Southern Cross 'like Confederate flag'

Last updated 12:11 19/08/2015

The black and silver flag design.

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We have a saying in Maoridom that, when faced with a tough decision, we invoke our ancestors.

The debate over what flag will represent our nation is especially poignant to me as my ancestors were instrumental in the evolution of our national symbols.

Thomas Ellison, the first captain of a New Zealand rugby team, proposed the silver fern on an all-black uniform. Whilst the New Zealand Native Rugby team first used those elements during their 1888-9 tour of England, his inspiration was what the silver fern and black meant to both Maori and Pakeha.

To Maori, the silver fern was our guiding light, literally and figuratively. The underside of the fern reflected the moonlight, guiding us through the darkness. Wearing and waving the silver fern welcomes and guides visitors on to the marae.

To Pakeha, the silver fern is their laurel leaf. The laurel appeared on heraldry to symbolise peace, strength, authority, and rank.

Over time, many symbols, such as military medals, coats of arms, and military uniforms replaced the laurel leaf with the silver fern to represent the mutual respect for the symbol.

The colour black is our national colour of mutual respect. The first Pakeha of rank in New Zealand, such as missionaries and Royal Navy officers, wore black. Our first Governor, William Hobson, went further and replaced his gold braid with silver.

During signings of the Treaty of Waitangi throughout the country, Maori chiefs wore the white-tipped black huia feather.

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To Maori, black is the colour of respect and mana. At tangi, Maori wear black to show their respects, much like Pakeha, and also wear silver ferns on their heads.

Black and the silver fern are ancient and sacred symbols that predate the Magna Carta - when Maori arrived on these shores. These symbols were adopted by military and representative organisations before the symbols of our current flag emerged from Australia.

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To understand what the current flag means to Maori, one needs to look at the period that it appeared.


The flag contains two symbols. The Union Jack represents the Queen, our Treaty partner.

The Southern Cross represents the New Zealand Government, not the New Zealand people.

The Southern Cross, in its romanised cross form, first appeared on the flag of a movement to stop the transport of prisoners to Australia. A Freemason in Australia, Albert Markham, saw that design and adapted a four pentagram version for our Governor, Sir George Bowen, and it was swiftly adopted.

The same politicians who chose our current flag are the same people who confiscated Maori and sold them for votes to settlers.

Thomas Ellison's father, Raniera, was friends with Thomas Bracken. They provided food and clothing to Parihaka prisoners in Dunedin.

Raniera also visited Te Whiti and Tohu in Parihaka many times.

Ellison inherited his father's concern with Maori grievances, becoming one of the first Maori lawyers. Bracken themed his poem God Defend New Zealand around guarding 'men of every creed and race' from 'dissension, envy, hate, and corruption' to 'make our country  good and great.'

Bracken also became a Member of Parliament after the first universal one-man-one-vote election in 1881, when the North Island population first surpassed the South's. Native Minister John Bryce's electorate boundary was moved to include the source of passive 
resistance, Parihaka. As an election stunt (and free up more land for his demanding voters), he mounted a white charger, pillaged Parihaka, and shipped the villagers off to Dunedin as prisoners.

Bracken and Maori, who were marginalised to only four seats in Parliament, could hardly oppose the influx of settlers hungry for our confiscated land.


I am a descendant of both Thomas Ellison and Te Whiti o Rongomai. I hope that you can understand why the Southern Cross to me and my people holds similar feelings as the Confederate flag does to African Americans or the swastika does to the Jewish people.

People who want to see the Southern Cross on the same flag as the silver fern must be reminded of our history.

Any flag of a nation must be free of divisive symbols. That was Ellison's aim when he developed the All Black uniform. That was Bracken's goal when he made no mention of the Southern Cross in our national anthem.

Ellison went to great pains to ensure that the silver fern design did not resemble a white feather - the symbol of cowardice. The silver fern is very unique, elegant in its design, and was sought after by many botanists abroad. Unfortunately, none of the long-list of 40 flag
chosen by the Flag Consideration Panel do justice to our symbol.

I was a school teacher in Canada during the 1960s when they changed their flag. Their flag reminded me of the New Zealand War Service Medal that Second World War returned servicemen received from a grateful nation. The ribbon was based on the feathers of the huia - black with white tips - and a medal with the silver fern.

I have staked my ground in the flag debate. I am Kaitiaki of a flag design that my ancestors would support. I have supported a design based on that medal. It is called "The Black & Silver" flag.

This flag was not chosen by the Flag Consideration Panel, which to me is a national disgrace. This view is shared by many of my whanau, iwi and Pakeha friends.

History is on my side, which should prevail over the unsubstantiated opinions of some fickle celebrities.

David Ellison is a Kai Tahu upoko, kaumatua, former teacher and soldier.


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