Recently I was invited to speak at the Māori Party’s Hui A Tau at Whangaehu Marae, as part of a political panel to comment on the Party’s campaign. Having never spoken in public, let alone on marae grounds, and having a natural inclination to introversion, I knew this was going to test my resolve. And did it ever. It is an understatement to say that I was incredibly intimidated by the calibre of the commentators I’d be joining, which included Merepeka Raukawa Tait, Shane Taurima, and Colin James. All were very humble and engaging speakers and raised some hard truths that the party would need to address with respect to support base, alliances, strategies, and actions going forward.
But I was most petrified about speaking before the prestige present in the wharenui that day.
My Panel Presentation
I had imagined that the format of the proceedings would involve questions first, and then the opinions of those on the panel would be sought with respect to various issues. Regretfully, I presumed this would be the case and didn’t seek clarification (even though I was encouraged to do so by the organiser!). However, the format involved each person presenting their opinions on the issues that spoke to them and questions were reserved for discussion following the presentations.
You might imagine my horror then, when I was asked to speak first. As soon as I stood my knees began to tremble, my head began thumping, my mouth became an instant desert, and my heart was pounding so hard it felt like my ribcage could burst. So in my quiet as a mouse shaky voice I began to speak – immediately told to speak up (despite holding a microphone!). And I forgot to mihi (although that might have been a good thing, since I probably would have mangled our reo being a very anxious non-speaker and barely knowing the very basics).
However, in forgetting I failed to thank Ngāti Apa for graciously welcoming me on to their marae and for their impeccable hospitality. I failed to thank the Māori Party for having the confidence in me to speak at such an auspicious occasion, so although this is belated, here I express my deepest gratitude to both Ngāti Apa and to the Māori Party.
Fortunately, I had prepared some notes which helped guide my korero. I spoke to the issue of social media and its role in the Māori Party campaign. I had been provided a copy of the Social Media report (among other documents). The main points I made were that the online campaign came too late, but it did improve significantly in the months leading up to the election. I talked about ‘slacktivism’ and how online support is not a good gauge of real support so social media will never replace kanohi ki te kanohi interactions but it does provide an avenue to access untapped networks and for efficiently sharing messages. I spoke about interactions online needing to reflect the kaupapa of the party, and that blocking, muting, deleting abusive or harassing commenters/comments is not censorship or infringement on freedom of speech – no one has a duty to receive abuse or harassment and also (i) it doesn’t lead to constructive discussion, which is one of the key aims of the online portion of the campaign and (ii) it’s wasted energy that could be used more constructively elsewhere. I iterated that on occasion there was a tendency on the official pages to engage people who weren’t actually there to engage, and that sometimes too much aroha was shown , which in some instances weakened the party’s position on particular issues. Although I think I forgot to mention the converse was equally true – on some occasions, not enough aroha was shown, which could have turned support in favour of the party. I also suggested there be guidelines around commenting when displaying the party logo on supporter profile pictures. I proposed that communications in that capacity did give the perception of official representation so comments should reflect the party’s kaupapa. I talked about finding ways to take online campaigns offline too, and the importance of being aware of tone, capslock and hashtag use. I also suggested that our Māori Party MP’s consider a weekly or monthly video diary so our people can become familiar with their faces and build a picture of their personalities which can be difficult when only done through written or media edited formats. It is also a useful way of keeping our people informed of the what they have been up to in Parliament, and perhaps also adding a personal touch.
In summary, I considered any social media strategy must reflect the party’s kaupapa and there is no time like the present to begin building this strategy. I explained that building networks was vital for mobilising support, but social media was only one of the tools in the kete to do this. This is obviously just a very short summary [because I feel like I waffled on for ages!].
For those who are not (yet) supporters of the Māori Party, my advice is this: if you want to influence the direction of the Party, the most effective way you can do that is to become a member. There will always be criticism from political opponents, that goes unsaid. However, some criticism seems more about wanting the party to do something or take a particular position on an issue/s yet the only way you can influence that is through membership where the decision making happens.
The Māori Party have committed to running a complete political review to be completed within 6 months. The goal for next election is obviously to increase Māori Party representation. I also just want to tautoko both Te Tai Hauauru and Te Tai Tonga electorate branches for insisting on electorate representation as part of the political review team. For transparency and accountability the review must include the electorates. Thais not to say that there can’t be independent reviewers also: both are necessary for a robust process. Afterall, if we arent happy with the Crown alone making decisions for Māori, then why should the electorates accept a similar centralised hands-off arrangement?
There was some talk of looking at alliances and strategies. What I didnt talk about was alliances. But alliances are important. I have thought about this quite a bit and have always thought it would be great to see the Māori Party and Labour as allies. It would be great, but the reality is it won’t happen. Ever. Labour are strongly opposed to the Māori Party as evidenced by the campaign run against them in the Māori electorates, and rhetoric coming from Labour’s Māori caucus in recent news. Labour led the spin on the ‘Māori National Party’ and it was effective spin. Despite a large proportion of our people wanting to see the Māori Party work with Labour, this is evidently a highly unlikely reality. If Labour are to win the next election, the chances of a Labour government working with the Māori Party is very low. Labour will avoid it at all costs.
Note, I am not suggesting here that Labour Māori do not represent Māori, I am simply saying that the two parties are not (currently) allies and are probably unlikely to be allies in the near future. Labour consider themselves a major party and as one of the commentators (Colin James I think) said on the panel, Labour would rather win those seats for ‘Labour’ than for ‘Māori representation’, and this reality must be accepted by our people.
The same is true of a MANA Māori alliance – it will not happen. MANA spent much of their campaign attacking the Māori Party. The only way it could happen is if the Māori Party were to submit to MANA’s terms of engagement and that is not something I imagine Māori Party members would be willing to do, as it is effectively a handbrake on the democratic process of the Party itself. Shane Taurima suggested perhaps at least having strategy talks, but that did not necessarily entail an ‘alliance’ arrangement, while Merepeka Raukawa Tait warned it would be the kiss of death for the Māori Party.
I also agree with comments the other panel members made about external alliances, and forging strong relationships with iwi and hapū to build a strong Māori movement. Currently, the Party dont have any major external alliances. Labour have most Unions, the Greens have Greenpeace and other social justice and environmental lobby groups, Mana have Unite Union, Socialist Aotearoa, Global Peace and Justice and other social justice groups, National have Federated Farmers and Business lobby groups, ACT have wealthy business lobby groups, NZ First have Greypower (to name a few). These alliances are vital for mobilising support and articulating policy options and choices. In order for the Party to really build, it will need to find those external support partners.
The Party is aware of the hard work ahead and the mantle they carry. I suspect the 2017 Election will look much different than the election just passed.
If it werent for Tariana Turia completing a questionnaire for a website I had created for the election period – Women in NZ Politics, I’m not sure I would have gravitated toward the Māori Party. When I read her beautiful words, I was struck emotionally and took it as a sign that the Māori Party was the movement for me. I was reminded of the strength it takes to be mana wahine and the gift she had given to Māori in crossing the floor on the Foreshore and Seabed issue. I came to appreciate her conviction behind Whānau Ora and the principles upon which the Māori Party was established. On the first night of the hui, seeing the deep respect and aroha the people had for her, and how extraordinary a person she is, emanating a grace with strength and determination, is a vision and a feeling that will stay with me forever.
Tame Iti was a guest speaker on the opening night too. What stood out to me in particular was that he acknowledged our tupuna who had inspired him and many other activists of his generation, yet in his very humble and mild manner, he seemed unaware of the incredible impact his own activism has had on the next generations. He spoke about how as Māori many of us were raised to be or as Pākehā. I know this from my own experience, where growing up it was natural for me to refer to my ethnicity as ‘a halfcaste’. No shit. That is what I grew up believing about myself. I was neither Māori nor Pākehā. Nope. I was a ‘cameo creme’. At least that is what many Pākehā used to call me (and some Māori would use it to insult to me also), among other things not worth mentioning. It took me a long time to understand who I was and to become culturally aware and connected. That journey is still in process. However, it was the passion and strength of activists like Matua Tame, who through their actions steered me toward Te Ao Māori. To be a proud Māori. Who inspired the belief in me that meaningful achievement of our aspirations will not be gained through the State but through mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga. It was in particular his unwillingness to submit that inspired my political journey, and more specifically my commitment to Māori political engagement.
Pita Sharples (who was not present at the hui for whānau reasons but who wholly deserves to be mentioned) is an amazing rangatira who consistently shines a light on Māori with the perpetual hope he has for our people. I have been privileged to hear Papa Pita speak on many occasions and have always left his presentations feeling like I’m being called home (and the number of times he has brought me to tears with laughter is unmatched!).
Our current MP’s and Māori Party Co-Leaders, whom I have the utmost respect for: Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox who have taken on the mantle with the vivacity and fortitude necessary to move our people forward. Both have been so willing to engage and are deeply committed to carving out a space for Māori that is not on the margins or periphery of society.
Lastly, all the Māori Party people I have met online (and many now in person) who have demonstrated to me through their actions the meaning of manaakitanga and kotahitanga. People who embraced me and my flaws and who continually and willingly educate me on kaupapa Māori politics.