The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 220-224
[Access article in PDF]
Polynesia in Review:
Issues and Events, 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001
Department of Maori Studies, University of Auckland
As more high-profile cases of Maori not coping in New Zealand society have been brought to the nation's attention, Maori leaders have started to make a much more concerted effort to steer debate toward consideration of not only the underlying causes but also the acceptance of Maori-defined remedies and solutions. Several Maori parents and caregivers have been convicted in the past year for the severe abuse and murder of young children. Three more children and then an adult lost their lives in house fires in the Far North in April and June 2001. These fires, like those that claimed the lives of three children in a fire in the same region in 1997, were a direct result of continuing poverty. Young Maori offenders are increasingly being convicted for brutal rapes, murders, and "home invasions." And the rate of Maori youth suicide is one of the highest in the world and increasing at an alarming rate.
In a hard-hitting speech to the New Zealand Psychological Society Conference in August, Tariana Turia, the associate minister of corrections, health, housing, Maori affairs, social services, and employment, confronted these issues directly. Predictably, the speech brought down the wrath of mainstream New Zealand media on her head. In asking New Zealand psychologists to consider, analyze, and find remedies for the effects of postcolonial traumatic stress disorder on Maori, she pointed out that she saw the connections between "home invasions" and the invasion of the "home lands" of indigenous people by a people from another land. "What I have difficulty in reconciling," she said, "is how 'home invasions' [elicit] such outpourings of concern for the victims and an intense despising of the invaders while the invasion of the 'home lands' of Maori does not engender the same level of emotion and concern for the Maori victims."
However the section of the speech that riveted the media for weeks afterward was the minister's reference to the holocaust that indigenous people, including Maori, had suffered as a result of colonial contact and behavior. "I understand that much of the research done in this area focussed on the trauma suffered by Jewish survivors of the holocaust of World War II," she said. "I understand that the same has been done with Vietnam veterans.... The Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal... made a reference [to the holocaust suffered by Maori] in its Taranaki Report of 1996 " (Turia 2000).
Overnight the media declared that the word holocaust was the sole preserve of Jewish people, misquoted Turia, and launched an attack on her that in its viciousness surpassed even the attacks on Tuku Morgan in 1997. The prime minister attempted to censure Turia by issuing an edict banning the use of the word holocaust. The edict had to be toned down to advice in the face of a massive backlash from Maoridom, including other Maori members of parliament, in support of Turia. In turn, Turia apologized to the Jewish community if her comments had caused them offense. She drew unexpected support from some non-Maori quarters including a retiring member of the conservative National party who commented "New Zealanders who react with horror that [End Page 220] she should have described it as a holocaust are being a bit precious--or indulging in collective amnesia" (Upton 2001).
Following the sustained attack on Tariana Turia, other Maori members of parliament have kept a low profile. The two exceptions were Dover Samuels, who sought media attention in his fight against the prime minister for forcing his resignation, and Sandra Lee, whose lack of understanding of Maori politics and protocol finally led her own party, Mana Motuhake, to dump her as its leader.
Tariana Turia has long championed the strengthening and provision of resources for the basic social groupings within Maori society--the whanau, the hapu, and the iwi. The previous conservative National government had developed a policy that aimed at closing the gaps between Maori and...