Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Being Small

There is a wonderful BBC report featuring Simon_Schama pondering New Zealand's future and its current mania to join Australia as a seventh state.

I love this phrase:
Better to be a tickbird on the hide of the pachyderm than trampled ignominiously beneath its thundering feet is it?
This is reminiscent of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's comment on the Canada/US relationship:
Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
I find it sad that New Zealanders would consider union with Australia. I'm for cultural distinctiveness. Luckily, most Canadians are not willing to throw in the towel and join the US.

In the article, Simon Schama goes on the identify the uniqueness of New Zealand's culture:
Wherever you look, the New Zealand story has been heroic, volcanic, singular. Its island masses, torn from Gondwanaland, stayed so remote that for millions of years they knew no mammalian life. Insects, reptiles and birds shared the lush ecology and without any predators, many birds evolved flightlessly.


But the exceptional New Zealand history that needs to be preserved is human. Whatever its ethnic and social battles, New Zealand has often led the way. In 1893 it was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and it was the first to offer old-age pensions to the poor.

But it's the story of Maori and pakeha, the settlers of European origin, that - for all the pain, betrayals and suffering - still deserve to be known and celebrated as offering a different model of cultural encounter than anywhere else in the world.

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi which, in usual imperial style, seized sovereignty from the Maori and laid it at the feet of Queen Victoria did so on condition that their property rights and political and cultural integrity were respected. Needless to say in the generations that followed, this pact was respected more in the breach than the observance, but New Zealand history did follow its own extraordinary course.

In their first wars against violations of Waitangi the Maori effectively won the battle with the pakeha. Decimated by imported diseases for which they had no immunity, the Maori were expected, at the turn of the 20th Century to be on their way to extinction or extreme marginalisation like native Americans or Australian aborigines. Nothing of the sort has happened.

Today they constitute - by one count - almost 20% of the population and astonishingly a special tribunal created in the 1970s has been ruling on land claims dating back to the post-Waitangi years. Maori and the descendants of intermarriages that go back deep into the 19th Century, are to be found in every leading walk of life in the country.
Schama acknowledges that only 25% of New Zealander's are calling for union with Australia. I hope this is a passing fancy. Just like half a decade ago there were many voices in Canada calling for monetary union with the US because our dollar was around 60 cents to a US dollar. But today it is at parity and is soon expected to climb above the US dollar. So the calls for monetary union have died out. I'm assuming that the 25% in New Zealand reflect a momentary jealously for the booming Australian economy and once that settles out, the calls will die down.

No comments: