From Ally to Accomplice

It is December 2023. National, Act and NZ First gained the mandate in the October elections from the good people of Aotearoa to form a new Right Wing government. I won’t go into the politics and the systems that enabled them to get there, nor the role of the Media, Social Media, external fringe groups and well-funded organisations such as Topham-Guerin that may or may not have infiltrated them to sway public opinion. That is for commenters far more expert than I. 

What I can talk about is the impact it has had on me, how it has made me feel and how I can see that it has made others feel. The sense of weight that descended on election night, the dread of what was to come, was unfathomable. In the days and weeks that followed as we waited for the final counts of Special Votes and then the ‘negotiations’, I swung between hope that the humanity of the NACTs and NZFirst would come through and then despair that they would live up to all they had ‘promised’. I am an optimist at heart and try to see the best in people and situations. it was not to be, when the final deals were revealed it was worse than I could ever have imagined. 

The pettiness of repealing pretty much everything that Labour did in the last Government, everything that sought to build some equity for Māori, the use of te reo Māori, co-Governance in Health and Waters, measures that support the poor and disadvantaged and seek to start the redress of the imbalance of generations of colonial legislation. I have spent a lot of time (more time than I should!) on ‘X’ and ‘BlueSky’ and Facebook talking with like-minded people, sharing articles but also pushing back against the racist rants of others. There have been some excellent articles that I have read and shared more widely. In this article from e-Tangata, Deb Te Kawa warns that there is a real danger that the policies of the coalition ‘create a racial situation that will have severe consequences for Aotearoa.’  She goes on to say that ‘The electorate voted for minor changes, not reform — and certainly not a culture war.’

This culture war pits people against each other when we should be coming together to improve outcomes for all but more importantly to lift outcomes for Māori. The debates will be and should be robust, but they will also be vicious and personal. Deb Te Kawa says she is confident te ao Māori can endure these debates. She starts the article with this statement;

“Te ao Māori is more durable than a rock that’s been pounded by waves for thousands of years.” Many rangatira will relish the debates but she believes the Pākehā community will struggle, they are ‘uncomfortable with the politics of struggle and conflict’ whereas “Te ao Māori’s relationship with the state since its inception has been one of constant and enduring conflict.  

There is an increasing call from the right wing for ‘fairness’ and ‘everyone being treated the same’, and criticism of ‘race based’ schemes that provide an unfair advantage to Māori.  Their voices shout the loudest and it is their voices who have emboldened this colaition and their supporteers. It is the age old lack of understanding between ‘Equality’ and ‘Equity’.  In this article for the Spinoff, Emma Wehipeihana states that “We’re done with being asked to justify our ‘privilege’”. The Māori and Pacific Admission Scheme (MAPAS) is the scheme that supports Māori and Pacifica students to get into Medical Schools in Otago and Auckland. (It is, by the way, the route by which Shane Reti and his daughter got into Medical School)  Under this government it is under threat mainly because of their belief that we are all the same and there should be no favouritism shown. She is concerned that ‘in pursuit of benign-sounding slogans like “fairness” they will attempt to distract and position us against each other. They’ll do things like dog whistle to immigrants about how Māori get unfair privilege, while worrying loudly about the impact of immigration on public infrastructure and job availability. They’ll act as if rationing social services is fair, while hoping we fight among ourselves for the crumbs.”

At the end of the article, Emma reiterates the words from the title – Māori have had enough of explaining their right to exist. It is up to us now to learn about the history to understand why Maori are underserved and disadvantaged, to understand what the socio-economic, cultural and psychological impacts of colonial history have been on Māori. 

“Being kind is out. Being strategic is in. In the words of my Tukorehe cousin, Anahera Gildea – author, artist and aunty – we don’t need allies, we need accomplices. See you on the protest line, e hoa mā.”

For me, as someone just starting to find my place as an ally and what I need to do, this really resonated – be an accomplice – be there, actively supporting, doing, on the front line, not just standing by on the side supporting but not getting my hands dirty. Stand up and be counted but do it alongside, take some of the weight.  When the call to action came, I was there. On the protest line, holding my placard alongside many who I didn’t know but who felt the same way – Māori and Pākehā. Also alongside many who I do know, who I work with, who I have studied with, who are my friends. 

I met the wahine on her own as I walked home. She was standing proud on the roundabout at the end of my street, waving her hāhi Tino Rangatiratanga. I went to talk to her and asked her why she wasn’t with everyone else. She said that she had realised on the way there that it didn’t really matter where you stood as long as you stood. I reflected after that maybe her belief, her sense of identity in who she was and what she stood for meant that she didn’t need a crowd around her to validate her. She just knew that what she stood for was right.

This put me in mind of a podcast I listened to recently. Alex Barnes was a guest on Taringa Podcast. He talked to Paraone Gloyne about being an ally. Paraone described him as a “Pākehā pai”. He talked in the podcast about how it is important to hold onto who we are, our own identity, not try to be Māori but to hold fast to our values and be proud of who we are. He used the kiwaha – ‘Maumau te pango’ but switched it up to ‘maumau te mā’. He explained that if we don’t know who we are, if we don’t understand where we come from, our own culture and how we are here, we can’t engage well with anyone.

So that got me thinking too. In my desire to learn te reo Māori, to immerse myself in all things Māori, in learning all I can about the history of Aotearoa and especially the Māaori history, am I losing sight of who I am, am I abandoning or denigrating my own cultural heritage? Ever since I learned about how the English colonised India, Africa, what they did to the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, when I was a teenager, I developed a deep sense of shame about being English. I knew that I also had Irish heritage so I latched onto that and claimed ‘Irishness’ not realising at the time that my Irishness probably stemmed from Englishness and my ancestors were actually originally colonisers!

So, I think I need to do some deep thinking about who I am, where I come from, and come to terms with it without carrying shame for it but acknowledging it so that I can stand as an ally and an accomplice with integrity, humility and honesty. 

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