10 Questions with Selwyn Katene


1. What contribution does this book make to meaningful implementation of the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

The book provides a focus for discussion of the Declaration and Indigenous rights, its impact and relevance to the community. It also reflects New Zealand’s unique celebration of the Declaration’s 10th anniversary, and proposes future pathways to implement the Declaration, and bring it to life.


2. What do you think its particular strengths are?

The book, from the mouths of experts, pulls together relevant information that individuals have held but have not had the opportunity to share and disseminate previously, in particular to whānau, hapū and iwi at the community level. For example, it is an important education tool, in conjunction with the Treaty, for lawyers in litigation, and when advising their clients; as well, policy-makers can use it to draft policy that impacts on the community nationally, regionally, and at the local level.


3. When the Declaration was signed in 2007, then UN Secretary-General said it was ‘an historic moment’. Why would most New Zealanders never have heard of it?

New Zealand’s education curriculum unfortunately does not focus on New Zealand history from a Māori perspective or on basic civics. Non-Māori New Zealanders are woefully ignorant of their own history, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the impact of colonisation on Māori in general. The Declaration, while routinely discussed in academic circles, has lacked advocacy from mainstream politicians and media.


4. The book’s authors are very critical of New Zealand for initially foot-dragging over the signing and now over the speed of implementation. But are there signs of improved performance?

Political leadership, willpower, resources and stronger commitment are needed. Improved performance only depends on political will and the ability of policy-makers and the courts to interpret and implement the Declaration in order for it to improve the lives and experiences of Māori and non-Māori alike. The journey to implementation is now well under way.


5. Inevitably there will be stumbles and disappointments. What will the reasons for this be?

Reasons vary and include institutional and individual racism, discrimination and ignorance on the part of law-makers, policy-makers, non-Māori and Māori alike, who do not understand the effects of colonisation. However, people are becoming more aware, motivated, passionate and committed to understanding and implementing the Declaration and act as change agents. Furthermore, the ball has passed to a new generation of well-qualified, high-calibre and visionary leaders to make the Declaration more relevant and impactful.


6. What impresses you about this generation?

That they are looking beyond the colonised past to the values of our tūpuna and using those values to build a future for themselves and their children. They refuse to play the victim or to believe the narrative written by others, but instead use all the tools at their disposal to control their present and future prospects.

7. But Pākehā have to be committed to this work too?

What is important is that Pākehā must educate themselves, and then educate their people. They cannot expect us to stop doing the important work we are doing and wait for them to catch up, nor take the time and energy we need to put into our work to teach them. They need to take responsibility for their own thinking, learning and actions.


8. How rewarding was working with this team of contributing writers on this book?

These people are the experts. They have been working in this area for many decades; have given much blood, sweat and years out of their lives to improve the position of Māori and Indigenous peoples globally. Those aspiring to follow in their footsteps cannot help but learn and be motivated by them and their positive attitudes.

9. What’s one new thing you learnt in the course of working on it.

The importance of challenging the status quo, inspiring a shared vision for all Indigenous peoples, living exemplary lives, and taking everyone with you along the journey to leadership success.


10. What are you reading at the moment, both for work and for relaxation?

For work: Mae Ate Toi Ora: Maori Health Transformations, by Te Kani Kingi et al. For relaxation: Song for Rosaleen, which is about a family coping with their mother’s dementia, written by a former acquaintance of mine, Pip Desmond.