Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oppression and the Mana party

This was originally inspired by a great post on the potential created when English youth begin to side with the Third World liberation struggle, rather than with their own government’s colonial aggression, and the political uses of 'whiteness'. The Rebel Griot has provided a jumping off point for me to think about the need for Mana as a voice in politics. This first part focuses on the need for a strong Māori voice to fight a system that concentrates power in the hands of a few.

Those who set up Te Mana Party recognised the potential in building alliances between tino rangatiratanga activists, and social justice/working class activists in New Zealand. Mana provides another opportunity for Māori to talk about class, at a time when some of our leaders are flirting with an economic model that amplifies class injustices. They also provide an opportunity for Māori to talk with working class tau iwi about colonisation (more about that in another post). Pākehā who are poor are also oppressed by our present economic system, and are natural allies in fighting it, as long as we can break the bonds of white privilege (the Rebel Griot provides a great summary of this). These conversations will benefit all of us, because they broaden our understanding of our oppressions, and remind us who is benefiting from them.

Social justice and the danger of elites

The current system thrives on hierarchies of power: for example, race, class, gender—women, poor and Māori work in under paid (or unpaid) jobs for the benefit of the more powerful, rich, mostly male, mostly Pākehā. Social justice means breaking down these hierarchies to create a more just system—this is also important within Māori organising. Countless tangata whenua have spoken of the danger of creating indigenous elites who then have a stake in maintaining something like the status quo—they end up working against real tino rangatiratanga. As the Crown would prefer, tino rangatiratanga comes to mean little more than Māori economic success in the present system. Ranginui Walker writes of Māori leaders who:
"through training, or association with the power elite have been infected with an appetite for bourgeois success. They seize an opportunity to achieve economic power by championing Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi in the alien fora of courts and the Beehive. In pursuit of this agenda they unwittingly maintain the hegemony of the ruling class by responding to the latter’s definition of how Maori cultural and economic aspirations should be achieved." (Ranginui Walker 1992, Changes to the Traditional Model of Maori Leadership)

Ani Mikaere argues that this is part of the Crown’s strategy in the way it sets up Treaty settlements:
"[The] recreation of Māori society in the image of the coloniser’s class system will create differing political agendas for Māori, depending upon where they find themselves on the class ladder... any settlement which results in the class stratification of Māori will mean that future generations of Māori who seek justice under the Treaty will face the most trenchant opposition from those Māori for whom the settlements have brought power and prestige. It will be the Māori powerbrokers who will act as buffers between Māori claims for tino rangatiratanga and the Crown. More than simply resorting to a cheap pay-out to silence Māori protest in the short term, the current Treaty settlement policy actually sets in place powerful structural barriers to prevent Māori from pursuing their Treaty claims in the future." (Ani Mikaere 2001, Racism in Contemporary Aotearoa)

Annette Sykes agrees:
"in lieu of direct military-political control, neo-colonialist powers co-opt indigenous elites through privileged relationships with their government and opportunities to profit from their economic, financial and trade policies, at the expense of their people" (Annette Sykes 2010, Bruse Jesson Lecture)

And Ani Mikaere reminds us that this division isn’t just about class, it is also gendered:
"This pattern of bolstering the authority of Māori men at the expense of Māori women has permeated the Crown-Māori relationship... It should come as no surprise that the “subalterns” about whom Ranginui Walker was speaking ... were all Māori men... We have indeed, as Kathie Irwin noted in 1992, seen ‘the evolution of strange new cultural practices in which men are bonding to each other, through patriarchy, to give each other participatory rights across Maori and Pakeha culture, in ways which exclude Maori women’" (Māori Critic and Conscience in a Colonising Context—Law and Leadership as a Case Study)

We need to be vigilant of these hierarchies so they do not corrupt our understandings of tino rangatiratanga, and limit us to fighting to do better in the current system. We cannot have tino rangatiratanga in the present system, and it is my hope that Mana will offer a way through these obstacles. By focusing on social justice along with tino rangatiratanga, they are able to critique the present system on two fronts, and help us to see the dangers of replicating it within our own structures. We need leadership focused on eliminating the hierarchies that are dividing us by economic class, gender and other power differentials, as well as fighting the myriad injustices of colonisation.

My hope is that Mana will bring the diverse voices of working class, women and Māori into the political debate. A political system should be just, it should work against injustice, it should aim to eliminate oppression, and the only way to do that is to bring the oppressed to the centre. I hope that Mana will expose and attack policies that hurt Māori, women and the poor, and I hope they will critique those of us, Māori or Pākehā, whose actions support policies and structures that oppress. It may not win them many seats in the election, but it may remind some politicians why they are there and who they are supposed to represent. It may keep some people more honest than they would otherwise be. While the Māori Party is embracing the National/Act abomination, we certainly need something like Mana.

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