A debate with John Ansell

So, in an act of self-flagellation, I entered into debate with John Ansell over at this blog. The results of which you can read starting here

I’ll leave it to you to decide just how well either side performed, but I do want to focus on a few bits and pieces.

Celts and stuff

You may argue, and I’m sure you will (with all the backup that Iwipedia can provide), that none of the evidence for European pre-Maori settlement rises to the level of proof sufficient to satisfy the one-eyed Griever graduate of the hallowed halls of Waikato or Auckland or Massey.

But let me turn it around…

Can you or your faithful Iwipedia provide a skerrick of proof that Maori were the first inhabitants of New Zealand?

This question was put to me by Ross Baker, and it stunned me.

I’m not aware of anyone ever asking it before – at least not in public.

But such proof is surely required before Maori can claim to be the tangata whenua (or wenua – to use the accepted spelling and pronunciation from before the first wave of revisionists got to work).

Ansell here tries to have it both ways: no, he’s not committed to the idea there was a pre-Māori people here, but, nonetheless, can Māori prove they were here first? This is equivalent to saying “I’m not racist, but…” Ansell wants it both ways: he won’t rely on the claim there is a pre-Māori people as long as Māori can prove there was no pre-Māori people. Given that Ansell thinks Māori are involved in a conspiracy to pervert the historical account of what happened back in the 19th and 20th Century, do you really think he’s going to accept any claims by Māori that they were the first humans to settle Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu.

As a friend said on Twitter, it’s hard to prove a negative and whilst Ansell seems to think Ross Baker’s question is startling and game-changing, it really isn’t. It’s just a way to assert something like the Celtic New Zealand thesis as being plausible by placing the burden of proof, unfairly, on the holders of the orthodox view.

It also doesn’t matter. Te Tiriti O Waitangi was signed between Māori, who were here before Pākehā, and Pākehā. So what if there were Greek settlers at some earlier point or Celts living here two thousand years ago? They didn’t sign a treaty with the recently arrived English colonists and the treaty isn’t a deal between an indigenous group and the new immigrants: it is a deal between Māori, who just happen to be indigenous1, and Pākehā who, at least at the time, could make no claim to indigenous status.

The racist colourblind state

Ansell wants us to believe that his colourblind state is not founded on racism nor is it a racist concept. He frames the issue as being one of equality and providing a “one law for all” mantra to state politicking, but you can’t help but notice that he uses racist tropes and terminology to establish his non-racist credentials.

For example, he talks about what he considers to the good brown folk (“Achiever Māori” and contrasts them with the horrible brown folk (“Griever Māori”). Splitting the population thus and marking his approval of the Māori he considers good (the Māori Ansell seems to consider the most Pākehā-like) doesn’t just border on racism, it crosses the line into explicit racist framing (especially given the continuing marginalisation of Māori and Māori culture today, Ansell’s insistence that Māori should be like him smacks of a typical colonial attitude). It doesn’t help that he also advances the “ungrateful wretches” argument to support his case:

Last year I fumed to a reporter, no doubt after yet another holocaustic exaggeration by a neotribal extortionist demanding my water or flora or sky, that Maori had gone from the Stone Age to the Space Age in 150 years and had yet to say thanks.

and the “They aren’t a proper race any more” argument (which, at best, shows that Ansell is ignorant of what ethnicity and membership of an ethnic group means):

Pretend at all times that Maori remain a separate race, even though they’re all now part-Pakeha.

Still, what better way to demonstrate your views than by showing how you condemn those who disagree with your agenda:

How long before Matthew the make-believe-Maori realises he’s left out Stewart Island and we become Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu me Rakiura?

Yes, for challenging Ansell I am a “make-believe-Maori.” Better that than a Pākehā like John Ansell.


  1. I’m reminded now of Tem Morrison’s line in the trailer for “Fresh Meat:” ‘We’re not Māori cannibals. We’re cannibals who just happen to be Māori.’

About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.