by Catherine Delahunty
OK so it is day one for Susan Devoy but what about the Government? Why did they appoint a person to the role with no background in Te Tiriti issues or diversity politics? Why did they choose someone who is on the public record doubting the relevance and value of Waitangi to New Zealanders?
What is the take home message from a Government when the new Commissioner has no discernible background except she was once a minority on a male dominated Board?
Being a minority on a Board when you are a world champion at squash is not the same as being treated a minority every day in your own country because of your cultural background.
If the Government were committed to addressing racism they had plenty of choice, there are many people who work in the field of bridge building between he cultures. The previous Race Relations Commissioner’s were generally highly experienced, high calibre moderates who tried to bring clarity and positivity to the mine field of our cultural misunderstandings and dominant culture prejudices against difference.
It is a complicated job requiring a depth of understanding that Ms Devoy’s public comments so far do not demonstrate.
Judith Collins says many New Zealanders will support Susan’s views of Waitangi. However I am hoping when the new Commissioner settles into the job and receives the barrage of hurts and conflicts and complex misunderstandings she might reassess her views of the need for a founding document based on peace and respectful relationships.
She might grasp the point of addressing painful histories with bravery and honesty and she might step out of her comfort zone and take a more sophisticated and nuanced view than she has so far expressed.
But the Government must be challenged for this appointment. Does it suit them to have human rights commissioner who could continue l undermine Te Tiriti o Waitangi and foster a shallow nationalism?
We are now a country of many cultures and we have unfinished business with colonialism. There is a younger generation who value Te Tiriti and diversity, there are new migrants hungry for cultural knowledge of their new land and there are some entrenched prejudices against Te Tiriti and diversity.
Susan Devoy said on Radio NZ that it was not very a very complicated job. After 20 years teaching Te Tiriti o Waitangi with many New Zealanders I challenge that assumption. It is very rewarding work to take on racism but it is also very complicated indeed.