His thesis covers the first 100 years of colonisation – from 1840-1940 – and examines what he calls the “idea of Mäori privilege”, where the idea came from, how it developed over time, and its influence on government policy.
Mr Meihana completed his master’s degree at Massey on the involvement of Ngäti Kuia in the seabed and foreshore issue and since 2008 has taught the undergraduate papers New Zealand Land Wars and Mäori Responses to Colonisation.
He was recently appointed lecturer of Mäori history in the School of Humanities, and plans to introduce new Mäori history papers once he completes his PhD early next year.
For now, he is writing the seventh and last chapter of his thesis, which questions underlying assumptions that support the idea of Mäori privilege. “The idea of Mäori privilege is entrenched in New Zealand culture, it’s believed that Mäori have been treated better than other indigenous people, and other New Zealanders. It’s a commonly held belief,” he says.
He adds his PhD does not claim Mäori were treated any better or any worse than other native peoples, rather, that the belief exists, and has palpable effects on Mäori communities.
Mr Meihana says his research would be the first to discuss the historical foundations of privilege, and identifies two types of privilege: “official” and “popular”. He explains official privilege stems from the Treaty of Waitangi, which afforded Mäori “rights and privileges of British subjects”, but led settlers to claim Mäori were unfairly favoured, which is what he calls popular privilege. The assertions that underpin popular privilege continue today.
From the 1800s the idea of privilege can be found in parliamentary speeches, official documents and texts and newspapers, and even today, on talkback radio and letters to the editor, Mr Meihana says.
He points to then National Party leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech in 2004, as a “classic exposé” of Mäori privilege”, which resonated with many New Zealanders and showed how deep-rooted the notion is.
The Blenheim-raised historian says his PhD will show the idea of privilege is highly constructed and not a matter of fact, and hopes to eventually publish his findings.