200 Years of Hope

04 Nov, 2019 The need to keep our bicultural story honest

Title: ‘Thank God all this bicultural Maori-stuff is behind us’

Subtitle: Why it’s important that we keep our bicultural narratives honest


This reflection is about the need for greater integrity in the narrative we have in Church circles, because biased or embellished stories (whether deliberate or accidental) could backfire on us later.


One challenge in our nation is a growing divide regarding how far our reparations for Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) might go. In my view, our bicultural journey is going to go a lot further yet. As we near completion of discussions and apologies related to stolen lands the conversation about the rights to self-government are now just beginning). I also think that is right that reparations go quite a bit further – even if this is all highly inconvenient. I’ve spoken on, and have written about this on other platforms.

In case of misunderstanding (in view of what Im about to say) – and especially from anyone reading who don’t know me, I want to clarify that I’m an avid Treaty (Treaty of Waitangi) supporter. It’s our founding constitutional document as a nation – made up of two peoples. Some say ‘Let’s all be one’ – like Hobson did in 1840.  Many misunderstand that we are ‘two becoming one’ – just like in a marriage, not ‘one people’, as if there weren’t still some distinct differences in terms of continuing rights and distinctions between us (as defined in Te Tiriti). Marriages take work – because they are about two independent people trying to work together, with all their imperfections and differences, as one. This is how our biculturalism is. It’s going to take work – always.

Note: The two over-arching people groups in NZ are therefore Maori and non-Maori. Non-Maori are then made up of many different cultures also. So we are firstly (constitutionally) a bicultural nation, but then also a multicultural society – in the sense that we believe in the equality of races, and equal rights and freedoms within this nation for all.

The challenge in this journey is that there are a growing number in our nation who don’t want this bicultural journey to continue. They are waiting for the final Waitangi Tribunal settlements to be made – and will then throw a party, because “all this divisive Maori stuff can now be behind us!”

I write this article because I think some of our ‘Church’ narrative is lacking appropriate balance. We are giving a growing movement of those who are opposing a bicultural journey easy ammunition. Honesty and humility will serve us better in the long term.

Here are some examples – with the single encouragement; let’s all keep learning, and keep our story as truthful, balanced and fair as possible.

We can gently correct one another when we hear things said that seem imbalanced. As a ‘body’ (Romans 12), we can become increasingly ‘coordinated’ – and to good effect.

A final qualifier: I note that these examples are selected with the opposers of bicultural things in mind. (A different list would be compiled were a different audience considered).


E.g. 1 – “Let’s civilise before we Christianise”

Marsden gets a hard time sometimes. The above statement that Maori needed civilising could be seen as a colonialistic judgement. It could be interpreted as suggestion Marsden had a problem with Maori because they didn’t wear shoes, or know how to hold a knife and fork ‘properly’. We could – in our fervour for recognising past wrongs, hammer Marsden. And some do!

Yet Marsden was one of the best friends Maori ever had – and was only invited to ‘plant’ our first Pakeha settlement (three other families stayed – while Marsden visited to settle them) because of that trust and friendship. He didn’t even sail here until collected by Maori chiefs, to bring him here.

If we judge Marsden by what he did – rather than by our modern understanding of his words, he gifted (not sold) many sheep and cattle to Maori; he gifted training in the husbandry of these animals – and also in various crops like wheat and maize. He gave some horses. He gave fruit trees. And when sailors were proving too dishonest to transport things to and from NZ he purchased a ship with his own money to enable the intended benevolence of their work to continue unhindered. he was a friend of many Maori too. He gave hospitality – and his care of Ruatara on a ship followed by 7 more months at his home in Sydney likely saved Ruatara’s life (though Ruatara sadly passed away a few years later, having contracted TB).

So, what did the above words ‘civilise before Christianise’ mean?

What if you heard a Baptist pastor today say that we need to love people with actions before we preach the gospel to them, because they might misunderstand our message otherwise? I don’t think it was much different!

This isn’t to say there weren’t cultural misunderstandings and judgements. For example, Europeans really couldn’t understand why Maori didn’t want to wear shoes. But the judgements went both ways too, if we’re honest!

How many other good people do we criticise in an unfair or unbalanced, because it suits our narrative at the time?


E.g. 2 – “They’re colonisers!”

Hold on – who’s accusing who? We all agree today that colonising another nation is wrong, but aren’t ALL of our ancestors guilt of this one – Maori and Pakeha?  Who’s casting the first stone here – as if they were somehow guiltless?

There is only one basis for being biased, and speaking angrily against the Pakeha only: It is through consideration only of the timeframe of 1840 onwards –on the basis that Te Tiriti o Waitangi was essentially made in the name of God.It was significantly forged and enabled by the missionaries (and their counterparts in England), and supported by many Maori – who saw it as a spiritual covenant also. Because of the presence of the Christian faith a new ethic came into being. Only from that moment on did something happen that was really wrong (as compared to ‘wrong’). Until then, the word ‘wrong’ was tribal. The ethics of what the word ‘wrong’ meant were unavoidably subjective (made up by a society) – not objective (established as globally true and unchangeable by God, who is above us).

Throughout history many, many nations and tribes have engaged in wars and killed enemies, and when they won they also took their enemies possessions, people (as slaves or ‘subservients’) – and lands!

So, the way we word things is important – because accusing others while pretending we aren’t in some way guilty ourselves isn’t actually honest. And the problem with dishonesty is that it makes us look biased.

There are people who don’t want the bicultural journey to continue. A little humility (care in wording) could go a long way in protecting our ’cause’ from a legitimate critique.


E.g. 3 – “They were racist”

Did Pakeha look down on Maori. Some did – but not all did, right? So, were some racist? Totally!

But did Maori look down on others too? Absolutely they did. I’ve read of the distain Maori had for the Aboriginals in Australia, as one example. Chiefs didn’t like the Pakeha whalers, sailors and traders too. They were inferior – not understanding tikanga (laws), immoral, and unpredictable.

We sometimes judge people in history on the basis of values that we share today. But let’s be careful that we judge people within their time. If we consider our ancestors in their many colours, who can cast the first stone?  So, let’s call racism racism when we see it – but let’s remember to keep our tone humble. No Pakeha or Maori can accuse someone else’s ancestors of racism without having numerous fingers legitimately pointing back at them. 


E.g. 4 – “The New Zealand missionaries were a tool of colonisation”

I still occasionally hear passionate criticisms of our early missionaries by people belonging to the Christian community without balancing comments to note the great good they did.

I get that wrongdoing is wrongdoing. But who is without sin? Who can really cast a stone here? I’m amazed by this one.

Who did right during our early bicultural days? Surely the missionaries are at (or very near to) the top of that list!

Maybe missionaries are judged for not understanding Maori culture – and for speaking against parts of it in a manner that was actually unfair, and incorrect. The assessments might be entirely correct too – but how about ensuring we can still tell the ‘baby from the bathwater’. Everyone made cultural mistakes and judgements didn’t they?

If we consider what missionaries were trying to achieve in criticisms of aspects of Maori culture (not all culture) – they were usually targeting things that were violent or cruel. Often the got it right too. For example, they judged the violent excesses of Maori culture in terms of cannibalism, cultures of death of wives at death of chiefs, human sacrifice, feudal wars between tribes,  violent acts of utu and various other violent superstitions as bad.

But it wasn’t as if they would only criticise Maori culture. For example, the drunkenness and whoring of the whalers, traders and sealers at Kororareka (Russell) got the very same critique!

This criticism sometimes goes further, to slander the entire missionary movement of the 1800s and 1900s. Regarding this accusation I can only strongly caution against such words – for even many secular historians recognise the missionary movement of the 1800s and 1900s to have been the greatest humanitarian effort of all of human history. It challenged slavery, brought beliefs in equality between the races, battled discrimination against women, brought concepts of charity to the world, brought education even to the poor, established schools across the world, transcribed many languages (giving them a written language) – giving mana to their people and enabling broader education, stopped inhumane and violent practices in many places, took medical care to the poor, took hospitals to the world, and so much more!

While wrongs must be admitted for a story to be honest – balance and perspective are needed when talking about history! If we are to careful, we can become guilty of creating stories that are not only potentially harmful – but also untrue!


E.g. 5 – Hobson and his 5 Pakeha Judges

Soon after Te Tiriti was signed Hobson declared NZ as a British colony, and appointed 5 European judges. What? No Maori judges? So arrogant and presumptuous, right?

Yes – I can agree in part. But might our bicultural passion have run away on us a little also? Remember Hongi Hika is loved as a warrior – not hated. So is Te Rauparaha. These were violent men to the extreme. They took all sorts of things from people! Why do some hate Hobson but not them? What are we judging here – and on what basis?

About Hobson: Hobson was given to the navy at age 9. He battled in the Napoleonic wars. He fought piracy for many years. He was captured by pirates twice – and held for ransom. He understood international law – in the way it was understood in Europe back then. He was smart, courageous, experienced, knowledgeable, uncompromising and tough! That’s why he was the man chosen for a difficult task: To stop colonisation in New Zealand if possible; but if not possible, to mitigate (soften) it. He was an impressive man!

So – why declare this a British colony (though, for the historians amongst us, I appreciate it was actuall under Australian ‘rule’ via Te Tiriti for about a year as a technicality), and appoint Pakeha judges – not Maori?

To answer that – consider the others Europeans wanting to make a claim on New Zealand as their own. The French had already been up north. Henry Williams had just (in the previous month prior to Te Tiriti) walked at pace from Wellington to Tauranga, to get a ship to Paihia – to be there for Hobsons arrival and the signing of Te Tiriti. In the week prior he’d witnessed fighting and large amounts of land taken in the Nelson region (where a ship he’d been on had been blown). The Wellington area had just been purchased. It was clear that his calls to England for intervention to protect Maori were timely and now needed!  Soon after this the NZ Company was declaring sovereignty over the Wellington region – and the French were about to arrive at Akaroa (near Christchurch) to declare that a French Colony.

Who knew how to get rid of these problems? How many Maori understood international law in the way the Europeans did?

As an example, Hobson dispatched two of his judges to Akaroa. They convened court. Following discussions the French then packed their things up and left. Might Hobson have known a thing or two?


A conclusion?

All I’m saying is that there is sometimes more to a story than at first meets the eye. And if our passion is to defend Maori interests (which my own passion is – and it’s probably my default bias too) we could become guilty of propagating some unfair and untrue things.

…which will give easy ammunition to those who will increasingly stand to oppose this bicultural journey.  


Those who could oppose this bicultural journey in our nation are numerous. I predict things will become considerably more polarised in the next two decades – and the ‘opposers’ therefore more vocal also. If land-reparations were uncomfortable, wait until the issues of self-government are discussed! Put differently: These are the ‘good times’ in the NZ Church’s bicultural journey.

…so… …we need to lay some really good foundations in this season – because more difficult times are coming! If we allow dishonesty and (popular) bias to become established in our stories – this could come back to ‘bite us’.


Let’s pursue honesty in our narrative – as much as possible.

Let’s be careful about how we talk about others – whether they are alive or dead! This is a Christian principle!

And let’s keep gently correcting each other in the details of our stories – so we can all continue to improve…

…because good will come of this.

( To perpetuate an imbalance is not only dishonest. It is also manipulative and deceptive.)

I hope this has been an interesting trigger for conversation.


Other blogs by Dave Mann on this topic


5 self-print bulletin-booklets for your church 

  • Called ‘Then and Now’ – about outreach and our early bicultural story, to give to church members with the bulletin over a 5 week period here (These booklet also encourager support of the Hope Project – which takes some of these stories to the public square).


Waitangi weekend sermon outlines (free)

  • ‘Three Treaties’ (Gibeonites, Waitangi and Jesus) from Dave Mann is (word doc) here, with power point here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Leaving a legacy’ – edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc)  here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Joshua and the Treaty (five treatise)’ –  edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc) here
DAVE MANN. Dave is a creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing, and also being valued, in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and recently coordinated a 5th nationwide multimedia Easter project purposed to help open conversation between church and non-church people about Christianity take place, including regarding the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values. Dave is the author of various books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last”, “The Elephant in the Room”, and available for free on this site: “The What and How of Youth and Young Adult ministry”. Married  to Heather, they have four young boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.  
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