Maori for past or for present, for then or for now?

old maori village

From Owen McShane’s newsletter Straight Thinking comes his article The Reactionaries and the Modernists – Maori at the Cross Roads, published in the National Business Review (behind a paywall) on 22nd August.
Owen presents the choice between modernism and tribalism as being Maori’s to make, but the consequences equally punish or reward the rest of us. The infiltration of our public decision-making by regressive, animist religious practices impedes our development.

Maori have a choice

One road will take Maori into a future in which they participate in the modern world, contribute to economic growth and development, and contribute to their own and their children’s wellbeing.

The other road leads them backwards into a Tribal World based on animist religious beliefs such as mauri, (the life force) and which regards science as the “latest force of colonization.”

Government needs to clearly signpost the costs and benefits of the choices that lie ahead.

maori tv

Tribalism holding us back

The Tribal World View, promoted so vigorously by a small number of Maori academics and conservative tribal leaders, is already holding back our technological development. The impact of the Treaty of Waitangi clause on the registration of new medical and biological technologies in New Zealand has already cost us many millions of dollars worth of research projects and clinical trials.

New Zealand once enjoyed a vibrant clinical trials industry. Up until 1998 we had a $100 million invested in pharmaceutical research projects mostly in clinical trials. Ten years later it had shrunk to less than $20 million, and is still shrinking.

Our researchers and innovative companies had benefited hugely from the network of contacts and skills that came with these contracts.

So what went wrong?

In 1996 the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act came into effect, including its Treaty of Waitangi obligations to “take into account the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wahi tapu, valued flora and fauna, and other taonga” (Section 6) and to “take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi)” (Section 8).

The 1999 ERMA (Environment Risk Management Authority) publication, Working with Maori under the HSNO Act 1996, includes (inter alia) some of the many cultural outcomes identified as important to Maori:

  • the protection of the mauri (spiritual integrity or life-force) of people
  • the protection of the mauri of Māori culture, language and knowledge
  • the protection of the mauri of valued flora and fauna
  • the protection of the mauri of land
  • the protection of the mauri of waterways (inland and offshore)
  • the protection of the mauri of air and other taonga

This is a daunting list for a scientist to cope with, and almost any other country must look more cost-effective and efficient by comparison. How can scientists report on the impact of a new pharmaceutical on all these “life forces” without sacrificing their own scientific integrity? The proposed Environmental Assessment Agency’s Cultural Impact assessments will consolidate these animist beliefs even further. (See Maori Environmental Management Hui, 2007, Terry Smith.)

sealord vessel

Science v. life force

International scientists are scared off by any regulations that require them to address the possible impact of their drugs or vaccines on mauri (the life force), given that modern science does not admit to the existence of a “life force.”

Probably the biggest turn-off is likely to be the open hostility to science, as expressed in panel 13 of the 2006 power point presentation on the Role of Maori Participants in Ethics Committees which includes the following list of “Ethical Issues for Maori”:

  • language as the perfect tool of conquest and acquisition.
  • science/research as yet another weapon of colonization.
  • colonisation of the land, colonisation of our minds, colonisation of our bodies.
  • globalisation of culture and identity.

Which hardly encourages consultation between international scientists and Iwi, and surely discourages young Maori from entering careers in science and technology.

May I please study the honey?

Of course any individual or group is free to believe what they like, and Maori are free to use or reject western medicine and science, just like the Jehovah’s Witness sect or the Amish. On the other hand religious freedom works both ways and no one should have any right to impose their beliefs on others.

In 2008 Shaun Holt submitted an application to his Regional Ethics Committee to conduct a trial of honey for treating a common skin infection in children. The application had to include consultation with a Maori health provider, and ran to 9000 words and over 350 pages. The application process took longer than the time planned for the study itself.

The committee rejected Holt’s application, telling him to consult with at least two more Maori health providers and to have systems in place for interpreters.

He gave up.

The good news is that a group of over fifty Iwi has initiated moves required to buy up shares that may be on offer following the partial privatization of the Energy Companies and Air New Zealand. Waikato-Tainui Chairman, Tukoroirangi Morgan, has already expressed enthusiasm for investing in Mighty River Power. (See NBR Jan 28th 2011.)

This reflects a totally different “Maori World View” to the one constantly expressed by the Maori Reactionaries.

Mighty River Power is a major investor in geothermal power generation and is already in joint ventures with four Maori Trusts who own the land containing the geothermal resource.

Iwi shareholders will have a strong interest in promoting economic growth and development, because a bigger economy requires more energy, which means higher dividends.

maori forestry

State-endorsed animist religion restrains freedom

This Modernist world view should counter the current Reactionary policies being promoted to Councils preparing their RMA planning documents. Such policies will discourage investment in New Zealand enterprise for the same reason the HSNO/EPA Treaty Clauses discourage investment in our science by other scientists, at home and abroad.

New Zealand’s State Endorsed Animist religion is driving, directing and generally interfering with a wide range of high-value economic activities while similarly constraining many of our constitutional freedoms.

On the other hand we have an emerging group of Modernist Maori leaders who seek to participate in the modern economy and who want to engage with high technology industry to improve their general wellbeing and promote local employment.

Reasons for optimism

Government has a host of good reasons to encourage the re-emergence of these Maori Modernists.

A good start would be to change the ERMA rules so that consultation with Maori is required only for a trial that was targeted at the Maori population as a cohort.

It would take only a few such decisions, and appropriate appointments, to encourage most Maori decision makers to join the modern world.

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FlipperAlexander KMike JowseyAndy Recent comment authors
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The other road leads them backwards into a Tribal World based on animist religious beliefs such as mauri, (the life force) and which regards science as the “latest force of colonization.”

Given my current relationship with “climate science”, I think they might actually have a point.

Mike Jowsey
Mike Jowsey

Maori are the privileged minority race in New Zealand. It will get much better for them and much worse for those of us unfortunate not to have brown skin. It is headed for a total government of NZ by Maori. Think of Fiji or Rhodesia. You may be an optimist Richard, but I am a skeptic. I don’t think current NZ leaders have any guts at all to stand up to this stealthy takeover.

As Muriel Newman says,

With so many New Zealanders being completely unaware of what is really going on, it has become relatively easy for governments to slip through legislation that will seriously impede the future progress of this country – not to mention deepening the racial divide – with barely a ripple of concern! And now that customary rights claims are going to be used by iwi as a new tactic to get their hands on even more public resources – as foreshore and seabed claims have already demonstrated only too clearly – the problem can only get worse.

Mike Jowsey
Mike Jowsey

As if to back up my statement above, this article appeared today:

Wherein the head of Auckland University’s Department of Maori Studies not only redefines the meaning of racism, but goes on to say:

She said New Zealand still belongs to Maori and other people are here as welcome guests.

Maori should have the right to decide who comes in, and they did so when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, she said.

But she denied her views are racist.


I saw this piece on TV One’s Closeup last night.

I don’t know which planet this woman is from. She can make these statements without any hint of irony or humour.

Alexander K
Alexander K

Mike, radicals of any kind are similar to trolls. I think it’s best to ignore them and thus deny them the oxygen of publicity. It should be remembered that for every ‘Maori radical’ who makes patently silly and/or inflammatory statements, there are many Maori getting on with their lives in a totally unremarkable and worthy fashion who never make headlines of any kind, but the sensation-seeking MSM immoderately loves radicals of any kind.

Alexander K
Alexander K

As a Kiwi of wholly Anglo-Saxon origins with a large and wildly diverse extended family, many of whom take their ethnicities and their inherited folk-ways seriously, I can see no problems that are particular to the Maori people as a whole, or see Maori people and folk-ways as a threat. The things that concern me are the divisive elements of religions, low educational achievement for many, low standards of housing for many, a lack of meaningful and satisfying occupations for many and politicians who suffer from the ‘Chicken Little’ syndrome and waste Revenue attempting to fix something that is turning out to be within the bounds of historical norms.
What really scares me is a population who takes politicians too seriously.


One wonders whether the radicals would have been roasted or boiled when this little reminder of Maori history was written: Life of a Maori Slave 1827 1832 – Earle, A. A Narrative of a Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand, in 1827 The scene I have just described brings into consideration the subject of slavery, as it now exists in New Zealand. That slavery should be the custom of savage nations and cannibals, is not a cause of wonder: they are the only class of human beings it ought to remain with. Here slavery assumes its most hideous shape! Every one they can effect a seizure of in an enemy’s country becomes the slave of the captors. Chiefs are never made prisoners; they either fight to the last, or are killed on the spot, and their heads are preserved (by a peculiar method) as trophies. Children are greatly prized: these they bring to their dwellings, and they remain slaves for life. Upon the number of slaves a chief can muster he takes his rank as a man of wealth and consequence in society; and the only chance these wretched beings have of being… Read more »

Mike Jowsey
Mike Jowsey

Thanks for that wee reminder Flipper. This is the Maori culture they don’t want publicised. That culture of brutal stone-age tribalism, pillaging whatever you can because you can, disregarding basic human civilities in the pursuit of power, was the prevalent Maori culture only 180 years ago. Instead of this being taught in schools we are constantly reminded of the Crown’s injustices perpetrated on a downtrodden and broken race. The imbalance is stark.

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