Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok


The thing you can't stand on.

As I wrote to my mate Teanau when I realised, without surprise, that he was behind Te Tino Toa's flag-on-the-bridge/hill effort - it's interesting that the tino is now "the Maori flag" in the media rather than "the Maori sovereignty flag." It seems to mark a reframing: from an aspirational flag symbolising sovereignty from the perspective of some 'radicals', to a statement that 'this is the flag of Maori, and we, the almighty makers of words, acknowledge it.'

I don't know exactly what the occasional dropping of the 'sovereignty' means - can it ever be good to drop 'sovereignty'? - but it does show that the flag has consolidated in the mainstream public consciousness in the last ten years or so, in the way that only a genuine civil society-driven initiative can.

Te Tino Toa is running a competition for the most creative display of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag on Waitangi Day. Please email your pictures to

Meanwhile, as pointed out in the discussion thread to Kane's post, Tariana Turia has been exhibiting a bipolar approach to whether she likes migrants or not. Her recent ill-considered blurt upon not gaining any more Maori seats on the new roll numbers doesn't compare well at all to her comprehensive article in the Aotearoa Ethnic Network journal, and I hope that she reverts to that encouraging and intelligent position, not the strange insulting one.

From 'our' side, it's not that helpful when Lincoln Tan comes out more goofily pro-assimilationist on the flag-flying issue than Brian Rudman. Wrote Lincoln today:

...because Waitangi Day is already marred by so much controversy, and a flag can be a powerful and evocative symbol of allegiance, I do not think it is the right day for it to be flown. The message Waitangi Day should send is that we are all New Zealanders, regardless of colour or creed, and it is here that we belong under the same flag. ...Comparisons between Transit's rejection of Ata Tino Toa's request and allowing the Team New Zealand flag to be flown during the America's Cup are bordering on ridiculous ...for a country which faces its only international battles in the sporting arena, it made sense to fly the Team New Zealand flag on the bridge during the Cup.

And people stereotype the Chinese as logical Vulcan geek robots. Following this - sheesh - America's Cup Team Flag comparison, for a day commemorating a Treaty signed between 'the Crown' and Maori, why doesn't he think it seems to make perfect sense to fly 'the Maori flag' also? I'll be sure to ask him. He goes on, acknowledging that the New Zealand flag can carry a racist load:

In 2004, I organised an anti-racism rally in Christchurch. The National Front organised a counter rally, and I remember one of its members waving the New Zealand flag and yelling, "This flag is ours, do you see anything that says Asian on it?"

So, what am I to do? Campaign for this country to recognise a New Zealand-Asian flag? Such a move would indeed reflect that New Zealand is a country divided.

I can see why a Singaporean, and indeed most Asian New Zealanders, would come to such conclusions. But Tan's attitude promotes an uncomplicated form of nationalism that is weak to resist embedded assimiliationist tendencies, and bluntly excludes the interests of indigenous people.

This isn't to say his ideas about flags, nationalism, and singing patriot songs together on boosterish national days wouldn't be more than enough for him on Waitangi Day, or for all the other non-indigenous ethnic minority populations in New Zealand (aside from the ones who find patriot songs a bit naff, and the ones who are interested in the historical foundations and pitfalls of 'nationalism'). But it's a mistake to compare the route of 'Asian' aspirations for national belonging with Maori - we simply don't have the same will or justification for a sovereignty movement. Our 'Asian' parents, ancestors, or our own Asian selves, chose to come here and live under the rule of the Crown, like all other migrants; Maori authorities never agreed to cede tino rangatiratanga. We can argue all we want about what tino rangatiratanga is supposed to mean, who represents who now, what the Treaty's relevance is, and who is Maori anyway (please, let's not), but in a very basic sense of claims to group status within the nation, there's a clear difference between Maori and everyone else here.

I don't doubt that Lincoln is well aware of that. But with regard to his comments on how that should relate to groups' rights to represent themselves with a flag (national sport teams yes, indigenous people no?), on a day that relates rather specifically to those indigenous people... well, if there's an clearer public example of an 'Asian representative' seeming not to understand Maori aspirations and serving as fodder for distrust between the two groups, maybe he wrote that as well.

Kane is right to emphasise the importance of alliance building between Maori and other ethnic minorities. It's an opinion we don't hear enough in any mainstream forum, so I'll quote his comment in the thread to his guest post again here, from a Maori perspective:

I see a need for unity among other oppressed social/ethnic groups in Aotearoa in oder to increase the effective pressure Maori can bring to bear on the Crown. (These would be mutually beneficial relationships of course but what non-Maori get out of them is for another forum). Currently iwi/hapu negotiate from a relatively powerless position and they get 2% of what they're due because of it. The ability to present a more united front among Maori, Chinese, working class, Thai, Indian, women, Samoans, Somali... would put enormous pressure on any elected govt. to provide better services and resources to all.

Another reason for unity of the oppressed is that a big section of the Maori population does not gain from reparation given to iwi and hapu because they live in isolation from their whakapapa. So for these Maori and the groups that represent them alliances with other marginal groups is imperative. It could be a powerful means to Maori empowering themselves more on their own terms, as opposed to the colonial government setting the agenda.

As for Brian Rudman's despair at our crappy national flag? Daniel Malone designed a New Zealand flag some time ago that incorporated the tino rangatiratanga design into the existing form, but as a part of his anti-hegemonic art practice, has always prevented it from being publicly used in any hokey official campaign as an alternative national flag. Bloody artists. It's always been so much better to look at than the weird, corporate sporting-body alternatives mooted, all of which seem to carefully avoid the colour scheme of Te Tino. Malone's flag changes very little of the design of the New Zealand flag, simply replacing blue with black, and having the tino rangatiranga koru infiltrate and curlicue throughouth the variegated black, red and white stripes of the new Union Jack. Very clever. From the Sue Crockford gallery:

This flag speaks of the contested history of a nation but also carries its own story. It was constructed in response to the removal of Dianne Prince’s Please Walk On Me Flag which was exhibited in Korurangi at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1996, a time of hot debates over what constituted contemporary Maori art. A member of the public complained about Prince’s flag and the police removed it from the exhibition, deeming the work was in breach of the 1983 Flag Act. The flag Malone shows here has been swapped with members of Damn Native / Heart Music crew, and was hung behind them during performances, as well as appearing in other contexts outside of institutional settings. Because the flag has been dispersed through culture in something of a viral way, its meaning is adaptable and its ownership has been collectively adopted, not enforced.

To the bridge!

63 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 Newer→ Last