Since I began blogging around three years ago, my exposure to different Māori forums has expanded significantly. This is my last post for Ellipsister so I considered it timely to round out my experience with a post on internalised oppression by looking at three currently controversial issues: the marginalisation of the Te Paati Māori and the call for a merger with the MANA Movement, and the allegations of editorial interference at Māori Television.
Internalised oppression occurs when a minority or marginalised group ‘consciously or unconsciously perpetuate, collude with, and contribute to the oppression they experience’ [Understanding Internalized Oppression: A Theoretical Conceptualization of Internalized Subordination at 78].
For Māori, internalised oppression is reflected in the way we antagonise and Other our own.* For example, it might be demonstrated where reo speaking Māori use their command of te reo to belittle their non-reo speaking counterparts, or where the colour of ones skin or the quantum of blood becomes the test by which ones ‘Māori-ness’ is measured. In Māori politics, this might be demonstrated through the active denial of Māori claims to representation, or where a party is denied the right to identify as ‘Māori’ and is instead forced to be identified within the left-right dichotomy.
The late Gloria Anzaldúa (indigenous scholar) wrote of internalised oppression that:
One of the reasons for this hostility among us is the forced cultural penetration, the rape of the colored by the white, with the colonizers depositing their perspective, their language, their values in our bodies. External oppression is paralleled with our internalization of the oppression, and our acting out from the oppression. They have us doing within our own ranks what they have done and continue doing to us – Othering people. That is, isolating them, pushing them out of the herd, ostracizing them. The internalization of negative images of ourselves, our self-hatred, poor self-esteem, makes our own people the Other [Anzaldua, (2009) at 112].
She argues, it is ‘exactly our internalized whiteness that desperately wants boundary lines marked out’ and she explains ‘like fighting cocks, razor blades strapped to our fingers, we slash out at each other. We have turned our anger against ourselves. And our anger is immense’ [Anzaldua (2009) at 112-113].
So when we hear terms like “Māori Aristocracy”, “Brown Bureaucracy”, “Race Traitors”, “Māori Elite”, “Māori Conservatism” and the like – these are white concepts thrust upon Māori identity. They are some of the more prevalent ways in which we express our internalised oppression. When they are thrust on us by Pākehā, they are simply oppressive words used to demonise and divide – they undermine kotahitanga to serve a white a purpose.
I imagine there are some readers thinking ‘well, that’s not me, I definitely don’t do that’. Arohamai, but it is. It is all of us. And our denial does our struggle a great disservice. Kotahitanga will only arise when we all acknowledge our own complicity in undermining our struggle: our internalised oppression.
The marginalisation of the Māori Party
It is an indisputable fact that the Māori Party is the only party in Aotearoa New Zealand whose representatives are all Māori and whose political philosophy is grounded in kaupapa and tikanga Māori. Yet, as a micro party representing an indigenous minority it remains one of the most ridiculed, contested, and criticised parties inside Parliament.
I ask readers to reflect on this hypothetical for a moment:
If in Australia or Canada for example, a First Nations party were subjected to the ongoing attacks on integrity and legitimacy from Canadian parties founded on western ideologies, would you find that acceptable? If not, why then should the Māori Party not be extended the same support you would extend to another First Nations roopu?
Here in Aotearoa disparaging the Māori Party is not only not frowned upon it is actively encouraged across the political spectrum, which is something (I personally) find incredibly disturbing and disheartening.
I am not suggesting here that the Māori Party are the only party that represent Māori. Or that they are imune from criticism. I am arguing that they are the only existing party founded on kaupapa and tikanga Māori and whose primary philosophy is by, for and with Māori with subsequent benefits accruing to Pakeha and tauiwi as a corollary of the liberation of Māori. The language used to discredit our only indigenous party, is at odds with our quest for mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga and we should be clear about the role of internalised oppression in this regard.
The proposed merger
Recently, two Māori Party members met with a couple of MANA members to informally discuss the possibility of a merger between the parties. It was a move that had not been sanctioned at either the electorate or the national level of the Māori Party. Nonetheless, it was publicised on the MANA news website but has been met with mixed responses from both roopu.
The mixed responses appear to derive from what are conceivably irreconcilable differences. Harawira did afterall, walk from the Māori Party to start a new party integrated with unionism and the Marxist organisation Socialist Aotearoa. The Māori Party while sympathetic to many of the policy components of the MANA movement see self-determination and not the State as the solution to Māori liberation. Yet, since Harawira’s departure, Māori Party leaders and representatives have all been criticised for splitting the Māori vote.
Strip away the politicking, and the fact is that the Māori vote has always been split. Under the First Past the Post (FPP) system it was predominantly split between the Labour Party and the National Party. Yet, few political commentators acknowledge the Māori connection to right wing politics, such as Sir Apirana Ngata, who was Minister of Māori Affairs under the Liberal Party – the National Party’s predecessor. Overlooking the long line of support for National within Māori communities ignores a respectful proportion of Māori voters. I’ll admit that I was unaware of the extent of Māori support for the National Party until relatively recently. More precedence has of course been given to the Labour Party roots within Māoridom. Not because their policy has necessarily been beneficial to Māori, but because of the historical support by rangatira such as Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana who had immense influence in Māori communities and that support for Labour has been largely inherited.
The introduction of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, brought with it an opportunity for Māori to carve out their own path – whether that be as part of a mainstream party, or as an independent party. But something else happened instead, MMP cultivated our internalised oppression and has steered us down the sinister path of our own marginalisation. This doesn’t have to continue, but it will take conscious action to overcome the problem.
We should remember that capitalism and socialism are western ideologies. These ideologies while many of us may subscribe to them in some part are not kaupapa Māori. They may arguably complement our kaupapa and our tikanga, but they should never be seen as superior to or as a replacement of it. We should never feel ashamed to say our kaupapa will liberate us. We should certainly not think that only socialism or capitalism will liberate our indigenous lives.
I don’t know that there can ever be a pan-Māori party and I don’t think simply merging Māori and MANA will bring about the kotahitanga tangata whenua are crying out for given the philosophies of each roopu have points of clear divergence. I don’t have answers, but I will spend the next few years thinking, reflecting and trying to understand how Māori can optimise MMP to our advantage. I also think at least part of the solution will be the approach of our media organisations to Māori issues.
Editorial interference at Māori Television
For the past year, there have been many allegations from within MTS of both editorial and political interference by Māori leaders. In particular, with regard to the award winning Native Affairs programme. I have been a regular watcher, supporter and tweeter of Native Affairs since around the 2011 Election. The investigative work carried out by the very talented journalists, venturing into topics shunned by other media outlets and the accessibility of the show to non-reo speaking Māori with a strong wahine presence has been incredibly inspirational. One of their most controversial stories the investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement by some in the National Kōhanga Reo Trust (TKRNT). But their work has not been without criticism.
For instance, Ross Nepia Himona, author of Te Pututara suggests that the investigation by Native Affairs was informed by a small group within the Kōhanga Reo movement attempting to ‘subvert the governance of TKRNT because they were aggrieved by a legitimate staffing decision. The expose alleging financial impropriety was a means to a political end and not the main story at all’. However, in contrast, Graham Cameron has written that Māori leaders are conspiring to end Native Affairs, and that the programme ‘have another Te Kōhanga Reo story, a continuation of their investigation; interviewing none other than Toni Waho, an ex-Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust trustee’.
Whatever your views on the TKRNT investigation, or whether or not you accept the allegations of editorial interference, I do think Himona’s analysis raises an important issue – as a programme and service tasked with critique it must also be open to critique of its own practices. Just as there have been concerns raised about appointments and interference, equally so there have been concerns about journalistic practices aligning with the adversarialism and sensationalism of western journalism.
Internalised oppression operates in all spheres of Māori life – society, culture, media, politics, religion and so on. I’m not suggesting we dont hold our leaders and orgnaisations to account. I do however think there are times where we go beyond that remit and venture into territory that instead tears their integrity to shreds. We forget our first principles as Māori. We turn on each other. We take on the colonisers face.
Kia mau tonu ki nga kupu o ō tātou tīpuna, Nāku me ngā mihi.
*Note, this is the perspective of one indigenous woman’s voice – it is not and does not profess to speak on behalf of all peoples identifying as Māori.