Apr 23, 2014

Shane Jones: the political obituary



I know Shane Jones. I like Shane Jones. I don’t want to seem like a sycophant, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I admired him. I disagreed with much of what he said, sure, but I recognised a commanding Maori leader.

Here was a man – and I’m deliberately using gendered language, but more on that later – who understood the Maori experience and the Maori condition: our idiosyncrasies, language, literature, history, philosophies, spiritualism and our politics.

And that’s what set Jones apart. In that respect, he was above the Maori leaders of his generation. He was the successor to Ngata’s legacy. It’s probably because he was a student of James Carroll. Both men appreciated that Maori society is always adapting tradition to modernity. Carroll took that to mean integration into and imitation of British political institutions. Jones took that to mean integration into and imitation of Anglo-American capitalism.

It’s said that Maori walk backwards into the future. History is closer. Jones knew this better than many. I think it’s what influenced his political thinking and practice. It’s the reason he favoured integration on Maori terms – he was drawing on the wisdom of experience, as he saw it – and the reason he valued oratory. He traced his political descent down the same line as Carroll, Ngata, Couch and Peters. Shane was a model of these Maori men. He drew on their strengths, but he also inherited their weaknesses.

Shane inherited the prejudices of the likes of Carroll, Ngata, Couch and Peters. These were conservative men who didn’t care as much for other marginalised groups. Take Apirana Ngata. He was an Anglo-patrician who believed in a racial hierarchy. Although he committed his entire being to Maori, he was not open-minded on today’s standards. I’m not saying Jones’ believes in racial hierarchy, but that he inherited blindspots from his predecessors.

It’s those blindspots that make Shane a social democrat, but not a liberal. That was a cause of tension, stress and confusion on the left. Labour was always his default home, but I don’t think it was ever his proper home. Shane was socialised into politics off the back of, for lack of a better term, the old left. His introduction to Parliament and the Beehive was while working for Geoffrey Palmer in the fourth Labour government. He would've been a better fit - ideologically - in the Maori Party. He might've had a more successful career in National.

This meant he was neither perfect for Maori nor perfect for the left. (But perfection is a false chalice, yet that didn’t stop many from demanding it). The attacks against women were uncalled for and wrong. The struggle for gender equality shouldn't and can't be divorced from the struggle for ethnic equality. Equality works best when it's equality for the whole and not the parts.

I think many of Shane’s Maori supporters were always willing to recognise that. Yet his opponents rarely acknowledged his significance for Maori and in Maori political history. His place in Maori politics and Maori history was ignored. That was a telling signal to Maori - a people who revere the past and always try to fit their thinking in it. Shane worked because he understood this. He knew what made Maori tick, though it was always undermined by the faults of his political line.

But what was worse – and very neo-colonialist – was being told to wait for someone better. That moment had too much in common with when the radical left realised tino rangatiratanga meant ownership and then Maori suddenly became the new bourgeois. I’ve said it before: Maori politics doesn’t sit apart from the political spectrum, but below it. At least the political right doesn't pretend to be a false friend.

Maori political history isn't rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more "progressive" candidate is deeply offensive. Maori have waited too long for too little. Shane was an opportunity and one many - including myself - were willing to back. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as we’ve come in more than a decade to the centre of power. Winston was the last Maori politician to come close to real power. It’s been a century since Maori actually touched it (Carroll as acting prime minister). Forgive us for working with what we have.

Shane was always good to me. I don’t base my politics on how well politicians treat me, but I believe he was a good man with honest intentions. That’s more than I can say for a lot of politicians I’ve met. I wish Shane all the best. But I’m mourning what he represented and what appears to be, for now, a loss of meaning in Maori politics. Who carries the tohu of the likes of Carroll now? Is that political line broken? After all, Parekura has gone. Tariana is leaving. But who is coming through?    

Apr 15, 2014

Our double reality: on being Maori and being political

Well, they haven’t done anything wrong. In holding a lucrative fundraiser at the exclusive Northern Club, the Maori Party neither broke the law nor transgressed some moral jurisdiction. But the grievous hypocrisy is unmistakable. Consider this:



Dotcom’s dollars are off limits, but money from privileged Auckland isn’t?

Donations arrive attached with expectations of reciprocity. The Prime Minister will expect a return in loyalty. The donors will expect their interests to be represented in Cabinet. To think otherwise is deliberate ignorance. Donations are made on the basis of self-interest and shared identity. But does the Maori Party want to be the party of privileged Auckland?

The Maori Party doesn’t just suffer at the hands of racists, but at the hands of Maori leftists and separatists too. At times it seems like the party is fielding unjust criticism from all sides. But this isn’t one of those times. The party has played into the central criticisms others make: that it's drifted away from the people.

Sure, a fundraising dinner at the exclusive and prestigious Northern Club is far removed from the lived experience of most Maori. But the real story is how political fundraising compromises political independence and political values. Politics doesn't happen in a vacuum. How you practice it- and, importantly, who you practice it with - is loaded with meaning.

Maori Party President Naida Glavish on Native Affairs

I’m not accusing the Maori Party of selling out. That’s too easy and it tells us nothing about the complexity of their situation. What I’m accusing the party of is saying one thing while doing another. There’s the hypocrisy levelled at Hone Harawira, but there’s also a deeper contradiction.

The Maori Party argues it's neither left nor right - it’s Maori. Pita Sharples is no social democrat and Tariana Turia isn’t a classical liberal, sure, but that doesn’t mean they can retreat from the political spectrum. They are part of politics as usual. Not as a matter of ideology, but circumstance and practice.

You can’t claim to be separated from mainstream politics when you sit in Parliament with a ministerial warrant. You can’t claim to be above mainstream politics when – as Patrick Gower put it – you’ve adopted the National Party fundraising model.

This speaks to the unsteady, unsure ground Maori politics exist on. Maori experience a sort of double reality. We experience politics as both New Zealanders and Maori. This dual reality causes angst and havoc in Maori politics. Where does the border begin and end? How do political parties naviagte two competing worlds? Is it even appropriate to distinguish instead of integrate?

The trick is to acknowledge that and be very clear – for the sake of your own integrity – when and why you’re moving between the Maori political world and the world of rightwing wealth. Especially when the world you’re emigrating to is so far removed from the reality for most Maori.

The Maori Party is based on an appeal to our collective purpose. Yet it works so hard to undermine it. They can enjoy nice food and cavort with whoever they like. After all, the Maori Party is about establishing kaupapa Maori politics. It can help establish new social norms if it likes too. But it should recognise the consequences.

A democracy is a country of competing interests and competing powers. Maori are no longer content to be the weakest. The Maori Party is testament to that. But their approach to progress has been ineffective and - as of yesterday - quite stupid. They didn't do anything wrong, but they're not doing much right either. 

Apr 8, 2014

Anne Tolley: see no racism, hear no racism, speak no racism

Maori women challenging racism in the early feminist movement
H/T Te Ara

Don’t act surprised. From RNZ:

"The Government is rejecting suggestions Maori are being unfairly targetted in the police or corrections systems the Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has described as institutionally racist. 
A visiting United Nations delegation says the Government needs to investigate why a systemic bias against Maori is evident in the country's criminal justice system. 
The delegation, which reports to the UN Human Rights Council, says any bias against Maori leading to their incarceration more than other New Zealanders constitutes arbitrary detention and is illegal under international law. 
Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says she has seen no evidence of institutional racism in either police or Corrections. 
"Quite the reverse in fact; there's a lot of work going on. The police are turning the tide and we're very impressed by that work and of course in Corrections the work that's going on to reduce reoffending."

It’s easy when you have the privilege of detachment – and, of course, the authority of objectivity – to deny that racism exists. But even then, Tolley’s remarks are neither a full denial nor a proper admission. Her response is bureaucratic: “the police are turning the tide and we’re very impressed by that work”.

What does that even mean? If the police “are turning the tide” is that an admission institutional racism did exist? Or is “quite the reverse” a denial that institutional racism ever existed? Does it matter? Unfortunately it does.

Tolley’s position doesn’t change the facts: Maori adults are 3.8 times more likely to be prosecuted than non-Maori and 3.9 times more likely to be convicted of an offence. Maori young people are more likely than Pakeha to be apprehended and prosecuted for committing the same offence. This is the reality of the racial hierarchy: the apprehension, prosecution and conviction gaps. But add the health, wealth, education, employment and housing gaps too.

But if Tolley denies that this is the product of institutional racism, she doesn’t have to do anything substantive about it. Her response can be bureaucratic: we are doing [insert glib policy] in hope of achieving [insert rosy outcome] for [insert folksy platitude].

Tolley’s position is profoundly ahistorical. Settler colonialism is based on the denial of indigenous systems and culture. You can’t complete the colonial project – namely to import the capitalist economy and recreate the architecture of liberal democracy - while allowing an indigenous system to co-exist.

The New Zealand experience is no different. In the 19th century Maori were invited to assimilate under the Treaty. In 20th century New Zealand Maori have been invited to integrate under the Treaty settlement process. But under neither regime were Maori offered full membership of the state. Institutional racism made assimilation and integration conditional - sovereignty had to be transferred, discrimination tolerated and wrongdoing (eventually) forgiven. 

Indulge me for a moment and imagine if we started setting some conditions like, say, extracting a genuine commitment to do something about institutional racism. But perhaps a commitment from government isn't necessary. Iwi, hapu, whanau, community groups, national organisations and individuals - of different ethnicities - are doing their best to turn the tide. In many areas, it’s working. Maori do have better access to housing and education than a century ago. But I’m suspicious of the government’s claim to be turning the tide. Here’s why: 

You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress ... No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn't exist for me”. – Malcolm X 

Mar 20, 2014

Wrong questions, wrong answers: the rot in the Kohanga Reo

Who's the Kohanga serving? h/t Te Ara.


And the unfortunate becomes the farcical:



The Serious Fraud Office has been asked to investigate allegations of misspending by the commercial arm of kohanga reo, less than 25 hours after Education Minister Hekia Parata put her credibility on the line by promising taxpayers there had been no impropriety.
 
In a humiliating U-turn yesterday, Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced the SFO had been asked to investigate after a trustee from the Kohanga Reo National Trust passed on "fresh allegations" of misspending involving subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga (TPO). 
 
The development followed a shambolic press conference late on Tuesday evening in which Parata said she was satisfied no public money had been spent inappropriately, despite allegations that TPO general manager Lynda Tawhiwhirangi used her work credit card to buy a wedding dress, an $800 Trelise Cooper dress, a 21st birthday gift, and make a $1000 cash withdrawal as koha for a tangi she did not attend

What makes the issue more bizarre is that EY wasn’t instructed or empowered to investigate the original claims. The Dominion Post details some of the claims in the paragraph above, but others were omitted. For example, why did Te Pataka Ohanga give low interest loans to Kohanga Reo board members?
 
 Parata and Sharples insisted that the Kohanga Reo National Trust purchases services from Te Pataka Ohanga – a subsidiary of the trust. The argument goes something like this: the relationship between the trust and its subsidiary is private and cannot warrant public scrutiny. But that reasoning is artificial. 
 
The trust and their supporters can create academic distinctions, but it doesn’t change the nature of the trust and its operations. The trust might fall outside of the core public service, but it’s performing a public function. Public organisations must be subject to public scrutiny. 
 
That seems obvious and it leads to a series of questions:
 
  • Why was EY not permitted to investigate the original claims? When the story broke the Prime Minister offered assurances that if there was “inappropriate behaviour” then persons concerned would “have the book thrown at them”. The review appeared to sidestep the “inappropriate behaviour” and “the book” seems to be a referral. The Auditor-General was probably the better investigator; 
  • Also, what new information prompted the referral to the Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Internal Affairs? It seems more likely that the Prime Minister’s office prompted the referral. The issue threatened coverage of Key’s trip to China and might’ve damaged the government’s credibility. There’s no reason for a National government to die in a ditch over a Maori organisation; 
  • Lastly, what’s Parata and Sharples connection to board members? It could be their personal relationships that lead them to protect the board. If you pick apart the fabric of Maori society you'll find important seams that connect and overlap.  
 
The behaviour of the board and its subsidiary has been dreadful. Perhaps it’s the predictable effect of lifetime appointments. But I think it goes deeper. There’s a rot in Maori governance. From poor governance at Maori TV to the Kohanga Reo board, Maori aren’t being served. 
 
Would a rational and skilled board re-attempt to appoint Paora Maxwell after the staff revolt? Clearly the board didn’t consider rudimentary factors like workplace culture and staff satisfaction. Would a rational and skilled board sanction a $50,000 koha to a board member? That’s more than triple the median income for Maori. I’ll tell you what kind of board would – one that isn't fit for the job.
 

Mar 17, 2014

The cycles of Maori politics


I’m going to make the call: all things remaining the same, the incumbents in the Maori electorates will retain their seats. Here’s how it’s looking.
Te Tai Tokerau
Labour: Kelvin Davis
Mana: Hone Harawira

Tamaki Makaurau

Labour: Shane Taurima (probably)
Mana: tbc.
Maori Party: possible candidates include Bronwyn Yates, George Ngatai, Te Hira Paenga and Tūnuiarangi McLean. The selection hui is scheduled in May.

Hauraki-Waikato

Labour: Nanaia Mahuta

Waiariki

Labour: the candidates are Katie Paul, Ryan Te Wara and Rawiri Waititi.
Mana: tbc (at the AGM I believe between 11-13 April)
Maori Party: Te Ururoa Flavell

Te Tai Hauauru

Greens: Jack Tautokai McDonald
Labour: Adrian Rurawhe
Maori Party: Chris McKenzie

Ikaroa-Rawhiti

Labour: Meka Whaitiri
Mana: Te Hamua Nikora

Te Tai Tonga
 
Greens: Dora Langsbury
Labour: Rino Tirikatene

Labour has a clear run in Hauraki-Waikato and Te Tai Tonga. There are few - if any - viable challengers. Mana and the Maori Party have missed the window of opportunity and it seems that Tamaki will fall Labour's way while Ikaroa looks increasingly safe. Te Ururoa and Hone appear safe too. Te Tai Hauauru is the great uncertainty.

Labour, Mana and the Maori Party can't hope to run viable campaigns in the seats they haven't selected candidates in. The election is six months away and the window of opportunity has passed. At this point, any campaign against the incumbent is nominal. Maori politics is relationship based and its difficult to build a political relationship with the electorate with only six months on the clock. That's leaving aside the other, more practical issues, like campaign personnel and strategy.

But the bigger picture is important too: conflict characterised the last decade in Maori politics. Think of Closing the Gaps, Orewa and the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The cruel irony is that the Maori Party has resolved much of that conflict - Whanau Ora has replaced Closing the Gaps, National has abandoned its Maori bashing tactics and the Foreshore and Seabed Act has been repealed and replaced - yet Labour will be the beneficiary.

That's terribly unfair. But while stability returns to Maori politics, the Maori electorates appear to be reverting to type: Labour-led. Maori politics runs through cycles of uncertainty. When uncertainty and instability arises the Maori electorates turn against Labour. It almost happened with Matiu Rata while it actually happened in the 90s with New Zealand First and the 2000s with the Maori Party. The Young Maori Party was born amidst uncertainty and low confidence among Maori, but when certainty and confidence returned Labour and Ratana swept the Maori seats.

There was a window of opportunity when Mana and the Maori Party might have challenged that cycle. But I think that window has passed. The best they can hope to do is retain what they have.
 

Feb 27, 2014

"Property rights for some are property rights for none"

Writing about anti-Maori propaganda is exhausting. It’s not exhausting in the sense that it’s back breaking work; rather it’s intellectually – and, more importantly, emotionally - draining. I’m often writing against stereotypes that have been a century in the making. Stereotypes that are encoded in New Zealand’s colonial memory. Consider this from the Herald:

Iwi's right to stall consents raises fears 
New rule for work on cultural and heritage sites introduces process `based on race'. 
A new rule requiring homeowners and businesses to seek iwi approval to work on sites of cultural and heritage value to Maori is set to be debated by councillors today. 
Groups and politicians across the political spectrum are concerned the rule creates a dual resource consent process - one conducted by Auckland Council and the other by Maori. 
Under the council's draft Unitary Plan, applications to carry out work on 3600 sites of "value to mana whenua" must obtain a "cultural impact assessment" from one or more of 19 iwi groups. 
If iwi do not agree, applicants must apply to the council for a resource consent. 
Waitemata councillor Mike Lee said the rule is likely to mean extra costs for people and create a parallel regulatory framework based on race. 
Employers and Manufacturers chief executive Kim Campbell shares Mr Lee's view that it could lead to an unacceptable dual resource consent process. 
"As it stands, the proposed Unitary Plan's cultural impact assessments would add uncertainty, cost and time delays to the issuing of resource consents," Mr Campbell said.

Note the framing in the headline: iwi’s right to “stall” rather than iwi’s right to be consulted. In the opening sentence the mandatory quote - “based on race” – is included. But then, as a measure of insulation against accusations of scaremongering or racism, the story shifts to an issue of “process” and “cost”. These are the rhetorical parachutes I’ve written about before.

But the story is about neither process nor cost. This is about property rights. Iwi haven’t gained the right to stall development – they’ve regained a small measure of the property rights they lost to force and intrigue. This is a contest of property rights. The story doesn’t acknowledge the iwi property right – the right to a small measure of pluralism over sites of significance – but it acknowledges the title holder’s – read Pakeha’s - right to develop with no impediments.

Title holders retain the ordinary property rights, but where sites of significance are involved the ordinary property rights are subject to iwi consultation. In principle the iwi right works like a conservation easement. Except iwi don’t have the power to veto. It’s an ordinary consultation right. David Taipari gives a different example:

David Taipari, chairman of the council's Independent Maori Statutory Board, said the rule was no different from those protecting built heritage, saying it was important that people did not destroy or affect archeological or sites of significance to mana whenua.

And he’s right. But also note that this single paragraph is the only attempt at balance. The result is obvious: the title holder’s right to develop is framed as the important right while the iwi right to conserve is not framed as property right, but some sort of unearned privilege. But this isn’t a case of the council or the government creating new rights for iwi. The council is recognising a small right that has always existed.

If this story was framed as a contest of property rights it wouldn’t be as sexy. It's not even a case of race. These are sites significant to New Zealand, surely. The stereotype of iwi winning special rights is deeply embedded. Some people go off about it without thinking (it’s a reflex action). Others have more sinister motives (to sell papers, maybe). I don’t care. Maybe it’ll be less exhausting if I care less?

Feb 24, 2014

The meaning of Winston Peter's race talk


This is from Winston Peter's state of the nation speech. Don’t act surprised:


New Zealand has gone from a nation of united people to an urban collection of communities, many clinging to where they were, rather than where they are now. 
We have the Chinese community, the Pacific Islands community, the Sri Lankans, the Indians - the list is endless. All hyphenated New Zealanders… 
It’s as simple as this. Our last census had boxes for virtually every race on earth. Except one. There was no box for you to tick that you are a New Zealander… 
When people come to New Zealand, New Zealand First says they should fit in and contribute to our laws, our values, our culture, language and traditions. 
That doesn’t mean abandoning identity. The Irish, Scots, Welsh, Dalmatians never did, nor did the Dutch.

This is vintage Winston. Except the wine has turned to vinegar. Winston speaks to a New Zealand that thinks it's under ideological and demographic siege. Parse the tortuous language of “urban… communities”, “values” and “identity” and you’ll find New Zealanders who yearn for a New Zealand that never existed. Winston speaks to their imaginary past.

If Colin Craig’s “entire political movement and history is based on feelings of humiliation” then Winston Peter’s political movement is based on feelings of betrayal. It’s aimed at New Zealanders who went to sleep in one country and woke up in another: the strong state communitarianism of Kirk and the strong state conservatism of Muldoon had disappeared, the borders had become porous – for both capital and labour - and New Zealand had been “opened for business”.

If you scratch the itch you’ll find that Winston’s people are worried about economics and leadership. That’s the source of their angst, but race is its expression. Why? Because race represents their ideological losses today and their demographic irrelevance tomorrow. Immigration – and Maori bashing, of course – is the lightning rod of their unease and hostilities. But its real source is the economic transformation of the 80s and 90s.

Consider this:

But the so-called economic reformers of the past 30 years dismantled the industries and state enterprises that were the economic life blood of Maori. 
Freezing works closed, the Ministry of Works, Forest Service, Government Print and so many others. When the Forestry Service was privatised, thousands of jobs were lost and 80 per cent of those jobs had been held by Māori. 
Heartland New Zealand had the heart ripped out.
Tens of thousands of Maori were thrown on the industrial scrap heap. Along with unemployment came the twin curses of alcohol and drugs which are creating mayhem among Maori…
Along with the new age economics of selling everything and bringing in more immigrants, a new political arrangement was entered into. 
This is the politics of appeasement to radical Māori demands.

That's a straightforward description of the economic reforms of the 80s and 90s, but it's framed as a problem of Maori radicalism. Now I don't think Winston buys his own rhetoric and that makes it fundamentally dishonest. But it works. When the walls are closing in people fight to apportion blame. It’s easier to blame the other than blame your own political impotence. Communities of colour become a totem for the decline of Winston's provincialists. Don Brash fell short, but he demonstrated the electoral reward for politicians who can tap the reservoir of racism.

When you peel away the forced politeness, the urge to please everyone and suppressed anger in some parts of provincial New Zealand you’ll find a country that’s deeply scarred. If it looks to in the mirror, it's ashamed. If it looks to the future, it's afraid. If it looks to the (imaginary) past, it's at home.

Winston understands this and he uses race to channel their fears. But race isn't the source of their angst and non-racialism isn't the solution to it. Winston's failure to craft a strategic response to his voter's angst only serves to reinforce it. You can't craft a strategic response to neoliberalism off the back of a cabal of hardcore racists. They might like their imaginary past, but Winston can only give them an imaginary future.

Feb 18, 2014

Shane Taurima: political neophyte?

Patrick Gower has thrown a rat among the kiwi eggs:

3 News can reveal state broadcaster TVNZ is being used as a campaign base by Labour Party activists. 
They've even held a meeting in TVNZ's Maori and Pacific Unit aimed at fundraising for Labour. 
The unit's manager, Shane Taurima, has held ambitions to become a Labour MP and his staff have been arranging Labour Party business, using TVNZ facilities like email.
Mr Taurima has resigned following the revelation.

How did several experienced journalists miss the headlines they were creating? The use of TVNZ facilities was minor, but it should have created doubts. The stench of a story should have suffocated every journalist in the meeting room.

I stand by the claim that the use was relatively minor. But the political ineptitude isn’t. There’s a story on two levels: principled and practical. Is it ethical to remain party political while maintaining editorial control at a public broadcaster? On a practical level, does the issue speak to poor political judgement?

I think Shane checked his views at the door. His work confirms that. But perceptions demanded he resign. How could he remain objective?

Well, he remained balanced. Objectivity was a red herring. Journalism demands balance. The myth of objectivity was only a self-serving political attack. Shane didn’t sacrifice his professional skills or values. But the perception that he was tainted – a perception that’s given substance in the latest story – ran too deep.

Shane didn’t make the rod for his own back in front of the camera or in the control room - he made it in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti selection. When he revealed his political ambitions – and social democratic inclinations – he drew a target on his head. In hindsight he should have resigned permanently the moment he announced his candidacy. On a practical level he could have and did remain – I don’t think anyone can question his professionalism – but on a political level the decision to remain was stupid. Does this cast doubt on his suitability as a political candidate?

Post script: Shane has released a gracious media statement explaining his resignation. 

Feb 12, 2014

Kaupapa Maori politics: a definition

The tino rangatiratanga flag: the symbol of kaupapa Maori politics?

It’s election year. Expect to regularly encounter politicians who represent “kaupapa Maori politics”. But don’t expect a definition. No one – or no one I’m aware of - has bothered to properly explain what kaupapa Maori politics means. The definition has always been intuitive and subjective. Maybe that's why it's used only as a rhetorical tool when it should be used as an ideological claim too.

Kaupapa Maori research is well defined. But kaupapa Maori politics isn't. My take is this: kaupapa Maori politics provides a Maori account of power-relations – one underpinned by the Treaty partnership; a Maori account of the desired future - one where bicultural and multicultural pluralism is valued through mana motuhake (self-governance); and a Maori account of how politics should work – through consensus politics as exemplified in the Maori Party’s constitution.

We also know some of the governing principles - for example kotahitanga - some of the doctrines - think integration of Maori into New Zealand power structures and integration of Maori values into public policy - and some of the symbols - for example the tino rangatiratanga flag.

That’s a wordy and passive definition. It's also quite unclear and underdeveloped. I’d welcome others who have a different take or can build on what I've written to comment below. It might be useful to hammer this out before the election season proper. Kaupapa Maori politics shouldn’t be an empty rhetorical tool. It should be an ideological claim.

Feb 5, 2014

Myths of nationhood: why I'm not "celebrating" Waitangi Day

Behold, Waitangi Day Bingo:

h/t @ColeyTangerina and @Megapope


Bingo is a witty critique of Waitangi Day clichés, but it’s also something more: this is the geography of Pakeha myth-making. Each box is a false political claim. Prepare to hear each claim repeatedly and under the worn robe of “debate”.

Waitangi Day angst isn’t new. Respected columnists will declare the day “broke”, less-respected columnists might announce it’s “a day of lies” while others will broadcast accusations of reverse racism. But most will plea for unity. Yet navigate the calls for unity with caution. Underneath the plea is a denial – Maori have no right to protest their lot. This is the movement to rebrand Waitangi Day.

In 1973 the third Labour government introduced the New Zealand Day Act. Although Waitangi Day had always been acknowledged, that acknowledgment wasn't codified in a public holiday. New Zealand Day – a misnomer – was intended to become the foundation of national identity. A splendid celebration of nationhood.

Except it wasn’t. There could never be unity without equality. The betrayal of the Treaty went too deep, and the collateral effects of Treaty breaches went too far, for Maori to accept a celebration of nationhood that didn’t exist. In 1973 Nga Tamatoa occupied Waitangi with black armbands. They declared the day one of mourning for the broken promises of the Treaty including the loss of millions of hectares of Maori land.

In later years protestors stormed the grounds. Tame Iti spat at a Prime Minister. Titewhai Harawira reduced another Prime Minister to a shaking wreck. An aspiring Prime Minister ate mud. The Popata brothers had a go at the current Prime Minister. It’s easy to argue that Waitangi Day represents “grievance”. But it’s more than that. Waitangi Day is the nexus between the national story and Maori realities.


Two world views collide: the spirit of activism and the fist of oppression.

For more than a century Pakeha society had a monopoly on the national story: the Treaty was a rat-eaten relic, Maori were destined to assimilate and New Zealand had the best race relations in the world. Waitangi Day was a celebration of New Zealand exceptionalism rather than an acknowledgement of broken promises.

But the Waitangi Day of Pakeha imaginations isn’t real. Waitangi Day is where Maori pushback against the myths that society clings to: the Treaty is a living document, Maori retain their identity and New Zealand has poor race relations. The health, wealth and education gaps exist and they exist off the back of the broken promises of the Treaty. Waitangi Day is where Maori can reveal New Zealand's separate realities.

But the movement to rebrand Waitangi Day won’t acknowledge that. It’s easier to switch the conversation than acknowledge that one group is dominant over the other. This is the new assimilation – the battle for history and contemporary meaning. There is a regular plea to make Waitangi Day “our” day. The layers of meaning are clear: Waitangi Day belongs to monocultural nationhood, not multicultural pluralism. Sit down or shut up. That disrespects Maori realities. But it also misunderstands the Treaty itself: the Treaty didn't create New Zealand - that came later - the Treaty created a bicultural relationship.

I'm not going to celebrate the birth of a nation or protest the failed promise of that nation. I'll quietly honour the legacy of resistance and those who are getting it done. I'll acknowledge that colonisation isn’t a distant tragedy, but an on-going process. Maori know it because they experience it. Pakeha might not, but that’s no excuse to deny Maori their agency on Waitangi Day. Myths have many authors, but reality can expose them. That’s what Waitangi Day is about most of all.