Special Edition #1
By Ellipsister (Ed.)
Change the flag. Don’t change the flag. I’m ambivalent. Some suggest a new flag will enable us to move on from our colonist past. Others have endeared themselves to the monarchy so much so that they avidly defend our ties, and express their fury at the very mention of disposing of the Union Jack as part of our national identity. There are those, notably the RSA who view any change as a slap in the face to those who have served their country under the existing flag. A side issue, but one gaining much traction, concerns the $26 million price tag to fund the ‘Change the Flag’ campaign. But the flag debate is not really about the money.Or at least, it probably shouldn’t be. It’s about symbols and what many are hoping will birth a new sense of unity. However, I remain sceptical that a new flag will bring about anything close to what many of those pushing for the change are suggesting. One of my worries is the persistent reference to biculturalism to advance the need for a new flag. The idea is that a new flag will appropriately acknowledge the biculturalism of our country. My issue is that rather than biculturalism being a concept understood as ‘two distinct cultures within a geographically defined space’, it is more often than not used as a euphemism for assimilation or incorporation.
Let me illustrate using cats:
Incorporation (a more subtle form of assimilation)
Note in both these latter examples, there are no longer two cats. We are also looking at the watering down, merging or selective picking of cultural aspects, which in my view risks rendering either or both cultures meaningless.We are also no longer talking in terms of biculturalism. In my opinion, the same applies when we talk about one flag to unite us all.
I have concerns around incorporating Māori symbols into the new flag because it feels, well, assimilatory especially since the national Māori flag does not have equal status to the New Zealand flag. You might have gathered by now then that I support dual national flags and I think that until the national Māori flag (i.e. the Tino Rangatiratanga flag) receives equal status with the New Zealand flag, then I care very little about changing the flag. I should of course note, that there is some opposition as to which flag represents a national Māori identity. However, in 2009 consultation hui were held throughout the country and 81% of participants favoured the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.
The argument for dual flags is not new. Te Ata Tino Toa also advocate a dual flag policy. They explain that ‘at the moment the Tino Rangatiratanga flag can only be flown by the Government on certain days, such as Waitangi Day, but that needs to change’. So despite the principle of partnership enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the government remain in control of the times at which Māori can express our unique identity. Before anyone argues ‘its separatist’ or a ‘barrier to one nation’, the Australian government recognises the Aboriginal national flag as having equal status to their national flag. Also, this one nation business is an expression of direct oppression of Māori. It reeks of assimilation. I also worry that if Māori symbols are incorporated into the national flag of New Zealand, then this could diminish any claims to sovereignty under Te Tiriti and may amount, or be perceived to amount to a surrender of our struggle for tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake. Additionally, any new flag will largely be decided by Pākehā and Tauiwi as the majority and therefore, it is not Māori who will determine which of our Māori symbols are included on the flag.
In saying that, I do think that a changed flag is probably a good idea. The existing flag is a reminder of a dark and painful history rather than a symbol of what we might hope for in the future. But as I said – I’d personally like to see equal status given to the Maori flag before seeing any flag change. Even if it’s not on the table at the moment.