New Zealanders are generally an unassuming bunch who've distanced
themselves from the more belligerent policies of their close
cousins, the Australians, and pride themselves on being low-key. But
if they were the crowing sort, they could crow modestly about at
least two aspects of their domestic policy: the commitment of the
white majority to make serious amends to the indigenous Maoris, now
just 15 percent of New Zealanders; and the country's innovative
experimentation with "restorative" approaches to criminal justice.
One good example of the changing policies is the experience of
the family of Mike Roberts, a successful news anchor on national TV.
Mr. Roberts strongly self-identifies as a Maori and has, by his own
account, "about one-third" Maori blood, but he can't speak much
Maori at all. His father had grown up speaking Maori - until, at 14,
he was sent to a residential school where Maori was forbidden. He
almost completely lost his facility with the tongue. "That's one of
my dad's biggest regrets," Roberts says.
Then in 1986, a high-level tribunal ruled that the Maori language
certainly constituted one of the Maori "treasures" that the British
had promised to protect in the seminal 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.The
tribunal recommended several steps the government should take to
revive the language and culture, including supporting Maori-
language schools, as well as Maori broadcasting.
Maori radio stations have operated locally for some years and a
nationwide Maori TV station started up just last year. Roberts's
kids, ages 5 and 3, have both been to total-immersion Maori-
language preschool programs. Does he think that Maori language and
culture will survive in New Zealand?
"If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I would have said no. Now, I'm
more optimistic. I think it will."
Signs abound of the commitment that the government and other
major national institutions have made to respecting and
strengthening Maori language and culture. Many government
publications and websites are bilingual. Schools and businesses
commission Maori-themed decorations and stage Maori-style ceremonies
for key rites of passage. Government employees undergo mandatory
training in the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi.And it's not only
Maori language and culture being saved: Steps have also been taken
to restore some Maori land and fishing rights.
Maori culture has also been an influence in the use of New
Zealand's restorative-justice processes to supplement and sometimes
replace the essentially "retributive" processes of the traditional
Western-style justice system. …