Our sense of self is changing

Categories: People and Features.

A recent poll of New Zealanders’views about our national flag raises the intriguing possibility of the country displaying two flags at events of national importance.

Four out of 10 New Zealanders favoured having a Maori flag alongside the New Zealand ensign on days of national significance. The move was supported more strongly by women and younger people.
Emanuel Kalafatelis, of Research New Zealand, which conducted the national survey, said this was a much higher figure than would have been the case 20, or even 10, years ago. (The telephone survey of 500 adults was conducted in September and has a margin of error of 4.4 per cent.)
So what are the implications of this shift in national mood? One is that, because the move to change our flag did not achieve its goal, Kiwis are now willing to support other options.
Back in 2004, Wellington businessman Lloyd Morrison mobilised a lot of support for a change in the flag, but not enough to move the Government, and few politicians took up his cause.
The most favoured option was for some variation of a fern motif – green on white (or blue), or more likely silver on black. Another implication is that Maori have won the battie for the hearts and minds of New Zealanders.
Mr Kalafatelis says the poll shows that “we acknowledge that Maori occupy a unique position as the indigenous people of New Zealand”.
Kiwis have often been told that Maori, more than any other single characteristic, distinguish New Zealand from other countries. The haka, the fern, the colour black and Maori culture rank alongside, or even above, the jandal, the pavlova and rugby as iconic New Zealand attributes.
The often bitter rows over the place of Maori culture have largely subsided. Karanga, followed by wero, and supported by waiata, are now commonplace features of opening ceremonies.
These are variously welcomed, accepted or just tolerated, but they are not actively opposed or resented nearly as much as they were even 10 years ago.
Certainly there is strong support for te reo, among both Maori and non-Maori. Maori TV is a success despite initial scepticism. Much progress has been made on settling claims under the Treaty of Waitangi. The process is not complete and there is still much to be done, but the idea that there should be a close-off date is widely accepted.
It is not the radical, seemingly redneck notion that the ACT party used to advocate to the horror of others.
We have also moved on from the “one nation” rhetoric of 2004. The foreshore and seabed legislation, the subject of such bitter strife back then, is being repealed and replaced without much fuss.
And the Maori party is part of government.
The term Aotearoa is gaining traction in the names and titles of organisations and events. This has built in frequency in the past few years, and seems to generate little agitation or controversy.
How long will it be before there is a campaign to change the name of the country to Aotearoa/New Zealand and then just to Aotearoa?
The survey didn’t ask about a specific Maori flag, but recent hui held by the Internal Affairs Department put four options to the attendees.
The Maori sovereignty flag was by far the best supported – perhaps because it is the best known, but arguably the respondents were affirming Maori sovereignty as an important element in the governance of the country.
A final implication is the significance of the poll for the republican debate – or, more accurately, the non-debate. Green MP Keith Locke has a private member’s bill due for debate in Parliament shortly. It seeks to have a referendum on whether New Zealand should retain the British monarch as our head of state. It will probably not generate much controversy in its one hour debate, which is a shame, because attitudes are shifting rapidly about what this country stands for.
Forty per cent of Kiwis supporting two flags is not a majority, but it cannot be dismissed as the view of a tiny minority either.