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Māori studies professor explains why white supremacy is 'very normalised' in NZ, needs to be taken seriously

Newshub logo Newshub 2/06/2021 Rachel Sadler
a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Getty Images a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by Newshub

New Zealanders need to understand how dangerous white supremacy is since it's become "very normalised" here, an expert on Māori and indigenous rights says.

It comes amid the Māori Party's official complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) over the investigation into a video posted online where a white supremacist threatened to kill Māori and target marae. The party is also accusing police of having double standards when dealing with death threats made against Māori and Pākehā.

University of Auckland Māori studies Professor Margaret Mutu says white supremacy has been in New Zealand since 1769 when English navigator Captain James Cook arrived.

"Māori are very used to white supremacy and we experience it on a day-to-day basis. It's very, very normalised in this country, and often when Māori say that white supremacy or racism is affecting them, we're not believed," she tells Newshub.

"These days, there is a heightened sense of sensitivity in the Pākehā world to the fact that racism exists, and I think this situation may have arisen because of the Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States."

But white supremacy is something New Zealanders need to understand, she says.

"New Zealand, in particular, has to understand it because it has become so normalised. White supremacy is not something that should ever be normalised."

In terms of the attack the Māori Party has laid a complaint over, Mutu says she's seen similar onslaughts before but the media and police don't pick them up.

"Māori are basically told 'it's just the way it is, ignore it, it's nothing'. Well, it is something, and I'm pleased now that the media is taking it seriously."

Mutu explains that white supremacy came out of Europe, where in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Vatican permitted Christian explorers to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians. If lands were vacant, explorers could 'discover' and claim them in the name of their king or queen. Non-Christians, particularly indigenous people, on these 'discovered' lands were considered non-human and the land was empty or terra nullius.

She says the rest of Europe picked up on this idea and that is how the British Empire formed.

"These days, that is known as the doctrine of discovery. Basically, a white Christian could go into a non-white, non-Christian country, plant a stick in the ground with a bit of coloured rag on it, and claim the land on the right of discovery." 

Calling for repudiation

The United Nations has spent the last decade urging countries to repudiate the doctrine of discovery since it was "used for centuries to justify seizure of indigenous land" and "subjugate people".

"New Zealand is an outstanding case of a country that will not recognise, one, that the doctrine of discovery has been in place for 500 years, and two, how damaging it is to indigenous people in particular, but basically people who are non-white who suffer horrifically from the mentality, the cultural acceptance of the notion of white supremacy," Mutu says.

"The United Nations has criticised New Zealand on many occasions in the last decade for not addressing this. So I'm really pleased that finally we have a conversation about white supremacy and racism happening in this country. It's way past time when this should've happened." 

Protestant churches, through the World Council of Churches, and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States are among those that have repudiated the doctrine of discovery. The Vatican, however, has refused, and Mutu says many indigenous people, including some from New Zealand, have asked the Pope to repudiate it.  

In 2019, Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki wrote to Pope Francis calling for "an accounting of the trauma" the Vatican has caused and a repudiation of the doctrine of discovery. He said it had "fueled white supremacy" and supported the "dehumanisation, dispossession, murder, and forced assimilation" of those indigenous peoples.

The race-based death threats the white supremacist made against Māori recently is "very, very concerning" to Mutu, but says Māori are constantly on alert that they could be the target.

"What happened in Christchurch with the Christchurch massacre was something that was just not unexpected for Māori, it's just we weren't the target that time," she says, referring to the 2019 Christchurch shootings where 51 Muslims were killed during Friday prayers.

"We had huge sympathy for the Muslim community, but we are in exactly the same position as they are."

Following the Māori Party's official complaint to the IPCA, co-leaders Debbie Ngawera-Packer and Rawiri Waititi have since called for the establishment of a joint task force to investigate anti-Māori hate speech from white supremacists.

"We are experiencing an unprecedented increase in racist rhetoric across social media by white supremacist organisations that is inciting hate speech and violence against tangata whenua," Ngawera-Packer says.

"We are acutely aware of the national security indicators that capture specific data about white supremacists' organisations and nowhere are there specific indicators that capture terrorism or hate speech against Maori. We need to do better than that."

Waititi adds they will continue to push "until we are taken seriously".

"If we have learnt anything from the Christchurch massacre, it is that it only takes one delusional person with some extreme views about their superiority to wipe out whakapapa," he says.

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