Just Another Excuse to Bash Maori: A Reply to Alan Duff

At the bare minimum the NZ Herald seems committed to ensuring that uninformed opinion continues to be presented as some form of factual reporting, at the very worst they actually believe the conservative unfounded diatribe that is presented weekly by Alan Duff in his column. Either way, the Herald has been consistent in showing a lack of commitment to providing informed discussion that would contribute to making Aotearoa a better place.

Each column written by Alan Duff is yet another repetitive Once Were Warriors theme. We continually get themes of: Once Were Losers, Once Were Whingers, Once Were Drop Outs… the list goes on and within it the themes continue to reflect what is in fact Alan Duff’s inability to grasp the fundamental underpinning issues of the impact of colonisation, and how that has specific and particular consequences for Indigenous Nations. This is somewhat ironic, given that the position Duff takes in virtually every column is a reflection of those impacts, and are reflected constantly as the justification for Māori people being bashed by him on regular basis.  Perhaps it is because Mr Duff has never taken to the time to seek out pathways for understanding his own self hatred and the hegemony of that. Hegemony, being the internalisation of self hatred, and the internalisation of the belief that to be successful in this society is to act, write, speak and live as the reflection of your coloniser (The definition is provided here as the column indicates that Mr Duff has difficulty with such terms as hegemony, colonisation and imperialist arrogance – all of which are states of being that are reflected in Mr Duffs column).

Alan Duff tells us that we are ‘whingers’ and that colonisation is ‘just an excuse’.  He contends that many countries have undergone significant violence and have recovered. So lets look at the list he provides to substantiate his claim that colonisation does not have an historical trauma impact.
The British took over India and ruled them with an iron fist. China’s last invasion by Japan was in 1938 and one example of hideous Japanese acts was sons forced to rape mothers, fathers to rape daughters. According to some, the hands of the 23,000 people who worked building the Taj Mahal had their hands cut off so the palace could never be recreated. Virtually every country in Europe has known invasion and suffered violent oppression for decades, even centuries. Hungary has suffered countless invasions from foreign hordes. More recently, under communism, a brutal secret police ruled the country and in the 1950s one in 15 male adults was imprisoned for supposed crimes against the state. (Alan Duff NZHerald August 9 ).

The key fact that Mr Duff fails to highlight is that all of these countries have had their lands and sovereignty returned to them. All have been able to reconnect to their lands and to reconstitute their approaches to dealing with critical issues that arise from the trauma experienced. All have their language intact, all can live their cultural ways. These examples and the assertion that virtually every country in Europe has been invaded highlights the point that Alan Duff has no understanding  as to how invasion by colonising forces upon Indigenous Peoples impacts both in those historical moments and inter-generationally when our lands are stolen, when our rights to live as Indigenous Peoples is forcibly removed through physical, cultural, social and spiritual violence, where Indigenous Nations are murdered for defending their lands, waters and people, where forced closures and forced removals disconnect generations from their land, language and culture. The impacts is not only well known within Indigenous communities but they are well evidenced through generations.

The deficit and limited views of Alan Duff provide more fodder for an already overfeed racist machinery. His column is full of opinionated ignorant statements that do nothing to provide constructive ways of moving beyond the impact of historical trauma events, rather he chooses to demean those that do seek to find innovative and culturally grounded ways to deal with the issues that our people are facing, both for the benefit of Māori and for the benefit of Aotearoa more generally. Rather than taking an opportunity to discuss with our people how we can explore the issues Alan Duff supports the establishment to close down the debate around colonisation and its impacts. He wrote in this weeks column

“Our Maori political leaders tell us it’s all right to whinge about our poverty. But never do they urge us to go into business. A Maori university lecturer recently excused our appalling rate of murdering children as a result of cultural devastation. Excuse me?…” (Alan Duff NZHerald August 9 )

“What “cultural devastation” is this excuse-mongering Maori academic talking about?”
(Alan Duff NZHerald August 9 )

Yes I confess, the “excuse mongering Maori academic” he is referring to is me.  I have been called worse things.  And while I am not at all concerned about the insults, as Alan Duffs opinion means nothing to the majority of Maori who are involved in seeking ways to heal with our people, what I do find deeply disturbing is the attack by Alan Duff on Professor Ranginui Walker after his recent passing.

I find the attack on Professor Walker to be abysmal and disgusting behaviour, which emphasizes Alan Duff’s lack of fortitude. It seems paradoxical that in the column Duff appears to be completely ignorant to the exceptional and transformative work undertaken by Professor Walkers in his lifetime. Duff in his typical ignorant arrogance writes:
“The late Ranginui Walker was a master of the gripe. The language he used was Pakeha academic-speak, words like hegemony, colonisation, imperialist arrogance. He didn’t actually say or do anything to advance Maori people.”

Such a statement is an absurdity. It highlights even further that Alan Duff and his column have no substance and that such a view is absolutely incongruous to our experience of the incredible contribution made by Professor Walker.

Professor Ranginui Walker always dispensed of Alan Duff in debates. Duff was never able to hold his ground with him. Ranginui was a grounded, culturally knowledgeable, historian, connected to his whanau, hapu and iwi, who did exceptional research and worked endlessly for our people in multiple ways.  He could run intellectual circles around people like Alan Duff without effort. Such an attack by Duff now on Ranginui Walker is an act of cowardice.

Given such an appalling attack on Professor Ranginui Walker by Duff,  it is fitting that it is Professor Walkers words that positions these types of attacks in context.  Professor Walker wrote over 20 years ago that,
“[t]o the Māori, Duff is irrelevant. He does not rate in the Māori world because he is not part of the people’s struggle for emancipation and social advancement (Eat Your Heart Out Alan Duff, Metro 145, July 1993, p.137)”

It appears that in regards to Mr Duffs lack of contribution to the “emancipation and social advancement of Maori” nothing much has changed. There is no contribution.  The only people who validate the uneducated and unqualified views put by Mr Duff is the NZHerald and their more conservative audience.

I am, like Professor Walker regularly highlighted, concerned that our work, which is informed by many years of research and cultural based research and practice, can be represented as ‘whinging’. The impact of colonisation and historical trauma for Indigenous Peoples is well researched, deeply evidenced and daily experienced by our people. It is not ‘whinging’, it is not about hating white people, it is not about ‘having a gripe’, nor is it about excusing behaviours that are as equally unacceptable to our people as they are to others. It is about understanding that until we resolve historical injustices in ways that are about affirming our place as tangata whenua; until monocultural institutional racist practices and policies are removed; until our people gain a sense of reconnection with land, language, culture and a true sense of connectedness to who we are, these issues will remain. That, Mr Duff is a much more informed and active approach than your opinion that we should just ‘stop whinging’. As for the article, it would have been more appropriately titled, ‘Another excuse to Bash Maori’ by Alan Duff as it certainly did not foster aspiration.

About Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.
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