I am sitting here (“here” being in the Māori Studies Department – long story), unable to get back to work on converting the final chapter of my PhD into an article about Bayes Theorem because, well, I’m still stuck on John Ansell’s “Treatygate” and what that says about our society. You see, I made the mistake of subscribing to the comments on Ansell’s post outlining “Treatygate,” so every half-hour or so I get what is usually a comment supporting Ansell’s project, a lot of which focus on the failure of Māori to provide recompense Pākehā for the atrocities of the Land Wars.
I am simply staggered by how little some people know about the history of this place.
Anyway. There are two points I want to touch on. One is Ansell’s notion of the “silent majority” (thanks, Peter Dunne, for popularising that term in our local political discourse). The other is Ansell’s view of the Littlewood draft of Tiriti O Waitangi and what would happen if we took his interpretation of the document seriously.
3 News have a story on Ansell’s PR campaign, which you can read here. The salient point:
Mr Ansell believes 80 percent will support his cause.
“Although I am pilloried and called a racist and all this sort of stuff, it’s only a minority who think that. Just about everybody I talk to says `oh, well done’.”
The same point is made in a NBR article:
Despite such hurdles, Mr Ansell is confident of getting 80% of New Zealanders to support his call for a colour-blind state, devoid of the Waitangi Tribunal, separate Maori seats and Te Puni Kokiri.
Ansell has made claims like this before, most notably during his short role as advertising guru for Don Brash’s short-lived hostile take-over of the ACT Party. In this thread over at Kiwiblog Ansell made the bold claim, some seven months before the last election, that Brash would become Prime Minister (with the ACT Party in charge of the Government) and in this thread he boldly claimed:
Don’s devastating secret weapon is The Truth. If he employs this weapon properly, 40%+ [of the total vote] is not only possible, but probable.
Now, Ansell’s numbers were, it seems, just slightly off, given that ACT failed to break the 5% threshold and barely kept their safe seat of Epsom (which meant that Don Brash was not only not returned to Parliament but also rolled by the person he brought into the party, John Banks, who is a small “l” libertarian/ACT supporter in the same way that I am a infamous cowboy); Ansell, it seems, is prone to hyperbole and his much touted “80 percent” should be taken with a liberal dosing of sea salt (and not, as I originally wrote, “seal sat.” Seal sat is a dangerous substance that should not be mentioned in good company).
However, Ansell’s 80% is not an entirely made up number that refers merely to the notion of the “silent majority.” In this comment (yet again over at Kiwiblog) Ansell claims that he is referring to five surveys where the public has voted against racial privilege.
Now, at least some of the surveys he is likely to be referring to are surveys of local body electors support of separate Māori seats on council. One example, that of the city of Nelson, is discussed over at Bowalley Road, whilst this NBR article admits to a few more cases.
What is interesting about these stats is that Pākehā seem predominantly opposed to Māori seats in these surveys, whilst Māori tend to be for them (that in itself is not really all that interesting; the interesting thing is coming up) and Ansell chooses to focus on Pākehā attitudes and tell the story solely from their perspective. Mykeljon Winckel, in his appended note to the eLocal article, makes what I think is an important point:
When John Ansell approached elocal with Treatygate, I decided to run his story on the basis that Maori continue to have a privileged NZ media platform to expound their radical views and it’s time the NZ race have their say.
Note that last clause: “it’s time the NZ race have their say.” In Winckel’s world “Māori,” it seems, are either not of the “NZ race” or, because of some belief that blood quanta is, apparently, important for ethnic identity, Māori, as a distinct group, do not really exist and thus their contribution to the debate can be discounted.
Whatever the case, the 80% support Ansell cites is problematic. Not only does the statistic refer to a portion of the population (and, with respect to the council stats, a portion of a portion of the overall population) but it also is not a stat that directly relates to Ansell’s view about Griever vs. Achiever Māori. Local electors may well oppose Māori seats but that does not mean that said electors necessarily oppose the Treaty process, or believe that a colourblind state is desirable, et al. Ansell needs his own statistics, rather than borrowed numbers. Ansell imagines that he has a lot of fellow travellers (like he imagined that a lot of people would vote for Don Brash), but a dislike of one thing does not entail support for something else.
The last draft before the examination submission of my PhD thesis contained a number of quite significant differences to the copy that went to the examiners, whilst the final copy of my thesis had a few (very few, really) differences to the examination submission. That’s the beauty of drafts: you don’t have to stick by them through thick and thin and you can happily admit to earlier versions being a bit rubbish.
Not, it seems, in the world of John Ansell, who holds that a draft copy of Tiriti O Waitangi should be the reference English text of one of our nation’s central, founding documents. As Scott Yorke said earlier today on Twitter:
to which Simon Poole responded:
Which is a great reductio ad absurdum. Yes, if a draft copy of something exists, that tells us a little (but actually not that much) about what the drafter of that document might have been thinking. However, think of all the hurried drafts you have written, all the times you used imprecise terms because more appropriate words wouldn’t come to mind: there’s a lot of good reasons to be suspicious of the claim that draft documents tell you precisely what was being thought at the time the draft was written. Between the production of a draft and the final copy being written, thoughts may have changed, political overlords might have intervened to say “No, definitely not that” or… Well, it doesn’t matter. Drafts are drafts and what got signed is the document you go and reference1.
Anyway, we are signatories to an international convention which means we are duty bound to work with the text written in the indigenous language of the people the treaty was written for, rather than the English translation. No matter the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Littlewood draft, the legal standing of the signed Tiriti O Waitangi rests upon it being the document of choice by the Courts and the Government of New Zealand.
A related point: Ansell likes to point towards dictionary definitions of te reo Māori words, and he often relies on very old dictionaries to make his point, as if they old dictionaries are somehow more authentic than modern ones. It sort of shows that he doesn’t understand what dictionaries are and how they are compiled. Yes, dictionaries are a very good guide to modern usage, but they also tend to be very good guides to archaic usages. Indeed, modern dictionaries tend to have a larger and more diverse corpus to rely upon to get a sense of how a word was really used “back in the day”2. Indeed, we have good reason to think that early te reo Māori/English dictionaries weren’t all that brilliant, given that they were predominantly written by English speakers with, at best, moderate te reo fluency (the te reo version of the Bible is a great example of a very bad translation from English to te reo Māori based upon, in part, access to poor dictionaries) and not much access to a large enough corpus to capture the intricacies of the target language. Unfortunately for people like Ansell, even if it turns out that the te reo version of the treaty is a bad translation (or the English version we use today is a bad back translation), we are obliged to work from the te reo version (since it was the Crown who sought to legitimise its standing in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu, not the Māori).
Well, that’s enough for today. Coffee and a biscuit, I think.