Thursday, September 30, 2021

That old hoary chesnut about Maori children being forced to speak English

Graham Adams details a number of media failures to provide the full story culminating with: 

Perhaps the most egregious omissions, however, occurred during Maori Language Week, which ran from 13-19 September. The programme aims to encourage wider use of te reo, with relevant stories featuring heavily in most media outlets. 

Several times over the week readers would have seen references to Maori being beaten for speaking te reo at school. 

On Stuff, the Human Rights Commission’s chief executive, Rebecca Elvy, was reported saying: “State-sanctioned attempts to assimilate Māori into British culture through the removal of language have a long and documented history in Aotearoa. For more than 100 years Māori children were beaten and traumatised in Native Schools for speaking their reo.” 

In the Guardian, former RNZ journalist Eva Corlett wrote: “When Aotearoa was colonised, Europeans actively set out to erase Māori language and culture. Schoolchildren were beaten for speaking it.” 

On RNZ, former Labour Māori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels related his experience of being caned in the 1940s for speaking te reo — and asked the Queen to send Prince William to apologise for this injustice. 

It is extremely rare for any journalist or editor to put this unfortunate practice of corporal punishment into a historical context. The sad fact is that caning or being strapped was an extremely common form of punishment for school children of any race until at least the 1970s. Qualifying misdemeanours could be as minor as having dirty shoes, an untidy sports locker or talking in class. Thrashings were so commonplace they were unremarkable. 

But a much more significant omission is the fact that well-intentioned Pakeha and Māori alike during the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth believed teaching Māori children English as a priority was the best way of helping them prosper. Banning any Māori being spoken in schools — and punishing those found speaking it — was an inevitable extension of such a policy. 

And it was, in fact, Maori leaders who pushed most energetically for English to be the only medium of instruction in Native Schools. 

In 1871, newly elected MP Karaitiana Takamoana pointed out in Parliament that missionaries had been teaching children “for many years, and the children are not educated. They have only taught them in the Māori language. The whole of the Māoris in this island request that the government should give instructions that the Māoris should be taught in English only.” 

A petition by Wi Te Hakiro and 336 others presented to the House of Representatives in 1876 recommended: ”There should not be a word of Māori allowed to be spoken in the school, and the master, his wife and children should be persons altogether ignorant of the Māori language.“ 

There were more, including one by Renata Kawepo and 790 others. They asked that: “The government should use every endeavour to have schools established throughout the colony, so that the Maori children may learn the English language, for by this they will be on the same footing as the Europeans, and will become acquainted with the means by which the Europeans have become great.” 

Piri Ropata and 200 others also asked that Māori children be given the opportunity to be instructed only in English at school. 

The great Sir Apirana Ngata — who served as Minister of Native Affairs, was ranked third in Cabinet and whose image graces our $50 note — was positively evangelical in his campaign in the 1920s and 1930s to have English given priority in Māori primary schools. He argued that proficiency in the English language was “the key with which to open the door to the sciences, the mechanised world, and many other callings”. 

Furthermore, it was an approach endorsed by many Māori parents, who backed teachers disciplining their children for speaking te reo because they believed learning English was the path to success. 

The essential countervailing fact that helps make sense of these campaigns is, of course, that te reo was widely spoken in homes and marae, where Ngata and other leaders believed it would continue to prosper. In short: Māori at home; English at school.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

OT Report starts with half-truths

The Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board report released today paints a picture of pre-colonisation nirvana. There s a heavy emphasis on Maori because Maori children dominate among OT's caseload, and the Board members are all Maori.

It begins with a section called, TE AU O TE KANOHI MĀORI, which translates as 'The Maori Eye'.

It states  "...the reality for tamariki Māori " was they "were nurtured and treasured as the centre, the pito, the magnetic pole of Māori society in pre-colonial times."

"We recognise that of course Māori are not unique in treasuring their tamariki as the strength and centre of their culture and their economy, and of the wealth and health of all their futures. This is a common scenario across humanity and particularly in pre-industrialised economies where the health of the collective was what mattered. It is our view that the processes of colonisation, bringing urbanisation and commodification of people as units of production has broken that down. Inevitably transported to Aotearoa New Zealand with settlers from industrialising Europe, a view of organising family as individual units with tamariki as a subset - and in some Victorian eyes to be seen and not heard - has been imposed."

People were also "units of production" pre-industrialisation. They did back-breaking work in fields and their survival depended on the climate's co-operation. A pining for our agrarian past isn't prevalent among the general population.

Individual family units were not imposed on Maori. For decades Maori remained predominantly rurally-based and lived on and around maraes. But as they moved to the towns and cities for better paying jobs (turning their backs on working as agricultural units of production) they began to arrange themselves similarly to Europeans, just as they had adopted European dress and housing.

The report goes on to complain about the misrepresentation of warrior culture which apparently actually existed for the protection of children.

"An example has been the portrayal of this role as the warmongering, aggressive leader of the community. While the depiction may have become self-fulfilling for some, the primary role of a warrior was to provide for the community and to keep it safe from harm."

Safe from what harm? Other warriors seeking to violently plunder and pillage for starters.

So here we have yet another report which starts from fallacy. Let's be generous. Half-truths.

How Maori lived before colonisation was much better. Children were safer being raised by the collective. Therefore a return to that way of organising Maori society is the solution.

"While the context of the 21st century is different from that of pre-colonisation, views shared with us from hapū, iwi and Māori organisations indicate that these responsibilities and structures must be rebuilt so that the whānau can once again be self-determining."

The Minister Kelvin Davis has accepted every recommendation summarised as:

-Decision making and resources to be shifted to communities, with children and whānau at the centre of the system

-A new operating model, with better support and training for social workers

-Without notice orders (uplifts) to be only used after proper engagement with whānau

I find it ironic that one Maori Minister wants to centralise control for the benefit of Maori (Three Waters) while another seeks to decentralise control for the benefit of Maori (Oranga Tamariki).

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Bouquet for OT social worker

An Oranga Tamariki social worker makes a cameo appearance at their site. This seems primarily to encourage more people to become social workers. I want to take my hat off to this one, Racheal, for the following observation:

She says one of the most satisfying things about social work is seeing changes in the lives of the people she works with: returning tamariki to their whānau and setting them up for success, seeing parents getting jobs and gaining self-respect, being greeted by young people in the street (‘Levin is a small place!’).

Connecting 'jobs' with 'self-respect' seems almost radical.

Not sure how she slipped through the net. 

But a bouquet to her.

I've seen this process first hand too. When people have either been disconnected from the workplace long-term or never worked full-stop, getting a job can be a huge hurdle. The prospect of creating a CV when there's bugger-all to put on it is totally demoralising. People feel inferior and worthless.

But  given a go, they just double in size.Somebody trusts them; somebody is willing to pay them to peform a role; they join their working mates. It's a lovely transformation to behold.