aware of the injustices of the past and present, and how I have benefitted from them, continue to benefit from them and how I may have contributed to them. This reflection isn’t meant to pull down white people or Pākehā. It’s about being honest and open about our advantages—and thinking about how to dismantle the system that produces and reinforces them.

In New Zealand we are not class-free. We have bought into a system of capitalism and neo-liberalism. These strengthen our class system and create high levels of inequality. Class matters in New Zealand and it’s important that we own and understand how this system works. As Jesus lovers, we can choose to work to undermine the system and live counter-culturally to its power.

As Pākehā we need to support Māori-led efforts of decolonisation: understanding the process and negative impacts of colonisation and recentring indigenous worldview—white isn’t always right! We also must push for a new economic system that values ‘well-being’ (our relationships with self, others and the earth) and not only profit. We need to stop expecting our Māori brothers and sisters to spend so much of their time and energies re-educating us Pākehā about our history. Often we are ignorant of how much we ask of them to give, for free or for a small koha. We tend not to look at the resourcing we invest into our own development in comparison. We, as Pākehā, need to educate ourselves and have conversations with other Pākehā.

Through my relationships with people who identify as Māori, through the study of New Zealand history, through continuing to be open to listening, and through mixing with others who are rethinking new paradigms, economically, politically, socially and spiritually, I find myself changing and seeing the world differently. Even though I try to understand and value the First Nations/Māori world view in New Zealand, I still make mistakes and I am still learning.

My hope and my dream is that more and more Kiwis will become unsettled with our present state of the nation; that we will remember our past, learn from it, and become ‘presence-based’ activators for organising social change, so that the future may look somewhat different from the past and present… and may we never forget.

Story: Dave Tims

References:

  1. “New Zealand Wars – Page 11. Long-term impact,” Te Ara, https://teara.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-wars/page-11.
  2. “In 2000 Māori held only a fraction of the land of the North Island – perhaps as little as 4%” (https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/interactive/Māori -land-1860-2000). From 1840 – 2000 the “Crown used pre-emption to buy two-thirds of the entire land area of New Zealand from Māori – including most of the South Island. They paid 21,150 pounds in total – the equivalent of $2.4 million in today’s money, or about three residential properties in Auckland” (stuff.co.nz/national/104100739/treaty-of-waitangi-what-was-lost). Other bits of land were either confiscated or were taken, and still are taken, for Public Works purposes. (A Bill to stop this failed in 2016, after the Greens tried to bring in the Public Works Amendment Bill.)
  3. “Te Māori i te ohanga – Māori in the economy – Page 6. Urbanisation,” Te Ara, https://teara.govt.nz/en/te-maori-i-te-ohanga-maori-in-the-economy/page-6.
  4. Paul Meredith, “Urban Maori,” Te Ara, https://teara.govt.nz/en/urban-Māori /print.
  5. “Ngā take Māori – government policy and Māori – Page 4. Depression, war and urbanisation, 1930s to 1960s,” Te Ara, https://teara.govt.nz/en/nga-take-Māori -government-policy-and-Māori /print.
  6. “Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week – Page 2 – History of the Māori language, New Zealand History, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/maori-language-week/history-of-the-maori-language.
  7. Max Harris, “Racism and White Defensiveness in Aotearoa: A Pākehā Perspective,” E-Tangata (10 June 2018), https://e-tangata.co.nz/comment-and-analysis/racism-and-white-defensiveness-in-aotearoa-a-pakeha-perspective.