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Nationhood

Entry 1267, on 2011-02-08 at 16:05:20 (Rating 4, Politics)

Why do New Zealanders have such a weak sense of nationhood? We don't have many institutions or traditions which bind us as a nation, and most of us are extremely cynical of attempts to achieve this. I'm not saying we should be singing hideous renditions of our national anthem at every opportunity like the Americans do. Or saluting the flag at every opportunity. Or have some misplaced notion that we are better than other nations and that we should go around inflicting our allegedly superior values on the rest of the world... (sorry America, but it's true)

Anyway there must be some compromise between rabid nationalism and cynical apathy. I actually prefer the low key NZ approach to the fake and sickening US one but why not aim for some healthy middle ground here? I hesitate to mention it but more like Australia maybe?

First, the evidence for the indifference of New Zealanders. In a recent NZ Herald poll, out of about 25,000 responses, only 23% said "Yes" to the question "Is Waitangi Day important to you". A quick TVNZ phone poll showed only 14% cared about Waitangi day. And in a Yahoo Xtra poll which asked "Should Waitangi Day be celebrated?", 52% said "no why celebrate something that has created so many issues?", 22% said "yes but not as our national day, since it's not a day of unison", and 21% said "yes it has a great historic significance to all New Zealanders".

Some of these polls were not done with a great deal of care to achieve a statistically valid result, but the overall trend is clear: New Zealanders either don't care about or actively dislike their national day. I saw interviews where many people had forgotten it had even happened. Would you see that in Australia or the US?

The problem seems to be that Waitangi Day has been hijacked by one part of the population: the people who see it as a Maori cultural event. Many people don't care about Maori culture. For example, I have no real interest in it and find most of it rather dreary although I like some of the Maori myths. So when our national day involves some tedious speeches about Maori issues, a few waka (canoes) being paddled around, and the incessant complaints from the Maori grievance industry I just prefer to ignore the whole thing.

I guess some people would say I'm anti-Maori or racist or something like that, but I'm really not. I just have no interest in Maori culture. That's just my opinion. Is that so bad? If a ceremony involves some sort of Maori component I tend to listen to my iPhone instead. Would it be better I just pretended that I liked some sort of monotonous wailing, or antagonistic war dance, or speech in an irrelevant language, or meaningless prayer like I'm supposed to? I don't think so.

I know many people share this view although a lot are scared to say so. And it's not just conservatives or older people or the unenlightened. I have found it extends across society (although I admit I have no real data to support this observation). The ironic thing is that, in the past, before Maori culture was forced on us all, it was a lot more appreciated. People don't tend to like being told what they should think is important and relevant.

Waitangi day is supposed to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi which was an agreement between two cultures: British and Maori. If the Treaty is so important why do so many forget this part: "the recognition of Her Majesty's Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands". It seems to me that British rule is firmly established (and the Queen of England is still theoretically though not practically our head of state) so where does the argument over Maori self-rule come from?

The Treaty seems to be originally intended as a uniting document but more recently it has become the opposite. The grievance industry and Maori politicians seem to be seeking to establish special rights and privileges for Maori. There's the often repeated claim that Maori have a special spiritual bond with the land. No one seems to be brave enough to dispute this nonsense. Many people have a bond with the land and many don't. I see no evidence to suggest that one group has exclusive rights to this dubious claim.

Maori politician Pita Sharples said we must continue to have a national day and it must be called Waitangi Day. That's an opinion many people would disagree with. Currently we have a national day which is completely irrelevant to the majority of the population, which produces far more divisiveness than bonding, and is primarily concerned with the past rather than the future. So why exactly is this day so good?

Ironically it was conservative National leader Rob Muldoon who changed our national day from New Zealand Day back to the previous title of Waitangi Day. But official celebrations only started in 1947, 100 years after the signing, anyway. It seems to me that New Zealand day is a far more inclusive term and one which would get far greater support. But I think political correctness and political expediency will prevent us ever returning to that name.

So New Zealand will just become more and more divided and apathy will reign (attendance at Waitangi Day celebrations this year was down on last year despite the good weather). I'm not that enthused about symbolism generally but it does seem unfortunate that we really don't have a national day that means anything. The worst thing is that, because it fell on a Sunday this year, we didn't even get a day off. And it's sad that that's the issue which annoys most people more than any other!

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Comment 1 (2859) by Jim on 2011-02-08 at 17:47:51:

I feel you've pretty well covered the issue and I don't disagree with the tenor of your views. The day has been hijacked by Maori - their views, their interpretations, their issues and their unrelenting insistence of how important is their culture as opposed to that of our own. I'm another who has been switched off by its emphasis - one wonders how Maori would have fared if a less tolerant European power had "seized" possession and stayed as in French Polynesia.

Maori have benefited enormously subsequent to Waitangi - three settlements, the second declared "full, final and very generous" by no lesser persons than Sir Apirana Ngata- and they've done far better than European NZers in the absorbtion of welfare benefits.

Maori are natural takers. Our political representatives have been very slack in not drawing the base line a long time ago.

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Comment 2 (2861) by OJB on 2011-02-08 at 23:07:20:

Yes, it's arrogant to claim Maori culture is superior in any way to Western culture and attempts at forcing the adoption of Maori culture are probably doomed. For example, the language is still dying despite the "life support" it has been on for years. It's unfortunate that languages disappear like that but it's just natural social evolution. Trying to force people into learning and using it hasn't really helped.

But the idea that "Maori are natural takers" is a bit of an unfair stereotype. I agree that they are overrepresented in welfare stats but that isn't necessarily through choice.

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