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.
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:
- Restoring and strengthening our connections to our whānau and whakapapa
- Preserving mātauranga through transmission of knowledge within and between generations
- Better information and access to decision making which could minimise disputes, and long drawn out processes and encourage kōtahitanga
- 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).
- 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.