Political historian Michael Bassett CNZM is the author of 15 books, was a regular columnist for the Fairfax newspapers and a former Minister in the 1984-1990 governments
So, in the opinions of Peeni Henare and Willie Jackson, two of the weaker minds in our ministry, Paul Goldsmith MP is “ignorant” and talking “nonsense” when he says that on balance, Maori benefited from the colonization of New Zealand. According to Henare, Goldsmith who, incidentally, is a First-Class Honours graduate in history with an impressive number of well researched books to his credit, “set back the country” by stating what, on balance, should be obvious to all of us. As that sage Maori leader Sir Apirana Ngata always said, colonization of New Zealand could not have been prevented; Maori were just lucky that it was the British, and not some of the less enlightened imperialists who undertook the settlement of New Zealand. When will our ministers learn some history? And when will reporters like the Herald’s Michael Neilson who also seems hopelessly confused, join them?
Goldsmith didn’t elaborate on his reasons for making his judgement. But the first and obvious reason why British sovereignty was positive was that it quickly brought law and order to New Zealand and gave Maori cause for hope. In the thirty years before the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 warring Maori tribes had slaughtered between 40,000 and 50,000 fellow Maori, including women and children, pillaged their economies, enslaved many, and eaten some. The Musket Wars ended. Cannibalism faded, and slavery was abolished. The British had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and proscribed slavery in 1833. Historians agree that the Maori economy revived for a time in the 1840s and 1850s, and that mutually beneficial trade between Maori and Pakeha developed until it was badly affected in the Waikato, Taranaki, and to a lesser extent Tauranga in the 1860s by wars that began over land and sovereignty. For those Maori caught up in this fighting, the early 1860s were bad. But still, the colonial government killed many fewer Maori than Maori had slaughtered during the Musket Wars. Even though some confiscated land was returned, the act of confiscation seriously damaged several western tribes. It had much less impact on northern, central, southern and eastern Maori.
Law and order, equal rights with Pakeha under the Treaty, access to the right to vote ahead of many Pakeha, and an opportunity to learn to read and write, and in particular, to learn English which is the first or second language of nearly every country in the world these days, was a blessing for Maori. Only yesterday I saw that Willie Jackson was complaining that not enough English language programmes are being played on Maori TV. Well, fancy that!
By the mid 1860s Maori parents were eager for their children to be educated in English. Today, a few radicals bemoan the fact that teachers sometimes strapped children who sought to speak Te Reo in the classroom, but they conveniently overlook the fact that the teachers were doing no more than parents wanted. Moreover, teachers used the strap freely on all children well into the 1950s. Radical Maori also overlook the fact that as a result of their “colonial” educations, many Maori distinguished themselves and their country academically, on the world opera stage, playing the settlers’ sports, and on the battlefield in two world wars. Another indicator that colonization was welcomed by many Maori was the high rate of intermarriage between New Zealand’s first settlers and the colonials.
What the likes of Henare and Jackson are trying to do is to blame 19th century colonization for the fact that some Maori have fallen behind the achievements of other ethnic groups over the last fifty years. While health and educational services are equally available to them, Maori are conspicuous in school truancy figures; amongst the “Did Not Show” statistics for health specialists; and there aren’t enough of them studying to be nurses and doctors. Since virtually all people calling themselves Maori these days have some Pakeha blood, the explanation can’t possibly be colonization.
A disturbing aspect of the attacks on Goldsmith is that far too many of his National colleagues seem to be siding with Henare and Jackson’s twaddle. If Chris Luxon really hopes to lead his party anywhere, he needs quickly to find out something about New Zealand’s complex past. A rich literature is available that should disabuse him of the notion that colonization is the only, or even the primary cause of today’s Maori problems.
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