On Friday, I got to attend yet another exciting music event called Native Noise ‘09 in Auckland. The day was a little more significant than just another great line-up of New Zealand artists.
Native Noise was a celebration of Waitangi Day, a national holiday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty established principles that would govern the relationship between the Crown and the tāngata whenua (people of the land), the Māori people.
New Zealand’s Governor-General, the Honourable Anand Satyanand, remarked at the celebration, “We are unique in our country that the national day marks a day of peace.” While peace, equality, respect and an appreciation of diversity were definitely the themes of the day, there is sill much controversy over misinterpretation of the treaty and a failure to uphold its principles in modern times.
I was well aware of the Treaty of Waitangi when I studied in New Zealand before, but now I am becoming intimately involved with it. To get ethics approval from my university, I need to answer pages and pages of questions on how my documentary and research will uphold the principles of partnership, participation and protection that are outlined in the Treaty. At first, I found the answers obvious; all I want to do is share the efforts of the Māori popular music scene! How could this bring harm to any of my participants?
As I come to know the Treaty of Waitangi, I can see the error of my initial line of thinking. I need to create an end product that is beneficial to the Māori community. I must ensure that my interview methods are sensitive to Māori world-views and tikanga (roughly translated, cultures and customs). I have to consider that my research participants are actually participants, and not subjects, a difference that at one time seemed like semantics. Even before I have gotten to explore the music scene in depth I have learned a tremendous amount about the basic biases that we bring into every situation, even in something as seemingly harmless as creating a documentary on popular music.
So now I enter into my project with a new found resolve to not only learn about the Māori popular music scene, but to learn to abandon these biases I unknowingly bring with me. I’m finding that to be open-minded and culturally sensitive is not nearly enough. While this adds a whole new layer of pressure, it is also an inspiring realization I have the opportunity to honor and even further the goals of the treaty.