March 26, 2014

Ngā Pae Māramatanga: Target of Institutional Racism?

In recent weeks it has become exposed that Ngā Pae Māramatanga (New Zealand’s only Māori Centre for Research Excellence) has not been short-listed by the Royal Society for ongoing funding. Long-time anti-racism activist Mitzi Nairn had something to say about this and suspects this decision has something to do with institutional racism…

The current funding crisis facing Ngā Pae Māramatanga seems to me a perfect example of how institutional racism is perpetuated. No malevolent intentions are involved, just the sort of group which is usually given the task using their usual criteria. The group, in this instance the Royal Society, seems to have no idea how culturally loaded their criteria are. No idea how culturally loaded their terms of reference are. I believe there is nothing in their terms of reference about the need to address racism, much less to balance out the long-term effects of racism; no responsibility to deliver on devolved obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

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After all, these are scientists, doing science stuff, aren’t they?  Well, actually, no.  What they are doing is delivering government funding, so that puts them right in the middle of Tiriti o Waitangi obligations. No doubt they probably have one or two Māori and/or one or two women involved in the decision making but that reeks of tokenism. The characters involved may not be feeling their role is tokenistic, but they will have been groomed for years to fit into one of the most powerful white male clubs in the country. Becoming a fellow of the Royal Society is a deserved achievement.

In order to make a robust decision, the Royal Society needed someone within their decision-making committee who had a specific brief to monitor Te Tiriti o Waitangi issues. This person needed to have relevant training, a critical conscientisation plus the knowledge and confidence to speak up articulately so he or she could avoid the appearance of “special pleading” – “well, he would say that wouldn’t he?”.

It really worries me that so many people see this as a Māori concern. Pākehā have a lot to lose  if Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga goes. We have all been benefiting from the fine Māori graduates who have come through since the Centre got under way, able young people who used to fall between the gaps because the tertiary education system is so impenetrable to Māori.

These talented Māori graduates have opened up many areas to increasing numbers of Māori contributing to improving health, delivering better education, more justice, and delivering on environmental concerns. Treaty settlements, though meagre in terms of what was taken away (7% restitution, 93% forgiveness!) have meant that a steady flow of skilled Māori graduates has been imperative. They have brought millions of dollars into the economy.  Māori business development has softened the regional effects of general economic downturn. Cultural skills have strengthened international market development.

Ignorance and indifference among the dominant group are powerful allies of institutional racism. If you like to think of yourself as against racism, join the outcry!

Check out the suggestions for points of action from Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Mitzi Nairn

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