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Guest Post: Hehir responds to Garrett


A guest post from Liam Hehir:

Former ACT MP David Garrett wrote a guest post at Kiwiblog entitled “Why I will never be an Aotearoan” setting out his resentment towards the trend of re-adopting Māori place names. I use the bolded word carefully because it is not my charactertisation. It is, in fact, how Garrett himself frames his emotions about the renaming of Mt Egmont to Mt Taranaki / Egmont in 1986 and the subsequent fall into disuse of the colonial name.

There is a lot to unpack in Garrett’s piece, including the idea that those of us of European descent should pay appropriate honour and respect to our own ancestors. I don’t quite share in his heroic view of the British Empire because that’s not how I prefer to view history. The fact is that, however, that the story of the English-speaking people is complex and the good and the bad of it all go into our identity and make us part of what we are.

The thing is I don’t think I’ve met many Māori who take issue with non-Māori cherishing their own customs and traditions. The reinvigoration of indigenous cultures poses no threat to those who feel safe and secure in their own identity. The only thing that is really being asked of us is courtesy and respect. My children are of Irish descent on my side and Scottish on their mothers. To the extent that we have an ongoing cultural identity, it is based around the ancient religion that our family clung to for the past 1,500 years or so. I have no intention of appropriating tikanga Māori and repurposing it in an inorganic way to make up for our own cultural deficit.

Nevertheless, my children will learn te reo. They will also be conversant with the protocols that they are likely to come across in the country I want them to love and feel patriotic about. For one thing, it will be hard for them to thrive without those skills. More importantly, however, this is part of what being a New Zealander means.

The Maori way of things, though badly damaged by the arrival of Europeans, was not driven into extinction. It survived, remains extant and is poised to thrive in the years to come. Those of us not capable of recognising this – even as internal outsiders to that culture – lack the tools to be fully prepared fully with our shared national life.

It is useful for me to think about our small family farm, which has been in our family for nearly one and a half centuries. That’s a long time by the standards of Irish in New Zealand and, though I will never be a farmer myself, I feel connected with the land broken in by my forebears. It is like a part of my soul is somehow infused into every paddock. If it were to ever pass into ownership outside of our family that would be a bitter disappointment to me.  And if I feel that way, think about how Māori dispossessed of their lands feel? They held them for much, much longer than we did, after all.

I will now address my question for David Garrett to him: You feel sidelined and resentful about the renaming of places in a way that attenuates your attachment to them. You do not feel you were consulted about this and that the decision consigns a part of who you are to the sidelines. Those are all very natural and human feelings because the names we give things are important and when they are taken away, it is disconcerting and alienating. So, Mr Garrett, with that in mind – how do you imagine Māori felt about those colonial names?

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