Forum Tent Monday

Labour, Green & Te Pāti Māori Representatives

This was a panel of the members of the opposition parties. Each had a turn to speak and although it wasn’t a conversation, some speakers referenced what others had said. It was a shame as I would have liked to have heard some questions that each person could have answered. However, it was a large panel, so there wasn’t a lot of time. 

Willie Jackson kicked off the kōrero seemingly simply because he was the ‘older statesman’. Te Pāti Māori had been delayed getting there so by default, they ended up being last to speak.

Willie talked about the importance of the opposition parties working together to get the coalition government out as soon as possible. He made a plea for developing strategies, listening and talking to each other. He acknowledged the huge gains Te Pāti Māori had made but also pointed out that Māori seemed to have voted strategically in the 2023 election. They voted forTe Pāti Māori candidates in the Māori wards but they voted for Labour as the party vote. He asked how the opposition parties could make the most of their many similarities and coordinate an effective opposition? 

Carmel Sepuloni was next. She said they had considered just having the Maori caucus on the panel but then decided that it’s not just about Māori – all the members of Labour Party are in it together, it’s a joint effort, Tangata Tiriti and Tangata Māori working together. 

Her kōrero was about equity and how it’s worrying that Maori and Pacifica kids are still more likely to be negatively treated by the justice system. She told the story of her son who came home one day and told her that he had learnt something – did she know that if you ask a policeman for their name and number, they have to give it to you?  Māori and Pasifika kids need this sort of knowledge to empower them as they are more likely to be stopped by the police. Pākehā kids don’t need to learn that sort of stuff and this is where equity comes in. 

I wondered about the kaiako I work with and how many are shocked when we discuss these sorts of inequities. They have often never even thought about the ‘everyday racism’ that happens as it just doesn’t affect them.  We all need to know about bias and prejudice and understand where it comes from so that we can do something in our own lives to address those inequities. The Aotearoa NZ Histories curriculum has started to provide an understanding of how events and legislation have contributed to the current socio-economic inequities. Kaiako and tamariki are finally learning the diverse histories of their own country.  However, the Coalition Government is talking about ‘rebalancing’ the curriculum just when a range of stories are being shared. They are appealing to their voter base. This is the first time in New Zealand’s history that another side of history is actually being told. It’s challenging to Pākehā – and when their privilege is threatened they feel like they are being victimised, they feel like something is being taken away.  We need platforms to provide equity such as the Maori Health Authority – it’s not a privilege or racial favouritism, it’s providing a leg up for those who are so far below. 

Arena Williams talked about our rangatahi and how there is a shift in focus. They are interested in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, they can see a bigger picture than the government. They understand that Te Tiriti is a promise to us to care for our land, our people and all that they hold as taonga – our language, culture, whakapapa. Te Tiriti o Waitangi is not a threat to te ao Māori, it’s a threat to ACT’s way of life and the privilege that they hold.  She added that there is solidarity between the working class people and Maori, not division. 

Jean Willow-Prime continued the theme of Te Tiriti o Waitangi but she asked ‘He aha te āpititanga o te whawhai mō Te Tiriti o Waitangi?’  What will we bring as an addition to the fight for Te Tiriti o Waitangi. When we go home after the show of solidarity here at Waitangi, what will we do to continue to wananga about what we have listened to here and how will we devise a plan?  She urged people to continue to listen to the kōrero in Question Time in Pariament as that is where the government is held to account. I would add that we also need to listen to the news, and be critical of how it is presented, where it is presented, what is presented and which people have a voice. Social Media is also a crucial place to be mindful of what we are fed by the algorithms. How aware are we of the impact of what we click on has on our timelines? How do we critically question and hold true to our own values and beliefs in the face of so much negativity? 

Her message, echoed by others, was that we must sustain this opposition –  don’t make it a one-week wonder, continue and keep going.

Teano Tuiono reminded us of how the Green Party now have 6 Māori MPs in Parliament and therefore have people who represent Tangata Tiriti, Tangata Whenua and Tangata Moana. But he also picked up the thread of a sense that a new generation is bringing a change of approach. He acknowledged the patience, manaakitanga and the aroha of our people at the powhiri for the Government. But, he said 

‘We are sometimes too nice – we have been trampled on for years and then they waffle on on the paepae and expect to be accorded respect!!’ 

He was referring to the reception that several of the Coalition partners were given when they spoke at the pōwhiri and the response from the kuia who asked for people to remember the tikanga of welcoming manuhiri and to allow them to be heard.  I asked my colleagues later on about this and one of them said that rangatahi are less accepting of the way that manuhiri present themselves on the marae than the previous generation. Our kuia uphold and maintain the manaakitanga, the tikanga, but our rangatahi are saying ‘enough is enough’. We’ve offered manaaki all these years and we are still being trampled on – our mana is not intact. We will shout them down and call them out if they come here and show disrespect. 

Efeso Collins also acknowledged the strength of the connection between Tangata Moana and Tangata Māori and affirmed that they were committed to standing alongside as they have an understanding of some of the same issues. Te Māta Waka – the Māori Pacific caucus – need to ask what sort of leadership we need to make progress. He stressed the importance of holding strong to our values and how that is what will lead to unity, understanding and reconciliation. He also talked about the power in silence and the ability to listen, that listening informs what we have to say. There is a difference in cultural nuance here. Too often we listen to speak rather than listen to hear, to reflect, to learn. In Parliament and in western society generally there is a tendency to want to have the last word, but words have meaning and often those ‘last words’ do more to sow division than to seek understanding. 

He reflected that Waitangi is a beautiful celebration of the treaty which held so much promise but also acknowledged that Te Tiriti o Waitangi has always been a challenging space, for Māori and non-Māori.  It’s even more challenging now because it’s been thrown into the arena by David Seymour. The policy position on Te Tiriti o Waitangi of the people alongside Luxon is creating anxiety and anger.  

However, there is a silver lining which may or may not have been intended by Seymour as he threw Te Tiriti into the ring.  It is one that many kaikōrero remarked on over the few days I was at Waitangi, that the discussions about Te Tiriti have provided a focal point for Tangata Tiriti and Tangata Whenua to connect and galvanise. Just look at how many people responded to the activation call from Te Pāti Māori in December, how many came to the Hui -A-Motu organised by Kingi Tuuheitia in January, and just how many people have flocked to Waitangi this year. Part of me wonders, though, the danger that not everyone understands Te Tiriti and that that ignorance is a vacuum that can be filled by those who seek to undermine and disrupt. But maybe the hope does lie in our rangatahi who possibly have a greater understanding, they understand tino rangatiratanga, self-determination and sovereignty – they have more understanding, empathy and knowledge, because of more deliberate teaching in schools now.  Added to that, because of the mahi of those who have gone before such as Ngāti Tamatoa, there has been an increasing embrace of culture and language over the last 40 years.  The challenge is how we give voice to our rangatahi, how do we elevate their kōrero and not let it be drowned out by the ‘talk back’ generation? 

Marama Davidson continued the kōrero about the strong relationship that goes right the way back between tangata Moana and Tangata Maori.  It precedes Te Tiriti o Waitangi by a long way. It’s a very unique relationship, indeed 20% of Pacifica are Maori.

But her kōrero also picked up on the response to the kōrero on the paepae. She started with telling us that one of the first targets of colonisation was to diminish the status and mana of wāhine because they hold a powerful base. She told us about her grandmother taking one beating at a time when she spoke te reo Māori, until eventually, over three generations, her family lost their language. I reflected then about how our language is a window on the world, it is our identity, it makes us who we are and how we interact with each other. This morning I read an article Learning te reo as an adult: Tips for success | E-Tangata. In it, Matiu Ratima was asked why his father didn’t teach him te reo Māori even though he was a fluent speaker. It is a question that many Pākehā ask as if Māori just gave up their language. Matiu replied that his father, like many others, believed at the time that “children should learn English in this Pākehā world. That was mistaken, but such was the belief in those days. Some people still believe that!” When we lose our language we lose control of our own narrative and when outsiders tell our stories they undermine our skills and our mana. 

Marama acknowledged Ngā Puhi wāhine who stood up against the kōrero that was attacking Māori at the pōwhiri.  She talked about the tikanga on the marae and listening to her nannies calling people out for being boring or going on too long or speaking poorly or saying rubbish.  She said that she had learned that waiata is an acceptable and respectful tikanga for shutting people down.  In a kōrero with my colleagues later, I asked about this and their response was that it is, but that it is not usually manuhiri who are shut down by mana whenua – you shut down your own but not the other side. Manuhiri should be given manaaki, they should be allowed to speak. This echoes the words of Teano Tuiono and also raises the question about whether people have just had enough now? We have welcomed and shown kindness for so long and nothing has changed. Is the tide turning and are our rangatahi going to create their own tikanga for the future?

As I watched the pōwhiri I had questions about what happened. When David Seymour put up Nicole McKee to speak for the ACT party, there were murmurings all around me. Most people had no idea who she was! People wondered why he didn’t speak as leader of ACT.  Was putting her up to speak a deliberate ploy? Was he making a statement about the role of women in a pōwhiri, questioning or challenging the tikanga? Did he think that she had a safer space than he did to get across his message? Was it a ploy so that he didn’t get shouted down as he knew he would? Also if she did get shouted down, he had a ready made argument about the role of women and how liberal thinking he was and how rude and disrespectful tangata whenua were. But then later, he did stand and speak (and the crowd did sing to drown him out) so I am unsure what his purpose was. It looked to me like he threw her under the bus. 

As Marama closed her kōrero she came back to The Green party core beliefs of sustainability and the environment and left us with a simple message;

“We can only have Mana Motuhake if the land is sustained and we all thrive.”

Steve Abel started by responding to Willie Jackson’s call to all work together as opposition parties by agreeing.  He also threw out a wero that the Labour Party stand in their traditional values as a Labour Party. “Get rid of neoliberalism and be true to the Labour Party values.” A reactionary government allows us to be more ambitious, go on the attack, and not retreat into defence mode.

He then moved on to the idea of Tino Rangatiratanga and questioned that when Seymour says he wants Tino Rangatiratanga for everyone he doesn’t understand it at all. Steve believes that James Busby understood as the Green Party did that Tino Rangatiratanga is for Māori, not for Tangata Tiriti. Busby intended through his use of the word ‘rangatiratanga’ that Māori would have independence and self-determination. He then went on to suggest that David Seymour is proposing to do exactly what Henry Sewell proposed in 1864 was the purpose of the Land Wars – to impose a monolithic British sovereignty. That stance denies Tino Rangatiratanga of Māori. He reminded us that our only legitimacy as Tangata Tiriti is through Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Hūhana Lyndon brought us back to a kōrero I heard on Sunday. ‘Land Loss’. She said that the way that the government talks about land loss is like it’s something that happened 100 years ago but that’s not true. It has happened in her lifetime and her parents’ lifetime. It has been happening ever since 1840. In Te Tai Tokerau when they stood up to defend the land her grandparents and parents were told they were too old, or they were not academic enough, or not worthy. They were dismissed, their mana was trampled on. 

She echoed Whina Cooper as she said, ‘Hoki whenua mai! Enough is enough!’

Hūhana also picked up on kōrero about how Te Tiriti o Waitangi gives mana to He Whakaputanga which is its tuakana. Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Māori version) is a legally binding document. He Whakaputanga is referenced in it and it affirms the sovereignty of Māori as laid out in He Whakaputanga, Te Tiriti o Waitangi doesn’t replace He Whakaputanga and ACT doesn’t get to rewrite it – it’s an agreement for working together, for partnership, for kotahitanga but it doesn’t cede sovereignty. 

Hūhana continued with the theme of Tino Rangatiratanga specifically in relation to Health, and her distress and anger that policies like Smoke Free have been repealed by the Coalition Government.  It has been widely reported that Māori will be most affected by the repeal of The Coalition Government’s Smoke-free Amendment.  “It will cost thousands of lives and have the greatest effect on Māori – who have the highest rates of smoking (19 per cent)”

Hūhana was impassioned in her kōrero, “There is blood on Shane Reti’s hands when Māori die because of the doors open policy on tobacco. It’s a crying shame that our own people are doing this to us.” Her call was for us to lean towards activation not protest, we have to take action on the issues and solve them ourselves.  “Tino rangatiratanga has been asleep but it is awakening.” Our best strategy is to believe in our Tino Rangatiratanga

“Speak power to our truth

Speak truth to our power”

Her final words asked us if we believe in Tino Rangatiratanga but don’t feel we enact it, what’s the gap and how do we close it? Ask ourselves what we need to do. 

Debbie Ngārewa-Packer

As you might expect, Debbie came out all guns blazing! She is a ferociously passionate wahine and she started by asking if any government in the history of Aoteraoa hasn’t broken the promises of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Since the mid 20th century, there have been gains but in reality Māori have only been offered crumbs. “Crumbs have kept us in survival mode,” said Debbie. I understand this to mean that, yes, there has been some progress; a resurgence of the language, more understanding from some Tangata Tiriti about te ao Māori, mahi is being done across organisations to understand what honouring Te Tiriti means, Aotearoa New Zealand History has been introduced to schools, Te Whatu Ora has been created to address the inequities in Māori health. But these are still tenuous, their existence is under threat from the current coalition government who perceive it to be attacking the status quo – their status quo as power brokers, with huge privilege. 

Debbie urges Māori to forget the crumbs, it is time – kua tai mai te wā – to think big. We need our own Parliament. We’ve been in opposition since 1840 – we should be doing more, listening more, and bringing our kōrero to life, bringing Te Tiriti o Waitangi to life. 

It doesn’t matter what party we’re in. As Māori, it’s about our beliefs and values and bringing expertise together.

What would a Māori Parliament look like? Can we achieve it? Whatever it looks like – it can’t look like the current western style parliament – it has to be built around our belief systems, our tikanga and our culture.

We need to mobilise – we have seen what our rangatahi can do but we can do more. The % of Māori who were registered and voted was less than Non-Māori especially at the older end of the age ranges. I couldn’t quickly find how many Māori had not registered as a comparison with Non-Māori but anecdotally, I know that older, white people tend to register to vote and they tend to go out and vote. Māori of the same age are less likely to. They have long felt that the system offers them nothing, they are disenfranchised, they see no point in voting. I recently saw a Facebook post in which this image was posted;

One response was, “Should have just voted in the last election and we wouldn’t have this problem”

The conversation then went like this

 “It’s rigged, don’t you see that democracy doesn’t exist.”

“Lmao yeah nah … and people who believe that are the problem”

“Why vote? You get the same endless, don’t listen to the people tiko, these twits have sold out the country to the highest bidder, nearly 91 years of red blue governance has destroyed our country and silly nzlanders keep voting them in, so what’s the point?”

Sadly, she is not alone in this thinking. I wonder if she was swayed by a response from someone else who said, “Democracy does exist if you make sure your vote counts. Freedom is mainly lost through poverty and inaction. You must vote for the people who don’t work for the super-rich and will speak out and work for equity. Not voting and losing faith in the system is exactly what they want and how they get into power. 30% of eligible voters didn’t bother to vote at the last election.”  

Our rangatahi are starting to see that as long as we have a colonial, adversarial system, we have to use it and play the game. We can’t change it unless we are in it, so we need everyone to register and to vote. 

Reti! Pōti! 

Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke may have been the last speaker but she was on fire! A passionate young wahine who wasn’t afraid to say it like it is and to challenge. I have heard people criticise her for her youth, naivety, and lack of life experience, which are probably true. But you cannot fault her passion and her belief and none of those other things diminish her message and the truth that she tells. I also noticed the manaaki that Debbie wrapped around her as she spoke. I hope that continues. I see no reason why it wouldn’t, but we have seen what has happened to other young, Māori wāhine in public life and how the media and other MPs have targeted them. Outwardly she appears strong – one of the so-called ‘Kohanga Generation’ – Māori who have grown up immersed in te reo and tikanga – strong in her reo, in tikanga, in her identity as Māori. She will probably also encounter resistance from her elders, in fact, she already has with politicians like Winston Peters questioning her right to speak. 

But to her kōrero…. 

“Ko te take, ko te kōrero” 

Talk is where it’s at.  We talk too much ‘at’ our people, we need to give them a voice. She apologises that her emotions are very raw after the pōwhiri this morning. She reflects that our tinana, our wairua is affected negatively. She is angry, so angry, you can hear it in her voice and I can see Debbie standing close to calm her. I reflect that there is power in emotion, but it can also alienate and lead to unfair criticism that she is too young or too unstable to cope with parliamentary life. She will continue to learn to harness that emotion and use it powerfully especially if wrapped in a korowai of manaakitanga by her Te Pāti Māori whanau and her wider whanaunga. 

She is angry that two males have spoken this morning on the paepae today. They came talking about ‘hush money’ to our people. 

“Kupu have mana. You can’t belittle our language, our mana, our health and then try to buy us off.”

She talks of emancipating ourselves from money and I have a wry smile. From my euro-centric world-view and reflecting on my own journey, I know that the idea of being free from the trappings of wealth may be naive and an ideological ideal. The realities hit us very soon once we have to live in the real world! However, I think I understand what she is getting at. There is a youthful idealism there but there is also the understanding that I can’t know or feel in my being as a Pākehā. It is money that was the driving force behind colonisation. It is money or the quest for it and the power that came with it that undermined and destroyed the Māori way of life, that stripped them of their land, their language, their tikanga and their ability to fend for themselves, to exercise tino rangatiratanga. For Hana, being emancipated from money, is more than it was when I was her age. 

She is angry that someone from Hobson’s Pledge (referring to Nicola McKee ACT party) dare stand under the mahau and speak, possibly angry that she was allowed to by her own people. She is angry that the government had one chance to listen today but what did they do? They talked. They repeated their electioneering. They didn’t read the room. They weren’t respectful of the tikanga of this place. 

She is ready and she is urging those around her to also be ready.

“Get the soil ready! E whakarite ana tātou – Let’s ready ourselves.”

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