Yesterday (Sunday 14 September) during an appearance in Manukau, David Cunliffe was confronted by a protester upset at Labour ruling out both the Māori Party and the MANA Movement as part of any government Labour would form post-election if the left bloc are in such a position to form the next government. But before addressing that event, it’s important to lay down the context.
The previous day (Saturday 13 September) on The Nation, Cunliffe had also made the dubious assertion that the Labour Party were “the Māori party”.
Early in the interview Cunliffe states “We are running on a Vote Positive Campaign” then later proceeds to claim “a vote of the Māori Party is a vote for National” thereby delegitimising the only independent Māori party in Parliament. He followed his comment up by further asserting that “Labour IS THE MAORI party” because Labour have 14 Māori candidates, the Treaty partnership at their hearts, and the aspirations of Māoridom carrying in their cloak – that is the Māori party – the Labour Party.
Edit: I was just advised that there are 18 Māori candidates, 4 of whom are not on the list. I’d have expected Cunliffe to have noted this in his interview.
[Note: This is not a criticism of Labour’s Māori caucus, but is a criticism of their Leader – David Cunliffe]
It seems Cunliffe selectively forgot that the Māori Party has 26 Māori candidates (2 are electorate only by their choice) while MANA has 6 in their top 10 although, this is diluted in the alliance with the Internet Party which provides InternetMANA only 3 Māori candidates in their top 10. Cunliffe has 1 Māori candidate in his top 10 and only 5 in his top 20.
He also seems to have forgotten that during the last Labour led government, Labour refused to sign up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, Labour instigated illegal surveillance on many Māori culminating in the Ruatoki raids in which an entire Tuhoe community was shut down, detained and many arrested under the pretext of ‘terrorism’ because brown activism. And prior to that had ignored the advice of the UN, the NZ Courts, Māori and its own Māori caucus and confiscated the Foreshore and Seabed. Cunliffe may try to distance himself from these, but he was part of that government as were many in his top 10 including his number 4 Annette King who authorised the Ruatoki raids.
Yet the Māori Party and MANA Movement have both remained open to working with Labour despite their poor record with Māori. Because both parties are committed to giving Māori a strong voice in Parliament that are not subordinated to the behemoth that is the Labour Party.
So when a rangatahi Māori Party supporter, Te Rata Hikairo challenges the Labour leader over his dubious comments about Māori politics and Cunliffe implies he has mental health issues, it’s difficult to believe that Cunliffe has any interest in the greater aspirations of Māori.
Hikairo created a short video and in it he explains that while he thinks he could have approached the situation differently, he was overcome by the wairua of his tipuna.
Although there was diverse feedback in the Māori Party supporter network, where some felt discomfort with Hikairo’s actions arguing a more considered approach would have been the best way forward as his actions could easily have been construed as negative, I am personally of the view, that Hikairo demonstrated that the activist heart of the Māori Party still beats strong for the kaupapa. His actions illuminated Cunliffe’s ignorance through his ill-considered response that firstly, he couldn’t tell the difference between a challenge and a powhiri and secondly, intimated that Hikairo was mentally unwell for not appeasing Cunliffe’s sensitivities.
There is most definitely a time and a place for appeasement, but when a Pakeha political elitist attempts to sink two Māori movements that he cannot have any control over, appeasement is not the way to have our voices heard. Cunliffe should not presume Māori are in his corner especially if he is going to attempt to delegitimise dissent in the manner he asserted while simultaneously claiming to lead the Māori party.
I wrote previously on Everyday Microaggressions. Cunliffe’s responses were typical examples of the microaggressions that Māori are subjected to in our everyday. Our experiences are minimised, or delegitimised if they don;t serve the interests of the dominant majority – irrespective of the left/right spectrum.
It is upsetting that the ignorance of Cunliffe’s comments have gone largely unchallenged by those who openly identify as left wing and who are often at the forefront of speaking out against everyday racism. I’d just be mindful, that Māori will remember those who were silent. If Cunliffe is comfortable simply writing off a legitimate challenge as a mentally unwell Māori he clearly does not have Māori interests at heart. He has his own interests at heart and is in my view, exploiting Labour’s Māori caucus and Māori voters for his own ends. Furthermore, you are not running a ‘positive’ campaign if your response to a Māori protester is that the condition of his mind is questionable. Ugh.