Air NZ decide: your culture or a job?

Air NZ / NAC stewards, circa 1978

My big Air NZ blag:

This has popped up in the news recently. No doubt you would have heard of it. Air NZ, in the middle of a job interview, stop it immediately when *shock horror* the interviewee revealed she has moko on her forearm.

Shonky HR practices aside, I feel compelled to comment. One, because Air NZ is the national carrier and I fly on it all the time as would many other NZrs (some of us Māori fly on planes a lot so Air NZ can be sure at least that segment of their customer base won’t be scared off). Two, I have been an admirer of the progressive thinking of its former CEO. And three, I like the ‘kiwi-friendly’ tone they have adopted in their safety promos. I’ve watched Bear Grylls eat bugs in the bush because of that. But gee Air NZ, why did you have to get squirmy all of a sudden because of a bit of moko?

Air NZ has a long and clearly visible history of appropriating aspects of Māori culture in order to stand out among the cacophony of airline brands operating worldwide. The koru (well, it’s kinda more like a mangopare but that’s okay, they know that too) is the key icon, but just a quick survey of past Air NZ television ads reveal how extensively Māori culture has been showcased as part of their brand promotion.

Nice, nostalgic, sanitised, controlled and as Ranginui Walker puts it, “cherrypicked” elements of our culture (Waatea interview, 29 May 13). Elements that help promote Air NZ as a culturally aware nationally responsive organisation that has some robust sense of the indigenous people.

But with that controlled nostalgia comes a sense of conservatism. And with conservatism, comes attempts at defining aspects of our culture that are ‘appropriate’ or ‘commercially-friendly’. By denying a job to a Māori woman proudly bearing moko on her arm (coincidentally, the same place where I have mine), Air NZ are denying proof of a culture in dynamic motion and resurgence, that same culture which they use to sell themselves out in the world.

On their Vision and Principles page, Air NZ proclaim: “…our Koru reflects and inspires who we are as Air New Zealanders. It links us to our beautiful country and gives us a sense of place. It reminds us of our responsibility to nurture and maintain our precious resources for future generations.”

Nice words but they sound extraordinarily hollow now.

Māori culture is more than a koru pattern or a pretty song sung by a pretty Māori. It is living, breathing, speaking and moving. And what’s more, Māori culture is wearing moko on its forearms. Now give her the damn job. Pfft


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