"The racism among us needs to stop" - Meng Foon

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Newly appointed Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is calling for official recognition of the New Zealand Land Wars and its devastating impact on Māori. In his first interview in the new role, he discussed Ihumātao, Tuia250 and racism in Aotearoa.

Day one on the job and Foon has wasted no time in addressing current issues.

“We would like for the NZ Land Wars against Māori to be remembered, the confiscations, the transgressions and violation of mana.  The Government violated the Māori world at that time and that's what the main problem is now, no resources, no wellbeing," says Foon.

In Census 2013 there were 213 ethnicities identified in NZ, and the new Race Relations Commissioner acknowledges that he has his work cut out for him. 

“Some people are racist, most people aren't, but the racism among us needs to stop.  It's among ethnic groups as well, among Chinese, among Māori, among Pasifika - don't disrespect one another, it must stop.”

After 18 years as mayor of Gisborne, Meng Foon was recently farewelled at Te Poho o Rawiri Marae where he was initially inducted in 2001.

He says he is fortunate to have experience in race relations, highlighting that there 91 ethnicities in Te Tairāwhiti region. A fluent speaker of Māori, Cantonese, and English, he is currently learning Mandarin.

A formal welcome was held today at Pipitea Marae in Wellington where Foon was accompanied by Tairāwhiti iwi and acknowledged as a product of the Māori community.

Speaking to Te Ao News on behalf of the many Tairāwhiti iwi, revered orator and knowledge holder Derek Lardelli says, “He grew up in the gardens and fields of Manutuke, of Turanganui a Kiwa, he developed to become Mayor for the town of Gisborne and the wider East Coast, this journey now to Te Upoko o Te Ika is to fulfill the position for all.”

The formal Māori welcoming and cloaking ceremony was capped off with a traditional Chinese dragon dance.

Not shying away from controversial issues, Foon acknowledged the position of mana whenua at Ihumātao.

“The main thing is that mana whenua manages it, with Fletchers, because Fletchers are the landowners, to my knowledge that land is of great value, it's a culture and heritage site, that's the issue, it's from the very ancient times."

On the topic of Tuia250, Foon encourages debate.

“We need to critically discuss the narratives of that time, to inform the way forward today."

He plans to visit Ihumātao as soon as he can.