14 Mar 2017

My NZ: 'Inequity and sheer awfulness is beginning to emerge'

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From My NZ, 10:59 am on 14 March 2017

Ella Henry* is appalled by the widening gap between rich and poor in Aotearoa. But, she writes for the RNZ series My NZ, she is heartened by those of all races and creeds who share her love for the country.

I am perpetually flummoxed by the idea that the land which is in my bones and my very being, this whenua, the moana, its mana, mauri and wairua, received its name from some white man on the other side of the world.

Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu, an official of the Dutch East India Company, apparently conferred the name Nieuw Zeeland upon my country, so excuse me but I won't be dying in a ditch over the name.

I have the same ambivalence about the creative souls who stumbled upon an island in the north and called it the North Island, then another in the south, which they labelled the South Island.

Still, we are an interesting little ecosystem, tucked away at the other end of the planet from the nexus of power that is Europe.

Dr Ella Henry

Ella Henry won't be dying in a ditch for the name "New Zealand". Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Treaty of Waitangi has defined us since 1840, and allowed us to develop in different ways from other exploitative British settler colonies like the USA, Canada, India, South Africa and Australia.

On the one hand, I am appalled by the way that, as a nation, we have conveniently expunged the memories of our brutal history, the rapacious land wars and following expropriation of Māori land, language and culture. But on the other, when I travel to those other countries, I am extraordinarily proud of the way we, as a nation, are engaged in discourse around the Treaty, around biculturalism and multiculturalism, around building a nation of values of egalitarianism and fairness.

I genuinely believe these values are born from the positive effects of melding our cultures and aspirations for a better place, a better world that we have all created together.

My main concern for New Zealand, and the developed world, is the pervasiveness of neo-liberal ideology and its fatally flawed social theories around corporatisation of social services. The unhindered growth of the corporate sector sees the running of our prisons, old people’s homes, housing and social services being farmed out to for-profit businesses, instead of retained as core elements of infrastructure created by the ‘caring' society we purport to be.

That, alongside the widening gap between rich and poor and the utter failure of trickle-down theory to benefit a not insignificant proportion of New Zealand society, sow the seeds of the discontent, inequity and sheer awfulness that is beginning to emerge in this country I love with my heart and soul.

But I am heartened by the number of others, of all races and creeds, who share my love for this country, and a desire for a decent, kind and fair place to call home. These are the people who reach out to - and embrace - Māori culture and language, because it is a definitive marker of who and what we are as New Zealanders, it enhances their and our collective identity.

*Ella Henry (Ngātikahu ki Whangaroa, Te Rarawa, Ngati Kuri) is a senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Māori development at AUT. She teaches around Māori media, Māori development and Māori business, and her PhD focused on Māori entrepreneurship in screen production. She has also been involved in Māori screen production, as a scholar, advocate and practitioner.

Join us each day this week as another New Zealander shares how they see Aotearoa in 2017 - what they prize about the country, what concerns them and what they hope the country’s future will hold.