Last week Paul Goldsmith got himself in some hot water when he told Newshub Nation that colonisation had been good for Māori ‘on balance’. Ātea editor Leonie Hayden dusts off her calculator.
Revisiting a piece he co-wrote in 2019 for the Tuia 250 commemoration, Paul Goldsmith’s (Ngāti Epsom) comments to Newshub Nation last week were an illuminating insight into the minds of some of our Treaty partners.
When asked if he still thought colonisation had been good for Māori, he replied: “The reality is that New Zealand was isolated from the rest of the world for centuries and at some point it had to reconnect with the rest of the world. And that happened in the 19th century was always going to be a very traumatic experience.
“But with it came all sorts of wonderful things, such as literacy, such as the freedoms and democracy that have come through… I think on balance it has, yes.”
At this point there’s so much weird stuff dribbling out of National Party orifices, it almost seems pointless to comment on yet another Pākehā politician‘s take on what the world looks like for Māori, but I was too intrigued by the term “on balance”. What monstrous scale could possibly weigh the subjugation of a culture against the benefits of invasion?
Now before someone says something hysterical about how if we hate colonisation so much, we shouldn’t use cell phones or cars – the first British settlers did not get here using GPS on the latest iPhone in a Ford Ranger. Those are recent American inventions that are available to people in countries that haven’t been colonised by America. If we’re giving up sovereignty to countries based on our use of their technological advances, Cook and friends would have turned up on these shores speaking a Chinese language, thanks to the paper, printing, gunpowder and compasses required to colonise the shit out of other countries.
Sure, we have no way of proving what a Māori society would look like today if violent settler colonialism hadn’t occurred, but as we were already exploring and trading with other countries and adapting to new farming techniques and crops like wheat long before Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed, presumably we would have continued to explore, progress and adapt to the changing world in our own Māori way because we are, as a people, incredibly innovative. Fun fact: you can trade with a country without beating the children there until they speak the same language as you.
What I’m saying is – without colonisation, there’s every chance we’d still be using cell phones today. We’d just be texting in te reo Māori.
“On balance” is an interesting exercise. What does that balance sheet look like? This is by no means exhaustive (the true balance sheet includes every Treaty claim that has been and is yet to be made, every death from starvation, state brutality and inequitable medical treatment, every abuse and micro aggression that went unrecorded, every bullied and overlooked Māori kid, every polluted drop of water, quarried rock and pine where a native tree once stood). And let’s distinguish between things that are here in Aotearoa because of colonisation by the British Empire, not just things that were invented by white people, because as we’ve already identified, progress can occur in non-colonised countries thanks to travel, technology and trade, and the British didn’t invent every-damn-thing. So …
As a writer and avid reader it’s a nice to have, but did “literacy” improve te ao Māori to a degree that eclipses our own whare wānanga and storytelling traditions using spoken word, dance, song and visual arts? Nah.
Sorry Paora, te ao Māori forms of democracy were far more democratic than the Western world’s at the time the Westminster system was introduced. Leadership could be achieved by those not from a chiefly family, by displaying actual leadership qualities, and women and children got to have a say on community matters for many centuries before women were “given the vote” in this country.
I mean, he’s John Campbell.
Salt n vinegar chips
The whole potato, sure, but specifically in this form.
Our families and friends
This is, by far, the only true pro – that some of our nearest and dearest were brought to us via their ancestors hopping on a boat for the new world and hoping for the best. Some of those ancestors made terrible decisions and participated in a campaign of subjugation and theft, which they passed down through many generations. I don’t look at my tauiwi friends and family and blame them for that – we’re only accountable for our actions and words in this life, and I’m thankful on the daily for those trying to make the place better for all of us.
Land theft and ‘ownership’
Māori land alienation can be attributed to three main mechanisms: raupatu, confiscation as punishment to those iwi and hapū who defended their whenua against invasion; sales through the Native Land Court, a Pākehā-controlled court designed to convert customary title to individual title, effectively making it easier for land to be sold to settlers, and almost impossible for Māori to maintain traditional ownership structures; and the Public Works Act, where the Crown could take land as they saw fit to build roads, railways and other public works. Unsurprisingly, Māori land was favoured over Pākehā for “compulsory acquisition”. No land = no place to stand = lost identity, irreparably undermining the mana of iwi Māori, Papatūānuku and her children.
To be fair we don’t know a lot about which diseases were endemic to New Zealand before the arrival of Europeans, but some of the more exciting ones introduced in the early days were dysentery, mumps, whooping cough, polio, measles, tuberculosis and venereal diseases! And then during the influenza pandemic Māori died at eight times the rate of Pākehā! And now we have a provably inequitable health system!
Believe it or not, “mana wāhine” is a relatively recent term. Why? Because 200 years ago the idea that you would need a term to distinguish that women have mana would be met with a resounding “well duuuuh”. Thank you colonisation for introducing us to the patriarchy.
Decline of the extended family
Caring for elders, intergenerational learning and collective child rearing certainly sounds nicer than isolation and loneliness.
Te ao Māori didn’t require prisons – justice (or balance) was achieved through take/utu/ea (issue, cost, resolution). Once an issue or conflict (take) had been identified, the utu refers to a mutually agreed upon cost or action that must be undertaken to resolve it, leading to ea – debt repaid. Colonisation laid a legal framework over ours that was punitive and benefited one side inequitably (hint: that side was not “the Māori”) diminishing the mana of all.
The New Zealand Wars
Between 95 and 99% of all New Zealand rivers running through urban and farming areas carry pollution above water quality guidelines, 90% of the nation’s wetlands have been drained, and 76% of freshwater fish species are threatened or at risk.
Loss of language
Assimilation was, unfortunately, an agenda pushed by many Māori leaders as well as our government in (I imagine) an attempt to mitigate the worst aspects of colonisation for Māori. Speaking English was seen as essential for becoming a respected citizen of New Zealand.
To quote Audre Lorde: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
Luckily our reo rangatira survived and many advocates fight to this day to help it grow stronger again, but as with much of being Māori, it’s a fight that should never have been brought to us.
Total: – 14,220
If this was my overdraft I wouldn’t be making comments publicly about how great I am at saving, you know?