‘Warrior Gene’ Slur Makes Maoris Angry

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The New York Sun

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Maori leaders reacted furiously yesterday after a scientist said their race carried a “warrior gene” that predisposed them to violence and criminal behavior.

A genetic epidemiologist, Rod Lea, told the International Conference of Human Genetics in Brisbane, Australia, that Maori men were twice as likely as Europeans to bear monoamine oxidase, a gene that is also connected with risk-taking behavior such as smoking and gambling.

He was reported as saying the discovery went “a long way to explaining some of the problems” that Maoris had in New Zealand.

Mr. Lea’s findings come at a sensitive time after a series of high-profile cases of deaths and assaults of children in Maori families. Outraged critics accused him of reinforcing a “cultural stereotype” portrayed in the 1994 film “Once Were Warriors,” with its violent character, Jake Heke.

A co-leader of the Maori Party, Tariana Turia, said the findings were implausible. “I have never felt criminally inclined,” he said. “And I’m very pleased to say that the majority of Maori people don’t feel criminally inclined.

“Once were warriors? Once were gardeners, once were astronomers, once were philosophers, once were lovers,” he said.

A respected Maori elder, Brian Dickson, said, “I could wrap all his words up in one: colonization.”

“It is controversial because it has implications suggesting links with criminality among Maori people. Obviously, this means they are going to be more aggressive and violent,” Mr. Lea said. Mr. Lea works at the government-owned Institute of Environmental Science and Research in Wellington.

He said the gene could also explain the Maoris’ successful historical migration from islands in the Pacific when they first peopled New Zealand.

Mr. Lea said lifestyle and upbringing were also “relevant” to whether violent traits developed. As the storm of controversy broke around him, he appeared to backpedal somewhat, insisting he was interested only in the genetic basis for disease among Maoris.

Recent cases of child abuse have highlighted a problem of domestic violence in New Zealand that a government report described as “endemic” and “shameful.”

A Maori family in Auckland, whose 3-month-old twins died after suffering head injuries, were described by Prime Minister Clark as a “‘Once Were Warriors’-type family.” Relatives refused to cooperate with police.

In wider statistics, Maoris are convicted of more than 65% of all offenses, despite making up only 15% of the population.

The New York Sun

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