Get out of the beehive and back in the waka

Before proceeding with this post, I want you the reader to consider a few assumptions you may have already made about this post. If your initial reaction was ‘wtf is this racist piece of rubbish?’ then you need to ask yourself why you perceived it as a negative headline and what makes the idea of the beehive more respectable to you than the waka or perhaps alternatively, why did you perceive the waka to represent something primitive?

With the title of this post, I wanted to highlight the assumptions we have about politics, and in particular, Maori politics. What we call Maori politics, is really just candidates or representatives with Maori ancestry. Maori politics is surely something more than that. My view is that the use of the term Maori politics is meaningless when construed in terms that reflect the majoritarian view of politics. And this is not helped by what appears to be an establishment of Maori political elite.

Obviously a blog post is not the best medium for a full and thorough investigation of Maori politics, my point is to raise awareness and consider your options.

My basic argument is this: Maori representative voting and enrolment on the Maori Electoral Roll (MER) is not about recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi or co-governorship, it is about assimilating the Maori population into the Westminster system.

This year we have seen a large push for persons of Maori descent to enrol on the MER. The more persons enrolled on the Maori roll helps determine how many Maori seats are reserved in Parliament. Maori seats in Parliament are directly related to number of Maori electorates, which have the potential to increase proportionately to reflect the Maori population. Many will argue that this is one of the finer points of our democracy since it provides an avenue to give effect to the rights and guarantees provided in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in particular, co-governorship.

It was recently suggested to me that my views on direct democracy were utopic, impliedly meaning completely unrealistic. My response is that anyone who thinks that the ruling class of the Westminster system will bestow all the rights and guarantees as provided in Te Tiriti on Maori are at least as utopic in vision as me. We are less likely to see established hierarchies divest power to a Maori minority, than we are to see a complete revolution.

To the surprise or probably contempt of many, I decided against enrolling on the MER.  In my view, the MER is a silencer on the decolonisation process. It does not attempt to do anything except provide limited opportunities for Maori to engage in Westminster style politics.

Like general electorate MP’s, Maori electorate MP’s represent ‘party’ policy. They do not represent the specific concerns of Maori in the regions within which they stand for election.[1] Additionally, the electorates are defined through the majoritarian process to reflect proportionality and not common or shared values. The presumption made is that Maori are an homogenous culture and do not have diverse needs, values or aspirations.

We only have to look at the parties to know that diversity or dissent is not a feature that is tolerated within a party. Parties with dissenting members are painted as unstable while those whose party members are forced to comply are considered stable. So lets look at the first breakdown in the Maori Party – the Hone Situation. The leadership decided it was better to assimilate (by using the ‘being at the table’ narrative) than to consider the fact that a group member was so distressed by a particular decision that he would rather leave the group than accept the outcome. One would have expected if solidarity were the key within the party or that Maori values were important, that legitimate consensus would have been reached. This only reinforces my view that certain Maori political elites lack the necessary levels of critique and respect for consensus and direct democracy to represent the diverse range of views of Maori.

But what ensues is equally as interesting and further reinforcement that Maori politics is simply Westminster politics by those with Maori ancestry. Hone Harawira starts his own party. He is then accused of diluting the Maori vote not just by his former party colleagues, but by some Maori voters, non-Maori voters, other parties, in particular, National and the media.

The rhetoric around ‘diluting’ the vote is farcical. Its an attempt to tarnish dissent in favour of majority preference despite the legitimate arguments made in favour of his dissent. Lets be clear, Hone didn’t dilute the vote by starting the Mana Party, the Maori Party diluted the vote by choosing assimilation for (perceived) power, rather than fighting the power structures that continue to oppress Maori. Interestingly, Hone is opening up dialogue with the Maori Party to invigorate Maori solidarity in Parliament. He appears to have reversed the narrative but if the differences were so important, that he left the party, how does he conceive of both parties representing a single independent voice for Maori in Parliament?

My view is that Mana and the Maori party are actually stronger as separate entities. Mana represent a growing underclass of both Maori (predominantly) and non-Maori. The Maori Party appear to represent the conservative iwi class.

By collectivising the views of Maori in the Westminster system, collectivism takes on the eurocentric meaning – where the individual is subordinate to the will of the majority, as well as reinforcing the myth of Maori as an homogeneous culture.

Maori are not collectivist in the eurocentric sense. Individuals are equally important to the collectivist whole because of the connections individuals have to their past, present and future. For instance, where an individuals mana is affected so is the mana of those connected to the individual such as their ancestors, their living whanau and  future generations. This why participatory processes are important for Maori.

I can conceive of one major issue on which solidarity is justifiable: where there has been an abuse of state power.

Consider Te Ururoa Flavell’s request for an inquiry into the effects of Operation 8 on the families affected.  Maori MP’s (in general or Maori electorate seats) should have shown solidarity because it is clear that the particular group affected required a particular process to take place to restore the mana of that community – they were seeking Maori redress for a breach of a right that no person should be subjected to – abuse of state power. The redress sought is the heart of Maori politics – the very process for restoring justice. This Maori process was  effectively blocked by the major parties (who had their own interests to protect in the issue) with the support of their Maori MP’s. It showed how dependent Maori MP’s are on their positions in their respective parties. [2] Te Ururoa Flavell even accepted defeat claiming that petitioning was just not worth it because it would take to long. A process at the heart of Tikanga Maori was not worth it. Says a lot about how Maori politicians view their roles in power.

To summarise –  I did not enrol on the MER because it does nothing to further the decolonisation process necessary for Maori and non-Maori to begin to prioritise their relationships to build democracy from the ground up. I see the MER as an assimilation tool to placate Maori and maintain the superior status of the ruling class by treating ‘Maori Politics’ as if it represents something more meaningful than it actually does.

In reference to the title of this post, I think its time Maori rejected the politics and the allure of the beehive and return to the waka (metaphorically speaking). The lessons of our ancestors provide the answers to improving outcomes for Maori – we just need to be innovative about how we apply those lessons to our modern conditions. Indigenous cultures  around the world are finding new ways based on old ideas to improve the outcomes of their people. [3] We need not rely on pervasive ideologies that favour authoritarianism and hierarchy, I mean where are we at now with that? In a manner of speaking, we’re up sh*t creek without a paddle or our waka.


[1] I appreciate that the parties for which the many Maori MP’s stand have particular concerns that are sensitive to Maori issues and that as MP’s they are accountable to the communities that elect them, since the punishment is potentially non-election next time round.

[2] Its important that I acknowledge that the Greens and Mana supported the inquiry.

[3] see: New Monetary Systems for a Sustainable Democracy and “The Great Turning” by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Truthout available online at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/17878-new-monetary-systems-for-a-sustainable-democracy-and-the-great-turning ; and also Capitalism in Crisis: Our opportunity for a new system  by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Truthout available online at:  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/17083-capitalism-in-crisis-our-opportunity-for-a-new-system

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2 comments

  1. Comment for Mark Hubbard:

    I’m not sure I’ve answered your questions [as posted on Twitter], but here are my thoughts:

    I consider that there is a difference between being bound by people you feel no connection to, and being bound by those you feel connected to in every way.

    The former treats the individuals needs and aspirations as subordinate to the needs and aspirations of the collective whole. The latter treats the needs and aspirations of individuals as part of an inseparable process to achieve a just outcome for all whom any decision will affect.

    For Maori there must always be balance in the universe – Maori are a spiritual people and that element runs through all ways of being.

    Where a dispute or issue arises a process ensues to ensure that balance is restored (take-utu-ea). This could be anything from placing a raahui on an overexploited resource, to requiring an individual to replant and tend to a garden they took vegies from without permission.

    Some key concepts in Tikanga Maori are reciprocity and restorative justice. I recommend the following book for grasping Tikanga Maori concepts: Tikanga Maori: Living by Maori values by Hirini Moko Mead (2003) Huia Publishers see: http://www.huia.co.nz/shop&item_id=4433.

    To reiterate, yes, I consider that Maori are bound by their spiritual, physical and mental connections but I can see no reason why in Tikanga Maori an individual couldn’t be left alone without the interference of the wider group, unlike the collectivism that is espoused through majoritarian politics, namely, the Westminster system.

    The point is, the only time the group would interfere would be where the individual affected the balance in society. Much like the minarchist view you aspire to, the self-interest[s] of the individual and of those to whom the individual is connected would naturally bring about the balance necessary for the co-operative functioning of Maori society.

    Everyone in the society wants to retain and enhance their mana, which means co-operating, restoring injustices where imbalances occur and so on. In other words, if the individual wanted to be left alone, then the individual would adhere to a kaupapa that allows them to be left alone.

    Maori society is decentralised decision making is done in response to the environment and circumstances by which the group are affected. In this way, I think Tikanga Maori, goes further toward freedom than minarchy and is arguably compatible with anarchism/left libertarianism.

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