The Flag Debate: Why We Need It

November 4, 2014

Contrary to the opinion of many that I have seen over the past week the debate over our national flag is a serious issue and one that I am glad we are having. The flag is a symbol of who we are as a people and providing a space to discuss this is a positive step. This debate is also much more than a debate about a flag design. It is another step in path of understanding who we are as a nation and of asserting our independence in the world. Many have made the mistake of viewing the upcoming referenda in a vacuum, ignoring the history, and future, of reform that this is one part of.

Yes, there are more important constitutional debates to be had. The issue of a republic and the role that Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the relationship between Māori and Pākehā are two issues that we must address. But these are issues that we are not ready to debate yet. Public discourse over Te Tiriti is too ill-informed, too knee-jerk, too outright racist, for us to seriously contemplate a national conversation over its place in our constitutional arrangements. Even issues such as Māori representation brings out the worst in people and that makes up only a small part of the partnership envisioned by Te Tiriti.

So where then do we place the flag debate? It is a continuation of a theme. We live in a generation where, in the absence of war, depression, or a nation divided by sport; we can start talking about what it means to be citizens not only of this whenua, but of the entire world that we inhabit. We started the conversation in the 1990s with a reform of our electoral system. Reform driven by the failures of the 4th Labour Government. As a nation we can together to change the way we govern ourselves and our representative democracy was strengthened as a result.

And slowly but surely we have gone about this reform on a case by case basis. The Privy Council has been replaced by the Supreme Court; the battle for the recognition of Māori rights has largely been won, with redress payments and co-governance arrangements proliferating without creating too much anger within the Pākehā community; and the social contract was restored with the landmark social programmes of the 5th Labour Government – working for families, kiwisaver, and the national superannuation fund.

Changing our flag is the next step in the reform. It is the most visible symbol of Aotearoa / New Zealand. At the moment it reflects our colonial past and all the good and bad that has arisen because of that. A new flag will mark a turning point in our constitutional history. We can quite literally place a stake in the ground to work on discussing the more important constitutional issues that we need to address over the coming generation.

My hope is that we select a flag which respects and acknowledges our Māori and our Pākehā cultures. If we can point to our flag (and while we are at it, we should officially change our name to Aotearoa / New Zealand) as a symbol of the partnership between Tangata Whenua and those tangata who have joined us on this whenua then that is a powerful platform to build future constitutional change on.

Unwinding A Straw-Man: ACT and Maori Quotas

July 30, 2014

There has been a lot of nonsense from Jamie Whyte (leader of the ACT Party for the uninitiated) over equality for the law and the prevalence of Maori privilege in New Zealand. I’m not going to link to the speeches, but I do want to take him to task over his straw-man argument about Maori quotas at law school a) not benefiting the most disadvantaged Maori and b) serving to deny non-Maori a place.

Now, I’m no expert on the matter but I am Maori, and I did attend law school so I know a thing of two about how the system works.  My grades were high enough to enter stage II law school under general admission – something I am proud about for two reasons.  The first is that I was aiming for Honours and this helped me towards that goal, the second is that I did not take up a spot for another Maori to also join me in stage II.

So why is this argument a straw-man? Quite simply, he has set up the scenario to suit his own facts.  I’ll deal with each in turn.  First, the idea that the most disadvantaged Maori are not benefiting from the quota is nonsense.  The large majority of my peers at law school were upper-middle class paheka kids from suburban Auckland.  They came from the Grammars, or private school.  Us Maori were almost all provincial kids, many on scholarships because our parents could not afford to send us away, and working several jobs to pay the rent.  Most had grown up poor, brown, and considered unlikely to succeed by almost every teacher they met along the way.  Most have gone on to working low paid law jobs as advocates for Maori – and the most disadvantaged Maori at that – before the Waitangi Tribunal, Maori Land Court, Family Court, and in the public sector.  Law school was not a path to riches, it was a path to service.

Second, the Maori quotas do not deny non-Maori a place in law school.  The quotas are in addition to the general admission places and are recognition of the need for Maori lawyers to serve Maori communities.  There have been many years when the full allocation of positions under the quota scheme have not been taken up and at no point were additional places then provided to non-Maori students.

It is intellectually dishonest to frame the argument in such a way that Mr Whyte has.  In distorting the facts to suit his argument he has failed to achieve what he set out to do – engage in an intelligent debate about race and law in Aotearoa New Zealand.  What Mr Whyte refers to as “legal privilege” is nothing more than the protection of our rights.  Rights guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  The right to self-determination and self governance; the right to the protection of our taonga, our lands, our resources, and our home lands; and the right to not be subject to state-sponsored discrimination.  His version of equality before the law means revoking the protections guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Let’s hope that this is not the ACT party’s bold new vision for our country.

Te Ātiawa in the Māori Aspirations Phase

July 28, 2014

Good news in Māori media with a refreshed Mana Magazine hitting the shelf’s today, including an article I wrote on the aspirations of Te Ātiawa following what looks like the approval by the Iwi of the Deed of Settlement initialed back in May.  I have been highly critical of the deal that was done, but we have to move forward with what has been agreed by the Iwi and the settlement provides a substantial foundation to build a more prosperous future on.  You can read the full article in the August/September issue of Mana Magazine.


How Do You Find The Time?

July 9, 2014

I often get asked how I find the time to do everything that I do.  Between work, my secondment here in Whakatane, writing at Ka Tōnuitanga and other free-lance writing work, working on my LLM and economic development text, and spending time with friends and family around New Zealand and the world, there is often not much time left at the end of each day for relaxation.  But as I explain to them, that is the way I love to live my life.

Life is an adventure and the more experience I gain, and the more experiences I get, the more opportunities come my way.  There is always another piece of work to be done, another conference to attend, another article to be written, another country to visit, and another sporting event to train for.  One of my favourite quotes is the idea that you can be rich and successful, or you can sit on the couch and watch 4 hours of television each day – but you cannot be both.  And I think that is primarily where I find the time to do what I do.  We each have available to us the same 24 hours, it is how we use them that counts.

One thing I discuss with those who are considering the Ka Tōnuitanga Business Development Programme is that the commitment required is not for the faint-hearted.  Because once you find that one thing that drives you forward, a large proportion of those 24 hours will be dedicated to achieving your goal.  Success, however you define it, does not come to those sitting on the couch waiting for life to happen to them.

Ka Tōnuitanga is about developing society and people to be the best possible version of themselves.  Māori development is about much more than institutions, strategy, development opportunities, and cold hard cash.  Māori development is about ensuring that every whānau and every Māori has the tools and opportunities available to them to so that they can go out there and live their dreams.  The rest is up to us.

Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: The Foreshore and Seabed

July 1, 2014

One of the many things I love about Ranginui Walker is that the title of his seminal text on Māori development perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Māori throughout Aotearoa / New Zealand.  Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou – A Struggle Without End.  To Māori this is a call to arms, a rallying cry that we will not accept discrimination, racism, and the continued denial of our tino rangatiratanga.

Nowhere has the spirit of Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou been more prevalent over the past decade than in the ongoing debate over the ownership of the foreshore and seabed.  From Ngāti Apa, to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, to the Takutai Moana Act, Māori have continued to assert their ownership rights over the foreshore and seabed.  It has led to the formation of not one, but two new political movements; brought together the Business Roundtable and the Green Party; and seen a National Party demonstrate more (even if only marginally) respect for Māori rights than Labour.

While each piece of legislation was designed to be a lasting solution to the proclaimed uncertainty of the Ngāti Apa decision (a decision which was in fact clear, concise, and narrow in its scope and application), this issue is far from closed.  Speaking in Whangarei last week, Labour party leader David Cunliffe stated that Labour were open to taking a fresh look at the foreshore and seabed legislation if it were elected into Government following the September General Election.

Mr Cunliffe told about 45 people at a kuia and kaumatua hui at Te Renga Paraoa Marae in Whangarei he thought Labour would today admit it was wrong with its foreshore and seabed laws denying court challenges and as the party came back into power it would take a fresh look at the issue.

Hardly encouraging words of course – the current Act already allows for Māori to test their claims for title in the Courts – and there was no concrete commitment to a review, amendment, or repeal of the current legislation.  What it does represent for the parties advocating for Māori rights is an opportunity to test the waters and push for either an improved piece of legislation, or even a complete repeal.  For Labour, it represents an opportunity to atone for one of the largest confiscations of Māori land since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840.

In fact, the only real impediment to full recognition of Māori rights in the foreshore and seabed is the Labour party.  We know the outcome that both the Māori and Mana parties would prefer, and the Greens have been consistent in their call for the respect and recognition of customary rights.  Even ACT once held a principled position when it argued for the protection of property rights – who ever those rights belonged to.  Will David Cunliffe back his words that Labour “would today admit it was wrong” and take a fresh look at the foreshore and seabed or was it nothing more than telling the base what it wants to hear? What does taking a fresh look mean? Should we expect a coherent and principled policy statement prior to the election or are we going to have to live in hope that a throwaway line at a sparsely attended hui in Whangarei will turn into concrete action?

I’ll even make it easy for them and set out the principles on which we should build a workable regime to manage the foreshore and seabed:

  • A legislative apology for the confiscation of the foreshore and seabed in the Foreshore and Seabed Act;
  • The establishment of a special unit of the Māori Land Court to determine the original owners of foreshore and seabed land not currently in private ownership, and to grant title to a representative body of that whānau, hapū, or iwi;
  • The grant of title to be based solely on the basis of authority and control in the period leading up to 1840;
  • The power to prevent new commercial activity from occurring in the foreshore and seabed – including commercial activities pertaining to Crown minerals;
  • The power to impose a rahui over the area (preferably on confirmation by the Māori Land Court); and
  • Recognition of the rights of recreational activities (including swimming, water sports, and fishing) in the foreshore and seabed, alongside the right of free passage for ships.

This may be nothing more than a wish and a prayer, especially with current polls indicating a third term for the National Government.  For now we may have to live with incremental change – and accept that sometimes the realities of politics means that it is better to take a bad deal than to be forced to live with a terrible deal.

But our struggle does not end.

Tales From The Road: Ngāti Awa

June 10, 2014

I am halfway into a 5 month secondment with Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa down in Whakatane and it is turning into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I have long worked with Hapu and Iwi groups but this is the first time that I have worked in an Iwi organisation.   There is a really positive vibe around this organisation which, after some rocky years, is back making profits and making a real difference in the local community.  No where better is this illustrated than its inclusion as one of the finalists in this years Ahuwhenua Trophy.


The rather spectacular view from a Ngati Awa pa site

Last week I was given a tour around some of the historical sites around Whakatane, as well as looking at the farming and conservation activities going on on one of their farming blocks.  The knowledge of the people in this organisation is immense, and the conservation efforts are outstanding.  Wetlands are going in, flood protections works have been put in place, and a large scale native planting programme is under way.  Along the way, Ngati Awa has developed a good working relationship with the local and regional council (both located in Whakatane) and there have been several environmental projects undertaken as a partnership between all three bodies.

It is easy to criticise Iwi, but take a closer look under the surface and you will find a group of Maori who are committed to improving the lives of their whanaunga.  An Iwi is a collection of people and that is at the heart of every single iwi and hapu group I have worked with across the country.  Too often we forget that.  Yes, this is a corporate environment, but that does not mean it cannot be a kaupapa Maori environment.  Tikanga is a practice.  It is what we do each and every day.  Our walls and our institutions may be of a European origin – but that does not mean our daily practice has to be.

Monday Quote: Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke

June 9, 2014

Wiremu Kīngi was the paramount Chief of Te Ātiawa in the mid 1800’s, and a signatory to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840.  Following the purported purchase of Waitara by the Colonial Government in 1859, he sent a clear message to Governor Gore Browne that Waitara was not for sale:

E kore au e whakaae kia hokona a Waitara… kei roto a Waitara i te kapu o tōku ringa, kore mō te tuku. Kore, kore, kore rawa mō te tuku

I will not permit the sale of Waitara … Waitara is in my hands, I will not give it up; I will not, I will not, I will not

Following the initial war in Taranaki, the purchase of Waitara was cancelled by the Colonial Government.  However, a further outbreak of war in 1863 lead to the wide scale confiscation of Taranaki from the constituent Iwi and Hapū, and the loss of Waitara.  Now it seems we might never get our ancestral homeland back.


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