Reports highlighting racism and colonial legacy call for structural changes

4:51 pm on 3 February 2023
New Zealand and Maori Flag.

(file image) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

New Zealand's new Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon emphasised the long term goal was an end to racism. Photo: supplied

Two reports out today from the Human Rights Commission detail the impacts of racism and colonisation on Māori.

Both are calling for the government to commit to constitutional transformation and co-governance with tangata whenua.

For the first report, Ki te whaiao, ki te ao Mārama, researchers talked to Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika and Asian people about how to develop a national action plan against racism.

Some said they found it hard to even imagine a world without racism.

"It's difficult to imagine a future where there is no racism. It's quite disheartening to feel that way. [Even] as a rangatahi Māori growing up in the kōhanga reo, in kura kaupapa ... it's still ... difficult to imagine such a future. I guess [that is] the living evidence of the [extent] of colonisation and assimilation that has happened here in Aotearoa."

One woman told of being harassed in a supermarket and no-one coming to help her, another person felt they'd been passed over for promotion multiple times because of their skin colour, and immigrants spoke of a dehumanising system that treats them as second-class citizens.

The second report, Maranga Mai, looks at the effects of 180 years of colonisation and racism on Māori. It cites poverty, poor health and lower life expectancy.

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon said the long-term goal was an end to racism.

Meng Foon

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon Photo: supplied

"Eliminate racism in Aotearoa in all forms, in all organisations whether it's government, non-government organisations, businesses, amongst our communities. To build a good culture, so that we can all strive and thrive in Aotearoa," he said.

The report recommends appointing a permanent Indigenous Rights Commissioner, establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and that the government commits to constitutional transformation.

Co-chair of the anti-racism taskforce, Tina Ngata, said the country's constitutional arrangements such as the electoral and justice systems were based on centuries-old racist ideologies and were the root of racism here.

Tina Ngata at the UN

Co-chair of the anti-racism taskforce, Tina Ngata Photo: supplied

"Until we have a look at the unjust nature of our constitutional arrangements in Aotearoa, we're going to consistently keep winding up with these symptoms of racism and we will continue to struggle to deal with racism," Ngata said.

The reports feature a call for He Whakaputanga, the declaration of independence, and the Treaty of Waitangi to be recognised as New Zealand's founding documents.

Foon said the country was making progress in tackling racism although the political arena was another matter.

"Some politicians make it a political football... the betterment of shared-governance, co-governance or good-governance tends to be seen as a racist matter," he said.

"Sometimes I think we go one step forward and we go two or three steps back."

Ngata said a backlash would definitely follow the push to end racism.

"All of these things, as we start to move towards justice, will provoke the anxieties of white supremacist movements and they will get increasingly and increasingly more antagonistic.

"They will look for more ways to co-opt and undermine the grassroots rights movements, and they will also get more violent and more threatening, because at their heart that's what they are.

"Violent, threatening and brutal movements."

But she still urged people to take part in a conversation about how Aotearoa could become the best nation for everyone.

Foon said the most important step now was whakatinana ai, turning these plans into actions.

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