Last week we had the formal launch of our Talktreaty project – a video exhibition and online video collection about the Treaty of Waitangi. For a year now I have been leading this project for the Morgan Foundation. It followed an earlier assignment which involved researching and co-writing the book ‘Are we there yet? the future of the Treaty of Waitangi’.
The book was more than three years in the making so you’d think, with the amount of time spent, my office would be all good with things Maori – we’d navigate those cultural differences as well as any organisation could. Well, we’d be the first to admit that if we’re doing a half decent job of it (and I’m not sure we are), it’s as much due to good luck as to good measure. Because the truth is, even with the best intentions in the world, we’re still capable of cultural clangers. We’re as guilty as anyone of (mistakenly) assuming the Pakeha way is the only way.
Our launch in Auckland last week was the perfect example. It was kicked off by the dance troupe J Geeks – who created a show that was a perfect blend of traditional Maori and modern Pakeha culture – followed by Maori and Pakeha speakers talking about the Treaty and our project. The evening was illuminating and uplifting – and ran over the scheduled time.
In the post launch de-brief I found myself, as supervisor of the launch, having to answer questions about running to time (yes, we went over) and the number of speakers (there was no strict limit). In other words there were concerns the launch was more Marae than Moet, that it lacked the slick precision many Pakeha have come to expect from their events.
Well, needless to say, that led to a debate about what is and isn’t appropriate for an event graced with a star-studded array of Maori and Pakeha speakers and a wonderfully diverse list of guests. Our office discussion ended amicably enough with the conclusion that the Treaty requires us to rub along together as best we can and that means bringing the Marae to downtown, and taking downtown to the Marae.
The point I am trying to make is this – this Treaty stuff is not easy. It’s not about knowing the law, or reading up on the latest Treaty settlement, although of course that’s all relevant. The Treaty is actually about opening up your headspace to make room for another culture’s ideas and stories to run alongside yours, to make room for different perspectives on history and different ways of solving problems. It means finding new ways to do events where everyone feels welcome. And it means figuring out when you’re making cultural clangers and when you’re the victim of the same. Either way, you need to know your own culture pretty well.
The Treaty has created a wonderful opportunity for Maori and Pakeha to co-exist, to share this special place at the bottom of the planet. But it’s not easy and it never will be. But we can make it easier by taking the time to get to know one another more – and that means talking. A Talk Treaty video from the photographer and Wellington Councillor Simon Woolf explores this issue well.
The Talktreaty project is a collaborative video project involving some of New Zealand’s most well-known personalities talking openly about identity, cross-cultural differences, disadvantage, discrimination, the Treaty, the Constitution and moving forward. www.talktreaty.org.nz.