New Year 2021 Honours: Dame Anne Salmond on why we can be optimists

Distinguished Professor Dame Mary Anne Salmond, ONZ
For services to New Zealand

Much of the world is unravelling when Dame Anne Salmond picks up the phone at her eco-sanctuary outside Gisborne.

Covid-19 is ravaging dozens of countries, including many of the world’s wealthiest. Someare in their third wave of mass death and chaos this year.

But the anthropologist, historian and TV host is upbeat as 2021 approaches.

Along with Professor Emeritus Sir Mason Durie, Salmond has been made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest tier in the country’s royal honours system, where she’ll join former prime ministers and Murray Halberg.

READ MORE: New Year Honours: The full list

Sure, she’s happy about a major New Year honour, but New Zealand’s response to the pandemic has also put her in good spirits.

“Our country’s just so lucky at the moment.”

Aotearoa is one of few places where crowds can safely cheer fireworks or laser shows, and where the day after, the bleary-eyed can dance and sing together at festivals.

Salmond says the country should consider how it might share its lessons with the rest of the world.

She says our ability to temper a grab-it-all neoliberal philosophy is one reason New Zealand did well this year, whether assessing the epidemic or the economy.

“Since the 80s, we have had an economic cult of the individual. In New Zealand we went very strongly with that philosophy for a time and you see the effects of it in our current rates of inequality. But at the same time, we’ve always had this really strong value of the fair go.”

Salmond also credits the Māori concept of aroha.

“Aroha’s a lovely concept because it’s really about fellow-feeling, care for others. I think it’s about looking after other people but also looking after other living systems and lifeforms.”

She says that worldview benefits people not just during pandemics, but could help us tackle the ecological crisis the world and its 7.8 billion humans now confront.

For years, the University of Auckland Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology has earned accolades for her work on intercultural understanding.

She seems genuinely interested in how to make the country better, and in how learning Te Reo Māori can help us better understand the past, present and future.

The Māori language articulates ideas and ways of being that had no parallel in English.

“It’s a language of relationships, and not just with other people, but with the living world itself,” Salmond says.

Kaitiakitanga, referring to guardianship of natural resources, could become more important as humanity seeks ways to halt ecological disaster.

Salmond says enthusiasm for learning Te Reo now is significant. It was a different story in the 1960s.

“When I was young and very fascinated by Te Reo and started to learn it – I was in my teens at that time – it wasn’t all that common for Pākehā to be interested in Te Reo or tikanga Māori or those things.

“In fact, it was regarded as pretty eccentric and not always a good thing.”

Some bigots, she says, brashly disregard Te Reo despite knowing so little about it.

But Salmond says Pākehā culture is not static, and views about the country’s indigenous language have improved.

As Salmond and her neighbours in Tairāwhiti prepare for 2021’s first rays of sun, she’s hopeful New Zealand can learn from this wild, brutal year and build a better future.

“In so many ways when I think about the future, I am really optimistic about what we can do here in Aotearoa.”


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