The Māori struggle is not a ‘left’ thing

Morgan Godfery wrote an amazing obituary to Shane Jones’s retirement from politics. I was going to write something on Jones specifically, but Godfery’s piece summed up most the things I would have tried to express (although I would have done a poor job in comparison). However, one particular statement stood out as more of a general observation Godfery makes about Māori politics:

… I’ve said it before: Māori politics doesn’t sit apart from the political spectrum, but below it. At least the political right doesn’t pretend to be a false friend

While my personal preference would be to use ‘outside’ rather than ‘below’, I think Godfery makes the salient point about the subjugation of the Māori struggle to eurocentric conceptions of the political economy, namely, the socialist/left vs capitalist/right dichotomy.

It is becoming increasingly irritating (for me anyhow) when people claim that only the political left in NZ are capable of representing Māori in politics. I think this is an indefensible claim because it assumes Māori lead a homogeneous existence and that Tikanga  is a left ideal.  It reminds me of a quote shared by Bentham Ohia when speaking with Bolivian President Evo Morales which I’ve expressed before here and replicated in the picture below:


There is no shortage of non-Māori ‘advocates for Māori’ who consider they are in a position to advance arguments against Māori who step outside the lefts confines as traitors to Māori. As sell outs. As blights on the Maori struggle.

I’m embarrassed that I allowed myself to breathe this myth for so long coming to the realisation only recently about how wrong I was to propagate that view, and how offensive such claims are to Māori. It is wrong to expressly or implicitly clam that someone lacks tikanga values simply because they choose to cooperate with those of the capitalist class. Tikanga does not fit neatly into eurocentric political conceptions – it sits outside them but in being so, as Godfery points out, it is treated as inferior to the ideologies that occupy NZ’s political spectrum.

Embedded in these ‘left is best for Māori’ claims is the idea that Maori representation requires actions like picketing at state housing evictions in Glenn Innes, or protesting on Queen Street or outside the beehive. These are certainly admirable actions, they are grassroots actions, but they are not specific Māori focused grassroots actions. This is not an attack on Hone Harawira (or the Mana Party) who is highly respected for his Māori specific focus in his electorate – its a pointed criticism at the many on the left who craft a conception of Māori representation in terms of the class struggle.

I recall when Native Affairs interviewed David Cunliffe following his successful bid for Labour leadership. Mihi Forbes asked if there were any Māori policies that Cunliffe thought the audience might be interested in, to which he ignorantly replied:

Firstly let me state the obvious that Māori disproportionately benefit from Labours core policies around jobs, around warm dry homes, around education, around healthcare of course they do

He was promptly called out on twitter by Māori Law Professor Khylee Quince:


This is a prevailing stereotype in NZ. Yes, many Māori are unemployed and/or less educated and so on but being Māori is not synonymous with being poor as Cunliffe implies. Its no wonder the Māori struggle is subordinated when even those claiming to advocate for Maori, are advocating for the lower class to which they presumptively see Māori as belonging. We are poor first, then we are Māori. Apparently.

The Maori struggle is not one of class. The class struggle is as already mentioned, an imported conception. Its not a struggle confined to the hubris of parliament. The Māori struggle is to break free from the institutions that dominate and control Māori life. The Māori struggle is realising tino rangitiratanga, self-determination proper and not the artificial markings of self-determination through Pakeha specific legislation that allows Māori minimal meaningful participation in their system.

A radical departure from the status quo is needed if the Māori struggle is to regain its momentum.

I accept this claim is likely to irk many as a ‘separatist’ ideal. But it must be noted as I’ve expressed before, that tino rangitiratanga is not about taking power for Māori to dictatorially wield over non-Māori. Its about regaining lost power so that Māori can engage in a cooperative society on equal footing.  I’m also aware that many very hardy socialists will despise the claim that the Maori struggle is not a class struggle. But I’m not saying Maori can’t participate in both struggles, in fact I wholeheartedly support Maori participating in both struggles – I’m merely pointing out that there is a distinction that is too often ignored.

While it’s justifiable to claim those initially of the left who stepped to the right abandoned the class struggle, it is wrong to malignantly accuse those people of abandoning the Māori struggle as if the struggles were synonymous.

Why Ngāpuhi should reject the treaty settlement process

Some motivational words before I begin this post:

‘Renegades of Funk’ cover (2000)

by Rage Against the Machine

[original by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force (1983)]

Now renegades are the people
With their own philosophies
They change the course of history
Everyday, people like you and me

We’re the renegades we’re the people
With our own philosophies
We change the course of history
Everyday, people like you and me

If you read my About page you will see that I am a Ngāpuhi descendent. Admittedly, I’ve had minimal exposure to my iwi and culture and identify more closely as an urban Māori of Ngāpuhi descent. I am nonetheless still extremely passionate about issues affecting Māori and in particular, my iwi.

For the record, I do not and have not lived in a predominantly Māori community at all in my lifetime, so my views arise from an external standpoint. Although, despite living in predominantly Pākehā communities, I have certainly felt and continue to feel the stigma of being Māori in NZ.

I’m well aware that I am susceptible to criticism from both iwi-connected Māori and non-Māori alike, in proposing to make claims against a process that many view as vital for improving relationships within NZ.  But either way, I am going to state my argument knowing the criticism I open myself up to.

Ngāpuhi must reject the treaty settlement process and advocate for real change, for the recognition of Tino Rangatiratanga.

For the regular reader of this blog, it’s of no surprise that I am deeply sympathetic to political anarchism. This is important to note because it helps contextualise why I think Ngāpuhi should reject the Treaty settlements process. Although my rejection of the State and hierarchies, and the treaty settlements process do correlate, the key reason for rejecting the latter is the settlements process closes the door on the fundamental issue of Tino Rangitiratanga and therefore Mana Motuhake.

The treaty settlements process is a vehicle for preserving the privilege of the ruling political elite. It does this by feigning to settle injustices through monetary compensation, knowing the sovereignty issues are ignored in this process. Moreover, when the State are faced with opposition from Māori for issues arising under the Treaty, these monetary payments are used by the State to build a narrative around Māori as a people who would sell out their principles for a few zero’s in their bank accounts.

Does the settlement process not strike anyone as the same tactic used to lure Māori into signing the Treaty in the first place? These settlements reinforce the master-slave relationship that locks iwi into a corporatocracy wedded to hierarchy and elitism.

Graham Cameron recently wrote that Māori fail to recognise the thing that infuriates us is ‘not the dogwhistler’s but the leash’. The metaphor is superb. He further writes:

…we have adhered to the oppressor through the Church, through business and profit, through co-operating with the councils in development of land, through having most of our tamariki in mainstream schools, through giving up our sovereignty for a treaty settlement. At each point we have hoped for liberation, but again we have mistaken the status quo for freedom. [Emphasis added]

The treaty settlements process claims to liberate Māori, instead it lengthens the leash. I appreciate that the monetary compensation has assisted certain iwi to become ‘profitable’ entities and improve the outcomes of members of their iwi. But with all due respect, this has put a handbrake on the real emancipation needed to improve social, economic and environmental outcomes for all Māori.

Hone Harawira recently wrote that Ngāpuhi provide the basis for our future understanding of Te Tiriti’ and that the government ‘can’t effectively claim to have settled the Treaty until they can bring the biggest tribe in the country to the table’.

Harawira also writes that:

Once Ngapuhi’s signature is on the Deed of Settlement, the Crown will have achieved “full and final” settlement of all major iwi claims, at which point the Treaty will have finally achieved the status conferred upon it by Chief Justice Prendergast in 1877[1] … it will to all intents and purposes finally be “null and void”

This is the reality if Ngāpuhi choose to settle under the conditions predetermined by the Crown. If this is our last opportunity to fight for Tino Rangitiratanga, then we need to make sure that it is not an opportunity wasted. Any settlement under the current framework will waste this opportunity. As the only iwi yet to settle and complete the Crowns colonisation project, Ngāpuhi have the final opportunity to fight for Tino Rangitiratanga. Not just for Ngāpuhi, or for Māori but for all New Zealanderr’s.

We wont achieve Mana Motuhake if we continue to visualise Tino Rangitiratanga as exclusively for Māori.  I do not here assert that Tino Rangitiratanga should represent a departure from our Māoritanga. Rather that it must reflect the inclusive qualities that form its core.

We must create a vision for New Zealander’s illustrating as Cameron points out, that Tino Rangitiratanga is an alternative to the abysmal corporatocracy that we presently endure.

Like anarchism, Mana Motuhake and Tino Rangitiratanga are practices not theories. The practice of self-determination, the realisation of freedom. Self-determination and freedom are about enabling communities to decide how best to meet their needs – they do not privilege one person over another. Moreover, self-determination and freedom enables people to decide how they want to organise their communities. It does not mean that we devlove into separate warring communities rather that we develop co-operative communities that ensure everyones needs are met.

And so what if the liberals bleat that its a utopian dream. So what if change doesn’t happen immediately. Shouldn’t we at lest try to change the course of history?

I don’t presume any resistance would be simple or without its own opposition, but I do think Ngāpuhi can build momentum for a shared vision by rejecting the settlements process. Ngāpuhi must see through the divide and conquer strategy foisted upon them, and take this opportunity to liberate Māori and Pākehā alike from the corporatocracy that keeps us divided for its own preservation.

[1] Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington (1877) 3 NZ Jur (NS) SC 72.