ISO on Iwi

Right to criticise siding with an oppressor but wrong to impute leftism on Māori

I learnt a lesson today. I emoted on an issue that I feel strongly about – Palestine but was lured into a state socialist diatribe against iwi. That the International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa/New Zealand (ISO) brought the issue to my attention is welcomed. In my opinion, the post rightly criticises Ngati Kahungunu chairman, Ngahiwi Tomoana for meeting with the Israeli Ambassador to discuss local issues such as water shortages amid the recent atrocities the Israeli government has committed against the Palestinian people. I was (and still am) livid that any iwi would even consider this meeting because as the ISO article highlights:

“In the last month, 1800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than 9000 injured. There have been attacks on United Nations-run schools and shelters, killing many children. Some 66 Israelis have died in battles with Hamas, all but two of them soldiers” 

I stand by that position. I do think iwi should boycott any talks with any country that operates in occupied territory and/or commits atrocities against the people it oppresses as an act of kotahitanga with international indigenous liberation movements.  But I also note that this is a decision for whānau, hapū, and iwi to determine for themselves. I personally believe humanity requires us as humans in common to kia kotahi kia Parihitini ‘Stand as one with Palestine’ against Israeli oppression and apartheid.

I’m not about to criticise ISO for taking a stand against the particular iwi chairman because we should never be afraid to hold those in influential positions to account if we believe they are taking the side of injustice and inequity.

What I didn’t immediately see though (due to my being livid and emoting) was the narrative shift from a genuine critique of a person in an influential position acting favourably toward an oppressor, to implicating all iwi and the Māori Party as complicit directly or indirectly in this act. The author writes:

 “While the Maori Party have made “a seat at the table” an excuse for any kind of craven crawling to the powers-that-be, Tomoana’s sucking up to a vicious colonial state in the middle of a renewed round of ethnic cleansing beggars belief. Given the timing, there is no way this meeting is meant to be anything but a massive pokokōhua to the people of Gaza, to the Mana movement, the Greens and the left in New Zealand, and indigenous liberation struggles internationally”

It’s not surprising that the Māori Party negatively feature on this site given ISO are part of the MANA movement, but what is infuriating is the language used to deny Māori an identity outside the left.

It continues:

“Tomoana’s sucking up to Livne is meant as an insult to the left. It is meant to underline the new ruling class status of iwi corporate bosses and their independence from protest politics”

And concludes:

“Now though, in a context of growing inequality which is hitting working class Maori whanau hardest, the iwi leaders like to pretend they are beyond left and right. Sucking up to Israel is taking sides against the oppressed”

Firstly, this statement is horribly misleading since there is only one iwi leader mentioned in their post as having met with the Israeli Ambassador, yet the author attempts to implicate all iwi leaders here.

Secondly, the author demarcates ‘iwi leaders’ from ‘working class Māori’ imposing a Marxist critique on Te Ao Māori as if Marxism is the lens through which Māori understand our relationships. Moreover, confining Māori to the left/right Westminster system is in my view an act of colonisation itself. As Ani Mikaere writes:

“…in Aotearoa, as elsewhere, colonisation has always been about much more than simply the theft of land, the decimation of an indigenous population by introduced disease and the seizure of political power. It has always been about recreating the colonised in the image of the coloniser

ISO imply they are not part of the colonising class because they purport to be a movement against oppression, and I suppose having active Māori members helps disguise that truth. But when the State is the centre and bearer of all power and our tikanga and kaupapa are subsumed to being facets of western leftism: we are not free. We are recreated in the image of the colonising doctrine of state socialism.

Te Ao Māori does not belong to the left. Nor does it belong to the right. It belongs to Māori. We decide it and define it, adapt it and assert it in our whānau, in our hapū and in our iwi – not in trade unions and environmental movements and most certainly not as part of a western doctrine. We can certainly  support those movements and they may adopt our kaupapa and we can also support other doctrines without having to disempower our own.