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.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Symbols of change

This is shaping up to be an interesting year. There are so many really big issues developing, it’s hard to know where to look.

The distractions

The National Party has hit the ground running. As its second term gets underway, it seems intent on showing what it thinks of tangata whenua, while at the same time, shrinking the only ministry that could give them good advice on these issues.

Key is big on dismissing anything that he doesn’t like the look of. Back in 2010, as soon as the Māori Party announced that New Zealand had signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Key dismissed it as symbolic. When he heard that Māori were upset at the proposed dropping of section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act, he pulled that word out again—according to him, section 9 is “largely symbolic”, showing either his ignorance or cynicism (great commentary at pundit: if it’s just a symbol, why do you care?). As the Herald points out, section 9 of the SOE Act was a turning point in New Zealand legislation. Many Māori will fight to hold the Crown to the promises of section 9, whether or not National successfully sell off a portion of the SOEs.

National’s attempts at getting rid of section 9 have both the Māori Party and the Māori Council on their feet preparing for that fight. John Key’s response to both is, well, dismissive. When Tariana Turia says the Māori Party will have to consider its position in government if an appropriate solution isn’t reached, Key responds "I'm extremely confident the Maori Party will remain part of the Government for the next three years." He reckons it isn’t a deal breaker, and a solution can be found, but his dismissal of Turia’s concerns oozes smugness (PM confident Maori Party will stay). In return, she posted a full page ad in the Herald schooling Key, and explaining why it is important that she stand her ground on section 9. Key’s mantra that the Māori Party will continue to support the National Party on confidence and supply must be frustrating the Māori Party. Every time Key says this, dismissing the Māori Party’s own assessments, he diminishes them. This looks more like a parent-child relationship by the day. They must realise they need as much distance from National as they can to have any hope of surviving. I’m looking forward to developments.

The Māori Council is asking the Waitangi Tribunal to stop the planned sales of SOEs until it has heard a claim that Crown management of freshwater and geothermal resources breached the treaty of Waitangi, and whether the Crown is acting in good faith (Waitangi Tribunal claim seeks to halt asset sales). The Council is asking for the return of water resources, or a large portion of the state owned energy companies as compensation. I don’t know what relationship National has with the Māori Council, but after the years Graham Lattimer put in for the Party, he must be disappointed at the way Nick Smith and Key are discrediting the Council and their claims. Smith is trying to make them look unreasonable with statements that they hadn’t come to see him in the three years he has been responsible for fresh water issues—he doesn’t mention whether he has made any contact with them. He calls the claims divisive, and says arguing about the ownership of water is neither practical nor useful. He is using the perennial favourite when Māori want ownership of a resource returned—you can’t own natural resources. Nevermind, that the Crown act as if they have ownership, or that they took it from Māori. The Crown will redefine the English language if need be to retain control over resources. And Key is being dismissive: “water ownership a no-brainer” and “anyone can go to court, but court over what?” (Tribunal action sought over asset sales). Key refuses to acknowledge that there are ways of looking at the world other than the western legal system. It’s good to see the very respectable Māori Council back in the fray.

(I also heard Key on the radio this morning saying he wasn’t concerned about the Waitangi Tribunal holding up sales of SOEs because their decisions aren’t binding—but I don’t know what station I was listening to, and I can’t find reference to him saying this. If I could find a reference, I would add this to the list of things Key says are symbolic.)

Meanwhile, Bill English used the raru at Te Tii to insult Māori on Waitangi Day: “If the northern tribes could run a marae properly, New Zealand might have a more positive view of the Treaty.” Which also implies that Māori aren’t part of New Zealand (all are insulted by Dipton dipstick). Nice one Bill. Personally, I think the reason most New Zealanders have little respect for the relationship between Crown and Māori is because we have such an appalling education system that most of us don’t know our history.

With enough National ministers talking enough crap, even the more conservative Māori organisations are calling them out. When we’re all back on the same page, things are going to get fun.

The bullshit

There will be plenty of court cases to enrage us this year, as there are every year. The first big one will be against the remaining Operation 8 defendants. This is the case stemming from the arrests of around 20 people in 2007. After a year of surveillance, houses were searched in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Ruātoki, Whakatane, Taupō, Palmerston North and Wellington, including 300 police shutting down an entire community. All up, the operation cost around $8 million, and they found a total of four firearms plus ammunition. Insufficient evidence has meant charges have been dropped against all but four defendants. The Crown will try to justify its violation of Ngāi Tūhoe and all those targeted by Operation 8 by going hard against the four remaining defendants. There are heaps of issues worth discussing in this; it is another case that looks like it’s about one thing, when actually, it’s all about colonisation and sovereignty. As Moana Jackson said: "the colonisation of Māori ... has always been about the dispossession and ... terrorising of innocent peoples. ... indigenous peoples being defined as a threat whenever they have questioned their dispossession... The real or perceived ‘threat’ has always then been met with violence." (Jackson, p2 in Terror in our midst? Searching for terrorism in Aotearoa New Zealand).

There will be the fights to defend our whanaunga, Papatūānuku, Hinemoana, Tangaroa, Ranginui. There will be the court cases that try to redefine our sovereignty. There will be all of the day to day ignorance.

The real mahi

While holding on to the little we’ve got in the face of this crap is distracting, Māori are quietly working on some really big issues. An independent constitutional working group – Aotearoa Matike Mai has been discussing constitutional models for the country. The group is convened by Margaret Mutu, chaired by Moana Jackson, and made up of members nominated by Iwi, co-opted for their expertise, and representing particular interests such as Urban Maori Authorities. They are working with whānau and hapū around the motu to develop a constitution based on Te Tiriti and reflecting tikanga Māori.

The WAI 262 report came out last year, and while the recommendations are conservative and disappointing, the claim and the report itself still provide a leaping off point for us. The Iwi Chairs Forum has agreed to support an Interim Taumata, to engage and work out how we can use the WAI 262. Remember this was the Waitangi Tribunal’s first whole of government inquiry, it shouldn’t just affect all branches of government, it will change the way government is imagined. This work should tie in with the independent constitutional working group’s, and I have no doubt that the results will be exciting.

There are also always tauiwi who are willing to engage genuinely. I’m looking forward to hearing back from the Decolonise you mind hui last weekend, which focused on “the connections between racism, sexism, colonisation, classism and other oppressions, and working in predominantly pakeha activist scenes... and how these things affect us and the feminist/ social justice/ peace/ revolutionary/creative work we do.” I look forward to hearing about other exciting projects this year.

So, a big year. There will be many projects and many fronts. For those of us who have been taking a break, it’s time to prioritise, think about what we can give, where we fit in, and to reconnect with the struggle.


  1. Kia ora,
    I agree, an interesting year indeed. The economy is certainly stalled - the supposed improvement in employment is undermined by a decline in hours, a flatlining participation rate, and an increase in young people who are unemployed, out of school, and not training towards anything.

    Tertiary education is facing further cuts...wonder how Hekia Parata will present that alongside a government innovation platform. As for Otautahi, suicides are back up, domestic violence is through the roof, and there's no leadership you'd want to follow!

    My cousin Tuhoe Lambert was one of those charged as a terrorist. He's gone in some respects but still here in others (like on Facebook!). I agree: time to prioritise. If there's one benefit to recession and disaster, it's the requirement to de-trivialise our engagement! Kia kaha!

    1. Kia ora Simon,

      Ka aroha, e hoa. I'm sorry for the hurt Operation 8 has caused your whānau. I expect this is a difficult time for you all. ngā mihi ki a koutou.