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3.2 The Quest for Assimilation

The connection between racism and assimilation is inescapable: in seeking to recreate us in their own image, our colonisers have been practising yet another form of genocide (Mikaere, 2001, p. 134).

Colonisation and its associate, assimilation, are an interrelated and overlapping phenomenon. Whereas colonisation is about seizing resources and securing sovereignty, Walker (1990) argues, assimilation is a process of marginalising indigenous cultural practices and ways of life. It is the deliberate policy of absorbing a minority culture into a dominant one, based on a fundamental assumption of the superiority of the dominant group and the irrelevance of minority culture(s) (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2009, p. 141).

As a global instrument of colonisation Mowbray (2007, p. 10) contends assimilation policies aim “to ‘civilise’ and incorporate indigenous peoples, to bring them under the control of ‘colonial’ states.

Ramsden (1994) maintains assimilation slowly and systematically transforms indigenous values and ways of doing things from being “ordinary” to “exotic”

within their own countries. This process reflects a significant shift in power-base, enabled through substantive changes in population and implemented through mono-cultural legislation, policy and regulation.

Critical pathways of assimilationist policy are alienation of land, language and indigenous identity. Loss of access to traditional lands has the effect of denying indigenous people material and spiritual sustenance. Loss of traditional languages is soul destroying, as language is an important component of identity and “…is fundamental to understanding values, beliefs, ideology and other intangible aspects of culture” (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2009, p. 57).

Anthropologist, Brody (2000), contends the destruction of indigenous languages can be considered a form of linguistic genocide.

Globally and locally indigenous peoples have resisted assimilation policies, with various degrees of success with Māori often being at the forefront of this international resistance. Of contemporary international and local significance in relation to discussions on assimilation is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (United Nations, 2007). Negotiated over a twenty-year period, article eight (2007, p. 5) of the Declaration specifically maintains:

“Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture”.

As part of the Canadian government’s assimilation, platform indigenous peoples were sent to residential native schools. This process had the structural effects of disrupting families, loss of indigenous knowledge, languages and traditions and the systemic devaluing of indigenous identity (M. King, Smith, & Gracey, 2009,

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p. 78). While in Canada in 2006, I visited the Micmac reservation in Nova Scotia and read first-person accounts of Micmac people’s experiences of native schools, including the practice of children’s mouths being taped shut so they could not speak indigenous languages.

The depth of Australia’s assimilation legacy was the seventy year Stolen Generation policy of removing children from their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families ‘for their own good’ to become part of white Australian families.

The following first-person account is from the Bring Them Home (Lavarch, 1997, p. 4) a national inquiry report into the stolen generation:

Our life pattern was created by the government policies and are forever with me, as though an invisible anchor around my neck. The moments that should be shared and rejoiced by a family unit, for [my brother], mum, and I are forever lost. The stolen years that are worth more than any treasure are irrecoverable.

Assimilation in Aotearoa

On 6th February 1840, Governor Hobson first proclaimed the famous words “He iwi kotahi tātou”38 to Māori rangatira as they signed Te Tiriti, which is often translated to mean ‘we are one people’ (L. Cox, 1993, p. 75). Variations of this assimilationist catch-call have permeated race relations in this country ever since, whether it is the ‘amalgamation’ policies of Governor Grey through to the

‘integration’ policies outlined in the Hunn Report. This dominant race relations discourse continues to “…position Māori as marginalised ‘other’, with Pākehā culture and authority the naturalised and unacknowledged centre” (Huygens, 2006, p. 367).

The settler governments’ transparent assimilation intent was revealed in the preamble to the 1844 Native Trust Act (p.140):

Her Majesty’s Government has recognised the duty of endeavouring by all practicable means to avert the like disasters from the native people of these islands [New Zealand] which object may be best obtained by assimilating as speedily as possible the habits and usages of the Native to those of the European population.

Fleras and Spoonley (1999, p. 114) argue that few Pākehā disputed the inevitability or desirability of assimilation as a policy. Rather it was “only a question related to the magnitude or pace of absorption, whether rapid or gradual, piecemeal or wholesale, were left open for debate”.

38 Reid (2002b, p. 60) reports that actually Hobson’s first said the words “He iwi tahi [sic] tātou”

to Heke who corrected his grammar.

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Successful implementation of assimilation was always dependent on the breakdown of Māori communal ways of life. Land reform and the introduction of capitalism were key mechanisms to disrupting collective ownership. M. Jackson (1993, p. 72) maintains much colonial policy required land to be removed from indigenous peoples and then its use restructured from resource distribution based on communal need, to that of individual profit.

The primacy of English language and the normalisation of Pākehā values and beliefs through the colonial education system was another critical pathway to advance assimilationist policies. Health policy was also influenced by assimilationist agendas. The Hunn report (1961) outlines the outcome of these assimilation policies over times, which were substantive socio-economic inequities between Māori and Pākehā (see discussion later in this chapter).

Māori responses to the assimilation policies of the Crown were diverse. Tainui and Ngāti Tūwharetoa with mixed support from other iwi established a Kīngitanga movement in an attempt to hold the Crown to account regarding their treaty promises and to reduce alienation of land (R. Hill, 2004). Also centred within the North Island were assorted kotahitanga movements to bring together multiple iwi for a common purpose of establishing parallel parliamentary systems and protecting Māori collective interests. In contrast, the Young Māori Party originating from Te Aute College in the Hawkes Bay embraced western education and assimilation policies, believing it was the only way Māori would survive.

Hon. Apirana Ngata (as cited in R. Hill, 2004, p. 44) advocated this position:

E tipu e rea, mo nga rā o tōu ao, Tō ringa ki ngā rākau ā te Pākehā Hei arā mō te tinana.

Tō ngākau ki ngā taonga ā o tipuna Māori Hei tikitiki mo te māhuna.

Grow up o tender youth, in the time of your generation,

Your hand reaching for the Pākehā tools For your physical well-being.

Your heart dedicated to the treasures of your ancestors

As a plume upon your head.

Suppression of Te Reo me ōna Tikanga

Te Reo is a unique taonga of Aotearoa and is a crucial origin and medium of Māori thinking and knowledge (S. Jackson, 1993). The worldview and cosmology embedded within language makes it an essential means to transfer cultural knowledge. Understanding the importance of language, many of the early settlers to Aotearoa were bilingual as were many Māori by the turn of the nineteenth century. For instance, my great great grandfather Bradbury became bilingual, after being shipwrecked in the 1840s, thus enabling him to become a successful trader with Māori (Borrows, 1969, p. 134). Missionaries translated the bible into Māori to facilitate their efforts to convert Māori to Christianity. Church authorities and later the colonial government’s proceedings were recorded in both Te Reo and English (Waitangi Tribunal, 1986).

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With the passing of the Native Education Act 1847, this de facto bilingual position changed, with English established as the only official language and as the medium of instruction in schools combined with the prohibition of tikanga (Pihama, 2001). Biggs (1968) asserts that access to public funds for education became conditional on compliance with this policy. Oral testimony during the Te Reo Māori Waitangi claim (Waitangi Tribunal, 1986) asserted there was widespread use of corporal punishment for speaking Māori in the classroom and in the school playground. Rangatira Henare during the hearings (1986, p. 16) recalled advice from a school inspector, “English is the bread-and-butter language, and if you want to earn your bread and butter you must speak English”.

Pihama (2001, p. 48) describes the mono-cultural colonial education system’s efforts to suppress Te Reo me ōna tikanga as a campaign “...to remove Māori thinking from the face of the earth”. McGregor (2001, p. 1) cites Pope, the Organising Inspector for Native schools, as saying that the native schools mission was “...to bring an untutored but intelligent and high spirited people into line with our [white] civilisation”. Until the 1930s, many schools were designed to equip Māori men for menial agricultural work and Māori women for domesticity (Pihama, 2001, p. 223). This had the effect of excluding Māori from positions of power and status within Crown institutions upon completion of their education.

The destructiveness of this approach in relation to language can be tracked in the rate of Māori schoolchildren able to speak Te Reo. According to evidence provided to Briggs by the Waitangi Tribunal (as cited in 1986, p. 18) within this environment it plummeted from 90% in 1900, down to 55% by 1950 to a low-point of 5% in 1975. A change in policy direction did not occur until 1970, when the then Minister of Education, Hon. Brian Talboys, instructed teachers to use correct pronunciation of Māori words and phrases in primary schools and Māori language became an option at other school levels (Williams, 2001, p. 142).

The subsequent Te Reo Waitangi claim confirmed the Crown had breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi concerning its obligations to protect Te Reo as a taonga. The establishment of both Te Taurawhiri i Te Reo Māori and reinstatement of Te Reo as an official language have complimented a Māori-led revitalisation of Te Reo through the Kōhanga Reo (language nest) and Kura Kaupapa (Māori language school) movements. The significance of Te Reo is outlined in the whakatauākī shared by a witness during those hearings (1986, p.


Ka ngaro Te Reo, ka ngaro tauā, pērā i te ngaro o te Moa

If the language be lost, man will be lost, as dead as the moa.

According to the latest Māori language survey, efforts to revitalise Te Reo still need to be strengthened and expanded in order to avoid language decline (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2010).

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Provision of Healthcare

In parallel to education policy, the thrust of colonial health policy was also to

“civilise Māori”. Crown provision of healthcare up until the twentieth century was predominately conceptualised and delivered from a colonial bio-medical worldview, with a frequent dismissal of traditional Māori expertise and knowledge. Pope’s (1884) widely utilised tract Health for Māori: A Manual for Native Schools (as cited in Williams, 2001, p. 188) reflected the official discourse of the time:

Maori were unhealthy, he [Pope] stated, because of poor diet, badly ventilated whare [house], overcrowding, belief in witchcraft, poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate clothing, too much liquor and poor water supplies.

For the first quarter of the twentieth century, western educated Māori leaders such as Hon. Maui Pōmare, Hon. Apirana Ngata, Hon. Te Rangi Hīroa and Hon. James Carroll were at the forefront of substantive health reform programmes. Able to operate equally and ably in both Māori and Pākehā dominated environments these leaders from the influential Young Māori Party undertook a radical program of reform to address endemic sewage, sanitation, water and housing problems (R.

Hill, 2004). In pragmatic and ultimately successful efforts to turn around Māori population decline, these leaders actively sought the adaptation of western knowledge and technology to enhance the health of Māori. Lange (1999, p. 118) maintain their observations led them to believe that:

Extinction was inevitable, not of Maori identity, but of a separate Maori identity: the rate of miscegenation would greatly increase and within a lifetime, the two races would be completely fused.

During this period, the health sector was administered with substantive inequities.

For instance, less than £3,000 annually was invested in Māori health between 1900 and 1920, which was shared amongst approximately 46,000 people (Lange, 1999, p. 181). The 1918 influenza pandemic exposed racism and differential outcomes and racism within the developing colonial system with Māori death rates ten times higher than Pākehā. Travel restrictions were imposed on Māori entering built up areas and even Māori members of parliament had to apply for permission to travel (Williams, 2001, p. 54).

Significant health legislation of this time included the Native Land Act 1909, which aimed to stop Māori women from breastfeeding their babies and looking after whāngai (adopted) children (Mikaere, 2000). The more widely known Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 significantly restricted the use of traditional Māori rongoā (medicine) and healers in favour of western-trained doctors. The assimilationist intent of both was transparent.

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By 1930 with the stabilisation and recovery of the Māori population base, the responsibility for Māori health, Lange (1999, p. 258) contends, was

‘mainstreamed’ as:

…there was no longer any recognition of the need for Maori leadership in the development and implementation of health policy as it concerned the Maori population.

With the establishment of the welfare state through the passing of the ground, breaking Social Security Act 1938 the government introduced wide-ranging reforms to establish a free universal health system based on the assumption of equitable access (Quinn, 2009). Together these developments led to decades of official silence in relation to Māori health policy and the formation of universal or

‘one sizes fits all’ policy initiatives, which assume everyone has the same needs and experiences. These have been of questionable effectiveness for Māori (Fleras

& Spoonley, 1999, p. 147).

The Hunn Report: Revealing Ethnic Inequities

In 1961, a substantive report was released on all aspects of law and government policy affecting Māori - the Hunn Report (Hunn, 1961). This widely distributed account was arguably the first systematic attempt to document the racial disadvantage of Māori (Spoonley, 1993, p. 66). It did not however address the privileging or racial advantage experienced by Pākehā.

The report uncovered 264 pieces of legislation that discriminated between Māori and Pākehā and recommended an end to this practice through the repeal of legislation, including the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907 (Williams, 2001). A substantive socio-economic gap was also identified between Māori and Pākehā.

Durie (1994b, p. 113) contends this gap showed both that Māori had successfully remained distinctive and that the notion of equitable access to government services was a myth. The report urged that serious attention needed to be given to the racial disadvantage experienced by Māori people.

Rather than propose the enabling of Māori rangatiratanga, the report endorsed an accelerated programme of active integration of the races through urbanisation and a raft of social programmes. Fleras and Spoonley (1999, p. 115) hold “it espoused the retention of Maoritanga within an overall Pakeha framework”. In reviewing the report, Thomas and Nikora (1992, p. 235) observed that the integration platform promoted within the report was “assimilation under another name”. They argued government policy continued to reflect, “ethnocentric views held by dominant Pakeha concerning the need for Maori to change to suit Pakeha”.

The official policy of assimilation was abandoned in the 1960s, with the acknowledgment that the policy had not achieved its expected goals and that Māori culture was an ongoing part of New Zealand society (Bishop & Glynn,

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1999). It was briefly replaced by integration policy launched through the Hunn Report, which was also abandoned in the face of concerns about the Crown’s role in creating and sustaining disadvantage. Prime Minister, Right Hon. Norman Kirk (1974, p. 2691) explains the official move away from integration:

So far as the majority and the minority are concerned, integration is precisely what cats do to mice. They integrate them. The majority swallows up the minority; making it sacrifices its culture and traditions and often its belongings to conform to the traditions and culture of the majority.

I assert assimilation traditions continue to hold some currency in contemporary public policy practices in New Zealand. Assimilationist notions of ‘one size fits all’ policy and the denial of the relevance of indigenous culture to policy development are explored within the context of contemporary health policy in chapter eight.