I referred earlier this week in ‘Words that may not be spoken‘ to what I see as a subversive, long-running and concerted political campaign which aims to suppress Maori culture in Howick, Auckland, where I live. That’s how I see it. I’ll explain why.
Along with the rest of New Zealand, we’ve just had local authority elections.
Sadly, from my point of view, it appears that an unhealthy fixation with keeping Maori culture out of Howick — or at least keeping it ‘in its place‘ has survived the election process.
Indeed, a majority of the newly-elected local board appears to want to prevent the reinstatement of the whare — a burnt-out little meeting house in Howick’s Garden of Memories, where it has been located since the 1930s.
The eight (of nine) have reportedly even gone so far as to sign a ludicrous petition to ‘declare independence‘ from the Manukau City Council (!) over its decision to proceed with the plan to rebuild the community-owned building.
As I see it, the campaign opposing the whare reinstatement project has a racist, xenophobic, even white supremacist undertone. (They deny this, of course, and it’s not very ‘neutral’ of me to say it so plainly, but actions speak louder than words.)
This is only the latest skirmish in the battle which has been underway for years. Far too long. As such it’s worth opposing. It’s a fight worth fighting. Justice delayed is justice denied and these time-wasters have cost us enough.
Here’s some background to the latest push:
In August I was quoted in the local paper having spoken to a local Howick Community Board meeting which in part discussed a needlessly controversial project to rebuild a small meeting house that was subject to an arson attack in 2004.
Peter Aranyi, of Mellons Bay, said: “It’s extraordinary to hear the opposition to that little building being reinstated.”
His son Kit attended programmes on Maori culture at the whare four years ago and loved it. He said suggestions that the trust use land near Howick Recreation Centre “smacks of not in my backyard”.
Mr Aranyi referred to [board member] Mrs [Lynn] Murphy’s description of the whare as “dysfunctional” as offensive. “Why can’t the people who use it determine that?”
Although it shouldn’t be an issue to rebuild a City Council-owned facility that was being used by members of the local community (including my young son) the project has faced concerted opposition by a so far relentless group of ‘upstanding citizens’ who appear (to me at least) to be motivated by anti-Maori bigotry. When put to them (privately, directly, by me at the Community Board meeting), the opponents all strongly deny that race is an issue, but personally, I still detect the stench.
Excuse me Howick, your racist underbelly is showing
This is the sad tale of the racist underbelly in Howick — my home of 15 years, the place I choose to bring up my two children, whose heritage includes Maori. I choose to stand up for my kids, for my family, my home, my country.
It helps to see this argument in context of a campaign by some in Howick in 1997 and 1999 to remove the word ‘marae‘ from the little whare in the Garden of Memories. Just a word — but what a signal the determined fight for its exclusion sends. The NZ Herald reported in an article Marae word a canker in Garden of Memories
AUCKLAND – The word marae has been blacked out on a sign at the entrance to Howick’s Garden of Memories.
It is the first sign of an issue between Maori and some residents who do not want a marae – or even the word marae being used – in Howick.
The sign reads Owairoa Marae, which is the name given to a whare (house) in the Emilia Maude Nixon Garden of Memories in Uxbridge Rd.
…. Peter O’Connor, a Howick resident for 20 years, a Pakeha, a marae supporter and former Race Relations Office investigator, believes many Howick people do not want Maori in the area.
“It’s intolerance to the level that you can’t even have a Maori word there.
“There are some in this community who so dislike things Maori that they will not even allow the small toehold Maori have in this community to continue.
“To live in a community in 1999 and be scared of a Maori word makes you wonder where they’ve been living for the last 20 years.”
Population statistics show there are two sides to Manukau. Only 4 per cent of Howick’s population is Maori, compared with 25 per cent in Otara, 22 per cent in Mangere and 26 per cent in Manurewa. Howick’s neighbour, Pakuranga, has slightly more Maori, at 6 per cent.
As if to prove Peter O’Connor right, read this:
Howick resident Robert Steward is one of many who does not want the word marae or a marae at the Garden of Memories.
He says: “If they [Maori] get a marae they get sovereignty. If they get absolute sovereignty they can do all sorts of things. They could boot us out.”
No, Mr Steward, that doesn’t seem likely. Alas, life has taught me it’s paranoid pakeha settler types — “if they get sovereignty … they could boot us out” — who do the ‘booting out’. (Who really has the historical track record of oppressing whom?)
Since the arson attack on the meeting house Torere deprived our community of a base and resource centre to teach local children elements of Maori culture and history, the forces in opposition to even that token Maori presence in our suburb have been relentless.
Some residents — not just limited to a few rednecks and grizzled old codgers — and those purporting to speak for the community and for ‘ratepayers’ have, in my personal view (and, yes, this is contentious) abused due process to raise objection after objection on the flimsiest of excuses (lately, gasp, disability access). All the while, it seems to me, they attempted to conceal their core values: a fear or distaste (is hatred too strong a word?) for anything ‘indigenous’ in their white suburb, and opposition to it.
Some of the local politicians, including the now-defunct Community Board chairman and others have, it seems to me, publicly slandered council officers — portraying them as manipulative, deceitful, and liars, supposedly keeping ‘the facts’ from the elected representatives.
This was part of a mad conspiracy theory to explain why the democratic process has gone against their anti-Maori agenda. (The council officers can’t defend themselves and their reputations from such half-baked allegations and insinuations, which makes it all the worse.)
From my observation, some appear to be fixated about the word ‘marae’ being attached in any way to the whare in the Garden of Memories, which smacks of the unedifying argument recorded in the 1999 NZ Herald article.
Despite their best efforts to stymie and strangle the cultural activities at the little meeting house in the Garden of Memories, the work continued there — until the 2004 arson attack, which gave the opponents a new cause to rally around.
A trail of appeals
The town planning decision to rebuild the burnt-out meeting house was reviewed at a Town Planning hearing by a commissioner, retired Judge Peter Salmon — who came out in favour. The ‘Howick Residents and Ratepayers Association’ in the figure of the paternalistic ex school principal Russell Wylie then appealed Judge Salmon’s decision to the Environment Court — which comprehensively rejected each and every one of his 19 (!) objections … some of them truly intellectually contorted, it seemed to me.
My family and I attended the Town Planning hearing in 2007, speaking and offering written submissions in favour of the City Council’s plans to rebuild the torched facility. We also attended the farcical, time-wasting exercise of the appeal to the Environment Court in 2008, where the out-of-touch man leading the charge for the so-called ‘Ratepayers Association’ was treated with far more respect, deference and patience than his flimsy campaign deserved, in my personal view, whatever you may think of the venerable Mr Wylie. (In the corridor outside the Environment Court he told me that Maori had been offered land elsewhere for their marae, and they should have taken it, not persisted with the little whare in the Garden of Memories. Not in my backyard?)
The Environment Court hearings having cost us ratepayers a great deal of time and money, the fact that the substantial legal costs were NOT awarded against the so-called ‘Ratepayers Association’ was a travesty, in my view. It only encouraged them to have another go…
The City Council’s decision NOT to sue that ‘Association’ for those costs (perhaps out of a noble desire for ‘healing’) seemed open to misinterpretation. My own negative view of that decision was more-or-less vindicated when I observed the opponents of rebuilding Torere sitting on the Howick Community Board agitating to have overall costs of the project reviewed — to see if they are within earlier budgets(!) This after the costs of their own futile court actions escalated expenditure beyond reason. They are shameless, it seems to me, and will try anything. So it proved. Witness a failed injunction attempt and a ‘declaration of independence’. Farcical isn’t strong enough.
For the background on the issues around Torere, if you care, read this article from Metro magazine, December 2007:
Misinformation, fear-mongering and, according to some, outright lies and have been spread about the past, the present and the future intentions of the Trust administering Torere — with the added indignity of ignorant, one-eyed non-Maori seeking to define what a ‘whare’ is and a ‘marae’ — and control whether the local people can practise their culture safely.
The struggle continues
As I told the Community Board in August, I’m a pretty average Howick resident. I’ve lived here 15 years, I have kids in the local schools, we’re involved in local sports clubs and community groups like Scouts, sailing, rowing, and we’re ratepayers. We are local people.
I want to see Torere reinstated as it should be — and to see it become a valued community amenity again, with school children given the chance to learn about the indigenous culture — just as I believe the original benefactor of the land Emelia Maud Nixon intended. I will join in support of those seeking to preserve that legacy and that future. It’s important.
I will continue to speak out and stand against what I perceive as racism in Howick. I love living here. Bigotry has to be opposed, whatever it is dressed up as. The good work done by others over the years deserves my support. It must be preserved against attacks like this. I will do what I can do.
Although I am not Maori myself, as a NZ-born child of refugees, I see things differently to those who regard themselves as ‘settlers’ or victorious in ‘Land Wars’. For a start, I don’t believe in one culture hatefully dominating another. My parents fled that obscenity. Bullet holes and shell craters testifying to their rebellion against such oppression still mark their homeland.
This is my homeland, and my children’s homeland, and if they choose, their turangawaewae — their ‘place to stand’ — and damn it, the racists will not win.
Take a look at the fine work done by Te Roopu Awhina o Wairoa trust which administers the programmes based at the whare and throughout schools in Howick. Positive, exultant, fantastic.
PS: The title of this post ‘Why do you think we call it struggle?’ is a reference to a 2004 article about the attempted character assassination of American native activist Ward Churchill which in part issues this challenge:
If you’re not willing to invest what it takes to develop your own historical and analytical consciousness beyond the level of a parrot, what are you willing to invest to get something done? The answer, I think is self-evident. You’re not serious. You’re treating your politics like a fashion statement, and it’s really irresponsible of you to prattle on as if it were otherwise.
Facts are stated to the best of my knowledge and commentary is my honest opinion. Corrections or clarifications are always welcome by email. Comments are open.
– Best wishes, Peter Aranyi © 2010 All rights reserved.