Sunday, September 5, 2010

Truth to power

A gathering at Te Papa: for the first time I meet Judith
Binney, whom I interviewed by phone a few weeks ago
for the Listener. She was in Menorca, Spain, and I was
in Wellington. I had read her book Encircled Lands in
a kind of white heat in order to interview her about it.
The book, which has since won the supreme award in
this year’s national book awards, tells in relentlessly
clinical detail how Tuhoe were stripped, cheated and
robbed of their land by the predatory Pakeha in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. Binney is still
dismayed, as she was in the interview, by the Prime
Minister’s about-face on granting Tuhoe authority over
Te Urewera National Park. Much has changed, and
improved, in the past 30-40 years in terms of Pakeha
recognition of what was done to, and what is owed to,
Maori—when she and Binney were young academics,
Claudia Orange told the gathering, Maori were all but
invisible—but John Key’s abrupt announcement
seemed to kick us right back to the 1890s. Binney’s
book is, however, not only a landmark but a lighthouse,
and I believe that the illumination it casts will shine so
strongly that, in time, it will help to change attitudes.
It will last longer than Key or any government; it will
never stop speaking truth to power.

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