Why ’The Māori’ in ‘Civilisation’ isn’t OK

Image credit: Te Piha Niha

Image credit: Te Piha Niha

It’s the beginning of a new year in Aotearoa, but in some ways, it’s hard to see why we might celebrate that. We’re in a strange time, where a Māori Hana Koko in the South Island was met with the type of hostility and outright racism that one might expect from a MAGA-hat-wearing-youth in the Southern States of the US. And yet, we’re all about that appropriation, aren’t we? It seems as though every government agency has a Māori Strategy, every school sings waiata on Fridays and even our number-one-girl, Jacinda, has been rocking our kākahu on the global stage.

I can’t help but wonder where the appropriation vs. assimilation line might be drawn. It baffles me that the juxtaposition of our public attitude to embrace Māori culture and the personal outcry of our dirty underbelly is so blatant. When the team of Blackfacers in a Taranaki parade were painting their faces that morning, were any of them able to see the mountain, ‘Egmont’? Or did Taranaki maunga turn its head in shame, as its shadow revealed the kind of ignorance we pretend we don’t have any more?

When I see the celebration of Māori culture and its contribution to all things “Kiwiana”, I feel that we all seem to be going a bit mad. The majority of me is of the opinion that all things Māori should be left to Māori. The rest of me, well - she wonders why there aren’t more movies like Moana for my daughter and more brown Barbie’s to stuff her stocking with.

Then again, I also wonder why news readers use reo Māori greetings, while stumbling to pronounce Māori names. Although, I am also the person who once called an ambulance and the operator couldn’t find my location - because he didn’t recognise the name of the town as it is supposed to be pronounced. So my opinion may be biased in that regard.

All of these contradictions leave me questioning how it is that a Māori Hana Koko, in kākahu Māori, with a Māui stylised Hook, even came to be in Nelson? That Jolly old elf must have fallen off his Coca Cola Truck when he saw how even we, the challenger of all colonisations, had appropriated his image! Did no one stop to ask some critical questions, or were they too busy trying to be ever-popular and open-minded?

Unfortunately, the tragic death of Grace Milane further exemplifies this contradiction in our attitudes a little too harshly. We all know that we have the most horrific stats around Domestic Violence, Suicide and violence towards children. Those statistics aren’t news articles for many of us, they are the effects of inter-generational trauma for those of us affected by its stain. The very public outcry in the wake of her death created a new wave of micro-aggressions across Māori communities. Those who felt betrayed by the PM’s public apology and fury at the presence of a tourism expert 3 minutes into the 6 pm news headline, will know what I mean.

The use of Kupe in the new game ‘Civilisation’ is another of these contradictions. The content in the trailers alone shows that there were apparently some well-meaning Māori advisors on the development panel. However, (more questions!) I can’t help but wonder how the descendants of Kupe feel about his image being used in that way?

Ah! But therein lies the problem, doesn’t it! There’s no ‘one voice’, to speak for all Māori and give people permission! I can hear the PC brigade sighing its endless frustration about why they will never have “done enough” for Māori.

Well, to put it simply, it’s because they never will. That’s the debt of colonisation. That’s the curse of intergenerational trauma. The only real way to undo some of the damage is to give us the resources and time to do it ourselves. THAT is an equitable outcome.

The biggest risk in allowing Māori to provide advice about the use of our own content, and not have autonomy over it, is that we’re perpetuating a system of taking. The danger we aren’t quite cognisant of yet is that we live in an age where everyone has good intentions. Even Erika Pearce, the controversial Pākehā artist who makes a living painting Māori and Pasifika faces, has good intentions. If a slightly biased interview with Māori TV is anything to go by.

But the intentions of all of these well-meaning people are, in fact, meaningless. Unless we’re recognising true equity, then we’re not really as open-minded as we think. What we’re actually doing, is finding new ways to take (read ‘appropriate’ or ‘assimilate’ depending on your perspective). And that, my friends, is Colonisation 101.

I’m sure we’d all like to believe that in this civilised time we’re better than this. But it seems that mostly, we aren’t. We’re still taking crumbs, keeping quiet, saying “Thank you, sir” and telling ourselves that the baptism was worth it. Except now, we’re handing out our own crumbs, too. And wondering why people aren’t being more bloody grateful for it.