History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes – Mark Twain
On the auspicious date of 22/2/2022, IPANZ held its much-deferred annual conference as an online conference. Miraculously, our speakers, sponsors, and more importantly, our attendees stayed with us. My thanks to all those who attended. It was a great day, providing much food for thought, debate, and action.
For me, perhaps the most thought-provoking concept was introduced by Justice Joe Williams in the keynote Ivan Kwok memorial lecture entitled “Crown–Maōri Relations: A 200-year Search for Partnership”.
Confronting yet constructive, devastatingly honest, yet hopeful and optimistic, Justice Joe challenged us to strive against our national failing of “amnesia” – where we forget and therefore do not learn from the possibilities of the past. An amnesia that leads us to believe that we are the first generation to have tried to find the solution to true partnership between Māori and the Crown – to forget that the potential for partnership has repeatedly emerged over the last 180 years.
But is the impact of this amnesia limited to Crown–Māori relationships? I would argue no. This is not the first time we have confronted a global pandemic in Aotearoa New Zealand. Not the first time we have joined forces with allies to confront a global threat. Not the first time we have sought answers to housing issues. Nor is it the first time we have confronted competing priorities regarding resources. As Justice Joe said: “We are not on a linear pathway to enlightenment.”
We are all familiar with the phrase “those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them”. If we fail to listen to the past, we can become blinded by our current assumptions and bias. We become vulnerable to re-inventing failed solutions or falling victim to “snake-oil”. We have no idea where our choices will take us. This is all too depressingly true.
However, the concept of “amnesia” gave me cause for hope and optimism. We have within ourselves – globally, nationally, locally, and within our communities – the concepts, stories, and ideas that can help us solve current and future challenges. We can recover these memories. Our hindsight can become our foresight. The challenge is to ensure that this “collective memory” is truly reflective of all our stories, of the diversity of our experience as a nation – that it is not partial or selective. This is a challenge that, judging from their session at the IPANZ conference, our new public servants, our rangatahi, are truly alive to, which gives me enormous optimism for the future.