Dick Whyte

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

4 min 18 secDigital Video / Sound

"Footage of John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that he was lucky not to be dining with the Tūhoe people, because they would have eaten him. Here, Key is making reference to cannibalism, which some Māori 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 Pākehā in New Zealand believe that because the Europeans and Māori signed a "treaty" colonization of these lands is a legal act. However, there are many complications around this. Firstly, the Māori were not a 'unified people' or 'nation' at the time. Māori saw themselves as iwi, rather than a totality. Ngāti Porou and Tūhoe, 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 Tūhoe 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 Māori tribes by "settlers". When Māori 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 Māori that they had less rights than Europeans. Furthermore, there are two versions of the treaty, one in Māori and one in English and they differ radically in terms of how New Zealand was to be governed. As I.H. Kāwharu writes, "The Māori text predicates a sharing of power and authority in the governance of the country between Crown and Māori. The English text is about a transfer of power, leaving the Crown sovereign and Māori as subjects."

Hence, I am not interested in whether Māori 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 Tūhoe over the Te Urewera National Park. This is stolen land which belongs to Tūhoe. 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 Tūhoe as violent cannibals who don't deserve to have their land back (which is clearly not the case)."

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