WTH Do You Mean, Bicultural?


There’s been a bit of talk lately about some of the people we label as heroes.

I’ve already spoken out a fair bit about these issues.

From Disney’s Moana, to Helen Clark’s nomination for Secretary General, to Captain Cook – our “ethnically harmonious” nation appears to be unwittingly flashing our racist panties by how we choose our heroes. I’m not particularly surprised (nor do I think we should be bothered) by the accusations of treason or treachery  – no system of oppression was overturned without treasonous acts.

What I am tired of is being told what I should be thankful for. This expectation that I should be proud of our “bicultural” nation.

Just don’t.

Don’t talk to me about biculturalism.

Biculturalism only refers to the presence of two cultures it makes no explicit reference to the balance of power in that equation.

In a country where colonialism is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe most would have no  IDEA what it would look like to have an equally Maori and Pakeha world. So don’t throw your meagre brown crumbs at me and tell me to be thankful for biculturalism. What you think is an equitable notion is actually 90% of this reality being shaped by you and yours, with, at BEST, 10% shaped by me and mine.

Look at our “bicultural” health workforce. Shared by Maori who account for less than 7% of that workforce and Non-Maori who account for the remaining 93%  – even though those stats are reversed for patient numbers.

When you have 10 memorials relating to a white man.

And offer to put up one for a Maori leader.

And the white guy murdered, stole from, and kidnapped Maori.

That’s not biculturalism – it’s imperialism.

When you want me to spend a year “celebrating” this painful event while you continually minimise and euphemise the Maori experience of that event – echoing the way in which our trauma is continually minimized and euphemized in the experience of colonization...

That’s not a “celebration of dual heritage”.

My people are not yet free. We are not free to live the lives that our ancestors did – nor are we free to secure the choice of which aspects of their world we carry forward for our descendants. We are not free to live on our tribal lands. We are not in control of our representations. We are not in control of our own wellbeing. We are not in control of our own healing, or our own governance.

So don’t talk to me about biculturalism. Talk to me about equitable power sharing.

Don’t show me your damn Disney representation of a Pasifika girl and tell me that’s empowering for wahine.


Not when the production and writing crew are still predominantly male, and predominantly non-pasifika (and there are NO wahine pasifika on that crew)

Not when the stories that have held our families together and helped us to understand the mana of our mothers, and grandmothers, and sisters and daughters – not only through the words but through the surroundings, the actions, the inflections, and language – have been ripped out of our hands while we are still in the process of reclamation. DON’T SELL THAT TO ME AS YOUR FEMINIST EMPOWERMENT – ESPECIALLY when you’re doing that to deal with your own history of gender representation rather than supporting our own knowings and perspectives.

NOT when you serve our Atua up for misinterpretation as witches.

Don’t tell me I should be proud to have a woman in a role of power, responsible for the wellbeing of indigenous people the world over.hillary

Not when the children of indigenous mothers are still wetting their beds, and waking screaming with nightmares, and cowering from police, and violently self destructing because of acts inflicted under that woman’s supervision.

Don’t you dare tell me that this would be a step ahead for me, as a Maori woman in this world.

Not when that woman’s idea of a development solution is unfettered trade, even when it results in the abuse of our Mother.

And don’t fool yourself for a second that your idea of treason is relevant to me.

Because you have no idea of who I serve. In actual fact – if the power in our country were truly biculturally shared – then we would never be having this conversation, and this notion of treason would certainly be redundant.

You see, in my world Helen Clark is not one of “our own”. Disney’s Maui is NOT the Maui I descend from. And Captain Cook is anything but a founding father.

Keep your heroes. I have my own.

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17 thoughts on “WTH Do You Mean, Bicultural?”

  1. Thank you for sharing your words Whaea Tina. They help me to understand and help me to feel better about how things are. You are truly one of my heroes 🙂

  2. I agree with you, Helen Clark (for all her good points) is fundamentally an academic white privileged middle-class ‘remote’ female, but I do see the ‘Prime Minister’ role as a figurehead … a ‘talking mouth’ for a political clique driving a doctrine dictated by ‘votes’.
    I believe the white male conservative ‘old boy’s club’ has the most to answer for. Everywhere in this land they dominate power roles, put up erections to themselves, award knighthoods, manipulate and bestow favours upon each other, raping and pillaging the environment. I believe greed, racist fear, and ignorance fuelled the refusal to allow Maori Rightful and Best Qualified Guardianship of the seabed and foreshore of Aotearoa.
    However, most importantly, I believe women have been traditionally excluded from having a political voice and culturally abused by both camps, and to be a Maori woman is to be very near the bottom of the pecking order, in every sense.
    As a white person who lived in a predominantly Maori community for some time, I saw the attitude of Maori males as emulating generalised white male dominance of women, and Maori women accepting this as the ‘right’ of Maori males to be aggressive and dominant. Is this a ‘contagion’ borne of oppression by Pakeha? Is this behaviour due to emulation of the male Pakeha model? Or is it an inherent ‘genetic predisposition’ of males in general?
    I believe that Maori women need a stronger gender independent voice, a voice that is not squandered on small issues but embraces that which all women can thoughtfully relate to. Power in numbers. People are listening.

    1. Kia Ora Little Toot and I absolutely agree… when your way of knowing, and being, and doing is ripped away from you and you are forced to wade through misogynistic monocultural tides in your journey of reclamation – you pick up a little bit of “scum” on your waka. 🙂 In much the same way – I think perhaps in Helen’s own reclamation of the space of women in leadership she’s picked up some inherently patriarchal ideas and approaches that don’t at all serve vulnerable communities in the way truly matriarchal paradigms and approaches could do.

      I absolutely do think that Maori males emulate their pakeha counterparts and that many of our people are caught up in a belief that if we beat pakeha at their own game, that means we are winning. Which belies the true value of indigenous philosophy and it’s potential to completely redefine the game. Partially I believe the settlement process and economy is to blame for that. You need to “lawyer up” and enter into a sustained adversarial state that is more focused upon litigation and redress than anything else. Coming through that process also creates a false illusion that your asset/resource base becomes the basis of your wellbeing and we tend to corporatize ourselves, when in fact the corporate mentality is BEHIND the governmental systems that continue to oppress us!
      Second to that, our education systems have still never really recovered from the blows dealt by the likes of Elsdon Best and Percy Smith. These early ethnographers imposed their incredibly misogynistic lenses upon Maori realities and described women as evil, polluted, sources of destruction. Our divine Atua Wahine were misrepresented, underrepresented or completely ignored, and this absolutely infiltrated our own ways of understanding ourselves – as these men provided the perceptions that not only informed racist govt legislation but also the basis of the education that would replace what had been ripped away from Maori (when I say ripped away I mean, we were pushed out of our communities and off our lands, and into urban centers so our traditional kin based ways of transferring knowledge and worldviews was completely ripped apart and replaced with racist pakeha education).

      I don’t believe that it’s a genetic disposition as I have read far too many of my own male ancestors writings (dating back to mid to late 1800s) who acknowledge the power and mana of wahine, this, combined with the very many Maori men I know who carry that same respect makes me believe that this is a socially engineered disposition (or ‘contagion’ as you put it) rather than a genetic one.

      Nevertheless, quite naturally this dominant social engineering has resulted in many instances where this misogynistic mindset has infiltrated Maori systems of governance or Maori institutions. We absolutely require strong voices in that area.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply Tina, I don’t know if his-story supports the idea of males of any race being respectful of women, to be honest. I tried looking up a his-story of domestic relations across the Pacific Islands and found snatches of information relating to horrific domestic tyranny everywhere, and if we gaze across towards the UK we see the same, (poor women in English history had no rights, no opportunities for employment except prostitution or menial work if they were lucky). Not to forget that to be “English” is to be the ultimate mongrel … constant waves of attackers from Vikings/French/Normans/Romans … (Queen Bouddica and her citizen army attacking and killing over 70,000 people in revolt against Roman rape and pillage of her lands and daughters) … all these invasions reducing the so called ‘English’ blood to a murky sludge. What is an Englishman? A bitsa, a dilute survivor of repeated conquest, a rifle-ready trigger happy parasite seeking fresh resources … while the privileged hang on to their estates, the hungry starving hordes flow forth to grab land across the planet … the Scots, the Irish (esp.in the USA) anyone who could scrounge the boat fare (or be transported for spurious ‘crimes’). Here in NZ we have examples like the greedy Scot who reputedly took 14 Maori wives and subsequently caused a close relationship of virtually every person in that location. I don’t know if this is true, I do fear underestimation of the obsession of man’s endless greed for power and resources, and women.
        What is the solution? What do you see as the answer to our problems? I love your grass roots approach: the focus on pollution and sustainability as something women can do, empowering us as caretakers of the land. Do you think there may be some areas where we can work ‘biculturally’ for the benefit of our shared future? Is there hope?

    1. Te Tiriti/The Treaty is between Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti. Within Tangata Tiriti exists muliple cultures but they arrive here through the signatories of Tangata Tiriti (ie The Crown).

  3. E te tuahine, nga mihi nui rawa kia koe ano, mo o whakaaro, to korero koi rawa atu hoki. I nga tau kua pahure, I hiahia ana au ki te whakamarama atu ki wetahi atu tangata, te NUINGA o enei whakaaro, engari, I nga ra o mua, kaore au taea te tino whiriwhiri I aku whakaaro, a, I oku kupu hoki! Oh, ka aroha ktk. Waimaria ahau, I kimi au I a koe, ou mahi tuhituhi hoki!

    I appreciate so much, the important mahi you do, in that you’re able to give voice, and stimulate korero/whakaaro on take that I am increasingly finding not just interesting, but also important, meaningful and incredibly relevant. As mentioned above, for so long (I’m going back to my childhood here, & I’m in my late 30’s now!) I have felt sidelined, my thoughts/ideas/contributions/korero etc minimised, ridiculed &/or I’ve “felt” pushed (i.e maneuvered or bullied) into “choosing sides”. By this I mean as a young Maori girl, growing up in an urban setting, surrounded by Pakeha, I believed that the way to be accepted was to soften my “Maori-ness” so as to be palatable to and for the majority. Ok, did that, but then that left me feeling uncomfortable (duh – ya think?!? ktk) with the person I’d become & these roles I was playing. I often felt then, & still do now, so incredibly frustrated with these scraps I’m (continually!) being served! In what way(s) does my BEING Maori (i.e myself ktk) impact on you negatively? Oh, but in the same breath I have to listen to all the korero about how New Zealand has such a great record on Crown & Indigenous Peoples relations?? Hmmm, right-o.

    I remember reading Ranginui Walker’s “Ka whawhai tonu matou” & coming across his thoughts on Pakeha/Maori relations. The part where he discusses Pakeha thoughts/beliefs & intents in terms of Maori in Aotearoa, who we were (coz we’re all the same ya know!) & how Pakeha thought we “should” be. He talked about the commonly held (for that time apparently, far as I can see bad, sorry I meant to say old! Old habits die hard! Gosh my mistake!) belief that New Zealand is a multicultural nation, & how in order to move forward, we need to recognise ALL the different people here, & everything that everyone has to offer. Basically he called that a cop-out in that it was a way for Pakeha to minimise/overlook any rights that Maori have (here in our own whenua) & move past (quickly!) any recognition of the Mana that Maori have as Tangata Whenua. Truer words were never spoken.

    Pouri ake though, na te mea, kei te whai wahi, aratika, arapai hoki tonu!
    Engari, mena ko tera te hiahia, te whainga, me waiho koe I a matou ki te whiriwhiri o matou ake ara, I waenganui I o matou whanau, hapu, iwi, a, ma nga ture, nga tikanga, nga kaupapa hoki, ma matou e hanga. Tenei tu ahua, o te whawhai, te whakapau kaha, a, o te whakaiti I nga mea Maori? Ehara tera te tu ahua o tatou ngai Maori. Na koutou wera mahi.

    Blah blah, on & on I go!

    Nui te mihi, te aroha hoki e te tuahine 🙂

  4. Your kupu absolutely resonate and I am that much stronger for the voice that you have provided for the thoughts that exist in my moments of ‘quiet’ and ‘not so quiet’ when I am trying to articulate what it is for me versus what others think it should be for me or when I have had one too many hōhā interactions and I am left trying to explain myself so that others will understand and perhaps think about how things could be.

    E kore aku mihi e mutu!!! Look forward to the continued journey of learning that your sharing will bring….

    1. Nui aku mihi kia koe hoki e hoa.

      Humbled by your kind words.

      It’s a mixed blessing to see how things could be, and to see that we are not actually free. A blessing that won’t let us rest, a blessing that drives us towards te pae tawhiti.

      Mixed, but very necessary blessing. Kia mau ki to turanga e hoa – kei to taha o tipuna e tu ana.

      Mauri ora kia kotou. xx

  5. Well said …so pakeha printed so as anyone reading this understands it is an cannot be in maori only …because pakeha have made sure that we as maori/bicultural can never speak in the way we would have been bought up an so as we feel like we dont belong …racist mofos this is not an in near future will never be an equity as long as MAORI LIVE WE ARE A THREAT TO WHITE MANS SOCIETY

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