An educator in the Treaty of Waitangi is optimistic about the state of Māori in this country, saying that Māori are much more visible than they were 20 years ago.
His optimism comes from the fact that in almost 20 years of running treaty workshops 95 percent of evaluations said such workshops should be compulsory for all New Zealanders.
Robert Consedine was in Wellington last month to launch a revised version of his book Healing Our History: The Challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi (Albany: Penguin Books, 2005) which he wrote with his daughter, Joanna Consedine.
He talked about his work in treaty education, first through Project Waitangi then independently, and what stimulated peoples’ interest in the treaty through his workshops.
He used sociodrama to get people to think of themselves as a minority group. This helped them to stop thinking in intellectual terms and start to feel how it would be for someone in a situation of almost total powerlessness.
Then the exercise asked participants what they were going to do about their lack of power.
‘It’s surprising how quickly they are prepared to break the law,’ he said. This applied even to a group of police. ‘They said, “these are not our laws; we didn’t put them there.”’
Asked how his workshops fostered participation by the alienated, Robert Consedine said people were often stimulated when discovering how the treaty could be relevant to what they were doing.
‘People are genuinely puzzled,’ he said, ‘when trying to determine how the treaty might affect them.’
But, he said, in his workshops people told their stories about their own connection with the land and where they had come from. And when they looked at the history of colonisation overseas, they made links with what had happened to Māori in this country. Then they could start to make sense of the treaty in the context of their own stories.
Despite his optimism, Robert Consedine said we still have a long way to go to educate people about New Zealand history. He said Māori were still a long way behind Pakeha by most measures.
Treaty of Waitangi history hardly featured in the school curriculum, he said.
‘Students are leaving school year after year knowing nothing about this. In schools a lot of this stuff is optional. They get a choice between studying the history of Tudor England, civil rights or New Zealand history and a very small proportion choose New Zealand.’
And he says a lot of the work that has been done has to be translated into an accessible form for use in a school.