Regularly the notion of determining, and therefore defining, what a New Zealander is, raises its head in regard to political leadership.
It is a very fair question to ask and a worthy conversation for a nation to embark on because it resets on its own evolution.
A number of people have struggled to define what a New Zealander is, and often you can define what a New Zealander is by determining what we are not.
So if the New Zealand First policy in raising this debate is about Banning the Burka, they should just say that. A number of countries from France to Denmark have done so, and there is no doubt in New Zealand that watching a black letterbox pushing a trolley around Pakn’Save does cause significant angst — and for good reason.
Is it religious, or is it really about the ownership and proprietary of womenfolk?
But even after expressing that sense of unnerving and of angst, no one in a black letterbox has ever got in my way or done anything prejudicial to my interests.
So let’s talk about our values, and let’s quote from one of our greatest Prime Ministers.
He said: “I want to know why people should not have decent wages, why they should not have decent pensions in the evening of their years, or when they are invalided… I want to see humanity secure against poverty, secure in illness or secure in old age… There is no way of dealing with poverty except by getting to the people who are poorly paid, poorly housed or poorly fed… The people’s wellbeing is the highest law, and so far as this government is concerned, we know no other.”
These comments were uttered in 1938 by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage.
Given the fall of the pulpit and of the church-based and led society, we are now obliged to have a different conversation about what, why and who we are.
A while back — actually in March 2004 when I was part of the Labour Government — I penned a similar note in a newspaper expressing the following.
What is a New Zealander?
This is a question that stumped one political leader recently, causing me to reflect on what it means to be a New Zealander. I realised I didn’t have the answer — but I did have lots of answers.
You’ve probably got lots more you could add to the list, or the definition — that’s the great thing about nationhood: there is no one prescription; we’re writing it as we go.
To me, a New Zealander is:
A person born in New Zealand. A person who came to New Zealand tens of generations ago in an ocean-going waka. A person who came to New Zealand a year ago in a jumbo jet.
Someone who came here in a canoe, even though other people told them not to go over the horizon because taniwha would eat them. A person who came here in a sailing ship even though other people told them not to go over the horizon because cannibals would eat them.
Someone whose forebears signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Someone whose ancestors were on the other side of the world at the time. Someone whose ancestors were there, but declined to sign.
A Māori. A Pākehā. A Māori-Pākehā. A Pacific Islander. An Asian. Someone from Britain. An Irishwoman. A Scotsman. Any combination of the aforementioned. Plus a whole bunch of other ethnicities and countries of origin. Tangata whenua. A Kiwi. A sheepshagger.
Someone who feels a lump in their throat when they fly back into New Zealand after travelling overseas. Someone who has never had the wherewithal to afford international air travel, but just knows there is no other place they would rather be.
Someone who calls New Zealand home. Someone who wouldn’t have any other place to go to if they had to “go back where they came from”. Someone who has been away for years earning better money offshore, but knows New Zealand is the place they will come back to raise their kids.
Someone who feels a cultural connection with a stretch of foreshore that goes back to their ancestors’ arrival in this land. Someone who has surfed this beach every summer since they were a kid.
A Rotarian. A Māori “activist”. A Labour voter. A National voter — even an ACT voter. A warrior.
Someone who fought for this country in a world war. A conscientious objector.
A member of Grey Power. A member of Black Power.
Helen Clark. Don Brash. Mickey Savage. Rob Muldoon.
Someone who claims that there is no food that cannot be improved by liberal application of Watties’ tomato sauce. Someone who has experienced the indescribable pleasure of rolling Jaffas down the aisle in the movies.
A Good Keen Man. Man Alone. A hard case Sheila. An All Black. A Silver Fern.
Mark Todd. David Tua. Kiri Te Kanawa. Rachel Hunter. Ed Hillary. Janet Frame. Billy T James. James K Baxter. Hone Tuwhare. Jake the Muss. Possum Bourne. Dave Dobbyn. Colin McCahon. Selwyn Toogood. Prince Tui Teka.
A schoolkid who wears a bone carving. Their classmate who wears a cross. Another classmate wearing a headscarf.
Someone with a tan mark on their feet from wearing jandals. Someone with the hair rubbed off the back of their legs by their gumboots. Someone who wears Zambesi and Karen Walker. Someone who wears Ugg boots.
Someone who drinks Tui. Someone who drinks Martinborough pinot noir.
Someone who thinks of Christmas and immediately thinks of pohutukawa trees, hot summers and Christmas dinner off the barbecue. Someone who feels a lump in their throat when they watch that grainy old footage of Jack Lovelock. Someone who thinks of David, not James T, when you say “Captain Kirk”.
Someone who knows that Phar Lap was a New Zealand horse. And that pavlova is a New Zealand dessert.
Someone who knew that Taika Waititi and Peter Jackson were the biggest stars to ever hit Hollywood. Someone who sings Pokarekare ana, pissed at 3am in a London pub.
A member of a school kapa haka group in West Auckland. A kid who goes to Christ’s College. A kid who goes to a kura kaupapa in South Auckland.
A baby. A grandmother. A chief executive. A solo mum. A millionaire. A beneficiary. My mother and father. Your Mum and Dad. My children. Your children. Their children’s children. You. Me.
Someone who thinks everyone deserves a fair go. Someone who will give anything a go. Someone who doesn’t have much truck with airs and graces and social status.
Someone who likes to have a bit of a whinge, but at the end of the day knows that being a Kiwi is the best thing in the world.