3 Sep 2019

Crown should apologise to Māori beaten as children for te reo, says Dover Samuels

3:40 pm on 3 September 2019

Former Labour government minister Dover Samuels is calling on the Crown to apologise to a generation of Māori beaten for speaking te reo at school.

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels says while the cuts have healed, the hurt has not. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Mr Samuels lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in 2015 over the cruelty shown to children strapped and whipped for speaking their own language.

But he worries that he and the other children abused in that way are now in their 80s and will be dead before the Tribunal comes back with its findings.

"I would not like to think we will all be gone, and it would be a posthumous apology, five or 10 years down the track," he said.

When Mr Samuels started school at six in the Far North, the only language he and other Ngāpuhi children knew was te reo Māori.

But if they were heard speaking te reo, even in the playground, they were sent out by their teacher to cut lengths of supplejack and whipped with it - often until they bled.

And while the cuts had healed, the hurt had not, he said.

The teachers at Whakarara Native School were a Pākehā couple with two children of their own, who lived in a schoolhouse provided by the government.

"He was very, very anti-hearing the Māori children speaking te reo language and he didn't have a conscience in dealing it out, put it that way. "

The children would often go home bruised and bleeding from the beatings but there was no point complaining to their parents, Mr Samuels said.

"Our parents thought that the teachers ... they were gods and anything they did was okay and we were the bad ones and deserved a whack on the backside.

"Some of us had to hide our bruises from our parents because we would have had a double-dose for being naughty. They just couldn't reconcile that in fact we had been punished just for speaking our language."

There had been a deliberate policy on the part of the Crown to disempower his generation, Mr Samuels said.

"It started with te reo and the historical arguments are that it was an attempt to integrate the natives. But for those people born in the 1930s to 1950s it moved quickly from the dispossession of tikanga, of the reo, of culture, to the dispossession of the land".

The former Labour politician has appealed to the Minister for Māori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis to take up his call for a formal apology before it's too late.

"The government doesn't need the Tribunal report to justify apologising. They already know as a matter of record it was policy [to beat the children]. And now we have this ministry - Te Arawhiti - that has the mana to see this through."

Mr Davis replied that he would consult his officials and seek the views of other relevant government ministers.

"The matters you raise are important, and I agree that the issue of ... discrimination against Māori children is a significant one.

"I would like to provide a considered response, so I have asked officers of Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti to provide advice and consult with other relevant agencies on the Crown response," Mr Davis said.

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