'Aotearoa New Zealand is not a western, Pākeha country' - immigrants' share views on Tiriti

By Te Ao - Māori News
by Rituraj Sapkota


“Aotearoa New Zealand is not a western, pākeha country,” Shayma’a Arif says.

Arif has has whakapapa from Iraq, Egypt and Syria and first landed in Aotearoa when she was two months old. She went to school in Tāmaki Makaurau and now lives in Wellington where she works at the Human Rights Commission.

Like many others who migrate to Aotearoa, or are born to migrant parents, hers has been a journey of finding a place under the framework of the Treaty of Waitangi.

“I have grown up with this terminology of biculturalism and it always made me feel quite confused and excluded. I always thought if it is Pākehā and Māori, then where do we fit in?” she says.

Mengzhu Fu, who grew up in Tāmaki Makaurau acknowledges this dichotomy. She first went to Waitangi Day celebrations in 2008, after the Tūhoe raids. “ At that march, there was a banner that said 'Pākehā stand with Tūhoe'. Someone asked me if I wanted to hold it, and I did. Obviously, I am not Pākehā.”

A space for immigrants

“I guess the dominant narratives on Te Tiriti was by Māori and Pākehā, and we wanted to find a space for other Asians also to engage with this conversation.”

She went there again in 2010, this time with other Asian people and holding up a banner that said 'Asians supporting Tino Rangatiratanga'.

“People were quite confused and a little unsure about how to receive us,” she adds. When she went up in 2015 with the same banner, the first Asian she saw in the crowd, she ran up to them and said “I don’t want to be presumptuous but will you hold this up with me?” They did, and Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga was set up shortly after.

Kirsty Fong says the rōpu does exactly what the name says.  “We are Asian people in New Zealand who stand in solidarity with Māori claim to sovereignty and self-determination.”

Migrants and the Crown

The group is active on social media and on the ground, prominently conspicuous in various protests and occupations around Aotearoa.

The group arose from a desire “to find a space for our relationship with Māori that wasn’t necessarily controlled by Pākeha or the Crown,” Fu says.
When migrants come into this country, they deal exclusively with the Crown, and migrants say they find that the country is vastly different from the picture they had in their minds.

When Ksenija Napan’s family decided to leave Croatia, shortly after the war that ravaged what had earlier been Yugoslavia, she decided she wanted to move to New Zealand, “because it is green, it is blue, and it is built on a treaty partnership.” Her idea was a land where not only indigenous and white people (who were not even called colonisers), but all races lived in peace and harmony.

“Completely delusional,” she says now.

No tiriti reference

For Napan, the pinnacle was at her citizenship ceremony. At North Shore City Council, when she walked in the door, she was told she could either swear on the Bible, or on the Queen.

“I just stood there,” she adds and recalls writing about it to the then-mayor about why these two shouldn’t have been her only options. “If I come into this country, I expected someone to ask me if I honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which is the founding document of this country. There was no mention of it.”

This is also the same reason Laurel Barr, who came here from the USA and is married to someone with whakapapa Māori,  has been a permanent resident for 22 years and hasn’t got her citizenship yet because a prospective citizen may only swear to God or to the Queen. She thinks she will apply for citizenship “once they sort that out.”

English requirement

Prayash Chettri, who moved here from Nepal in 2014 and lives in Wellington says this isn’t the only way the immigration process is “whitewashed”.

His pet peeve is having to pass an IELTS test before coming here," when it’s not even te reo o te motu,” he fumes.

Emigration in his home country, Nepal, is very common, he says. He has now completed a year’s diploma course at Te Wānanga o Raukawa and has signed up for a three-year year bachelor's degree.

“I cannot become a part of other kaupapa affecting tangata whenua, that is exclusively their kaupapa but I can be a part of the reo revitalisation,” he says. “When we go to Korea, we have to learn Korean. When we go to Portugal we learn Portugese.

No te reo required

"Even when people travel to Nepal, they pick up a phrasebook and greet locals in Nepali. And it beats me that we aren’t required to learn any te reo Māori before coming here. In fact, we are given the impression that it is a dead language, and reo Pākeha is all we will ever need.”

The end result is immigrants coming into this country and living here without ever building relations with Māori.

“Maybe it’s the system’s fault because they try to divide and conquer and there is tension between the communities,” Arif says.

Fu doesn’t think it is a coincidence. “There is a vested interest by the Crown to keep some of our communities apart and we have seen this in some of the histories in Aotearoa.”

Obligtions under te tiriti

“Te Tiriti o Waitangi is essentially our first immigration document in Aotearoa,” Fong says.

“And I am talking about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and not the Treaty, where we all fit within this framework,” Arif says. For her, it is also about personal responsibility. “As a colleague of mine put it ... it’s about the change from tauiwi to tangata tiriti.”

Mengzhu agrees. “Those of us that have come through the crown are implicated in this relationship and have obligations under Te Tiriti.”

And how does one make this journey from tauiwi to tangata tiriti?

“For ethnic communities to be good tangata tiriti it is about being allies. Listen, understand, acknowledge the history,” Arif says. And change is coming. Fu feels that since 2010 when they first put that banner up in Waitangi, “there have been some changes and shifts in how migrants of colour relate and connect with Te Tiriti”

“There is more commonality of understanding,” Kirsty thinks, between tangata whenua and tauiwi who come here, especially among communities who are indigenous in their home countries. “With most ethnic communities, you will find that te ao Māori is very similar and in line with our tikanga,” Arif says.

Waitangi Day
The grounds at Waitangi are empty today. It is usually a time when a multitude would congregate here, including a fair share of tauiwi, many making the pilgrimage to gain a better māramatanga of Te Tiriti and the history of Aotearoa.

“For me, it is a time to reflect and stand in solidarity with tangata whenua. It’s a day to think about our role as tangata tiriti”, Fu says. “ But also it’s not just one day, it's every day,” Fong says. With Waitangi Day events being cancelled across the country and moved online, celebrations will perhaps be more personal, with each of them finding ways to honour their treaty. Arif urges fellow migrants to “share some knowledge and reflect on the history of New Zealand.”

“Read up on some history,” Fong echoes.

Rituraj Sapkota is Māori Television’s press gallery videographer and is originally from Nepal.