By Carrie Stoddart-Smith
What we do at home with immigration policy matters in the international community. It speaks to the authenticity of our story as an inclusive, progressive and whānau centred country. It affects the credibility of our social, political, cultural and economic relationships. Yet, there are no signs of cooling the debate this election year as tensions rise over decades of inadequate policy settings which now pit immigrants against the ‘ordinary’ New Zealander. Dog. Whistle.
Who is an immigrant?
Some people consider all people living in Aotearoa New Zealand (including Māori) to be immigrants. Māori are the indigenous people of this land. Fact. Some people whose Pākehā ancestors settled in colonial times also consider themselves now indigenous. Fiction. And there is also always a gap in the dialogue – ignoring how we classify people of Asian ancestries as immigrants – whether they arrived in settler times or more recently, while those of European ancestries are viewed as New Zealander, Kiwi or even Pākehā. In effect, we give preference to white immigrant populations and demonise the non-white. We ignore their existence, unless there is a political point to be scored.
In my view, there are probably three primary reasons for this narrative capture:
• The prominent role of biculturalism in our political discourse, and the fear from some Māori of multiculturalism displacing the rights and interests of Māori,
• Almost two centuries of Māori/Pākehā interracial marriage and interracial children where we are more likely to have adopted western values, and
• Racism (Pākehā) and internalised racism (Māori)
For me, being both Māori and Pākehā, I am both indigenous and immigrant. And the tension is inescapable in a million different contexts.
Framing Māori as an immigrant
For Māori, to be labelled an immigrant, is to displace our indigeneity and to question the legitimacy of our claim to this place and our connection to the whenua and all its resources that our tupuna established over hundreds of generations before the European Settlers arrived.
Framing Pākehā as an immigrant
For Pākehā, being labelled an immigrant questions the legitimacy of our legal and political institutions imposed on the indigenous people already settled on this land. It brings the residual guilt of our ancestors to the surface. A feeling that we have happily allowed our political and social institutions to actively suppress to avoid taking ownership of the injustices committed against Māori and the intergenerational effects of those injustices.
Framing people of Asian descent as “the” immigrants
As alluded to above, for both Māori and Pākehā we sidestep the racism in our views on immigration. Offering up reasons to ban or restrict immigration, as if the root cause of our social and economic anxiety isn’t connected to some deeper systemic flaw. We allow our politicians to propagate stories of the immigrant as a non-white undesirable – where to be an immigrant in New Zealand in 2017, is to be Asian. In doing so, we are complicit in the embedding of their hidden xenophobic truth.
Summary of some of the research
Earlier this year, the New Zealand Initiative wrote a report on immigration. In it, they found that Māori have particularly negative attitudes towards new immigration compared with non-Māori.
(Disclaimer: I was invited to attend a seminar on the draft of that paper, and to submit any comments I might have on the kaupapa).
In providing feedback, I posited that employment, housing, natural resources, and ethnic displacement and Te Tiriti o Waitangi provided the context that shaped a contemporary Māori view on immigration. I suggested that our individual experiences of other cultures in a domestic and international context would shape how we view immigration. For example, I noted that Māori in business or who are economically secure through existing international relationships or those who have experienced positive cultural exchanges will inevitably see immigration in a more favourable light. While those who feel threatened by workforce displacement, homelessness, resource exploitation or diminished rights and status would be less favourable.
I drew on examples to demonstrate the frustration of Māori – where correlation is unfortunately treated as causation. For example, where headlines on ‘foreign ownership of homes’ appear alongside ‘more whānau experiencing homelessness’. Where we are still fighting for rights over freshwater, while foreign companies can access, and sell it overseas. Where we have lost almost 95 percent of our land (most of it stolen) to European settlers, while we continue to sell productive farmlands to overseas interests. Where we see workers brought in from overseas to meet labour demands, while our unemployment rate remains at almost twice the national unemployment rate. Yet, in all these examples, the issue is not immigration – it is policy and it is politics.
In 2014, I also wrote a research paper where I explored the validity of the ‘right to exclude’ immigrants. This supposed right is linked to territorial rights established through the imposition of borders i.e. the nation state. I found the only potentially justifiable reason for immigration restrictions to be resource scarcity. In the contemporary New Zealand context (as noted above) that would be jobs, houses, natural resource depletion, pollution or exploitation. I concluded that there is no right to exclude immigrants in the formal sense of what constitutes a ‘right’ but that restrictions related to resource scarcity could provide a case for establishing a system of responsive rights.
I likened a responsive rights system to tikanga Māori, in particular a rāhui, which is a temporary ban to enable local resources to replenish. However, I argued that even in this sense, there was no right to exclude only immigrants – a ban would need to apply to all returning members of that community also. So the right to exclude on the basis of resource scarcity would only be justifiable if it was an indiscriminate responsive right.
A problem with my line of thinking is that from a political – and even a cultural sense, this argument would evoke a visceral reaction from community members excluded from their tūrangawaewae. I concluded that there can be no right to exclude new members from a community as that right is discriminate. This is effectively an argument for open borders.
When I consider immigration to Aotearoa from my indigenous perspective, I think about the extent to which our tupuna supported the arrival of early settlers, going so far as to enter into a Treaty that would govern the relationship. Where we shared in cultural exchange – in some cases, adopting new customs and value systems that we were able to reconcile with our traditional values. I think about our core value of aroha and our obligations to manaaki our manuhiri. I think about kaitiaki of our resources to ensure we can fulfil all our tikanga tuku iho.
Another notable and valid concern, as Tahu Kukutai has written is that of ethnic displacement where some Māori fear “the prospect of Asians displacing Māori as the country’s ethnic “majority minority” and that the perceived preference of migrants for multiculturalism over biculturalism will diminish Māori rights and the status of the Treaty of Waitangi”.
Māori concerns with immigration can be allayed with robust policy developed and implemented through strong Māori political leadership. Policy that does not involve bans and restrictions on immigrants, instead policy that ensures the government upholds its end of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Housing policy that makes homeownership more accessible for all, fit for occupation rentals at fair prices, and culturally relevant solutions for homelessness. Innovative solutions to education and training speaking to the aspirations of our people, policy to support social and economic mobility and pastoral care for those adjusting to a highly dynamic society with new needs. These are where the fixes are needed. We also need our iwi and those of us engaged with international audiences to speak truth to the value of strong international relationships – emphasising the importance of whanaungatanga in these settings.
Restricting immigration does little to change attitudes, and will not resolve institutional failures afflicting Māori. We are a people who place people as the most important thing in this world. Our future then depends on the authenticity of the relationships that we can build and the integrity we show both at home and abroad. Rather than shutting manuhiri out – a practice that sits in opposition to our tikanga, we must remain committed to fulfilling all our obligations to ensure we position our relationships right for the mutual benefit of all of our uri and the uri of those who arrived here as manuhiri.