He uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi ahau, and I am urban

A short story first…

“Shut up you dick!” cried Hana. She’d had enough of the fighting and hostility playing out in her living room. She stormed off to her bedroom, collapsed on to her bed, sunk her face into her pillow and wept. She was only 10. Hana’s mum was killed the year before by a Pākehā man who ran her over following a racist encounter at the pub she worked. He’d waited until she finished up, then in his drunken rage ploughed his car into her, as she crossed the road.  After that, everything changed. Her Dad began drinking heavily and returned to the gang life he’d detached from when he met her mother. He’d get angry, then sad and then angry again. Alcohol and gang life comforted him. But Hana didn’t like it. She felt afraid and unsafe in this new life her dad had imposed on them.

Hana had made up her mind that night to stand up to them. But things took a turn following her outburst. Haki who had been teasing her, got out of his seat rushed over to her with a raised hand, poised to strike. Her Dad stepped in to defuse the situation. But trying not to look soft in front of the gang, he growled her for being disrespectful and meted out a punishment.  He made her clean up the lounge where they were all congregated – get rid of the empties, clean the ashtrays, clear the dishes, vacuum the floor and serve them beers and kai.  They watched, they laughed, they threw their empties on the floor for her to pick up fully exploiting the situation for their amusement. Hana was furious with her Dad. He had humiliated her.

She recalled how when her mother was alive, she was his angel. He would never have done that. He would never have humiliated her. Hana was a middle child, but the oldest girl. She had two older brothers, but they were never around because when her Dad gets drunk he gets angry and takes it out on them.

By the time Hana turned 15, her trauma began to play out in in unhealthy ways. She began taking serious risks. On one particular day, she stole a car and took it for a joyride on the country roads she thought she knew so well. Hana didn’t see the other car coming. She had been distracted trying to tune the radio. She crossed the centre line. The noise was unforgettable. The sound of metal colliding created a nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She thought the driver in the other car stood no chance. Hana broke down. At this moment she remembered her mum and how much she missed her. She knew that her mum would not want this life for her and that she would be weeping at the way Hana’s life was turning out.

Hana stood in the wreckage frozen in disbelief at the mess she had caused. She took in the surroundings as if she’d lost her hearing, the scene taking place in slow motion as if detached from her. Flashes of her Dad as loving then the monster he had become. Visions of her brothers once full of hope and energy now fully committed to their gang life. Her baby sisters about to be confined to the pathway of trauma she had experienced in the past five years. Hana felt helpless and abandoned. As the police and ambulance arrived, Hana returned to reality. She heard an old but familiar voice calling out to her “Kōtiro! Kōtiro, come here”. Hana turned to see a kuia she had once known. She realised that she had collided with, and nearly taken the life of someone whom she had loved as a child.

Hana approached the kuia, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” she sobbed repeatedly. The kuia looked into her eyes, grabbed her hand and said “Kōtiro, your wairua is not well. You must remember in all your pain that you are your ancestors and they are with you. I’ve heard what has been happening since your Mother passed. Only now, have I seen the depth of your pain”. Hana cried again realising she had a choice to make – stay, where life would continue to be complicated, unsafe and wairua unwell or go, create a new life, heal her pain so she could heal the pain of her whānau.

After the ambulance cleared her, and the police questioned her, Hana went home. She asked the Officer to drop her off a bit down the road, as she was worried her dad would lose his temper if she showed up with them. They agreed, but because of her age told her they would need to speak with him soon.

When Hana walked in the door, the house was silent.

This was unusual, as her dad and sisters were always home. And there was nearly always visitors drinking in her lounge. She searched the house, but no one was there. She went outside – maybe her sisters were playing out the back, as they often did.

As Hana stepped out the back door, she saw what looked like a shadow. She froze. At the back of her house is a large tree. It used to have a tyre swing. She began screaming. She couldn’t hear her screams, but she could feel them. As she drew nearer to the tree, she began to wail. It was her dad. It was his shadow, hanging from the tree. But beneath him, lay her beautiful baby sisters, lifeless. Some neighbours had heard her screaming and came over to assist. Heeding the words of the kuia, she called on her ancestors to give her strength.

Hana, now in her 60s lives in the city. She has never been home. It is too painful for her. However, her mokopuna have begun asking about their tupuna and their culture. Hana has lost much of what she learned as a young child. When she left, she consciously left it all behind. Today, she had a vision of that kuia – “You are your ancestors’ kōtiro”.

(Involuntary) Urbanisation of Māori

Not every urban story begins with trauma or pain as explicit as this story. The above, is not a biography of any person, rather it is a persona intended to illustrate the complex and devastating effects of colonisation and rapid and arguably involuntary urbanisation of Māori in Aotearoa. I wanted to highlight that adversity impacts people in different ways and that the outcomes can involve more complexities than what seems obvious. Escaping negative social and economic conditions is a complex choice, often made out of necessity about survival.

Urbanisation of Māori is the story of perpetual colonisation. That is not to say that urbanisation in itself is a negative. It has many benefits and opportunities particularly in our modern context provided the cultural infrastructure of indigenous groups is enabled to thrive through positive social attitudes toward our culture, inclusive policy and sufficient resourcing. However, the implications for Māori through carefully executed assimilation policies by the Crown has embedded intergenerational trauma that will take generations to heal.

The Crowns English-language manual-labour focused education policies for Māori eventually coincided with slowing rural but booming urban economic conditions, which left many whānau with little choice except to move away from the tribal rohe and migrate to the cities. As noted above, choice is complex in this context, and as such, urbanisation was arguably involuntary.  For many it was a decision made on the Crown’s promise of work, money and pleasure. Like other promises made by the Crown, the reality quickly began to paint a different picture. As highlighted by UN-Habitat, ‘both indigenous rural–urban migrants and long-time indigenous urbanites tend to be marginalised and discriminated against by dominant population groups’.

Urbanisation of Māori was sadly not the story of realising potential, accessing opportunity, and achieving a high standard of living. We know now from lived experience that as well as disproportionate representation of Māori across the lower end of socio-economic outcomes and low participation rates in civic matters that urbanisation is also a major cause of intergenerational whānau fragmentation, disconnection to our hapū, iwi, whenua, and culture and loss of mātauranga, reo and cultural identity.

Ngāpuhi and the urban and hau kainga discussion

The notion of urban Māori has become a prominent feature in Ngāpuhi discussions as we prepare for Treaty settlement negotiations. However, disconnection – created and perpetuated by the Crown, continues to fuel the rifts we are experiencing as urban and hau kainga descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi.

There is no consensus on whether urban Ngāpuhi should be included in the proposed negotiating structure. One of the reasons is that there is great discomfort in identifying a subset of Ngāpuhi as urban Ngāpuhi, in the sense that as urban they are distinct from their hapū. The reason for this unease, and in some cases rejection of the urban proposition, is that those who identify as Ngāpuhi do so as descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi and urban is not a hapū. As Waihoroi Shortland pointed out at a hui in Tāmaki Makaurau recently, Ngāpuhi is an identifier external to us, it is the consolidation of a number of hapū, who in their collective state form Ngāpuhi nui tonu.

I agree with those arguments. However, I also think there is a distinction between identity and experience in this context. For instance, in terms of my Ngāpuhi ancestry, my identity is as Ngāti Tautahi and Ngāti Rēhia. However, my experience as those identities is distinct from the hau kainga experience. My experience is urban. I was born and raised in Tīmaru (more than 1000 kilometres away from my tribal rohe), and have lived in Tāmaki Makaurau now for the majority of my adult life. My understanding of and connection to our whakapapa is much less than those who grew up on our marae with our kawa and tikanga, and on our ancestral whenua among our maunga, awa, and ngāhere.

My identity is not separate from te uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi. However, my experience, and the experiences of many others is unique to our particular lived circumstances. Our experience of colonisation is tied to our urban-ness. We speak to disconnection as felt from being separated from our hau kainga and all of which that embodies. We speak to our marginalisation in the cities and our direct experiences of institutional racism in an urban context.

Our experiences are as much a part of colonisation as the experiences of our hau kainga.

The urban experience is a direct result of colonisation, and parking our experiences in the settlement context allows the Crown to avoid or minimise the significance of the urban disconnection conversation that continues to shaft te uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi who have only ever lived in our urban centres or outside our tribal rohe.

In my experience, those of us who have urban experiences do not consider our hapū or iwi at fault. We do not consider this an “us (urban)” versus “them (hau kainga)” kaupapa. It is about all of us collectively holding the Crown to account for the destruction its assimilation policies wrought on our communities and within our whānau over many generations. It is not about pointing the finger at specific individuals who represent the Crown today or our Pākehā whānau, friends or neighbours. It is about recognising that the system that people like Hon Andrew Little represents, as a Minister of the Crown, and the system that enabled our Pākehā ancestors to settle here, has been unkind, unfair and frankly destructive to our Māori ways of being across a range of social, cultural, political and economic intersections.

We must be clear: involuntary urbanisation is a very real experience for many Ngāpuhi and locating our experience in our context is not about severance from our hapū, it is about recognising our distinct experiences of colonisation. We are descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi and we are also urban in our experience. Not every person who lives in an urban area will or is required to define themselves in an urban context, but to deny those of us who locate our experiences as Ngāpuhi in an urban context is to marginalise our voices and perpetuate the colonisation of the Crown.

We are our ancestors and we are surviving but fragmented we cannot and will not thrive.

 

 

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Free speech is peace directed, refuse their act of war

Ignorance is not just not knowing stuff. It is also believing you have nothing more to learn. For instance, you choose to be racist and you can choose to not be racist because you can choose to do the work to unlearn the racist tropes and half histories you have chosen to be your truth. You can choose to share power or store power. You can choose peace or you can choose war. You can choose to understand free speech as something more than a right to say whatever you please without consequence.

Recently, I was asked what my position was on free speech and I was torn. I absolutely do not think any group whose ideology in practice engages in genocide has a ‘right’ to build or advocate that kind of movement under the protection of free speech.  The very real and imminent threat here is the potential of such groups to tap into people’s deepest fears and insecurities, play on their ignorance and mobilise them to commit atrocities that threaten the survival of a group or groups of people.

In saying that, ignorance is why I also consider there to be a place for deplorable worldviews. That is, how can we learn what inclusiveness looks like, if we suppress hatefulness? How do we reach ignorant people and help them to un-learn and re-learn if they don’t know what their ignorance looks like in contrast to inclusiveness? What if inclusiveness today creates unintended consequences that lead to different kinds of ignorance in future? We already hear discussions around transculturation, that is, the merging and converging of cultures into one homogenous group. There is a very real risk that inclusiveness passively morphs into its own white supremacy over time and how do we counter that if people cannot see that the white supremacy they have bought into is not inclusiveness?

I know I have more questions than solutions. But I think its important to start questioning things like inclusiveness and how we see that operating in future – what protections do we have to ensure it’s not a dangerously quiet transition into becoming the dominant culture?

As I see it, free speech is both theoretical and action oriented. Over time, societies frame and reframe it according to social norms, political beliefs and cultural practices. Many proponents of free speech often refer to western legal rights to justify hateful and challenging positions and liberal responses in turn use that same legal framework to justify limitations or restrictions on what we should allow or not allow people to say. In other words, we tend to fixate on the procedural elements (e.g. who, when, what and where) and legislative interpretation (e.g. rights, defences, exemptions) and subsequently lock ourselves in to a perpetual cycle of disharmony. But what if we turned our attention to its action oriented limb to understand the act of speaking freely, the act of actively listening, and the act of restoring harmony where ignorance and enlightenment clash?

In my view, neither of the arguments referred to above speak meaningfully to the mana and the mauri of people or peoples. One obvious reason is that the debate centres in western discourse. Arguably, the ‘public interest’ and the ‘autonomy of the individual’ arguments do embody elements of those concepts. For instance, autonomy respects the individual and therefore the mana they hold within themselves, and public interest speaks to the mauri of the people or peoples and protecting their wellbeing. However, because these are dealt with separately as opposing arguments, rather than as part of a whole story neither argument fully addresses – nor can it, ‘why and how’ free speech can operate harmoniously in our modern social context.

I think tikanga and kawa could and should have a major role in the free speech discussion in context of Aotearoa New Zealand because kaupapa Māori models provide a unique and balancing lens. These models help us to think about the issue differently and in a deeper and more spiritual context.

I’ve been delving into the stories of my tīpuna and their actions and corresponding kōrero in an effort to assert their rangatiratanga and to retain mana motuhake for their hapū and for Māori collectively.  Our tīpuna spoke freely, they spoke fiercely and by liberal standards today at times they spoke arrogantly, aggressively and derogatorily about the imminent settler government that threatened the survival of our people and our culture.

But lets clear something up here first, the threat to our survival as a peoples by the coloniser was and is not the same as the disingenuously propagated threat by white supremacists fearful of the erasure of their white-ness. Firstly, colonisation was the action-oriented part of a much larger political ideology that swept the globe, western imperialism. It was an act of white supremacy. Secondly, political power resides in white institutions through the militarisation of western nation states. The Molyneux’s and Southern’s of this world are using a pre-emptive war tactic appealing to the protections of free speech in an effort to hold onto white institutional power through the extermination of any peoples who they perceive as threat to that power storing. So when I think about speaking freely, and what it is intended to achieve through a tikanga lens, I am directed toward a state of peace and harmonious relations.

I think about the Māori context and how we deal with a take (issue) and the way the rākau is passed around so every person is allocated time to have their say, no matter how hard that truth may be to hear. The context within which these discussions or confrontations take place is one where the group affirm the mana of each speaker, and preserve the mauri of the people through a process of restoration – removing the tapu through noa. I love that our ancestors adopted a healing process so we could return to our lives with aroha in our hearts to continue the mahi of manaakitanga. This is the process by which they kept the mana of all intact and restored the mauri of all involved so the tribe could thrive as a collective. I don’t here claim that peace was achieved following every confrontation, we know that is simply not the case – in some cases, confrontations led to war (I’ll come back to this ‘war’ point below). If we can uphold the legacy of all our ancestors (Māori and non-Māori alike) in preserving our right to speak freely where our intention is directed toward peace and harmonious relations, then we can be clear about our expectations of each other and the process for managing conflicts, and helping heal ignorance.

This brings me back to current issues and my point of view on free speech:

Promoting and enabling movements and actions that threaten the survival of peoples, is not an act of free speech, it is an act of war because actions not seeking harmony and balance of power, threaten the survival of peoples.

When Mayor Phil Goff refused to provide a platform for fascism, he was refusing their act of war. When the Owners of the Powerstation revoked use of its venue for fascist purposes, it refused their act of war. When the people turned up at Aotea Square to challenge the arrival of fascists on our shores, they too refused their act of war. Similarly, when our ancestors signed He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi they refused the settler governments act of war. And as I see it, locking hapū and iwi out of Parliament, is an act of war.

Participation…it costs

Returning to your tribal rohe, participating in hui, actively contributing to marae projects and so on, is prohibitive for many Māori. Not just from a cultural disconnection perspective, but from an affordability one. The cultural component is complex, and not the focus of this brief discussion. Here, I am interested in how we might reframe discussion on Universal Basic Income (UBI) to articulate the benefits of it – or a similar concept, through a Māori advancement lens. As I see it, if we want to increase participation – whether it be cultural, social, or civic – we need to make participation affordable.

During Election 2017, I spoke to Oliver Chan at Impolitikal (in brief) about the prohibitive nature of our democracy in Aotearoa in terms of affordability. People without savings, or access to regular income, or whom simply could not afford to take time off work, or indeed all of the above, would struggle to run as a political candidate, limiting the range of political representation.

The same is true for many who wish to participate in their hapū, iwi and marae forums. However, there might be a solution, or at least an opportunity to explore a solution in the form of a UBI. Maybe it needs a different name but the name isn’t important right now.

A few years back, I wrote about UBI but I’ve been pretty absent in the discussion for a while. You can read my earlier thinking here.

For the most part, those who advocate for the implementation of a UBI cite economic arguments. Those arguments are important and valuable, but so too are arguments from a cultural perspective. I’m not saying there is a tikanga to be applied here. Rather, that there is value – and arguably, a justification under Article 3 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to provide a guaranteed income to Māori to support their right to participate in cultural-political forums that are relevant to their rights and interests. A similar argument could be made to support all marginalised and minority groups.

Some base data to set the scene…

Around 25 percent of the Māori population lives in Auckland, so I’m going to focus on that data to get a sense of the affordability angle of the participation story. Note this discussion is intended as more of an iterative activity, rather than a fully unpacked argument.

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This data is drawn from Census 2013, IMSB, and Auckland Council 

* Māori living away from their tribal rohe

 A glance at the affordability side of the participation story…

Since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Māori population has shrunk and dispersed, with almost 80 percent of Māori living away from their whenua tupuna, and comprising only around 14 percent of the total population in Aotearoa. That geographic distance and the economic conditions that failed Māori over the past 30+ years eroded the participatory ability of many Māori who found themselves confined to new urban centres, with fragile connections to their past.

Today, whānau trusts, marae, hapū and iwi all struggle to get member/whānau participation and that lack of participation creates tensions around decision-making, and can lead to internal divides within and between whānau and the wider rōpu. An unfortunate effect is the disengagement that follows and the further alienation of those already geographically and socially disconnected from their cultural roots.

Given the youth of our population and the shrinking older generation, participation would better support the transfer of knowledge between generations to protect and preserve our histories for future generations. This transfer often takes place on the marae and through connecting to urupā where our ancestors lay. Going back to our tribal rohe is vital for the future proofing our cultural infrastructure and would support revitalisation efforts of te reo me ōna tikanga.

The numbers above, tell us that the median income for Māori (~$410 net excluding student loan and kiwisaver deductions) is less than the median rent per week for a home in Auckland ($528 pw). It is also around $4,000 less than Pākehā (median income of $29,600).  It also tells us, that while 82 percent of Māori living in Auckland have iwi affiliations, 63 percent of those people affiliate to tribes outside the Auckland region. With the rising cost of living, persistent intergenerational poverty and the disparity of income between Māori and non-Māori, it is understandable why those living in the largest urban centre (and of course, those in other areas) in Aotearoa, might struggle to take an active participatory role in the governance and decision-making processes of their whānau, hapū and iwi entities.

The Māori participation rate in the general election (Tamaki Makaurau seat) at only 59.2 percent of Māori enrolled to vote turning out reveals the chasm between Māori and non-Māori values around engaging in democratic processes. Arguably, increasing participating in our own forums could increase participation in those broader processes as we begin to grow our understanding of how to make mainstream processes work for us.

A view toward a guaranteed income to participate…

Providing a UBI type payment or some kind of guaranteed income to support participation could have significant benefits for Māori advancement. If more Māori are able to participate in their whānau, hapū and iwi governance structures, then we can start to transform our cultural infrastructure for future generations – not just for Māori but for all people who call Aotearoa home.  There is the question of what it would cost, how we would implement it, and who would be accountable for outcomes. That needs much more investigation, but I would offer the following as possible advantages, as a reason for at least starting the discussion:

  1. Restoring and strengthening our connections to our whānau and whakapapa
  2. Preserving mātauranga through transmission of knowledge within and between generations
  3. Better information and access to decision making which could minimise disputes, and long drawn out processes and encourage kōtahitanga
  4. Revitalising Te Reo me ōna tikanga by enabling more urban Māori to socialise our language and customs in new domains as our confidence grows

People often have to make decisions based on competing priorities, and for many whānau, the choice will understandably be first and foremost to meet their basic needs. Of course, technology plays a huge role in supporting new ways to participate despite geographic location, however, for Māori and particularly those wanting to reconnect, or establish lost connections – kanohi ki te kanohi on the whenua is fundamental to that journey.

Affordability affects the extent to which people can participate in their own cultural institutions. We have laws that protect our rights to participate in our democratic elections  – as candidates and voters, and while these laws apply to Māori, there is no law that supports Māori participation in our own political and cultural institutions as the Treaty partner (and no, the Māori seats do not make the difference I am talking about. They are about electing Māori representation into a non-Māori institution).

Endnotes:

  • In pre-emption of the predictable “you’re just a [griever, trougher, other offensive label]” arguments of the Hobsons Pledge variety: I’m not here for your approval or validation.
  • I am currently undertaking a personal research project. Part of that process, is obviously identifying the issues I want to focus on for that. It is possible, that participation (from the affordability angle) and a guaranteed participation income is something I will pursue further.

It’s looking like a rewind not a reset

A critical reflection from a Māori Party candidate and member perspective.

It looks messy. It looks disorganised. And it looks like a power grab from behind the gate. As the membership mentally prepared for the next phase of the rebuild following the announcement by Māori Party President Tuku Morgan that he would stand down from his role at the beginning of the Hui Taumata, disquiet apparently emerged in some quarters. Interests in the role of President were widely known among active members. So I have to disagree with Party Co-Leader Marama Fox, who reportedly told the NZH that ‘the membership asked him [Tuku] to stay on for the sake of continuity’. There was no vote.  However, one might say process is a word more closely related to McDonalds meats than to what ultimately transpired at the Hui Taumata.

My criticism is not personal. I genuinely believe that for the party to rebuild, we need an Executive reset, not a rewind. This is a hard post for me to write. I am privileged to have had close working relationships with the Executive team prior to and during the election period. The dedication, hours, and heart they all committed and continue to commit to the kaupapa is incredibly admirable. I have a great deal of respect for all involved – at that level it is high pressure and involves navigating many complex relationships. However, until we accept that we are broken as a collective we will not progress. Fragmentation is rife with electorates throughout the country fighting their own internal battles. Unfortunately, the Party looks a lot like Labour looked in 2014 and in fact, up until Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern took the helm.

It’s worth noting here, that it would be naive to believe that the Party can duplicate Labour’s fortune and pull a personality out of a hat 8 weeks out from Election 2020 to deliver us a hyper-saviour moment gifting us re-entry into parliament. But in all fairness, it’s not all gloom. There is a mood for rebuilding and many hands on deck to do the mahi.  But the darkness matters. Ignoring it risks retreating into a political fantasy that enables the timeless looping of strategic and tactical errors.

I arrived at the Hui Taumata with quiet excitement. That was short lived. Within the first hour it transpired that only the leadership were allowed to talk to media and attendees were not to livestream or post on social media. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts effectively lost their right to be social for the duration of the hui. I felt silenced and cut off from igniting friends and followers.  Criticism and disagreement frowned upon as anti-party rhetoric or as an unconstructive barrier to progress. A suffocation one would expect in an autocratic society and not within an indigenous movement meant to carry our aspirations as an independent voice of our people.

Not everyone disagreed with the social media blackout. Some felt those who wanted to be involved ought to have made arrangements to be present. Others recognised that the registration fee was prohibitive for many whānau – particularly those required to travel from outside the region.

Creeping ageism and sexism were also sadly not off the agenda. It was ironic really. The number of disparaging references made about a supposedly inexperienced young 37-year-old woman landing the top job on the one hand, while lauding the young wahine talent running this election (who  also, as it happened, ended up on the arse end of the list) and the need to capture the rangatahi vote in future, on the other

For clarity, I am upset that the Māori Party is not in parliament. Tā Pita Sharples is one of my absolute heroes, and it is for his work and legacy and the whānau who remain committed to the kaupapa of the Party that I feel the most regret in the Party’s untimely exit.

But in my mind, the tough question we need to honestly answer is:  did we collectively do enough to deserve re-election for another term? Because between snickering and finger pointing few were willing to own or accept the Party’s blatant shortcomings. I appreciate that many variables made the Party’s task of re-election more challenging this time around and plenty of people have attempted to cover those variables since the election. But before the rebuild can begin, the Party must address that assumption: that it deserved to return to parliament this election.

The Party cannot just look back as many are suggesting. It must look past the table, and we must all re-learn to listen with our hearts. I know some people will be unhappy (potentially scathingly so) with my public purging but as a collective the Party must accept that people did not lose faith in themselves to be the leaders of their destiny. They did not lose faith in their identities. They lost confidence in the Party as a trustworthy vehicle to carry their aspirations. It’s time to regain that trust. That starts with ownership.

Book Release – The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand

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Kia ora e te kaupapa whānau,

It’s been a while. Aroha mai for that. I can’t say that I’m back writing here on a regular basis, but maybe. It all depends on time. However, I want to pānui out the release of Morgan Godfery (ed.) The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand (2016, BWB Books:Wellington).

From the BWB website, here is a teaser:

Is New Zealand’s political settlement beginning to fray? And does this mean we’re entering the interregnum, that ambiguous moment between society-wide discontent and political change? In BWB’s latest book of essays, edited by Morgan Godfery, ten of New Zealand’s sharpest emerging thinkers gather to debate the ‘morbid symptoms’ of the current moment, from precarious work to climate change, and to discuss what shape change might take, from ‘the politics of love’ to postcapitalism.

The Interregnum interrogates the future from the perspective of the generation who will shape it.

I have contributed a chapter on Kaupapa Māori Politics. I’m totally open to discussing (debating!) it, so if you do buy the book, and then want to have a mutually respectful kōrero with me about my chapter, please do comment here.

 

Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

Internalising our oppression

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. 

Media Microaggressions: Iwi & Social Housing

Haami Piripi argued on The Nation that State houses have zero market value and as such the starting point for negotiations around price for the release of those houses for the Iwi Leaders Group was zero. This was in light of the fact that ongoing investment is required to meet the housing needs of social housing tenants. This immediately prompted the claim by The Nation’s Lisa Owen that “iwi want State houses for free” and the corollary “this is unfair to the tax payer”.

As Piripi explained, housing is the single most determinant factor in child poverty. Overcrowding and substandard housing disproportionately affects whānau Māori. To reiterate, Piripi suggested that these houses have no market value because they are coupled with an ongoing cost that is usually the responsibility of the State. Therefore a straight transfer is an investment since Iwi are willing to pick up the costs of that social responsibility by investing their own resources. Additionally, Piripi argued that zero market value was the starting point – he did not say that the iwi collective were unwilling to negotiate a fair price. Yet, consider the number of times that Lisa Owen stressed the soundbite that iwi want State houses for free:

  • Iwi wants the houses for free?
  • Free?
  • Why do you think zero free houses is the right price?
  • So do you think giving them away for free is fair value to the taxpayer?
  • Wouldn’t they have to offer the houses to them for free as well, or do you think that this is a deal that should just apply to iwi?
  • So does the Government know you want these houses for free?
  • So you want a blanket deal negotiated for all iwi across the country to get these houses for free?

This inevitably led to the initial propagation of this contrived message in subsequent headlines of major publications:

Although it’s rather cliché to appeal to Orwellian dialogue these days, these messages emphasise the suggestion that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes truth.

One problem with this kind of framing is that it plays into the decades long stiffing of advancement for Māori – that our people are just in the business of wanting ‘something for nothing’. Nevermind that a large proportion of Crown land was acquired through raupatu (confiscation), and that Māori land continues to be taken for public works. And that intergenerational inequity experienced by whānau Māori is the result of historic injustices perpetuated by the Crown.

So while I’m appalled that media still want to attack Māori initiatives, I’m not particularly surprised. I’m not convinced this was a conscious act, but perhaps evidence of entrenched media micro-aggressions. Afterall, feeding racial disquiet is a proven formula for increasing ratings. But this type of storytelling isn’t a scoop. It’s a gouge. It’s the hollowing out of truth to prevent the real message: Iwi Māori being proactive in their approach to relieve the intergenerational inequity that disproportionately affects whānau Māori.

The reiteration of the distorted message also frames Iwi Māori as enemies of ‘hardworking New Zealander’s’, all the while downplaying that the Iwi collective express a desire and commitment to invest iwi resources into their social housing initiatives to improve the lives of Māori and carry the ongoing costs of that social housing responsibility. This is a crucial point to emphasise in an economy supported by the State, and that is geared toward producing inequity.

Lamia Imam sums up the reality well in her tweet:

Decentralisation is consistent with mana motuhake. Māori reclaiming control over our own lives should be supported not thwarted by media, or anyone else for that matter.

Collective Efforts

In his recent post, Too quick to take the credit? Morgan Godfery argues that it was a “crass” move by the Māori Party to put out a statement taking credit for the $790 million hardship package included in this years Budget. His key argument was that there were others who shifted political thinking such as Matua Hone Harawira with his Feed the Kids Bill and various advocacy groups, and as such that credit lies with those people not the Māori Party. It’s not that I don’t think others have been strong advocates on poverty. I absolutely do and of course agree they all deserve credit for their advocacy. But I think it’s unfair to discount the efforts of Dr Pita Sharples and Dame Tariana Turia and the continued efforts of Matua Te Ururoa Flavell and Whaea Marama Fox, as well as the party’s previous MP’s, parliamentary staff and members and supporters who have advanced the issue of poverty within the party and in their respective communities for the past decade.

Godfery writes that:

[C]laiming the credit for forcing the government to act seems a little, well, crass. Much of the credit belongs to Hone Harawira. It was Hone who did more than anyone else to help put child poverty on the Parliamentary agenda with his Feed the Kids campaign

Firstly, if you have had an opportunity to listen to Flavell’s Budget Speech, you will note that he said the Māori Party pulled it over the line…with a little help from National. After all, no Budget measures can take effect unless the government agree to it. The Māori Party have been strong advocates for poverty since entering Parliament, and the evidence is readily available in their policy manifesto’s. [Discussed further below].

Secondly, I completely agree that Harawira has been an outstanding advocate on issues of poverty and social justice. He certainly put child poverty on the media agenda but the claim he put it on the parliamentary agenda is bold. It’s worth noting that despite his advocacy in the media, Harawira had 2 years to put his Feed the Kids Bill before the house, yet withdrew and delayed on numerous occasions. It was only put forth following the 2014 Election, by NZ Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei. Also note, the Māori Party voted in favour of that bill.

I also wholeheartedly agree that Campbell Live, Action Station, Child Poverty Action Group, and Auckland Action Against Poverty among other groups have been at the forefront of many community led initiatives to get the government to address poverty in Aotearoa. That doesn’t mean in order to recognise their strong advocacy that we need devolve into adversarialism. To allege misattribution by the Māori Party and essentially accuse them of riding on the coattails of the work of others is itself a misplaced attribution. The collective efforts and the varying roles each of the organisations have in policy development were not dismissed by the Māori Party. But in my view, they have every reason to say we pulled it over the line, since it is the Māori Party who through their relationship accord were able to directly influence that budget decision and absolutely the public pressure from these groups played a vital role in the Māori Party being able to secure that funding for poverty.

Action Station have expressed their tautoko of the Party in the fight against poverty:

And have acknowledged Fox for receiving the Action Station petition at Parliament on 20 May 2015.

On the above it is only fair then that we also take a brief look at the Party’s history of poverty advocacy.

In 2008, the Māori Party entered their first relationship accord with the National Party. At that time, Harawira was an elected MP for the Māori Party under the leadership of Turia and Sharples. The 2008 Policy programme that the Māori Party campaigned on included Ending Child Poverty by 2020. Part of that policy programme included:

  • Rais[ing] core benefit levels
  • Establishing an Every Child Matters fund
  • Investigating the reintroduction of a Universal Child Benefit

In 2011, the Māori Party entered a second relationship accord. At this time Harawira had left and formed his own Mana Party. The 2011 Confidence and Supply Agreement included:

  1. Supporting the ongoing implementation of Whānau Ora
  2. Establishing a Ministerial Committee on Poverty
  3. Urgently addressing the effects of poverty through health and home initiatives

See also: 2011 Maori Party policy package.

In 2014, addressing the effects of poverty was weaved through critical areas of the Party’s policy platform: Whānau Ora, Health, Education, Economic Development, Homes, Family Violence, Enabling Good Lives and so on. The goals stated were to build on the objectives and the progress made since 2008.

For the Party to be reproached for being proud of their contributions, that is, seeing the materialisation of the work their MP’s and the kaimahi behind the scenes have put in to the relationship accord over the past 7 years, is awfully undermining of their efforts.

I do agree with Godfery where he states:

Improving even one life is a positive step, but we can’t claim success until we begin changing the system which reproduces Maori disadvantage generation after generation. Budget gains may help stop the slide, but they won’t reverse it.

However, to my knowledge the Party haven’t claimed success on the “reversal” of poverty – they’ve indicated that the budget gains are a start to improving the lives of our most vulnerable whānau.

WHĀNAU ORA: It was the way our people lived

Whānau Ora has always been in the hissing pit when it comes to NZ politics. Another example of Māori “Special Privilege”. Every jibe simply an attempt by the sneerer to reinforce their assimilationist predisposition and/or self importance. Much of the criticism is misplaced or exaggerated. And it can be quite distressing seeing Māori internalise that lack of faith in Māori systems. It’s implementation is by no means perfect, and sure there are certainly areas requiring vast improvement, but there is no denying that it has helped thousands of family in the four years it has been in operation as a matter of government policy. 

Two days ago, the Auditor General released a report on Whānau Ora. While it has been depicted in the media as a damning indictment, the Report simply sought to clarify what whānau ora is, where the funding has gone, and what Whānau Ora has achieved after four years. The Auditor General appraises Whānau Ora as “an example of innovation and new thinking in service delivery”. She also states that it provides “an opportunity for providers of health and social services in the community to operate differently and to support families in deciding their best way forward”.

Many people have commented that they are not quite sure what Whānau Ora is or does. I’m not convinced that’s due to a lack of information. Arguably,(in many cases at least) it is misunderstood as a result of passive ignorance.

What is Whānau Ora?

Whānau Ora is not a new concept. Like many concepts in Te Ao Māori, no group or individual can determine for others what it means. What can be generally agreed is that from a policy perspective it is an “inclusive and culturally anchored approach based on a Māori view of health that assumes changes in an individual’s wellbeing can be brought about by focusing on the family collective” rather than “focusing separately on individual family members and their problems”. In practice then it requires “multiple government agencies to work together with families rather than separately with individual relatives”.

Three key principles 

Professor Mason Durie emphasises that Whānau Ora is built on three key principles:

Integrated solutions

  • The idea is that “no single sector or discipline has all the answers” to meeting the holistic needs of whānau. This means that a Whānau Ora approach is “cross sectoral, inter-disciplinary, Whānau centred”.

Durie writes:

An integrated approach recognises that economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions are inter-related and one cannot be adequately progressed without the others.

Distinctive pathways

  • Whānau Ora recognises that “cultural worldviews are important to health”. As well as building on “Māori world views, language [and] culture, networks, [and] leadership”, Whānau Ora reaches out to cultures in all their diversity. The objective is to provide a framework within which all whānau can define their own distinctive pathways in accordance with their cultural practices and values to improve whānau outcomes.

Goals that empower

  • Whānau Ora values “human dignity, positive relationships, self-management and self-determination”.
  • It is about “addressing the impacts of whānau disadvantage as well as assisting families to be strong, capable, resilient and self-managing”. The goal then is not only providing services that address existing disparities, but to unlock potential to help whānau access opportunities and navigate their own futures with the tools they need to improve their whānau outcomes.

In a nutshell, Dame Tariana Turia explains that Whānau Ora is about:

…restoring to ourselves, our confidence in our own capacity to provide for our own – to take collective responsibility to support those who need it most.

See also Te Puni Kōkiri Fact Sheet.

Criticism

Following the Report, Whānau Ora and in particular, Te Puni Kōkiri has come under attack from opposition MP’s. The Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) have criticised the way that some politicians have bought into the “beat-up by politically motivated tirades which do nothing but bring this kaupapa into disrepute”. The ILG argue that as Māori we need to have faith in our own answers and be proud of the progress that has been made to enable whānau to date.  The group asks:

Why would we turn the spotlight on ourselves, and expect an initiative which is still evolving to rectify generations of neglect or indifference from the state?

Critique is to be welcomed. Evaluations ensure transparency and accountability. The Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell appreciated the report claiming it affirms “the value of taking an innovative public policy approach to supporting families in need.” He considers that the Report provides valuable lessons for “Ministers, government departments, commissioning agencies and providers”. Flavell highlights that:

Since Whānau Ora began in 2010, around 9,400 families have benefitted from whānau-centred service delivery which includes almost 50,000 people.

The problem with exaggerating the shortcomings identified in the report, as the ILG point out, is that it risks hurting whānau who have or could benefit from Whānau Ora services. The reason being that if the public perceive the services to be performing poorly or at least buy into the misplaced criticism by opposition MP’s, then it provides grounds for the government to withdraw funding despite the gains made to date and the future potential of the approach.

The main criticism refers to the amount of funding spent by Te Puni Kōkiri on Administration based on the Auditor General’s observation that:

…delays in spending the available budgets meant that some of the funds intended for whānau and providers did not reach them as originally planned. In our view, better planning and financial management were needed.

Te Puni Kōkiri

Te Puni Kōkiri is the government organisation tasked with “carrying out the Initiatives, for giving the Government policy advice about the Initiatives, and for assessing and reporting on the Initiatives’ effectiveness”.

The funding made available for their use was administrative “to implement, develop, and evaluate the whānau ora service delivery approach” in the 2010/2011 period and “to implement, develop, and evaluate the whānau ora commissioning approach” in the 2013/2014 period.

The total amount spent was $137.6 million, which was made up of:

$20.8 million (15% of the total) spent through the WIIE fund which “made funds available to whānau through some form of legal entity to enable them to prepare plans to improve their lives”

$67.9 million (49% of the total) spent through the Service Delivery Capability fund which “made funds available to providers, who used it to build their capability to deliver whānau-centred services”

$6.6 million (5% of the total) spent through the funds for commissioning agencies; and

$42.3 million (31% of the total) spent on administration (including research and evaluation).

In response to this criticism, Te Puni Kōkiri’s CEO, Michelle Hippolite, has responded that she can account for where all the funds clustered for administration are currently allocated and asserts that no funds have been misspent. While Minister Flavell acknowledges that there were issues “of design, development, and implementation” and money was allocated to “research, evaluation, and leadership programmes” to assist to that end without which “the administration spending would have been at a normal level for a Government programme”.

Conclusion

There is certainly good reason for being concerned that funding appears to have centralised in administration and bureaucracy. This is especially so when providers are always in need of additional funding to meet the needs of whānau. Former Minister Tariana Turia criticised this last October when she questioned why there was an underspend on Whānau Ora and sought answers to where the money had been allocated as she believed that more funding should have been directed to frontline services.

The Report most likely answers her question: much was tied up in Administration. The challenge going forward will be finding more efficient administration systems to ensure more funding finds its way to service providers and navigators.

The benefit of the Report is that it provides clear observations and recommendations that highlight for Te Puni Kōkiri in particular, where it needs to improve its effectiveness. After all, Whānau Ora is about being whānau centric, so any costing’s and financial planning must always be mindful of how whānau are centred in those plans.

However, Whānau Ora cannot resolve the effects of almost 200 years of colonisation in 4 years. This seems to be the crux of much of the criticism in an attempt to disband Whānau Ora and force a return to the shabby state services that have been in place for decades and have not been able to change outcomes for a large proportion of Māori. It is an undeniably unrealistic expectation to suggest that Whānau Ora would magically solve inter-generational disparity in under half a decade.

In saying that, Whānau Ora has helped numerous families to date. And that success should be celebrated. Although, it is currently geared toward Māori and Pasifika whānau to address the history of disparity in Aotearoa, the approach itself is applicable to all whānau and has the capacity to provide a new way of delivering health and social services to all whānau to improve outcomes and finds solutions for whānau self-determination.

See also Turia’s comments on the long term goals of Whānau Ora.

 

 

Wai Māori

Poroti Springs. Image sourced from Waimarie Nurseries http://www.waimarienurseries.co.nz/Poroti_Springs.cfm

Simmering away for some years now and probably not too far off blowing its stack is the contention as to whether anyone owns the water, or if any group can claim rights over water. This debate will inevitably lead to the false claims that Māori want to exclude the average New Zealander from access to freshwater.

Water is indisputably an essential resource for the development and sustainability of all societies.  Yet, in countries like Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US (to name a few) where Indigenous populations have protected and relied on certain water sources for centuries, have had their access to most of these water sources snatched away through the process of colonisation. Many of the newer generations ignore the vital role of water to these communities.

The continual use of statements like no-one owns the water derives from the assumption that ownership as they understand it – as an exclusionary concept, is synonymous with the concept of ownership from Indigenous perspectives. For Māori, the rights over water include use rights but also rights to kaitiaki which allows hapū and iwi to keep water sources clean, and to avoid exploitation to preserve aquifers for current and future generations in the event of scarcity.

Water scarcity arises through both natural (drought, flooding etc) and human forces (commercial exploitation, waste, pollution etc). According to the UN while there is “enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people” its uneven distribution and the extent to which water is  “wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed” affects around 748 million people in the world.

Those of us living in developed countries have for the most part, uninterrupted access to water. Some countries going so far as to drill into prehistoric reserves to service industry needs.

 The NZ Herald recently reported that the government has rejected a bid by the Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) for rights over freshwater. Minister Nick Smith has indicated that the government may instead “compromise by allowing regional councils to do local deals with Māori”.

The government love the no one owns the water message. Firstly, it polarises public opinion and plays to NZ’s largely nationalist base, which concomitantly supports the government’s unwillingness to grant water rights to Māori. Secondly, it obscures what is happening in the background to the negotiations between the Crown and the ILG – the privatisation of water by regional councils for sale in overseas markets.

For example, the Northland and Whangarei District Councils have collaboratively sidestepped consulting with the Whatitiri Māori Reserve Trust, the owners of Poroti Springs, and have approved the expansion of earthworks by Zodiac Holdings for “a commercial water bottling plant across the road from the springs”. This ought to greatly offend the same nationalists likely supporting the against Māori having water rights brigade given the end product is intended for overseas markets. Yet it won’t. Because parse the message and we get Māori cannot own or have rights over water.

To deny rights to Māori over freshwater while empowering regional councils who have failed to protect these water sources from pollution or exploitation illuminates the racism underlying the governments rhetoric. This is not about ‘no one owning the water’ this is about the Crown stamping its racist little iron feet on Māori.

The actions of these councils also indicates that the governments vision of  cooperation between Māori and Regional Councils is not only flawed but disingenuous since the government is well aware that commercial interests will supersede the rights and interests of Māori native to the particular rohe, especially where investment in those regions is necessary.

Escaping government and the nationalist public considerations is that hapū and iwi have occupied these regions for centuries. During this time, they have cared for the waterways ensuring reserves were not exploited and that they remained free of pollutants. Every single New Zealander has benefited from the kaitiakitanga of our tūpuna over our waterways.

In Aotearoa, access and availability is interrupted usually only as a result of drought (scarcity) or flooding (pollution), and through private ownership of water sources granted to corporations by the government.  For Māori some water sources are taonga from a wahi tapu perspective.

But water is also a vital source of economic security. Access and availability are necessary for growing food, drinking water, health, hygiene and sanitation. It comes as no surprise then that the ILG would seek rights over freshwater in Aotearoa, when the Crown have systematically privatised water systems and allocated rights to public entities in this respect which has led to spiritual, environmental, and economic detachment for many hapū and iwi.

The fact that the government and regional councils seem prepared to draw down on the principal of our water for short term relief should worry all of us. Not because the water is to be shipped offshore, but because we should be mindful of the uneven distribution of freshwater globally and the need to protect against water scarcity in Aotearoa for current and future generations. We should also remain alert to the harmful rhetoric employed by the Crown that intends to entrench a divisive public to reinforce its own power over all us.

[Editors noteThis is the revised version of the original post]