19 Dec, 2017 A vision of our bicultural future
In the previous blog I talked about what it might mean to be ‘bicultural’ – and the benefits there could be for the Church if leaders in each city and town engaged in this.
In this blog I continue that thought – reflecting upon three cultural changes I see taking place in relation to the biculturalism of our nation. These will undoubtedly have implications upon the future values and policies of our nation, and of local councils and communities – which all serves to highlight the importance of sincerity in current efforts to better understand what it is to be a bicultural nation.
While some may struggle to digest this reflection, implications here are significant.
Three cultural reflections – to see our future
Maori influence is increasing – and so we are also wise to befriend local Iwi
Firstly, honouring the Treaty (biculturalism) is a matter of justice. For the Christian Church this is about doing what is right. My previous blog spoke to this matter. However, from a leadership perspective there is more to consider. The Christian faith, and Maori, hold a number of things in common. This could make us worthy allies – and with some current cultural trends in view, we might also be wise to be allies!
Regarding influence – Iwi enjoy the same tax-free status as churches. Iwi are investing their funds – which are therefore multiplying. Project this forward a couple of decades, and we can be assured that the ‘mana whenua’ (the mana of the people that is connected with the land) will be significantly restored! They will no longer need to be ‘the beneficiaries of Pakeha charity’. Instead, they will have power to do a lot for their people – which some Iwi are already doing brilliantly in areas of employment, education and healthcare. And they will have greater influence to also do things for good that could affect all New Zealanders!
In addition to this – but without elaboration, our constitutional identity as a ‘bicultural’ nation has various implications that have not yet been tested and tried. I mention only a small bit more on this below. To summarise, the idea of Maori sovereignty is generally accepted as being enshrined in the Te Tiriti. Due to international Charters via the UN that our government has signed, my current understanding is that the 1840 Tiriti o Waitangi now comes under their auspices also. As a result, UN representatives may occasionally visit New Zealand to meet with the leaders of Iwi – who are recognised as the equivalent of ‘sovereign nations’ . I see no reason why they might not one day be extended the possibility of representation at the UN as independent nations. While I don’t personally believe this will ever go to the point of actually being separate nations due to the impractability of this, my point is that as the ‘mana whenua’ continues to be restored in the hearts of Maori, give it 20 years, and I think we can be sure they are going to have increasing influence, and strengthened additionally by international legal backing.
So – from a strategic vantage point, it is not only right and good in a board sense for churches to work at cultural reconciliation. It would also be wise for local churches to work to restore and establish ongoing relationships with local Iwi. They could have influence that God could harness for good!
Regarding spirituality in the public square – The Maori worldview is holisitic – therefore including the spiritual, just like our worldview is as Christians. In contrast, secularists in our nation desire to remove all religious references from the public square. Already it is unacceptable to pray in a public meeting – but entirely acceptable to have Karakia! We all note the irony – and this dynamic makes Maori good allies for coming public conversations. Maori could become powerful voices in public debates on matters like Prayers in Parliament, National Anthems, protection of the charitable tax-free status for churches, and maybe one day even for Religious Instruction in Schools, the preservation of Christ in Christmas and Easter, and more!
And remember – ‘truth’ in our society is now defined by public opinion. To turn the cultural tide we must turn public opinion – and for that we will need some allies who may share the same goals and values!
The new generation of Maori are identifying as ‘Maori’ at a different level to the previous
This new generation or Maori coming through are learning Te Reo – and take pride in this. They are valuing their culture. And – in contrast to many of the Maori of 50 years ago, they really do identify as Maori, and want the freedom to related as Maori – and without an obligation to ‘become Pakeha all the time’.
To make this cultural change clear: Being ‘Maori’ is not a ‘secondary racial thing’ to them. It is at the core of who they are. They are not ashamed of it, and they want the freedom to discover what an authentic expression of that in the public square and church and workplace might be – because the generation before them did not have the freedom to model this!
And constitutionally, being fully Maori it is something they have every right to be, and to express at a level and in a way in which no other non-English-speaking nationality has a right.
For clarity here: Our nation will not become Chinese or Hindi speaking in the future – no matter how many Chinese or Indians immigrate. Our official languages are three: English, Maori and sign language! And as uncomfortable as it might be, it is necessary that we note what was just stated: Our official languages for the public square are three! It is by their grace that Maori speak to us in English – and while we might think it wise for this practice to continue, it is not actually our right to tell them what to do. This is a matter of their grace to us!
Something is changing here within our national culture and values, and I suggest that these changes are going to go a lot further than they already have. So, while doing what is right is the best motivation for embarking on a more sincere bicultural journey, I suggest that a little pragmatism would not go amiss here also (if it helps).
The patience of some Christian Maori is running thin so, if we are ever to be more sincere in valuing this biculturalism, it would be wise to start a journey soon!
As a final caution, I observe that many Christian Maori are waiting for the wider church to become ready to respect Tikanga Maori (Maori ways) – rather than assuming that everything always needs to be done the Pakeha way. And this patience might be wearing out in some places.
Many Maori will not unite with the wider Church until greater bicultural respect is shown – even though they pray in Jesus’ name on the Marae and at home at night, because this is about what is right.
However, other Maori are in our churches and are ready for action. They are waiting – and waiting – and… Could it be that they are gifted by God to be the bridge-builders for us all?
I’m aware of God personally leading some Maori to stay within the wider church instead of leaving to join a Maori house church somewhere – even though they feel overlooked and sometimes even disrespected within these congregations. They are there with a sense of mission and calling. Could it be that God really is the one behind keeping them in these churches?
Consider how Maori patiently provide ‘services’ like karakia/blessings and Powhiri, while the sincerity of this ‘biculturalism’ for many has ended by the time we’ve had the cup of tea that follows. This attitude leaves us vulnerable – because we are in danger of losing key Christian Maori leaders that we need! These patterns frustrate them – and this frustration is even more-so for the new generation who identify as ‘Maori’ to a higher degree. And this frustration serves to corrode the vision they serve of a united Church in a constitutionally bicultural nation.
Is this whole topic problematic? Of course it is! Change is not easy – and the rectifying of serious wrongs in our nation’s history was always going to be messy! (We are a bicultural nation that is living mono-culturally. What’s the solution?).
While is only human to fear what is ‘unknown’ – the correct questions for the Christian to ask are, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ and also ‘What is God saying?’
Be assured – something is changing in the cultural dynamics of our nation. For the Church, the traffic lights are green right now. We have an opportunity to move forwards, to learn, and to build relationship. So let’s do this – because everything has a season, and if the lights turn red, we may miss this opportunity and arrive late at the table.