chapter  20
10 Pages

Culture and mental health in Aotearoa, New Zealand

WithJUDI CLEMENTS, WAYNE BLISSETT

Colonialism and Maori freedom The first attempt to establish an international presence by Maori in the Western world was formalised in 1835 with the Declaration of Independence, which was the first assertion of Maori sovereignty recognisable within the international community (King, 2003). The following influx of settlers created social upheaval in Aotearoa New Zealand as the cultural differences resulted in misunderstandings and exploitation on both sides of the cultural divide. The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 countered the Declaration and removed the possibility of a Maori-led state with the agreement that the nation would be governed by British Law, while Maori retained their sovereignty – or the ability to selfdetermine their taonga/treasures, lands and resources. Debate over the translations between texts and whether sovereignty was ceded or not still continue (Durie, 1998). The New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852 provided the basis for New Zealand government. The right to vote and representation under this Act was based on individual land title, which virtually disenfranchised Maori as Maori own land as collectives not individuals, negating the promised equality in art. 3 of the Treaty.1 A succession of Acts of Parliament continued to disenfranchise Maori from their tribal lands. This impacted not only the Maori economic base but also the social and demographic fabric of Maori society.2 With land acquisition under control, the focus of the colonial government moved to undermining the cultural social system that was still surviving. An important example of this was the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907, which was a significant blow to Maori culture and social order (Durie and King 1997; King, 2003). The Tohunga Suppression Act deemed it illegal to practise Maori spiritual and cultural practices and provided the platform for forbidding the speaking of Te Reo in schools and public places. It saw the closure and destruction of Wananga, traditional Maori learning institutions and the traditional cultural practices of Maori becoming confined to Marae. At the same time, psychiatry and psychology were establishing themselves as legitimate bodies of knowledge in Aotearoa. Sir Thomas Hunter, considered a pioneering figure in psychology in Aotearoa, established Australasia’s first laboratory in experimental psychology in 1908 (Hunter, 1952; Shouksmith, 1990). Both psychiatry and psychology followed overseas trends as part of the Western

inclination to construct psychiatry and psychology in scientific terms. Psychology and psychiatry had little influence on Maori communities, who were struggling to keep what little land and social fabric were left (Beaglehole, 1953; Brown and Fuchs, 1971). This minimal interface between Western psychology and Maori communities meant that there was little recognition or contribution by Maori to the development of psychology or psychiatry, leaving them both to develop as purely Western sciences with no indigenous influence.