Company accused of anti-Māori publishing promoting books at schools

A Wellington company accused of publishing books that are anti- Māori, inaccurate and harmful has been going door to door promoting and selling its work at high schools.

Tross Publishing has a collection of books that claim Māori come from a dysfunctional, violent, and stone aged culture.

“They visit schools, they sell their books door to door, so they are offering their product within school spaces,” said Glenys Bichan, a spokesperson for the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.

“Some schools choose not to stock them because of the huge disinformation that they perceive them to have.”

The company has visited Cambridge High School, where Bichan works as a librarian, three times.

Unlike other schools, she decided to buy a few of the books to teach her students how to identify misinformation.

“We teach our students a range of skills to analyse content, that's really important, and that’s why we have a couple of these texts in our schools because we need to nurture our students to understand the minefield of misinformation.

“These books are great examples of books that are written emotively, written with an agenda, some of the sources that are used are really old so they’re not tested and they’re written with a colonialist lens.”

Māori Studies researcher Hemopereki Simon, a Research Fellow at Mills College in California, is deeply concerned Tross Publishing is targeting schools.

“For Māori at least, and possibly Pacific Islanders, people of colour, and people who know history, when you pick these publications up, they can be traumatising.

“As to whether it’s appropriate in schools, absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, there are far better things kids can read that are far more informed. If we're moving towards an inclusive history curriculum then, no. It’s a whole lot of misinformation.”

Te Tiriti o Waitangi educator John James Carberry was concerned about the impact the books could have on Māori who hadn’t had much exposure to their culture.

“It is concerning if this type of literature makes its in front of some of our babies who haven’t’ had exposure to their culture, to the kōrero of their tūpuna, to the beautiful and wonderful feats that their tupuna have achieved,” he said.

“If this is the first type of exposure that they have to Māori culture, these extremes proposed by Tross Publishing, what we know about this in terms of its impacts is that Māori can internalise this stuff. It results in this internalised hatred, and that’s the last thing we need.”

Many books by Tross Publishing refer to historical events such as the 1881 Crown invasion of the peaceful Taranaki settlement Parihaka.

Andy Oakley’s book Cannons Creek to Waitangi explains how there were no casualties during the invasion and just a single injury after a child’s foot was stood on.

It forgets to mention that women were raped by crown-troops, houses were desecrated, and people were forcibly evicted from their homes.

The Crown has itself acknowledged these violent acts and more.

“They do these things where they try to downplay the tragedy, it’s quite sad, and somewhat really pathetic. They're trying to engage in what can be best described as a form of denial,” Simon said.

In a statement, Tross Publishing told one news all the accusations against it were false.

“Tross Publishing's books are based on historical facts without any revisionist or other agenda and are heavily referenced. We resent your continuing attacks on our right of free speech,” it said.

New Zealand’s history will be taught in all schools from 2022.

But Carberry said Tross Publishing books did not belong in the history section of any library.

“Hopefully educators will see it for what it is, which is opinion pieces, and it belongs within that category as opposed to passed off under the guise of academic scholarship.”

At Cambridge High School the books are kept in a back room and handled carefully, leaving space on shelves for work that is peer-reviewed and supported by universities and iwi.