READER REPORT:

Red Peak: A flag for all New Zealanders

PHILIP MCKIBBIN
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2015
red peak

"When I look at Red Peak, I see the sky transitioning from night to dawn."

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We have a choice to make.

Fortunately, though, the choice that we should make is clear.

'First to the Light' - or Red Peak as it is more commonly called - is a flag for all New Zealanders.

It is a flag that suggests our heritage, represents who we are as a people, and will guide us as we steer ourselves and our country into the future.

A strength of this flag is that it empowers us all to invest it with our own interpretations.

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When I look at Red Peak, I am reminded of the national Māori flag (also referred to as Tino  Rangatiratanga), and everything that it symbolises. The left side of Red Peak comprises traditional Māori colours - red, white, and black - with the white, te ao mārama, separating sky and earth, Rangi-nui and Papatūānuku, just as it does on the national Māori flag.

It also reminds me of our European heritage. The right side of Red Peak, with its red, white, and blue, calls to mind our current flag, with the colours it inherited from the United Kingdom. In imagining these two flags alongside each other, I see the promise and possibility of partnership, a promise that was made with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but which sometimes seems impossible.

The blue also suggests the oceans that surround us - especially the Pacific Ocean, and our neighbouring Pacific Islands for whom we feel a strong sense of responsibility. It might also serve to remind us that, whatever our ancestry, we arrived at these lands from beyond the sea.

I like that Red Peak suggests progression, as does its original name. Most of us have seen the image, made to look like the flag, of a wharenui, a symbol of community, against a snow-capped mountain, with the sky behind it - a starry night on the left side, and a blue day on the right.

When I look at Red Peak, I see the sky transitioning from night to dawn.

I like that when 'read' from left to right, the flag begins with colours that suggest our strong Māori heritage, and ends with a blue that encourages us to reflect on the world beyond our shores.

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This reminds me that as we grow stronger our responsibilities increase, that in relating to others our identities change, and that there is positive potential in all of this.

It also encourages me to reflect on the ways in which ideals that have been struggled for here have served as examples for the rest of the world - and these are the things that I am most proud of about Aotearoa New Zealand.

I think of the struggle for Māori rights, and the inspiration that indigenous peoples across the world, especially Native Hawaiians, have taken from this; I think about women's suffrage, and the tremendous gains that followed; I think about our principled anti-nuclear stance, and the power it generated, and I think about the leading role we continue to play.

Importantly, this flag empowers all of us to find ourselves, and our country, in it.

Red Peak, like Aotearoa New Zealand, already has a remarkable history. In a very short period of time, it has inspired us to reflect on who we are and what we choose to value. And it has encouraged so many of us to rally behind it - upsetting a disappointing selection process, and giving us the chance to make a choice that we can all be proud of.

It has even sparked valuable discussion about the marginalisation of ethnic minorities here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Māori broadcaster Tū Harawira reportedly said that Red Peak 'has white separating all the colours' - that is, that it represents marginalisation.

"To me this is symbol of the white fellas with all the colours in the corner," he said.

I want to say a little bit more about this. Harawira and others are correct in suggesting that ethnic minorities, here and elsewhere, are marginalised by whiteness, which remains invisible to all but a few Pākehā. It is vitally important that we work to understand the ways in which marginalisation occurs, and the effects that it has. I think that Harawira's interpretation of this flag is unfortunate, though, because I believe that this flag can be interpreted in ways that celebrate the strength of te ao Māori, rather than diminishing it.

I would suggest that it is because it can be described as 'Māori' without diminishing anyone else who calls Aotearoa New Zealand home that Red Peak has achieved the strong support that it has. And we must remember that Red Peak is much more inclusive of te ao Māori than our current flag - which ignores it, in favour of the Union Jack, a symbol of the British Empire and its many Red Peak has other, widely-touted strengths: it is simple enough for a child to draw (which is, they say, one indication of a good flag design), and it is easily recognisable in a reduced format.

These strengths are clearly illustrated on this webpage.

Significantly, Red Peak also evokes the natural environment, with which we now have an interdependent relationship. A common interpretation has the black representing night, the blue representing dawn, red representing the earth, and white representing our mountains.

We should take this referendum seriously. 

Symbols are important, and we have a rare opportunity to change the most significant symbol of who we are as New Zealanders. 

Red Peak is a flag for all of us.

Which is your favourite of the final five flag designs? Hit the green button or email stuffnation@stuff.co.nz to contribute to this assignment.

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