"Recovering racist" challenges middle New Zealand

Abel Tasman National Park is getting bigger thanks to the work of 39,249 people who gave a little to raise more than $2 million to buy a strip of beach and bush at Awaroa.  This week the land has transferred to the Crown.

I was one of those people who put in a few dollars to see if we could collectively buy back a piece of paradise. I can vouch for how spectacular this place is – I lived in Golden Bay for four years as a child and I had my standard four, school camp at Totaranui. 

The two guys behind the campaign are my cousin’s husband and brother, although I didn’t know that when the campaign launched.  I just loved the idea that collectively we could make a difference – people power!

People power of another sort is looming and I plan to be part of this movement too.  I’m going to join New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd on Friday 17 June when he walks 45km from New Plymouth to Parihaka in a pilgrimage of peace.

Judd has come under fire after going on a speedy journey of self-discovery, being ignorant about Māori history and institutional racism, and now identifying as a “recovering racist”.  He prompted controversy in his proposal for a Māori ward seat and has decided not to stand again to avoid abuse – he was spat on in the supermarket in front of his children in one incident.

Someone who spoke critically about both the Awaroa purchase and the Māori ward proposal was Kiwi philanthropist Gareth Morgan.  However, Morgan’s criticisms, while sometimes delivered clumsily, made some good points.

Morgan questioned whether spending more than $2 million on a thin strip of coastline that would undoubtedly erode with rising sea levels was the best use of money for conservation.  While my head agreed, my heart didn’t.  Putting that aside, I also pondered whether this cause would have engendered the same enthusiasm if it had been a Māori land owner selling the land due to bankruptcy.

There often seems to be a double standard applied to issues involving Māori – this Māori ward consternation is an example.  New Plymouth has rural wards to ensure rural people are represented, but that doesn’t get labeled as separatism.

Morgan also critiqued the Māori ward approach, saying he was in favour of representation but didn’t think this was the best approach.  That might be fair, but Judd had the backing of local Iwi for his approach, plus it was a start – until the citizen-initiated referendum overturned it.  For the record, I was living in New Plymouth then and voted in support of the ward.

I’ve joined the Andrew Judd Fan Club on Facebook and in less than a week, it has 10,000 members, so I’m not alone.  It’s been a fantastic place for constructive conversations around increasing Māori representation.  People have been sharing insights, with a mix of sadness, anger and hope, plus ideas and resources to help inform thoughtful conversations around New Zealand’s history and future, and reducing racism.

My experience of understanding New Zealand’s history accelerated rapidly in 1990 when I was a seventh former here in Whanganui.  It was the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and I was privileged to represent my school at local and national hui.  It was a rollercoaster of emotions but has served as a solid base for how I identify as a New Zealander today.

Judd has said the book that kick-started his voyage of discovery while mayor was Healing Our History by Robert and Josephine Consedine.  If that sounds a bit long, a condensed option is to check out www.nzhistory.net.nz.  If you don’t know the story of Parihaka, start there – or, for a musical history lesson, crank up Tim Finn’s 1989 hit Parihaka, available on www.nzonscreen.com.