Preserving the mana of the tino rangatiratanga flag

By Ellipsister

tino-rangatiratanga-flag

Throughout the flag debate, I saw many Pākehā calling for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag to be an option as the national flag. Some said it was a beautiful design – which it is, but that is not a good reason to appropriate it as a national symbol without proper consideration of what this flag symbolises for Māori: resistance and resilience of tangata whenua in our struggle for, you guessed it “tino rangatiratanga. Others claimed that tino rangatiratanga represented them more than the Union Jack. And actually, that sat incredibly uncomfortably with me. I mean, Yes! please do raise our tino flag in solidarity. But your misplaced affection in appropriating our struggle and claiming it represents you is offensive and invalidating. Your lands and resources  were not forcibly taken, your culture and rights were not systematically oppressed, and you do not therefore experience the intergenerational trauma of colonisation.

For me, until tino rangatiratanga is actually achieved by Māori and formally recognised by the State, then I would never put my support behind the tino flag becoming New Zealand’s national flag. The reason should be obvious. However, to avoid any confusion – we cannot have tino rangatiratanga as a symbol of our nationhood if it is not a Māori reality. It is simply a way of feeding into the myth of partnership – the idea that Māori and the Crown have an equal share of power to make decisions that affect the peoples who are of this land – tangata whenua, and those who have settled on it – tau iwi.

I feel that if the tino flag is offered up as a national flag prematurely then it will diminish the mana of the flag and all its symbolism and deprive it of its meaning. On the other hand, if there were a policy for dual recognition of the tino flag as having equal status with the national flag, then this would perhaps enhance the mana of this flag and its symbolism as the forward-looking next step in addressing the issue of Māori sovereignty.

For the record, I didn’t vote in the flag referendum. I was ambivalent – I wasn’t prepared to vote for the dag we were offered, or the symbol of colonisation. That’s just my view. I appreciate others look at the Union Jack differently. But I felt that we should have been having a discussion about dual flags instead. I wrote about my views early on in the debate, asserting my preference for dual flags and my reasons for it. You can read that post here.

I am not offering up any new perspective either. Māori groups have been calling for dual flags and ascribing equal status to the tino rangatiratanga flag since achieving recognition as the national Māori flag in 2009 following a nationwide consultation process. I am simply attempting to advance this kaupapa alongside those who have long been championing this change and in support of those who have also been calling for this since the flag referendum began.

It’s important to note here that some Māori do not recognise the tino flag as the national Māori flag. Instead preferring the United Tribes flag (the first official flag of New Zealand) or their own independent hapū/iwi flag. So we need to discuss as independent hapū/iwi and urban roopu whether we can unite ‘under the korowai of kōtahitanga’ (as Hon. Te Ururoa Flavell calls it) to take our struggle to the next level and place Māori sovereignty at the forefront of this country’s political discourse. Additionally, whether we can agree to do this under this symbol of tino rangatiratanga.

As a sidenote, I am mindful of how our values as Māori are shared and also distinct, adaptable and variable. How we prioritise which values will direct our dialogues are deeply personal. We form them, and they are shaped through what we bring to the discussion as individuals and through our place in our different collectives. In my observation, many of our disagreements fuse around our competing tikanga priorities and the resulting tensions expose what appear to be disagreements about what these values mean, or how we interpret them in a contemporary context.

I imagine it was no easy feat for those who negotiated and lobbied to get the tino flag recognised by the government as an important step in acknowledging the partnership that was intended as forming out of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and credit must be given to those who led that effort. However, the time is ripe for a more ambitious attempt to achieve equal status of our flag, moving from symbolic to constitutional recognition and preserving the mana of this flag as we ramp up our drive for mana motuhake and forge our path to reassert tino rangatiratanga.

 

 

 

 

Where did Red Peak come from?

By Chuan-Zheng Lee

Two months ago, I wrote in this blog professing indifference to the flag change question. I did, though, have just one plea. Follow basic principles of vexillology, I implored. Among other things, keep it simple, “so simple that a child can draw it from memory”. I considered it a fairly routine suggestion. Surely, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well?

Alas, it was too hard. Three of the flags on the shortlist have renditions of the silver fern that I can’t draw as an adult, let alone as a child. Just one meets basic vexillological criteria. Cutely labelled “Hypnoflag“, it’s the least popular of the four. I don’t mind it, but I don’t care much for it, either.

Then I stumbled across the Red Peak. I had glanced at it a few weeks ago and, I admit, was largely apathetic to it. But as I looked at it again, reflected on it and read more about it, its brilliance progressively dawned on me. It has everything in that vexillological handbook: simplicity, meaningful symbolism, distinctiveness. It nods to our Māori origins and our geography. It’s clear even when made small: redpeak-small. I generally think symbols are arbitrary, but I can imagine this one in more than just a hypothetical sense. It fits.

I still don’t mind our current flag. As I wrote in July, I don’t understand the aversion many have towards the Union Jack. Our flag isn’t an epitome of good design, but it ticks the boxes. Red Peak is the first design that would motivate me to vote “yes” in March, not because I want change, but because it would be such a great flag to have.

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It won’t happen, of course. We can sign whatever petitions we want, and it’s theoretically possible to get Red Peak on the ballot, but practically it’s too little too late. One might rightly ask, where was all this support before the shortlist was decided, when it mattered?

There are a few things that could have happened. One is that, like me, people may have reflected and changed their opinions. The post that went viral was penned by software investor Rowan Simpson, previously an advocate of the silver fern. Others too, may have learnt about flag design and grown to like Red Peak as they came to understand it. It is just as well that the process is long enough for public discussion.

But why would the tide come only after the shortlist release? It’s possible that people were pushed into action by the shortlist. Motivation to understand what’s good rises when what’s bad becomes a concrete possibility. The Flag Consideration Panel didn’t actively solicit feedback on the long list (which included Red Peak) like they did for “what we stand for“, nor should they have felt obliged to. The whole point of delegating to a committee is that they can devote more effort to their deliberations than the rest of us have time to, and picking a shortlist was their one job. And, to be fair to those who hadn’t thought much about the options beforehand, there were no hints that the panel was going to centre on silver fern designs. Of the forty on the long list, just eleven had detailed silver ferns. Voters might have quite reasonably assumed that the shortlist would reflect this, and not thought about it much more deeply. And when the final options started staring them in the face, they started wondering: does it have to be these?

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That would be the innocent explanation. More cynically, a fair amount of Red Peak support seems to be coming from people who previously criticised the flag referendum as a “distraction” from “more important issues”. The tension between this stance and their newfound passion seems not to have occurred to them. Often vehemently opposed to John Key, they take up nearly any cause that contradicts him.

One can’t help but wonder: if Red Peak had been on the shortlist, would that endorsement have triggered a backlash, just like the four on the shortlist now? Some of Red Peak’s proponents are genuine, no doubt, like Mr Simpson. But it’s hard to imagine such strong support if Red Peak had been always been a front-runner, or worse, Mr Key’s favourite.

It’s easy to dismiss the whole movement on this basis. That would be a mistake. The first reason is that its designer puts forward a very respectable case for it. There are surely arguments against it, but the fact that some of its supporters are government opponents is not one of them.

The second, more pragmatic, reason is that Red Peak has pulled people out of indifference, apathy and cynicism towards a flag change in a way that no other design has. For passionate change advocates, this is surely a good thing. Perhaps now they have a chance of convincing sceptics that it’s not a “waste of money” or a “distraction”. It offers an opportunity to move a flag change away from negative reasons, like “this doesn’t reflect us today”, to positive reasons, like “this is a cool flag”.

The fact that Red Peak has slowly won people over should give hope that it can continue to change minds. It’ll take time—too much time, perhaps, to get enough support before the November vote, even if it were on the ballot. If so, the true test is whether Red Peak can keep its groundswell growing after (here is my prediction) New Zealand votes to retain its current flag in March. With an alternative not just for the sake of being an alternative, a renewed flag change effort might get much more support than current polls indicate.

A Mediocre Idea

Special Edition #1

By Lamia Imam

Should New Zealand’s flag be changed? In short, yes probably.  I think a lot of us who in our personal lives are aligned to the political left might be irritated that our Prime Minister, who we don’t always hold in high esteem, has come up with this idea. But that is petty and unproductive. I’m a first generation Kiwi so I will happily admit that the current flag and I do not really share a warm fuzzy relationship wrapped in ancestral significance. In fact, my ancestors much like NZ’s tangata whenua were colonized by the Brits and therefore, I have a lot of ill feelings towards that regime and what it represents. The Union Jack aside, I also do not like the red, white and blue because to me it still symbolizes colonialism and US imperialism. But this is not about my aesthetic preference. This is about our national identity, the expression of our independence and our unique culture. Will changing the flag do that?

I always assumed that our flag would eventually change when we actually achieved something to deserve that change. We are not completely independent as a nation but we have been working towards it. Our judiciary is independent, our legislature is independent but our executive is not since the Queen of England is still our official head of state. I have spent a lot of time outside of New Zealand and by far people give me much more grief about still holding on to the Monarchy than how similar our flag is to Australia.

One thing that has really surprised me is that the flag discussion has not brought up the fact that we have a Constitutional Advisory Panel also looking at our constitutional arrangements. Their work suggests that there does not exist a lot of immediate national appetite to change the way we are set up as a country. But logically it makes no sense to me that we would change our flag while the Treaty settlement process is still on-going and while we are constitutionally speaking still tied to Britain. Some have cited Canada as a model for change. I do not believe the Canadian example is necessarily applicable to New Zealand, however, it is a compelling argument. Canada’s head of state is still the Queen of England but their flag does uniquely represent Canadians. There is an argument to be made that a flag change might propel us towards being a Republic, which would be a favourable outcome but I am not convinced that it will.

There is a Bill for the referendum to change the flag. The Select Committee just reported back on the Bill on the 29th of June. In a somewhat bizarre move, we are going to choose an alternative flag first and then decide whether we want to even change it. I think as a nation we should decide that we actually want a different flag first and then work to change it to something that reflects our identity, independence and culture. The media has been reporting that hardly anyone has shown up to the flag change meetings up and down the country which must be disappointing to the government.

The government often uses subjective understanding of what is a “priority” to them as way to refuse to address difficult policy problems. Changing the flag is not a civil rights issue and I think we can legitimately say that this change is really not a priority for Kiwis given the enormous problems the country is currently facing. I do think the flag should change. I do not think the current flag is inclusive or representative and I think it symbolizes a history of colonialism which is offensive. However, the process seems to be flawed and the timing seems to be wrong. I think John Key desperately wants something non-controversial to be part of his legacy as Prime Minister because “being really liked” is not very Statesman-esque. As ex-Minister Simon Power said in his valedictory speech – “Once in office, you’ve got to do something. That is why having a plan matters. Ideas also matter. In politics, ideas matter more than the political players themselves, because those people will come and go, but ideas endure.” John Key seems to be approaching this without a concrete plan. It is a good idea but it’s an ill-timed and ill thought out idea. I think the end result will be a banal flag with predictable designs. Like Canada, we will get used to it and accept it but I am not entirely sure that we will necessarily invoke John Key in our minds when we stand below it.