A day to reflect on race relations


For some readers, February 6 will just be a day off work, spent shopping, at the beach or in the garden.

Like other public holidays, its purpose is becoming lost to leisure and commerce.

But you may be reading a column such as this, or even attending a Waitangi Day event.

Whatever we are doing, I would like to think that the day is one that will spur us all on to reflect a little on race relations, and New Zealand’s future.

For example, I feel worried that New Zealand may yet succumb to the poison of the vicious fascism and racism currently infecting some other countries in the world.

We certainly have our own internet trolls and lobby groups promoting racist or monocultural agendas, and occasional right-wing politicians happy to play the “race card”, but the politics of hate thankfully still sit on the margins and we should oppose those who try to invigorate it in this country.

I am proud that our country has moved ahead with its Treaty settlements, and iwi are increasingly bringing direct benefits to their people.

We should feel gratified at the positivity and commitment of increasing numbers of Maori students seeking higher education, and of Maori business initiatives.

But despite this Maori success, the oft-cited “bad statistics” relating to Maori poverty, incarceration, health and education remain unacceptable.

The cause may be partly structural, such as a lack of good housing and poor wages, or partly institutional.

For example, Maori are more likely to be stopped, tried and imprisoned than Pakeha.

These are things everyone should be concerned about.

Te reo Maori is a taonga protected under the Treaty, and it is pleasing to see increasing numbers of people, Maori, Pakeha and others, embracing the language.

The challenge of satisfying this broadening cohort of new learners puts pressure on developing the deep knowledge base (fluent speakers) required to truly sustain the language.

But it indicates a healthy shift in attitude towards the value of te reo Maori, and it will be interesting to see how we can provide for the dream of a bilingual country.

I am sure you have your own issues you may wish to reflect on this Waitangi Day.

We should appreciate the successes but also acknowledge that, with striving and goodwill, much may yet be achieved, and eventually we may all feel happy to “celebrate” Waitangi Day.