"There Are More Things In Heaven And Earth, John Key..." [Pulling A Fast One] (2010)


"Footage of John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that he was lucky not to be dining with the Tuhoe people, because they would have eaten him. Here, Key is making reference to cannibalism, which some Maori iwi are reported to have practiced 200 years ago. Key has since been attacked for being, at worst, racist and, at best, racially insensitive (which I certainly agree with). However this is not the key problem for me, personally. What bothers me are the things John Key is NOT saying.

Many pakeha in New Zealand believe that because the Europeans and Maori signed a "treaty" colonization of these lands is a legal act. However, there are many complications around this. Firstly, the Maori were not a 'unified people' or 'nation' at the time. Maori saw themselves as iwi, rather than a totality. Ngati Porou and Tuhoe, for instance, did not see themselves as subsets of a singular nation. The idea of the nation is a distinctly European invention. Hence, the leaders of each tribe were called upon to individually sign the treaty. The problem is not every iwi signed, and Tuhoe was one of the tribes who decided not to sign. Furthermore, during the New Zealand wars (which took place after the treaty was signed) a huge amount of land was stolen from Maori tribes by settlers. When Maori started to fight for their land which was meant to be protected by law (under the treaty) the newly formed European government sided with the colonials and called in the English army to deal with the situation, clearly indicating to Maori that they had less rights than Europeans. Furthermore, there are two versions of the treaty, one in Maori and one in English and they differ radically in terms of how New Zealand was to be governed. As I.H. Kawharu writes, "The Maori text predicates a sharing of power and authority in the governance of the country between Crown and Maori. The English text is about a transfer of power, leaving the Crown sovereign and Maori as subjects."

Hence, I am not interested in whether Maori were cannibals, or to what extent certain tribes practiced cannibalism. Nor am I interested in whether John Key is a racist, necessarily. What I am interested in is the function of his statement, which I believe works to mask the very real contestation over land in this country. And it is no accident that in the past few months there has been a great deal of tension between the government and Tuhoe over the Te Urewera National Park. This is stolen land which belongs to Tuhoe. There is no question over the illegality of the way in which it was taken. And Key's statement clearly plays a part in coding Tuhoe as violent cannibals who don't deserve to have their land back (which is clearly not the case)." - Artist Statement