The big picture, Nepia Mahuika

Nga Tini Whetu: Navigating Maori Futures
Mason Durie
Huia, $49.99,
ISBN 9781869694524


Unlike many in the steady stream of publications about things Maori, Mason Durie’s latest book, Nga Tini Whetu: Navigating Māori Futures, turns its attention not to the treasures of the past, but to the future. It follows in the footsteps of his previous compilation of conference addresses, Nga Kahui Pou: Launching Maori Futures (2007). Nga Tini Whetu presents an impressive selection of the author’s erudite musings on an array of issues – from education, politics and globalisation, to health, climate change and indigenous transformation.

It retains the emphasis of the previous book on aspirations, potentialities and success, with a view to “taking charge of the future rather than charging into the future” without a sense of direction.

It comprises a collection of 25 papers presented at national and international conferences between 2004 and 2010, and is organised into four sections entitled “Indigenous Development”, “Maori Development”, “Maori Health” and the “Paerangi Lectures”. There is, as the author warns in the introduction, some repetition where topics, statistics and ideas are presented in new contexts. Overlaps in a book of this nature are to be expected, though, and work to drive home Durie’s assertions rather than swamp the reader with unnecessary duplications.

Indeed, this is a book that once again highlights Durie’s prodigious talent for presenting and scrutinising the big picture in ways that have meaning and relevance for a range of people and organisations, from historians and bankers to health professionals and family advocates.

He grapples effortlessly with sophisticated global patterns and phenomena, linking world-wide trends to local situations, and, in the process, reminding us why he is regarded as one of the leading Maori and indigenous scholars of his generation. This is the work of an eminent intellectual in his prime, and as you might expect, the language is dense in places, the sentences regularly packed with data, likely tortuous for those hoping for crisp phrasing. I wondered at times how readers would manage to retain it all. Fortunately, the book allows an opportunity to go back and ponder at your leisure some of Durie’s profounder ideas that may have been only fleetingly appreciated when first delivered.

This does not mean, however, that you have to agree with every sentiment. In his forward-looking approach, Durie often seems to present a rose-tinted outlook. Don’t get me wrong; his optimism is commendable, yet there are times where his deliberate refocusing on “resilience” rather than “illness”, “human potential” rather than “disease”, works to diminish a much-needed sense of accountability, particularly by those in positions of power. To this extent, Durie could have been more assertive in apportioning responsibility to specific groups.

In his address to the New Zealand Historical Association, for instance, he argues that in the 25-year period from 1982 to 2007, “New Zealand has given greater acknowledgment to Maori as indigenous New Zealanders, and to New Zealand as a Maori home.” The tone is more a congratulation on improved race relations than a critique of how previous and current historical scholarship remains largely oppressive towards indigenous knowledge and aspirations. There is a sense of letting people off the hook here.

At other times he brilliantly confronts issues of major contention. In chapter five, for instance, on the topic of the Treaty of Waitangi and the claims process, he states that “quite apart from any Treaty obligation, indigeneity itself was reason enough for Government commitment”, after which he goes on to expertly unpack arguments against the provision of special privileges for Maori. Thus, he can at times cut straight to the point with frightening efficiency, while at others he left me frustrated by allowing those in positions of power to resume their trajectories unopposed.

Of lesser concern is Durie’s tendency to write about Maori in a seemingly unproblematic homo-geneous sense. This is most obvious in his discussion of the Kingitanga and Kotahitanga in chapter 11. He asserts that these remain “high on Maori agendas” today, when in fact many tribal groups do not see themselves as subject to either movement.

Nga Tini Whetu is an inspiring book that urges readers to envision a New Zealand beyond the grievances and raced-based disharmony that have plagued us in the past. Durie argues that the progression of being Maori is a distinctive point of difference that benefits all New Zealanders within an increasingly global society. Navigating Maori Futures, then, is as much, if not more, a book for “New Zealanders” rather than just indigenous peoples because it imagines a world we can, in time, all call home.


Nepia Mahuika is working on his PhD at the University of Waikato. 

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Posted in Lecture, Māori, Non-fiction, Review
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