1 Sep 2019

Awkward Conversations about councils, racism and identity – with Andrew Judd and Meredith Akuhata-Brown

From Awkward Conversations, 4:06 pm on 1 September 2019
Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Andrew Judd, Alex Perrottet

Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Andrew Judd, Alex Perrottet Photo: Phil Yeo

An extract from the second of a series of four panel discussions marking the Tuia 250 ki Tūranga commemorations of first contact between European and Māori, recorded on location in Gisborne's Smash Palace.

Andrew Judd: Somebody once said to me “Māoris are lazy and fill the jails. The Māori elite rorts the system for their own benefit, and the rest are on social welfare handouts. Māoris are tribal by nature – that's why they're so easily drawn to be in gangs. Māori language is all but dead. It’s also a waste of time, as it can't be used anywhere else in the world anyway. I'm sick and tired of hearing about the past. We've got to get over it and move on. In any case, we're all one now.”

You know, who said that to me? I said that to me. My name is Andrew Judd. And I'm a recovering racist.

In 2013, I was elected mayor of New Plymouth. And one of my first challenges in that role was the question of Māori representation on our council. We have an obligation under the Local Government Act to include Māori and government decision making. One of the options to do that is to establish what's known as a Māori ward, which is actually similar to the Māori seats in our parliament, voted from our Māori electoral roll. Our council, my council at the time voted to establish a Māori ward.

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Photo: Destination Waitomo

Andrew Judd: The reaction that I got was one I not only recognised, but identified with. It took me on a journey of personal challenge, and discovery and honesty. Part of what I asked myself in that journey, is "What does it mean to be a New Zealand Pakeha?" Because that's who I am. I'm not British or English, Australian, or anything else. I was born here in New Zealand. I am a treaty partner to tangata whenua.

What does that mean? Because what is my culture? You know, if you invited me here tonight and said come dressed in your national costume, Andrew, what would I wear? A black singlet black shorts with gumboots? I'm not a farmer. Would I wear an All Blacks jersey? I'm not an All Black. What's my culture? Is it buzzy bees, Tip Top ice cream? I mean, I they're a job, a sport, iconic products. What are my values? What do I stand for, believe in? Because here's the thing - I'd certainly grab Māori culture, when I felt was right to grab something. Haka, rugby, powhiri with visiting dignitaries if it seems appropriate. But I don't know how to do a haka. I can't speak te reo Māori .

Why have I not challenged who I am within what is essentially a Māori country?

Meredith Akuhata-Brown

Meredith Akuhata-Brown Photo: Phil Yeo

Meredith Akuhata-Brown: I'm 48 years of age. I've spent much of my life trying to figure out who am. I found out I was a Māori when I was 11 because we went to Whangara marae as a school trip. And as part of that trip they gave us all a pepeha [a customary Māori way of introducing yourself] to fill out.

I can recall going home to my mother and saying to her "Are we Africans?" because it asked what our tribe was and I'd only thought a tribe was African. But of course it means my iwi affiliation. And at the time my mother and my father never talked about any of this. So she said kind of just off the cuff, "Oh, you're Tainui." I had no idea what that meant.

My Dad was Welsh and English. He was born in Timaru and he met my Mum in Auckland and she (Scottish Māori) had put aside all things Māori and embraced the Pakeha world because that's what she was told to do. So I was certainly didn't grow up knowing any of my Māori roots or anything to do with who I was as a Māori.

Alex Perrottet: Do you think we've dealt with this enough? I mean, we're commemorating 250 years since the Europeans first arrived, and we're looking at ways we can improve things and move forward. Do you think we need to do a lot more?

Meredith Akuahata-Brown: Oh, you know, there's no doubt in my mind that we need to dig up the roots, we need to get to the heart of the matter that this nation had done something significantly wrong, by not allowing a culture to thrive and be outspoken and free.

Alex Perrottet:  Andrew, in your time on the council [in New Plymouth], how did you become mayor without first stepping onto a marae at all?

Andrew Judd

Andrew Judd Photo: Phil Yeo

Andrew Judd: The first thing that came to me [at New Plymouth Council] was this question of Māori representation. A council can establish a general seat, rural seat, urban seat or a Māori ward seat – but it's only the Māori ward seat that can be petitioned and removed. One thing I've never had to do in my life is look into the eyes of my children who and answer a question "Dad, why is the community petitioning us to be out of council because we are Pakeha?" That would never happen, would it? But we have normalized the way we treat Māori representation. We've given ourselves as Pakeha permission to do that.

Alex Perrottet: I guess the default argument against your position is that everyone's got equal rights.

Andrew Judd: Pakeha are the problem. We always have been the problem since Cook arrived.

All I did was to challenge myself because for the first time in my life, I found myself in a marae. I found myself feeling something that I'd never felt before: looking into the eyes of Māori and everything they have to deal with.

Why did I block it out? I knew something was wrong. In fact, if I was really honest, I knew it had been wrong all my life. Somehow I didn't want to be responsible for something that I would term wasn't my fault or of my doing. But in fact, it is. Because by staying quiet, and by ignoring looking at myself, I was condoning what was done in our past.

Māori can't fix what's broken in this respect, and Pakeha have to challenge each other about the benefits and the privileges that we have. Like petitioning to remove the voice of Māoridom.

Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Andrew Judd, Alex Perrottet

Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Andrew Judd, Alex Perrottet Photo: Phil Yeo

Meredith Akuhata-Brown: New Zealand could be a leader in democracy. I believe that answers lie in the grassroots and the everyday people that haven't participated, because no one asked them. I met with a group of 60 residents at a park. And I just said, “Let's dream what this neighborhood could become.” And the very first thing they said was, “Are we allowed to do this?” I said “What? You’re citizens of New Zealand, you have every right to things like a good footpath, a decent playground.”

So I see the commemoration space of Tuia 250 ki Tūranga as an opportunity to be proud of the future for children. Leaders come and go, but what's the legacy? I want to be part of an absolute hope of everyone given a chance to be fully themselves. Because everybody wins. It's not about us and them anymore. We know better. So let's do something with that. The action part is now because I don't want another 250 years of the same. It just can't happen. Not on my watch anyway. That's the dream.

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Photo: Phil Yeo

About the speakers

Andrew Judd

Andrew, a self-proclaimed “recovering racist” has led a very public campaign seeking to educate New Zealanders about the true history of Aotearoa/New Zealand, sharing his personal experience of discovering racism in himself along the way. He attributes this to his time as a councillor and Mayor of New Plymouth, when he failed to get approval for the creation of a Māori ward to improve representation on the council.

Meredith Akuhata-Brown

Outspoken Gisborne local body candidate Meredith Akuhata-Brown has made headlines around the world for publicly calling out a fellow-councillor as racist, but has struggled to claim her own identity as a Māori woman, as she grew up in a family and a world that convinced her she was Pakeha and better off for being so.

In association with the Te Ha Trust, and the Tuia 250 Ki Turanga/Gisborne programme of public events scheduled in October 2019

Entry to Smash Palace, Gisborne.

Entry to Smash Palace, Gisborne. Photo: RNZ / Paul Bushnell