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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Review: TV and te Tiriti

TV and te Tiriti: Key Factors in Aotearoa’s Bicultural Surge by D. Brent Leslie

A review:

D. Brent Leslie, journalist and former writer-director of Koha, New Zealand’s first continuing television series (running a decade) featuring Māori concerns, informs and engages with his latest book, TV and te Tiriti: Key Factors in Aotearoa’s Bicultural Surge, a unique and important text exploring the contribution television programming has played in the movement towards biculturalism in this country. Told in a compelling conversational manner, as if he were sitting across the dinner table from you, Leslie reflects on his insider understanding of the media’s role in promoting change, key events which shaped the way we think as a nation, and the players involved—and Leslie had his own part to play in opening minds and prompting dialogue. In fact, along with colleague Ernie Leonard, TVNZ Head of Māori Programmes, Leslie received certificate of commendation in the 1991 New Zealand Media Peace Awards for their work on Pānui, a weekly Marae segment analysing print media treatment of Māori subjects.

Well researched and supported with evidence, TV and te Tiriti is an accessible and highly readable general summary of Māori-European race relations from te Tiriti o Waitangi to present day. Fascinated, I simply tore through it, horrified to realise how erroneous some of my assumptions were. That things I was taught in school were without foundation, and how ‘Good’ Governor Grey has a lot to answer for.

The book is well presented with large text, logical chronological layout, and sensible headings, making it easy to navigate, and the glossary of Māori terms and list of resources provide helpful additions for those readers wishing to know more. The work also includes interior photographs (in black and white and colour).

To be honest, the fact that this book exists, is in itself testimony to the bicultural surge Leslie claims. Previously New Zealanders, some Māori included, have ignored, dismissed, belittled, and supressed any moves to adhere to the tenets of te Tiriti. The document itself was lost from sight for many years. So this surge that Leslie chronicles, a large wave of national interest and engagement in Māori culture—in our unique indigenous taonga (treasures), te reo Māori (language), tikanga (custom) and te ao Māori (worldview)—especially apparent in the years since television became a fixture in our Kiwi homes, fills me with joy and hope, because, as someone born here in the 60s, this hasn’t always been the case.

My poem, ‘friend’, written in 2019 when the New Zealand government announced Te Takanga o Te Wā and Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories would become part all kura and schools’ marau ā-kura and local curriculum, was based on my personal experience and serves as an example:

to the Māori girl who

called me e hoa

when we were seven

sorry, I didn’t know what it meant

I’m older now

Is it too late?

My own (adult) children have Māori heritage, and I am ashamed to admit that out of ignorance, or perhaps in keeping with the milieu in which I was raised, I did not do more to foster their understanding of the culture that is integral to their identity as children of Aotearoa-New Zealand. No one should be ignorant of their own heritage. As a third-generation Chinese New Zealander, I feel this keenly having been denied my mother’s culture, and her languages, in favour of European traditions. This was partly deliberate, my parents, acting in my best interests, believing I would be better off if I were raised Kiwi (that is, as a European Kiwi), influenced no doubt by long-standing national racism towards the Chinese, which Leslie describes:

“In New Zealand, this racism has not only been directed at Māori. The poll tax of July 1888, aimed at Chinese miners, heavily restricted how many could enter the country and harshly taxed those who did.” (p. 67)

In recent years I’ve been trying to recover that lost part of myself. And it seems our country is choosing to recover this lost part of itself too—our Māori heritage. So, in answer to the question posed in my poem, while bi-cultural change is far too late in coming, it is never too late to make a positive step to learn more, to broaden our understanding, to embrace our country’s indigenous heritage and create a richer, more vital community. For those wishing to know more about key events that led to this important sea change, Leslie’s book is an excellent start. That isn’t to say that there isn’t still work to do, of course, but overall the message of the text is one of hope and renewed optimism, of laying down foundations for improved understanding going forward.

A must-have resource for all school libraries.

Published by DB Leslie Books, Auckland, New Zealand. ISBN: 978-0-473-66890-7

Libraries, schools, booksellers, and readers, contact to purchase.


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