5th February, 2017


“In the beginning we were all immigrants to these islands, our ancestors boat people who arrived by waka, ship or aeroplane. The ingredients of our indigenous cultures too were imported: the east Polynesian language that became Maori, English; Papatuanuku and the Bible; Maui and Tane Mahuta, Robin Hood and Horatio Nelson; the kumara and the kiwifruit.

All these things and many more had their origins elsewhere…”

One of our great New Zealand historians was a man by the name of Michael King. Michael King is best known for his work on the Penguin History of New Zealand. That, however is not the book I just quoted from. I lifted my opening paragraph from Michael King’s book, Being Pakeha Now. Being Pakeha Now is a not a formal history but rather a series of reflections on Michael’s own experience of coming to grips with his cultural identity.

In the early chapters Michael speaks of how as a child he would never have called himself Pakeha and no one he knew would have either. His sense of cultural identity was drawn from his family’s Irish-Catholic roots. I’m sure many of us feel the same way. I can remember as a high school student an occasion when all in my year group were asked to fill out a form. I don’t remember what the purpose of the form was, but I do remember that there was a section in which we needed to tick the appropriate box to identify our ethnicity. The options included, Maori, Samoan, Chinese, other with a space to fill whatever your ethnicity was. What I particularly remember was that many of my fellow students took exception to the box simply titled Pakeha. Some chose to respond to this by crossing out the word Pakeha and writing in European.

At that point in time many people I knew believed Pakeha to be a derogatory word, meaning something like “White Pig”, or worse. Some of you will have shared that misconception. And yes, it is a misconception. The origins of the word Pakeha are hazy that is true, but what we can say about the word itself is that no part of the word can be translated as white or as pig, which means we can kick that particular idea into the realm of mythology.

Michael King’s story tells how over many years, through ongoing interaction with Maori and others, he gained a different sense of cultural identity. He shifted away from his family’s memory of European descent and came to see his cultural identity as being shaped and formed by this land, Aotearoa New Zealand. His journey led him to a place where Pakeha became the right word for him as it acknowledged his deep connect to this place. If there is one thing his book affirms it is that New Zealand is a diverse society, which welcomes many. Long may that be the case.

I have spoken to you before about one of the activities that has become central to our youth ministry. Throughout the year we choose a handful of evenings to gather around the fire pit in the vicarage garden. We talk, we tell stories and we sing songs. The reason we began this is because I am aware that many of our young people do not have a strong sense of cultural identity. I know this, because like Michael King, as a younger person I did not have a strong sense of cultural identity.

I can remember being at my first Three Tikanga Anglican Youth event and seeing how our Maori and Polynesian brothers and sisters were comfortable in their own culture in a way that Pakeha young people were not. By this I mean that Maori and Polynesian young people not only knew the music, dance and language of their own people, they also had a strong sense of where they had come from, and where they might be going. Yes they were influenced by American culture as all our young people are, but they also possessed a cultural self-awareness that many young Pakeha seemed to lack. I don’t think our gatherings around the fire pit are the perfect solution to this, but it is a small opportunity for Pakeha young people to begin exploring what it means to be Pakeha.

Two years ago a group from this parish walked the treaty grounds at Waitangi on our journey north to Marsden cross. When our pilgrimage group stood on the treaty grounds we spoke about different understandings of the treaty and the place it holds in our lives today. As a group of Pakeha pilgrims, it was important to reflect on our nation’s history and to wonder what we might be able to do differently in relation to our treaty partners.

Just like the misunderstanding surrounding the word Pakeha, the Treaty is also surrounded by all sorts of negative publicity. I’m willing to bet that at least one media outlet tomorrow will pose the question, why Waitangi Day and not New Zealand day? Others will report on the politicians who visited the treaty grounds and those that did not. And once again we are bound to see images of protest with no real understanding or explanation of what questions protestors may be raising. I hope to be surprised by some real substance rather than the sensational, but I’m not holding my breath.

For many New Zealanders, those caricatures of Waitangi day are the only meaning Waitangi holds for them. For many the message of Waitangi is simply one of division which is deeply sad, because it is so far from the truth.

In part the treaty drew upon the concept of covenant, the Jewish understanding of partnership between humanity and God explored in the Old Testament. A covenant is not a contract, rather it is an agreement between different parties to uphold and support the well being of each other. Those who were a part of the formulating of the Treaty of Waitangi held high aspirations for what the document would mean. It was written with hope for an ongoing partnership between different people in a way that would be life-giving and affirming for all people. Those were lofty aspirations, aspirations that all partners of the treaty have fallen short of at different times. The calls we hear to “honour the treaty”, are not entirely about grievance, but rather are born of a longing for the mutual respect and care for each other that inspired the creation of the treaty in the first place.

Waitangi Day can be a day we remember the commitment those of different culture made to each other’s well-being. Waitangi Day is a day to ask ourselves if there are ways we can affirm and support the aspirations of those whose connection to this land is different to our own. And for those of us who belong to communities such as this one, the treaty raises the question of whether we have truly loved our neighbour as we wish to be loved? Amen.