Chris Hughes, Victoria Yearly Meeting
I had the pleasure of attending the Treaty workshop held by the Treaty Relationships Group at the Friends Settlement at Whanganui, Aotearoa/New Zealand (A/NZ) from Friday September 28th to Sunday 30th 2018. The Settlement community were wonderful hosts, the settlement itself is a wonderful testimony to sustainable living and the food was magnificent.
I attended primarily to hear about the treaty, its relevance to Māori self-determination within Aotearoa/ New Zealand and to find out if there was anything our Committee could learn from our sister Committee in New Zealand in relation to educating ourselves, our Quaker community and the broader dominant culture in coming to terms with how we come into right relationship with the original inhabitants of the lands we live in.
During the Friday Sessions run by David James and Jillian Wychel we explored the history of the treaty through these prisms of different world views and the different narrative stories from the Māori and Pākehā perspective of historical events. We critiqued the social, cultural, economic and political outcomes for each society. We explored the growing intergenerational inequality resulting from initial and on-going colonialism and the difficulty many non-Māori New Zealanders would have in accepting this.
On the Saturday we were joined by others to explore white privilege through an activity and a TED Talk on white privilege facilitated by Sarah Tailby and Karl Snowden. Sarah, Karl and their children were a welcome addition to the program with Karl and the children having Māori whakapapa (lineage). Their personal sharing of experiences throughout the workshop were very rich and informative. There were also articles on white privilege and institutional racism from a white perspective from both a New Zealand Pākehā and United States White woman’s perspective. Issues of white defensiveness and white blindness to the privileges of being part of the dominant culture were discussed.
Whiteness was described as power, privilege and patterns of thinking associated with white people. Where white thinking is normalised and seen as neutral, nonpartisan and normal, and other non-white people are either invisible or hyper visible. This invisible privilege is the structural racism that people mean when they claim Australia and New Zealand are deeply racist societies; that this racism is internalised and bestowed on white people from birth.
The rest of the workshop was dedicated to reports on what the committee has done since the last workshop and what it wishes to do until the next workshop.
The key learning from this workshop is the need to name and acknowledge white privilege and work towards ending it within ourselves and others. The belief of the superiority of one race/culture/class above others that justifies the subservience of all life to it, is both the cause and barrier preventing us healing our fractured world. This fracture is felt by all, if not acknowledged or named.
Until we make this shift, we as individuals and communities can’t truly come into right relationship with the land and the original inhabitants of the land we reside on. We need to be careful in the language we use and how we approach these issues, but we need to approach them if we are going to deal with them
White people are not being asked to feel guilty about past wrongs or their bestowed privilege, but they are asked to recognise they have occurred and are continuing to occur; to work towards educating other white people about the on-going discrimination against the original inhabitants and the role of white privilege within it; to work towards a more truly inclusive, equitable society where white culture is a culture not “The Culture” . To decolonise our, hearts, minds and society is the challenged posed.
Raising the issue of white privilege and providing a different colonial history than the one taught and upheld by most the settler community can be confronting and disorientating. It often leads many into denial and/or a range of defensive attitudes and behaviours to maintain this belief or the opposite – making people descend into unproductive guilt or shame.
However, this is our work. Māori and First Australians have enough burdens placed upon them dealing with the effects of colonisation on their own families and communities without us expecting them to educate us about
what we need to be doing as well. This has been continually enforced upon me by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Elders over many years.
The key reinforced learning from the workshop for me was the challenge for both Committees of how we address this internalised bias and privilege within ourselves and assist others to recognise it within themselves. Getting participants to attend workshops and courses on “learning about Original inhabitant’s culture and spirituality” is relatively easy, getting them to come to a course to question themselves and their cultural beliefs and habits is much more difficult. However, this is the real work of our committees: to educate ourselves and others, so we can become useful allies to those suffering, namely the land and the original inhabitants. I picked up some useful activities from the workshop in relation to starting this journey, looking at the different world views of indigenous and non-indigenous people, and the different narratives that groups tell each other about personal experiences and historical events.. As they say- “Quakerism, come and have your answers questioned.”
Chris is a Co-convenor, Australian Yearly Meeting First Nations Concerns Committee. He lives on Taungurung land