New Zealand pressured to confront racism between Maoris, whites

''The myth of New Zealand as a multicultural society is foundering on reality.''

This blunt observation by New Zealand race-relations conciliator Hiwi Tauroa lends an official tone to what many New Zealanders have been unwilling to admit.

Mr. Tauroa, a Maori and rugby football star, is charged with mediating between the races in this South Pacific nation.

His first major case investigation, which produced his report entitled ''Race Against Time,'' was prompted by two explosive racial incidents that brought the latent racism within New Zealand society bubbling to the surface.

In 1979, some pakeha (Maori for European) university students were attacked by radical Maori youths while performing a haka, the traditional Maori war dance , during a university revue. The Maoris, who often resent pakehas, apparently felt the Europeans were ridiculing their heritage.

Maori radicalism flares up Feb. 6 each year, the anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi, marking the end of the Pakeha-Maori wars. Young Maoris say the treaty is a ''sellout'' and are campaigning for its abolition.

Bastion Point, a prime piece of Auckland land once owned by Maoris, is sometimes the scene of confrontations. The point is a symbol of the breakdown in the so-called multicultural society for which New Zealand was once renowned. Recently a makeshift Maori camp was dismantled and its inhabitants carted away.

Mr. Tauroa attempts to pinpoint race problems. The pakehas, he says, must change. He says they must step out of their ''cultural straitjacket.'' But he adds that the Maori must invite white New Zealander into their culture.

It's not something the Maori can do easily. Originally from from Polynesia (they are said to have come from Hawaii in great paddling canoes around the year 1350), the Maori have no recorded culture.

Maori culture is found in the lovely, haunting songs of the wahine (women) and the foot-stamping, grimacing aggression of the haka dance. Carvings, which are favorites with tourists, and the Maori language, are also chronicles of Maori history.

Land is the most cherished possession of the Maori. And it is also at the heart of racial tensions. Mr. Tauroa suggests the nation's land policy should encourage that Maori land remain in Maori hands.

''Give us back our land'' is a common cry of the politically aware young Maori, who are increasingly bitter at their elders for selling their land in the past for little more than a gun, a blanket, and some cooking pots.

Mr. Tauroa sees education as a key to racial harmony. Despite New Zealand's reputation for multiculturalism, it had done little, until recently, to encourage use of the Maori language in schools.

For too long, Mr. Tauroa says, the terms Maori and education have been synonymous with failure, or at best, underachievement.

The conciliator thinks Maori language and study of the Maori should be compulsory in the New Zealand's schools. He thinks this can be done by 1985. Eventually, he says, schools should be bilingual.

Crime among Maoris, especially among young people, has rocketed in recent years. Young Maoris drift into the cities looking for work and end up in gangs, which have become a major problem.

Mr. Tauroa blames the European legal system for failing to arrest crime. New Zealand's judges, lawyers, probation officers and the like are invariably European extraction and have little knowledge of Maori culture. Mr. Tauroa suggests that they learn more about the Maori, who is usually from the lower socioeconomic group, and generally without ties to government.

Mr. Tauroa's report on race relations received a mixed reaction. Maori Affairs Minister Ben Couch, a Maori who says he is ''a New Zealander first and a Maori second,'' disputed Tauroa's assertion that the New Zealand multicultural society is a myth.

In the streets, though, there are incidents daily that show discrimination.

The day Mr. Tauroa's report was released, one newspaper carried on the front page beside the headline, ''Tauroa brands today's image: myth.'' Another story headlined, ''Mother: 'harassed because I'm white.' ''

The last headline was attached to a story describing a young pakeha woman living in a predominantly Polynesian area of Wellington who was subject to harassment. Her belief? She was white and not wanted in the ''black'' area.

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