A Treaty of Trust

I get annoyed at commentators who hold strong opinions on issues that really have little effect on their lives. The best example is men, especially in the USA, who hold strong opinions on contraception and abortion. They legislate and demand restrictions on matters that belong to women. These men will never know the distress felt by a woman forced to carry the possibly deformed product of a gang rape. And yet these men seem perfectly happy telling all women how they should think and act in that circumstance.

In a similar manner my experience of things Maori is limited. I am a white, European male. I do not know what it’s like to be racially profiled. I have no experience of being sneered at because of the colour of my skin. And for that reason I possibly should not be writing an article about the Treaty of Waitangi.

However I am going to run the risk. Why? Three reasons. First, I have some practical experience of things Maori. Second, because I have a modest academic education on the content and meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. Third, because when the Treaty comes under attack it affects the fabric of our home. And when that happens all New Zealanders should be concerned and take steps to reject the invasion.

Let me explain. My practical experience came as a result of being raised in the small East Coast village of Te Reinga. For seven years, at primary school, I was the only pakeha in an all Maori school. I attended every tangi. I complied with the tapu rules affecting our river, land and burial ground. I knew well the story of Hinekorako, the only female Maori deity, and her home beneath the Te Reinga falls. When I started high school I remember clearly wondering whether I should speak to my new pakeha friends the same way as I spoke to my Maori mates. I know that sounds ridiculous but I had never had a pakeha friend.

Several years later I included a unit of New Zealand history in my study at Victoria University. My special topic was the Treaty of Waitangi. This was in 1968. The implications of the Treaty were being revealed. Of course it can be argued, and many have, that the Treaty is merely a document of convenience used by pakeha and Maori to gain money, land and power. Don Brash almost won a general election by undermining the importance of the Treaty. Convicted rapist, Allan Titford, and some of his friends travelled around the country spreading anti Treaty propaganda. I reject their views. I accept that the Treaty is New Zealand’s founding document. Its presence has had a pivotal impact on how our national identity has been formed. The New Zealand we have today, in large part, reflects the Treaty’s spirit of participation, protection, and partnership.

With this background you probably understand why I feel strongly about the remarks reported to have been made by Sir William Gallagher, the chief executive of his father’s Hamilton electric fencing company, to an audience at the Waikato Stadium. Gallagher made several claims that in my view are bigoted and racist; dangerously bigoted and racist.

But before looking at what he said, I read that he has defended his views by claiming to have done extensive research into New Zealand history. Key to that research, I am told, is discussions he has had with Don Brash. Wow, that’s a balanced source of information; about as balanced as asking Goebbels to prepare a report on political freedom in Europe in the 1930s.

For example Gallagher said the Treaty papers on display at Te Papa were fraudulent documents. He added that the concept of the Treaty was a rort. He condemned the idea that the Treaty involved a partnership between Māori and the Crown, and lamented the monetary reparations for breaches of the Treaty that some iwi have received over the last quarter of a century. He warned that Māori “separatism” was creating “apartheid” in New Zealand, and claimed that non-Māori risked losing all their rights, including even their rights to visit the country’s beaches. His speech was an old man’s bigoted and racist rant spewing bias and division. New Zealand is a poorer place for being subject to his opinions.

So what are we going to do about it? Four steps stand out.

  1. Since 2012 Gallagher has been a principle partner of Swimming Waikato. That relationship should be terminated immediately. Gallagher’s opinions are a test for Swimming Waikato. Is principle more important than money? Does integrity mean more than dollars? Is the honesty of Waikato administrators for sale to the highest bidder? I guess we are about to find out.
  2. Swimming New Zealand should instruct Swimming Waikato to sever its links with the Gallagher organization. The Swimming New Zealand Code of Conduct specifically prohibits the sort of discrimination advocated by Gallagher. Any link with his views is bad and should be terminated from the top.
  3. Swimming New Zealand should end its association with Sport Waikato. Gallagher provides Sport Waikato with significant financial support. Swimming New Zealand needs to be seen to have no association with organisations that depend on money from that source. In the past Swimming New Zealand has rightly moved to reject funding from tobacco and alcohol companies. Gallagher’s opinions are no less toxic.
  4. Swimming New Zealand should lobby, where it can, to have Gallagher’s removed as a sponsor of the Chief’s rugby team. For a team so dependent on the skill and application of Maori players for their success it is unacceptable to take money from a source that has said those same players are part of deliberate and organized cultural theft.

Trust is a two way street. There have been many examples of sponsors walking away from clients because of unethical behaviour. Bill O’Reilly was sacked when sponsors stopped supporting his television show. Tiger Woods lost big sponsors worth $22 million when his sexual indiscretions were uncovered. Lance Armstrong lost $150 million in one day when he admitted being a drug cheat. Michael Phelps was dropped by Kelloggs when he was photographed smoking marijuana. Ryan Lochte is said to have lost $5 million when he made up a story about being robbed at a gas station in Rio. And for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear Mike Tyson lost $11 million of sponsorship.

Gallagher refuses to back down or apologize. He has forfeited the right to our support. We will see if those responsible for swimming have the integrity to do the right thing; to stand up for decency and justice in New Zealand. They have never done it before. I doubt this time will be any different.

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