The He Puapua Debate – why it is a case of ethnic nationalism and the dangers that it brings.

In a recent blog, I summarised the main points of He Puapua and suggested reading it. The government recently announced that He Puapua is up for consultation. However, for almost two years, Labour denied its existence. Now the document is in the public domain, Labour denies it is government policy. This is beside the point. It is Labour’s philosophy to bring this document for public discussion and for it to become government policy.

Greater scrutiny, debate and understanding of He Puapua is required. Heather du Plessis-Allan has written that more debate is required, and other commentators on the right are expressing concern about its underlying themes, content, and recommendations for either co-governance or even Maori separatism. I have quoted in full the critical part of the  document that refers to co-governance or/and separatism:

  • The meaning of self-determination and how it is exercised is up to Indigenous peoples to determine. However, it ranges from full independence at one end of the spectrum to participation in state government at the other. In between are self-government arrangements and autonomous authority in agreed areas (e.g., independent indigenous education systems and healthcare services)

Co-Leader of the Maori Party, Rawiri Waititi, has already denounced that democracy has not worked for Maori. He has also claimed that a Maori state be created and has inferred by his statement, that it will not be a democratic state, but one based on ethnic nationalism.

Professor Elizabeth Rata, Faculty of Education at University of Auckland, has published a paper entitled “Ethno Nationalism or Democratic Nationalism: Which way ahead for New Zealand?” (30 June 2021). She clearly states the intent of He Puapua means a break. Therefore, we must be very clear what this means, because He Puapua refers to ethno-nationalism, which is diametrically opposed to our current democratic nationalism.

Ethno-nationalism, as He Puapua states is about race, or ethnic nationalism. “The first belief holds that our ethnic or racial identity is our primary and determining personal identity. This denies the fact that identity in the modern democratic world is individual identity” (Professor Rata, 30 June 2021). Further, the second belief, and one underpinning the He Puapua document “is that the ethnic or racial group is primordial – existing from the beginning of time and known through the mythologies that are now called ‘histories’. This belief feeds into the assumption that the group is fundamentally distinctive and separate – hence ethnic fundamentalism. It denies the universal human reality of migration, genetic mixing and social mixing. It certainly denies the New Zealand reality” (Professor Rata, 30 June 2021).

Professor Rata discusses several beliefs that are embedded in ethno-nationalism (or as I would like to call it, ethnic nationalism). In the fifth belief, things get scary.

  • “The classification of individuals as members of ethnic categories is extended to political categories. Membership of an ethnic category takes precedence over citizenship as a person’s primary political status. One’s political rights follow from this status. The acceptance of ancestral membership as a political category, rather than a social identity, has huge implications for national cohesion and democratic government. It is where ethnic fundamentalism becomes a major problem for all of us.” (Professor Rata, 30 June 2021).

In essence, He Puapua is advocating this very principle, a break from democracy to the scary world of ethno-nationalism. For:

  • “The democratic political arena is where we meet as New Zealanders, as equal citizens of a united nation. The public arena is textured by contributing communities certainty, but it is the place where we unite – as a modern pluralist social group that is also a political entity. If we choose not to unite in this way, and the He Puapua report is recommending that we don’t, why have a nation – New Zealand?” (Professor Rata, 30 June 2021).

Professor Rata highlights that categorising and institutionalising people based on ethnicity, is highly dangerous, because it forms the platform for ethno-nationalism and a radical form of ethnic fundamentalism. We have witnessed what happened in Rwanda under the ethnic doctrine ‘the Mahutu Manifesto’ of 1953, (promulgated by eleven highly educated individuals identifying themselves as Hutu), which eventually culminated in the massacre of 800,000 people. We then witnessed what happened in Bosnia and Serbia with ethnic cleansing. Pol Pot began his killing campaign immediately on his return from study in Paris, following the same ethno-nationalism principle (Professor Rata, 30 June 2021).

Professor Rata summarises that ethnic fundamentalism is no better than a myriad of other fundamentalisms. Essentially, ethno-fundamentalism is a danger to a free, democratic and liberal society, of which we are today. Professor Rata states we are at the crossroads. I believe we have already passed that point and now heading into the dangerous world of ethnic fundamentalism, via He Puapua – a break, something our current government, and most certainly, mainstream media refuse to accept, calling this fear, racism.