Guest Post: Colonial contexts and systemic injustices

A guest post from Jeremy Callander:

A long overdue reimagining of our health system is underway, one that we are told will
bring much improved health outcomes to all New Zealanders, but particularly to Maori.

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not holding my breath.

If Kiwibuild and our government’s management of the present housing crisis are
anything to go by, I’m picking that the emperor will be found to have no clothes faster
than you can say “Team of Five Million”.

I hope and pray that I am proved wrong…

But on the topic of improved outcomes, Dr Chris Tooley, chief executive of Te Puna Ora
Mataatua (a regional provider of health and social services across the eastern Bay of
Plenty), recently made the comment that:

“Māori have suffered through a colonial context and systematic [sic] injustices and
smoking or alcohol or any kind of addiction is just a response to having experienced that
kind of trauma.

Now of course, this is a single sentence published (and now re-published) in
isolation. But it conveys sentiments that we are increasingly expected to accept without
qualm or question.

My wife and I are not addicted to nicotine, alcohol or any other drugs (well, maybe
caffeine…). So Dr Tooley’s comment got us thinking about the familial and ancestral
advantages that have inexorably predestined us to a life of unearned ease, free from
addiction brought on by historic traumas. The following is not an exhaustive list, but I
think it paints a pretty good picture of the privilege and comfort that my wife and I, as
conquering colonialists, have enjoyed:

  1. When my parents got married, they had nothing.
  2. When my wife’s parents got married, they had nothing.
  3. When my wife and I got married, we had almost nothing.
  4. When I was studying law full-time (2009-2011), my wife and I worked three parttime
    jobs between us and our total weekly grocery budget for ourselves and our
    two preschool aged boys was $47.
  5. As a three year old, my mother-in-law escaped with her family from her Sovietoccupied
    homeland, in utterly brutal and unimaginably treacherous conditions.
    They arrived in New Zealand possessing no English, no possessions and no
    money.
  6. My wife’s maternal grandfather spent five years in a Nazi death camp. It
    destroyed his physical and mental health and he died about eight years after
    arriving in New Zealand.
  7. My wife’s paternal grandfather permanently lost the use of an arm to polio as a
    boy and died early as a result of the polio. His widow never remarried.
  8. My wife’s paternal great grandfather fought in World War I, came home with
    PTSD and took his own life in the front yard. His children were pulled out of
    school to help his widow run the farm. His sons fought in World War II and his
    daughter, my wife’s paternal grandmother, never really got over any of it.
  9. My maternal great grandfather was shot at Gallipoli and then died in Dunedin of
    Spanish Flu.
  10. My maternal grandfather died from alcoholism.
  11. My paternal grandfather fought in and survived World War II, but then died when
    my father was five. His widow, my grandmother, suffered poor physical and
    mental health her entire life. She never remarried and my father grew up in
    poverty.
  12. By the time I had turned 40, I could name over a dozen people (i.e. people with
    whom I had some kind of filial or familial relationship) who had taken their own
    lives.

But as I say, this list of privileges and advantages is far from exhaustive.

Nonetheless, I think we can all heartily agree that the main reason – nay, the only
reason – my wife and I are not addicted to nicotine, alcohol or any other drugs, is that
none of our Scottish, Hungarian or Irish ancestors were ever, ever invaded, massacred,
systematically oppressed, starved or dispossessed of their ancestral lands by their
colonial overlords.

Nope. None of those things ever happened. No colonial contexts or systemic injustices
to see here.

Haven’t we been lucky?

Jeremy Callander
Vile Colonial Oppressor

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