Episode 9 Fact 1: Colonisation


Colonisation is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components. It is linked to the spread of tens of millions from Western European states all over the world and in many settled colonies the settlers still form a large majority of the population. Examples include the Americas, Australia and New Zealand.

Western European colonisation in particular involved the practise of acquiring full or partial political control of another country, occupying it with settlers and then exploiting it economically. For example, when Britain started to colonise Australia and New Zealand, they often regarded the land masses as ‘terra nullius’, meaning ‘empty land’ in Latin, despite the presence of indigenous peoples.

Central to colonisation is creating a ‘new history’. In this ‘new history’, indigenous knowledge and beliefs are relabelled as myths, legends and superstition. The land gets ‘discovered’ by colonisers and the landscape is renamed. Effectively, colonisation is based on dehumanising indigenous peoples and subsequently permits the (mis)appropriation and transfer of power and resources from indigenous peoples to the newcomers. This dehumanisation occurs on a spectrum from genocide to neglect, from paternalism to romanticism, and it depends on the colonisers central belief in their own superiority and that they therefore have superior rights to the territory and resources of indigenous people.

This new society promotes that their new systems provide equal opportunity for all participants. When unequal indigenous outcomes are apparent, the problem is said to lie with them through any mix of inferior genes, intellect, education, aptitude, ability, effort or luck. The focus on the indigenous people as ‘the problem’ ensures the outcome of the settlers (and their progeny) are never closely examined and colonisers privilege is never exposed.

The truth remains. European settler colonialism in Aotearoa had a profound effect on Māori life and customs. Policies of enforced assimilation meant the loss of traditional Māori society, traditions and language. European endemic diseases such as influenza spread rapidly amongst Māori , who possessed no immunity to such diseases. Fertility rates dropped owing to the introduction of venereal diseases such as syphilis. The Māori population, at the beginning of the 19th century, was estimated at around 100,000. By the end of that same century, numbers had plummeted to 40,000. Māori today have lower incomes, higher rates of unemployment, poorer educational and health outcomes and proportionately more convictions for criminal offences.

Globally, Māori are seen as being at the forefront of cultural revitalisation. There is still quite some distance to go.

Ref: Rachael Ka'ai Mahuta (The Impact of Colonisation), Papaarangi Reid and Bridget Hobson (Understanding Health Inequalities), NZ Parliamentry Library briefing note (June 2000).

Episode FactsClea Pettit