Māori Catholic voices were added to a gathering in Alice Springs last month to mark 20 years since Pope John Paul II’s landmark message about the rights of indigenous peoples in 1986.
Danny Karatea-Goddard of Palmerston North addressed the gathering as part of a five-strong delegation of representatives from Te R√É‚Ç¨√É¬∂nanga o te H’≈°√É‚Äû√É¬∂hi Katorika ki Aotearoa, the New Zealand Catholic Māori Council. He said that Māori people shared much in common with their Aboriginal and Torres Straits brothers and sisters.
‘We are a people of great spirit and share a great reverence for our earth mother, that which we call Papatuanuku. Our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II acknowledged this in his address to the Māori people in 1986.
The strengths of Māori culture [are] often the very values which modern society is in danger of losing: an acknowledgement of the spiritual dimension of every aspect of life; a profound reverence for nature and the environment…’
Danny outlined the history of Māori experience of colonisation, saying there are many questions of social justice and cultural identity still to be resolved. As with other indigenous peoples of the world, Māori acknowledge language as the key ingredient of defining who they are as a people.
‘For many of our rural communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, Christ has only ever spoken to them in te reo Māori. The use of te reo Māori in liturgy allows us to speak to God in a deep and meaningful way, and it allows Christ to respond and embrace us.’
He said that inculturation of liturgy remains an important task for Māori Catholics and the church in our country, and he acknowledged the support and goodwill of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference for this task. However, he said, practical issues to overcome include the difficulty that, since the death of Bishop Max Takuira Mariu, no current member of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference is fluent in te reo Māori or tikanga Māori.
In considering social justice issues facing Māori, Danny outlined the poverty of Māori compared to other sections of the population, including:
• In 2001 39 percent of Māori families lived in low-income households compared with 22.6 percent of the general population;
• In 2000, 7 percent of Māori had very restricted living standards compared to 4 percent of the general population;
• Māori comprise 15 percent of the population but are 33 percent of unemployment beneficiaries, 40 percent of domestic purposes beneficiaries and 19 percent of invalid beneficiaries;
• Gains in life expectancy by non-Māori have outstripped Māori and in 1999 the gap had widened to 9.9 years.
He said the poor statistics go on and on. ‘With the loss of Māori land, access to traditional resources, language and culture, Māori health spiritually and physically declined rapidly for the next 100 years. The status of Māori is poor in every social, cultural and economic respect.’
He contrasted this with the current engagement in activities which support a cultural renaissance and economic development.
‘The creative potential and entrepreneurial spirit will position Māori nationally and globally in a new space, and perhaps for the first time ever, a Māori middle class will emerge. We are convinced that what is good for Māori, is also good for our nation.’
Danny said the Catholic Church in New Zealand had supported strong acknowledgment of past injustice and the need to name and act on reconciling past wrongs. ‘Our bishops have called for reflection that may result in action at a parish and personal level – action that may lead to greater interaction among Māori and non-Māori cultural groups – an action that may bear the fruit of reconciliation.’
He acknowledged also the difficulties that Māori themselves have in responding to the need for community reconciliation. ‘Since 1975 when the Waitangi Tribunal was established, t’≈°√É‚Äû√É¬∂ngata whenua groups in Aotearoa New Zealand have been stretched in terms of capacity (numbers) and capability (skills and knowledge) to engage with the numerous non-Māori groups that want to discuss and seek remedy for the disparity that remains between Māori and non-Māori due to unresolved social justice issues.
‘There is significant non-Māori goodwill to rectify the wrongs of the past. However, there is much misinformation and gaps in knowledge of our history among the general population.’
Danny told the gathering that he had grown up thinking of Jesus as ‘the golden-haired, blue-eyed slim white man’, an image later adapted as he saw Jesus depicted ‘as a Māori man, tanned, and with beautiful thick lips, in a ceremonial feather cloak and feathers in his hair, holding a traditionally carved stick’. The reality of the historical Jesus, a Jew from Nazareth, has been confirmed as a shorter, brown man with a large nose, brown eyes ‘and like members of my community, quite simply dressed’.
‘Jesus through Māori eyes could look one thousand shades and colours depending on what part of the continuum they are sitting on. But [to] my Māori eyes [he] is the champion of reconciliation. Jesus, the activist, the crucified, would have:
• sat, participated in a hangi, talked with his indigenous peoples, felt and identified with the dispossessed, with our pain, hurt, burden and worries;
• named past injustices and sought reconciliation for Māori and non-Māori;
• motivated, celebrated and assisted the reclamation of te reo Māori and the Māori culture;
• made sure all his indigenous children were fed, housed, educated and given the opportunity to express their God-given gifts through creativity;
• acted, until all his people saw, felt and understood – until his people were all moved to action.
The R√É‚Ç¨√É¬∂nanga delegation were supported in their participation in the Alice Springs gathering with a contribution from Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.