07 Jul, 2023 If a solution for Māori wellbeing is needed it’s about values not the Treaty!
If a solution for Māori wellbeing is needed it’s about values not the Treaty
(I apologise in advance that this blog is too long – yet each point hopefully does say something of value, explaining the point being made about values).
The wellbeing of all New Zealanders should be a concern for all New Zealanders. Today I want to speak to the Treaty and both its relevance and rarely stated irrelevance to Māori wellbeing.
Once understood, I think nearly all will see the point and agree. Initially some might (wrongly) think I’m demeaning the Treaty / Te Tiriti. For clarity, I’m not.
As a nation we care about our Māori – as also all of our non-Māori. Like a parent who cares for all of their children, we want all who grow in our nation to thrive. This is one reason we’ve honoured and supported Treaty things as a nation – and as churches! We’d love to see their statistics – which we’re told about continuously by our Government and Media – turned around – because ‘they are us’. Consider crime rates, imprisonment, suicide, truancy, substance abuse – and more.
But what help is actually needed?
Does the Treaty have anything to do with these problems – or might the needed solution actually be in something else entirely?
It’s an important question!
A decline in Māori wellbeing that is recent
During the 19th Century (in the 1800s), the numbers of Māori who were prisoners was very low. Usually about 3% of the total prison population. Early in the 20th Century Māori made up 11% of our prisons, while by 1945 they made up 21%.
Jump half a century on, and by 2011 Māori were 51%. It’s a measure of social change amongst Māori – as distinct from the wider population. While these are always generalisations (as some Māori are doing very well), the over-all situation for Māori is getting worse – not better.
What are we to do?
To make a point: Some might even say, “all this ‘honouring of the Treaty’ isn’t working!”
There are two separate topics here. Let’s unpack this.
Firstly – in the first period (prior to 1950) Māori were decidedly more Christian than non-Māori. Their church attendance statistics were higher. Their honesty and hard work was admirable. Their families were together. I talk to my elderly neighbour, and her dad was hardworking, with a large family, strong morals and a big vegetable garden to feed them all. He kept the family together and was honoured and respected by all.
The primary recognised factor is this decline through to the 1950s is probably urbanisation – which removed the wider whanau support structures from around Māori. But more was going on than that.
(Secondly) …something else happened beyond the 1950s. There was a society-wide breakdown in our families. This wasn’t just amongst Māori – but for reasons I don’t understand it was disproportionately so!
The desire for unaccountable sex (which feels good at the time – but which also undermines the stability and security of our families, affecting all areas of wellbeing) led to a society-wide ‘distaste’ for Christianity. (We blamed the guilt we felt for our actions on the faith that told us our actions were morally wrong – because they’d lead to a decline in wellbeing). This faith has been increasingly despised and demeaned in our society since then – and with it the primary protective structure for Marriage has been undermined.
On all levels, we have become worse off.
But for Māori, the family breakdown was greater.
To note a tragic irony – as we honoured Te Tiriti, restoring mana-whenua and mana-Māori, Māori wellbeing declined rather than improved.
It would seem, therefore, that if our desire is to help Māori, honouring Te Tiriti is actually a very small part of the picture!
General marriage rates (for all races) fell a lot the past 70 years.
This decline is principally connected to our nation’s rejection of the Christian faith – from a desire for unaccountable sex. Public media picked up on the theme, and has fed it ever since.
The breakdown of marriage (which is at the centre of family structure) is directly connected to an increase in ill-health in multiple areas in practically all data. We don’t hear about this much these days only because it has become unfashionable to talk about. Those doing the surveys now fail to ask the necessary questions, or simply choose not to show us the connection.
When a marriage ends,
- the kids are less happy and less secure.
- There is more truancy,
- lower educational outcomes,
- lower income throughout life
- and more crime.
- There are then more drug and alcohol problems.
- There is certainly more depression,
- and more anxiety
- and more suicide.
- There are less stable future relationships – and so the cycle repeats.
- There are also worse health outcomes
- and therefore also decreased longevity in life.
All of these things are directly connected in the data to family-of-origin dynamics!
Any attempt to fix one of these problems that doesn’t identify and address the root connection to family structure is flawed at the most fundamental level.
Today about 45% of all New Zealanders over age 15 are married. In 1976 that was 66% – to note the trend. However, amongst Māori, I’ve heard it said the numbers are as low as 15% – while in the 1950s Māori marriage rates weren’t very much different to non-Māori.
And why don’t I give you a percentage on that? I couldn’t find the data. Why might that be? I don’t think it’s accidental. I suspect it isn’t printed because it doesn’t first the narrative – as if to say that marriage is irrelevant to Māori. To challenge that – I do not believe the idea of two people being committed to each other to create a stable environment for children and others… is at all race related! We live in very strange times!
The point: The key to wellbeing isn’t in cultural restoration – as valuable as that might be.
The key to wellbeing is in our values!
So, has our honouring of the treaty actually helped Māori then?
This is a provocative question.
Firstly, this is the wrong question to ask – because honouring Te Tiriti was the right thing to do. Whether it helped or not isn’t overly relevant.
But – to address it, here are some ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for Māori that I see coming from our honouring of Te Tiriti.
>> What bad might our pursuit of honouring Te Tiriti have inadvertently achieved?
At a first level, – while honouring the Treaty is the right thing to have done – doing so will have disadvantaged Māori wherever this served to enhance or feed a victim mentality.
When we fall for the lie that we are a victim we unwisely place our hope for our future in the someone else’s hands. This is a really silly thing to do! The assumption that someone else somehow owes us something rarely improves our lives. In truth, I believe it leads to our demise.
Examples are easy to find – because this isn’t a matter of race. Many of us suffer injustices, or are disadvantaged in some way or another (if we allow comparing to everyone else to become the measure of our lives).
- No amount of money can fix a problem that is in our heads and hearts!
- Concurrently, with healthy thinking, the environment around a person doesn’t have to be within them. (People in prison can feel free – while people who are ‘free’ can feel imprisoned).
To illustrate – I have things in my own life in mind here for which I could play the ‘victim’ card.
To consider the process – if I choose to replay injustices in my life in my mind, I can bring the emotions connected with them back to life. I can revive them. I think I can also create them – which is quite a statement. While remembering past injuries is sometimes helpful to healing it is (a) not necessary for healing, and (b) sometimes very unhealthy!
I have long-known that if I ever fell for the ‘victim mentality trap’ I’d be condemning myself to long-term mental ill-health. No amount of pointing the finger, or stating of blame, or of considering the detrimental effects I suffer because of things that happened, or even of asking for and hearing apologies were I ‘lucky’ enough to have that… ..would EVER heal the heart!
Hurts like these are healed through the power of forgiveness alone!
For some, the Treaty process has therefore caused them to relive the past hurts of their ancestors – to embody them. While the cause feels righteous – and in sometimes genuinely is righteous – it’s also has very real dangers, with very real consequences.
I think we all appreciate the challenge – and many of our immigrants in a way that is far more real than for anyone else in our nation if that can be recognised please. Many have literally lost homes, finances, land, heritage and families.
- How are they to find spiritual, mental and emotional health – to empower health in all areas of life?
> What good did our pursuit of honouring Te Tiriti achieve?
For a balancing point… our honouring of Te Tiriti achieved a lot of good!
AND – of course – was the right thing to do!!!
Together we’ve created an environment within which – today – Māori can feel affirmed and valued in their heritage as never before (since approx. 1860 – as a flexible time-marker in consideration of changing population and power demographics) .
Our choice to generally value things-Māori more has contributed to a restoration of mana-Māori (the pride a person can feel in being Māori). This was needed – because things-Māori really were generally despised and/or disregarded. That was wrong! Correcting it is good!
The financial settlements related to Te Tiriti have also put money in the hands of Māori – restoring a small part of what was taken, while also positioning them to do things that could make a different for their future. This is called ‘mana whenua’ – the mana connected to the land (or other assets). This firstly is about aiding a healing of hearts. An apology was needed – and was given, with money in hand as a demonstration that the heart behind the apology was sincere. The clock cannot be wound back. What was taken cannot ever be restored. In normal, or healthy, scenarios – this should make a difference. But if you think of family breakdowns where someone apologises – while it helps the offended person, it doesn’t automatically follow that they do find the path toward healing. (The giving of forgiveness is what enables the healing!)
The money given (secondly) serves to put choices in the hands of Māori – which is important and needed in view of not only assets lost, but also the esteem, confidence and opportunity associated with it. As I’ve discussed elsewhere in prior years, many Iwi are doing very well with their investments. As a result there is economic help and related benefits available to Māori in many Iwi, the likes of which the rest of us will never get. And this is only set to increase.
There is nothing unfair in this – so it is noted. This is no different to the way some moderately wealthy families have family trust from which family members can receive financial help – like for education.
The mana given to being Māori has continued to grow also – with Government endorsement, to the point where Māori are now at a considerable advantage over non-Māori with regard to education and employment opportunities. I can think of many examples. Were I part Māori I can think of a number of things in my life that would be different and easier. The playing field isn’t even – and that’s not all bad. (If it is about cultural appetite or desire for something – that’s natural. If it is about coerced or manipulated prejudice – that’s bad).
In summary of this sub-point: Our honouring of the Treaty has been an act of justice, honouring to God, and loving toward our Māori people. It has been an immense good – even if not the solution for Māori wellbeing!
What then about some solutions?
If a restoration is needed for Māori – what might bring it?
There clear evidence already that money isn’t going to fix anyone’s social woes.
As Lord Acton (and then Spider Man) said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Where power is given – watch the in-fighting, to have that power, begin!
If there isn’t a moral compass in a person with power – which can only come in a fixed way from their spiritual convictions (believing there is a God), what is there to stop a person taking a bribe behind a closed door?
Power progressively becomes corrupted in all human systems – only unless there is an opposite force (like the Christian faith) fueling selflessness and self-sacrifice as the foundational values of the leader!
So the giving of power isn’t the solution either – even though it might sometimes be justified on other merits.
> Pre-European spiritualities?
If you go far enough back in history, my ancestors in the Shetland Islands, Ireland, Liverpool and Switzerland were all pagan-god-worshipping feudal (fighting) tribalists. To make a point, there is nothing hugely unique in pre-European Māori society that isn’t in the ancestry of us all somewhere!
But then a North African religion called Christianity came to my ancestors. Of course, it was a Middle Eastern religion first. It was Alcuin who took it to the Germanic Goths – with the ‘plunders becoming peacemakers’ as a result. The Swiss and Germans have a common ancestry -so I’m guessing that’s when my ancestors on that side turned from some of their more bloodthirsty ways. It was ‘Saint Patrick’ of England who took the gospel to his prior slave owners in Ireland. And it was probably in connection with the influence or times of King Alfred the Great that saw faith was embraced amongst the tribes of the Liverpool regions and further afield in the Shetland Islands.
The point is simple. Culture isn’t static or unchanging as if it should be considered sacred and preserved with no changes… …and not all cultural practices are good!
- Human sacrifice, for example, isn’t good.
- Taking women as ‘prizes’ from war, to be used for sex, isn’t good.
- Superstitions, including violence, death and various emotionally ‘abusive’ dynamics aren’t good (I suggest).
- We should not therefore blindly assume that all aspects of our ancestor’s culture were good!
I am certain to have had pagan ancestors who did all of these things – as are most of us.
So, why then did our ancestors (in the various cultures mentioned above) decide to embrace the idea of (a) a Creator God who is (b) good (and therefore just) while also (c) loving and humble (so he can be known)?
- What if they had good reason to do so – and were wise, rather than the fools we sometimes assume them to be in the way we dismiss or write-off their deliberate decisions?
If we look at the history, these new beliefs led to peace replacing war, a culture of giving replacing vengeance and human sacrifice and other tortuous practices, loving replacing our battles for power – and much more – and I’m only talking about my own ancestors thus far.
Without question, my own ancestors were NOT better off prior to the arrival of news about Jesus.
For the distinction – the various battles for power across Europe were probably not overly good for my ancestors. There both good and bad in our history – and wisdom is needed to discern one thing from another.
What then is the way forward?
If the pursuit of money, power and ancient spiritualities isn’t the way forward, what is?
Here is what I suggest.
This reality can’t be avoided.
We cannot deny the spiritual.
To try to bring freedom and wellbeing to people with no regard for their Creator is – I suggest – short-sighted.
- Firstly, our ancestors esteemed this faith (all of mine did – and the majority of Māori in NZ did also, prior to colonisation, of their own accord, via Māori evangelists – not missionaries, with remarkable and positive outcomes).
- The logic is also still clear and simple to perceive. There are things around us everywhere – and within us – that are more complex than we could create. The evidence of design is overwhelming!
- We’re not therefore talking about a god who is the tree or forrest.
- We’re talking about a being that is smart enough, and capable/powerful enough, to MAKE the tree and the forrest!
We live in a society that refuses to accept this very simple logic – and truth.
It remains that, to try to say that ‘god’ is something other than what he actually is, is doing to be unhelpful.
- Religious truth is not a question of opinion or culture.
- And when we align ourselves to what is true – everything works better. (Consider fighting against gravity as an example).
it also follows that, if a God did indeed create, the God who is over Iran, Brazil and Uganda is the same God who is over we who are here New Zealand! So it really isn’t a matter of race. As much as we might love our individual cultures – this point needs reconciling with.
First things come before second things.
If we cannot recognise God – we will be unable to recognise or accept his ways – which will always work out for our best in the long-run!
#2. MARRIAGE – THE IDEA OF BINDING COMMITMENT
From there I would begin to discuss the importance of family, while knowing that changes in values do take time. If we are actually going to help people, family dysfunction is at the root of the problem.
Were my wider family to value our Irish and Swiss heritage – learning those languages might have some value, but would do nothing for the hurt in my heart from a challenged family environment. While our racial cultures have some value, family culture is the point here – and that’s not a racial thing. This is about values – and principles – which are TRUE, as evidenced by the way they ACTUALLY WORK in the REAL world when tried.
An esteeming a culture of marriage (a truly committed relationship made before God) changes many things!
- Strong marriages make for strong homes!
- Strong homes are where the nieces and nephews go when there are troubles in their homes – and where the children and grandchildren find safety and security.
- Strong homes also create a family culture of building strong homes. (The children of parents who stay married are far more likely to marry – and stay married.)
It is very difficult for one person – alone – to build that kind of a home, bringing security to many. (The solo parents and grandparents who do, each deserve an award!)
- …Though there will be exceptions. Imagine two two sisters who are committed to each other and their wider family – who create a safe environment for others. We give credit where credit is due!
But if we’re looking for solutions – to improve wellbeing – the above is ‘fence at the top of the cliff’. It can save people from a lifetime of troubles – while bringing blessing to many around.
#3. WE THEN BUILD A CULTURE OF TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR PROBLEMS – RATHER THAN POINTING THE FINGER
We most stop our culture of looking to the Government to help us and fix our problems.
What many don’t perceive is that, every time we do this, the Government get bigger and more powerful. Every time the Government gets bigger, we the people get smaller. It leads to a tipping point. It’s all through history. It is a VERY bad trend.
The problem is that this ‘victim mentality’ – that expects the Government to help – is seductive, because receiving the Government’s money or sympathy or help feels good.
The Greek philosopher Plato (428-348BC) wrote about this. In summary, “The Government gives us money until it runs out of money – so they find new ways to take the ‘rich people’s’ money. When they run our of money there is no money – and everything falls over!” Aka – true suffering begins!
So, the idea of an expanding Government that ‘cares for the people’ – no matter how charitable or good it seems in the moment – is a pathway toward disaster!
Very few perceive this while standing for their rights, to get more payouts and help from the Government. However, the history books show the life-cycle – and the unavoidable results are TERRIBLE!
This is why a foundational principle of wellbeing is that we take responsibility for our own lives and families and people, and our own problems. This includes our own incomes – and finding work, establishing basic security. This includes addressing our own family problems or dysfunction – teaching values, pursuing paths of healing, working to establish new patterns of behaviour. (This is all about VALUES).
Put differently, we never play the victim card.
To note it: When we then engage with matters of injustice from the past, we do so from an entirely different disposition. (We address the injustice from a place of freedom and health – rather from hurt or bitterness, or as if our value were in any way going to be affected by or connected to the other person’s response. This applies in families – which is where I have plenty of experience – as also in treaty settlements – and kaumatua who have led the claims to the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of their Iwi come to mind, who are genuinely full of grace and peace!).
CONCLUSION: So, as Christians – how can we help?
While we honour Te Tiriti, it is our faith and values that will bless Māori – like all people, more than anything else we carry.
We must know and tell our story!
We must engage in sensible conversations with people who are in positions of power.
We must engage wisely with public media, education and Government – to help to bring about a re-awakening of knowledge and interest in our history – both bicultural and values (How did we become of of the most free, prosperous, equality-based and charitable actions on the planet, as also in all human history? There is a story here to know and tell!).
A recognition of the Creator God is a foundation.
Family is next. If families aren’t protected through necessary VALUES and PRINCIPLES like commitment – people will get hurt!
Personal responsibility is then a life lesson, applicable to all. Māori are advantaged by way of access to education and employment. Their culture is being esteemed (Mana-Māori restored). Local benefits via Iwi and hapu are also growing due to settlements, and the resulting growth of the Māori economy. Let’s esteem things-Māori, reinforcing this value continuously – knowing that changes in mindset take time.
But more than all of this – let’s know and tell the stories.
I say it again – we need to know and tell OUR stories. They are stories of faith – and of hope – and they will bring life!
This is a recipe for health in a society!
I pray this will be understood and applied – by courageous and visionary leaders. The results will more than speak for themselves.
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and 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 has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.