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Andrew Little and the Māori lightbulb moment.

Andrew Little and the Māori lightbulb moment.

Just so you know…I changed my mind somewhat on the position I took in this post. For the update post see E-Tangata.

 

It was a great question from Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson to the leader of the Labour Party, Andrew Little.

Ok…the Labour vote is high in those Māori seats, but isn’t there a hunger from the voters in those seats for an electorate MP who is from a kaupapa Māori party?

It was a great question for two reasons (in my mind)..firstly, the fact that Susie knew what a kaupapa Māori party was, and was comfortable with the nomenclature. Props. Secondly, the answer to that question showed Little lacks a useful understanding of Māori thinking. It was a kind of lightbulb moment in reverse: he showed us he had no idea where the switch is, let alone the bulb, that could illuminate Māori politics for any of us.

[Little] Well, the Māori Party is not kaupapa Māori. We know that, it has conceded on every important issue affecting Māori in the last nine years.

[Ferguson]: They would probably take issue with that!

[Little] Well in the end, what it comes down to is: how do Māori have the strongest voice, not just in Parliament but in government. At the moment it comes through the Māori Party which is two MPs tacked on to the National Party that doesn’t need to listen to them on anything if it doesn’t wish to.

Oh boy. we have the Leader of the Opposition telling us what is and isn’t kaupapa Māori. I don’t really mind any Pākehā person voicing an opinion about things Māori. So the fact that Little is Pākehā doesn’t gall me. What galls me is that he has pronounced grandly upon something he doesn’t understand. As can be seen above he has given us a definition of kaupapa Māori. Extrapolating from his words above we now know that a political party can only be kaupapa Māori if it wins battles in Parliament on every important issue affecting Māori. And then he seems to contradict his own statement by saying the Māori Party provides the strongest Māori voice in Parliament (albeit from the beat up Vauxhall being towed behind the big blue bus). Way to build up your own Māori MPs, Andrew, by conceding they don’t have the strongest voice already.

I’ll leave it to others to defend the Māori Party’s own record. That is not my focus; my focus is instead Little’s apparent ignorance of Māori and Māori modes of thought and action.

So what do we now know of kaupapa Māori in the wake of the Little interview?

  1. No Māori affiliated with the National Party can ever claim to come from a base of Kaupapa Māori
  2. Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in terms of policy victories
  3. Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in the strength of the loudest voice proclaiming it.
  4. Kaupapa Māori can only be exercised in regards to issues directly affecting Māori.

On this definition, neither the Māori Party nor the Mana Party nor Sir Āpirana Ngata could ever be accused of employing kaupapa Māori.

OK, for those of you who may be unsure as to what is meant by the phrase ‘kaupapa Māori’ in the first place, here is Te Aka’s definition:

Māori approach, Māori topic, Māori customary practice, Māori institution, Māori agenda, Māori principles, Māori ideology – a philosophical doctrine, incorporating the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of Māori society.

It’s a pretty broad set of ideas. Others have said kaupapa Māori is a way of doing things from a Māori worldview. Operating from a kaupapa Māori perspective then has nothing whatsoever to do with the battles you win or lose, but more with the way you think, act and make decisions. Kaupapa Māori can be exercised by individuals and groups, but will obviously have more impact when collectively undertaken. In fact, have a look at the Māori Party constitution if you want to get a sense of what operating from a base of kaupapa Māori can involve.

Some may have a more exclusive view than I do; maintaining that kaupapa Māori can only be employed by Māori for Māori; I would say people who are not Māori can learn to operate from a kaupapa Māori perspective. Actually, I have also known some Pākehā who probably don’t even know they view the world in a way absolutely consistent with Māori values and Māori philosophies. I wouldn’t say they operate from a kaupapa Māori bases, but they are not so very far from those of us who do. On the other hand there are also Māori who claim to operate from a kaupapa Māori base who completely undercut such claims in what they say and do.

Kaupapa Māori is not a respecter of political affiliation, I don’t ask for kaumatua’s voting record before he or she gives karanga or whaikōrero, or offers me kai.   Nor does kaupapa Māori require stridency. The quietest voice in the room may be that espousing a kaupapa Māori view, for those with the ears to listen.

Further, kaupapa Māori is not a topic. Nor does it comprise a set of finite issues. World-views tend not to be so restricted. Saying people coming from a base of kaupapa Māori may only opine on things relevant to Māori is as ridiculous as saying a French speaker may only converse in matters of relevance to France.

Little has provided a handy rallying cry for those who would seek to undermine the Labour Māori vote. I am sure his own Māori candidates, MPS and membership will not thank him for disparaging the Māori Party in this way when they find themselves having to defend a leader who has commandeered the Māori language and insulted Māori politicians and voters in such a cavalier way.

 

 

Look. 2016 is just another bloody year, OK?

Look. 2016 is just another bloody year, OK?

It’s a funny thing, our artificial division of time into discrete years. We allocate personalities and distinct colours to particular years, regardless of the fact that nothing really separates December 31 from January 1, except our fevered imaginations. We operate according to an odd supposition that we experience a given year in a way that is somehow common  with other people all around the world, despite that sheer impossibility that this could ever be true.

In our lived reality, maybe time is more like a river. As Heraclitus said you can never step in the same river twice. Once a moment in time had happened, you can never get it back (wormholes and Interstellar-type movie plots aside, of course). But we do all in our power to deny that basic proposition: even my power bill conspires to make me see time as a predictable, manageable series of chunks, by sending me handy little graphs showing tiny monthly skyscrapers of my power usage, as if this year could be compared with last year in some meaningful way.

Maybe we should blame the Gregorian calendar, that temporal bloody hamster wheel of months and days that grinds on into the future. Notwithstanding time-zone differences, most of the world experiences the same month at the same time, in addition the years are broken up by festivals, religious and secular many of which are now recognisable around the world even though they themselves might originate from different calendars; Valentine’s Day, All Saints Day, Diwali, Christmas, Easter, Hannukah, Chinese New Year, Matariki…it doesn’t really matter. We, no matter our culture, like our time in chunks, dressed up, with purpose, with character, explicable. Maybe then we can grasp it, control it, make it stay, make it mean more than it really does.

We are now in the middle of a collective, apparently worldwide phenomenon of attempted time control. We are told that 2016 is unprecedented, that we are in the middle of an orgy of death, loss and change. 2016 is the Year the Music Died. 2016 is the year of Trump and Brexit, the year the Feminist Bubble burst, to name a few monikers. One Australian site kicks off its 2016 review with a nicely understated sentence:

THIS year feels like the ugliest, cruellest, most frightening year in history.Political norms and hegemonies have disintegrated, leaving us to flounder in the uncertainty of Donald Trump, Brexit and the clash of civilisations that is radical Islam vs. the west.

Aw gummon. I can name any number of years that might jostle for that overblown title, with the benefit of historical hindsight. We don’t even have the hindsight yet, the dust hasn’t settled, the sand has not yet exited the hourglass, but the judgement had been made. A later paragraph gives readers a clue as to the author’s own rationale:

This year we suffered the Orlando nightclub attack which killed 49, suicide bombs in Istanbul which killed 45, the Bastille Day truck massacre in Nice, France, which slaughtered 77, the Brussels airport and metro attacks which claimed 35 lives and most recently the Christmas market attack in Berlin.

Seriously? “We suffered”? Actually, very few of us did, but this paragraph sweeps all of “us” up into one global homogenous lump, and ignores extraordinary suffering elsewhere. Who the hell are “we” anyway? The society of fellow creatures imagined by the author, that’s all. This article is just more evidence of a giant echo chamber; it is no reportage of an actual THING.

This is not to say that bad things have not happened, of course they have. Some things, such as Brexit, are not yet bad or good, we just don’t know WHAT they mean yet. And to very many of ‘us’, ‘We’ don’t give a tinker’s cuss. Some perspective can be good. Some relief from the echo chamber is welcome.

My kids, for example, view the year totally differently than many of the worried adults I know.  For them this has been the first year of secondary school for the 13 year old, the year of the 7 year old’s birthday sleepover, the year the 10 year old had his first Trinity exam. They talk about Trump, and they are a bit scared of the shouty orange man, but he’s not more important than DragonBallZ Xenoverse 2. He just isn’t. Nor is he nor the death of Bowie more important than the signing of the Wairoa settlement in November. Fill in the following blank with the Important Event or Moment of your choice __________.

Really all the broader 2016-angst reveals is the preconceptions of some of us about our own  lives, and probably, our own sense of helplessness and lack of control over time and mortality. Some of us really have had terrible experiences in the last 12 months, and there are genuinely scary things happening around the world, and we are part of that world. But, like all moments, consequential or otherwise, this stretch of moments will soon be lost, like tears in rain.

Old King Log, New King Stork. Trump’s lesson for Aotearoa.

Old King Log, New King Stork. Trump’s lesson for Aotearoa.

 

I remember waking up one morning last year, lying awake for a moment, feeling contented and normal. Then memory and grief kicked in; my mother was dead, and my world had changed forever.

My anaesthesia had worn off.

I had a similar moment on Thursday morning when I remembered Trump had won the US presidential elections. Of course my adult brain then took over from those primal feelings and I began to reason with myself: “don’t be so ridiculous! How bad could it really be; it is just another day; democracy has not died, and neither have you, sunshine.It’s not the end of the bloody world, toughen up. Who cares anyway? Maybe he’ll be just the kind of orange change-agent that could really cut through the smug Washington bubble…”

Oh who am I kidding. I was afraid. I’m still afraid. I’m not really afraid of Trump’s racism, sexism, narcissism or any other of his other charming personal qualities; really it is his permission-giving that is problematic. Maybe tyranny is in all of us; we just need someone to give us permission to give in to it. Social media and mainstream media is swarming with accounts of Trump-loving idiots carrying out hate-based attacks (some accounts have been made up, some not so). Those things are awful, but in a way, I don’t feel viscerally afraid about them, as many US residents now do. Maybe I am just too removed.

I am scared that our planet is screwed because a climate denier is in the White House. I’m scared that more wars will come because the significant geopolitical shifts that might happen because of the isolationist in the White House. Whatever you believe about ISIL, and the cancerous instability of the Middle East being all the fault of US foreign policy, the world is a less violent and less war-riven place than it ever has been. (Read this if you don’t believe me). Much of that has to do with trade, and the US role in geopolitics. (The UN too, but that’s another story..) As American writer and blogger Ryan Bohl puts it:

Consider how many old rivalries U.S. alliances have put to rest.  Japan and Korea are now bound under the American aegis: so too are Germany and France, Greece and Turkey, Poland and Germany, Italy and Austria, to name just a few.  While Europe was once the world’s most warlike continent, today it is the most peaceful (Ukraine notwithstanding).  That is entirely because the U.S. has secured Europe in a way that Europe never could.

 

Planet Earth is considerably safer with the United States as the dominant power precisely because it keeps vast swathes of humanity disarmed.  It isn’t so much a matter of it being the United States as the geopolitical system being dominated by a single power that has already reached the natural limits of expansion – that last part being key because a rising power that hasn’t yet learned when to stop conquering is quite dangerous.  The U.S. is out of the empire building business; its best leaders are those who tend to its network of alliances and trade deals with an eye for stability.

So that has been interesting. I had never thought of myself as a fan of US interventionism at all. It is only my fear of the forthcoming change that exposes me. Better the devil we know. Or maybe I’m just a doom-saying fraidy-cat, who needs more geo-political education. Quite true, I’m sure. And yet.

So what do we take from this new set of realities for us here in Aotearoa? Our politicians are uniformly dismayed about the rise of Trump. On the other hand, many Māori are probably happy, no doubt, that TPPA is dead.

I tweeted on Wednesday night about how happy I was to be here in NZ. It was the silver lining to my night. But.  Are we at risk of the rise of the Trump-style demagogue here? There are two main bulwarks, or defences, against it that immediately come to mind. One is our level of electoral participation. And perhaps there is a lesson in here for Māori, Pākehā and tauiwi alike. I firmly believe that Trump was not voted in by a pack of racist, sexist xenophobes. That’s just too glib. I think what happened is yet to be fully explained over the coming weeks and months, but one thing is clear: Trump became possible because 10 million Obama supporters decided not to vote at all, compared to 2008. In fact, only 56.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot at all in this US election. This compares with 77.9% of NZ registered voters turning out in NZ’s last general election in 2014. This includes 67.59% of Māori eligible voters. So, while Māori voter apathy is a real problem, perspective is interesting; US voter apathy can lead to a failed change-agent such as Obama and an ignorant strong-man like Trump come to power on the back of resentment of “the elites” and a yearning for revolution; a yearning for someone who promises what they simply cannot deliver. So what happens in our country as far as the housing crisis, growing discontent and income inequality is concerned matters from this perspective too. The danger is not just that people who are powerless and angry vote for someone like Trump; the danger is they don’t vote at all.

The second bulwark against Trump NZ is ongoing connection between our ‘elites’; our educated, liberal, politically engaged, high-income urbanites and the rest of us. I came across this article today, with Andrew Sullivan, an English writer and blogger cautioning against the wholesale jettison of the elites in a mature democracy:

The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

But maybe we are already there. There are arguably growing gaps between Māori elites and the rest of us; just as there is growing mutual incomprehension between Pākehā elites and the rest of the Pākehā population.  If this trajectory continues, we too will, one day throw the baby out with the bathwater in a fit of mutual self loathing, and surrender to demagoguery.

So what to do? For one thing, depending on where we sit on the spectrum, we have to resist the temptation to heap scorn and contempt on those we perceive to be different (culturally, socio-economically, politically) from us. For another; engage with those selfsame people. Talk to the people you loathe the most. Whanaungatanga.  Our future depends on it.

Let me finish with an ancient story; one of Aesop’s fables.

According to the story, a group of frogs lived happily and peacefully in a pond. Over time, however, they became discontented with their way of life, and thought they should have a mighty king to rule over them. They called out to the great god Zeus to send them a king.

Zeus was amused by the frogs’ request, and cast a large log down into their pond, saying “Behold, your king!” At first, the frogs were terrified of the huge log, but after seeing that it did not move, they began to climb upon it. Once they realized the log would not move, they called out again to Zeus to send them a real king, one that moved.

Annoyed by the frogs, Zeus said, “Very well, here is your new king,” and sent a large stork to the pond. The stork began devouring frogs. In terror, frogs called out to Zeus to save them. Zeus refused, saying the frogs now had what they’d wanted, and had to face the consequences.

As the US is learning…be careful what you wish for. Or even – be careful of what you can’t be bothered wishing for.

[Please note: a slightly edited version of this piece has been posted on E-Tangata]

 

 

 

An attack of the guilts? Yeah, nah.

An attack of the guilts? Yeah, nah.

There has been a lot said lately about people of privilege behaving badly.  You remember; Nikolas Delegat getting a sentence of community service for seriously assaulting a female police officer; the Chiefs and Scarlett, the woman they hired at their mad Monday bash who subsequently made accusations about player behaviour that no-one appears to have backed up; and no one appears to give a damn about, hiding behind their corporate identity, (while she loses her job). Then there has been case of Losi Filipo. As is well known by now, he beat 4 people up on one drunken night, quite severely and received a conditional discharge without conviction (now under appeal). The public, including me, have been exercised over these events. One interesting theme comes up again and again and again: “what about consequences?! How are these men ever going to learn good behaviour if they face no bloody consequences?”

On a parenting 101 level this makes sense right? We have to model to our kids that if we do something wrong, we have to ‘fess up, we have to face a penalty, and we have to Make Good.

So the criminal justice system gets the usual kicking; white men from rich families, rugby players with “rugby privilege” (OK, that was new one for me) get off while brown poor men get shown the slammer and non-Rugby players have to take the real medicine.

At one level, all of this palaver seems curiously one sided to me. I do understand the privilege arguments, I also understand what other commentators have been saying about not chopping young people’s prospects off the knees (but I still cheered when Paul Henry gave Steve Tew his BEANS on breakfast telly the other morning.) The reason I think this is a kind of sterile debate is that we are expecting the criminal justice system to do what it no longer can in our modern and diverse  mainstream culture. Perhaps it never could. (Warning: lots of potboiler generalisations coming…)

We expect these young people to ‘man’ up to consequences, on the one hand, while feeding them, and ourselves, a pretty consistent diet of of guilt denial on the other. I’m choosing my words deliberately here; not “responsibility”, not “ownership” not “accepting their part”. I am talking of guilt. Old-fashioned, gut-churning, ashen-faced “what have I done??” guilt.

Actually, guilt is flipped; what we want is guilt-free. Like ice-cream, we can choose our actions and inactions in such a way as to expunge the possibility that we might just have completely betrayed someone, something, or our very selves.

Our shared (to the extent that it is) idea of modern society now eschews the very notion of ever actually feeling guilty for something we did. Done something bad or inadequate as a parent? Don’t feel guilty; that’s not constructive. Instead you “learn from your mistakes”. Done something bad an an employee? Don’t feel guilty, the employer holds too much power over you for that; don’t ‘fess, don’t tell, don’t accept, maybe file a PG.  Treated an employee badly? Well, wait till the employee files a PG then make the right noises. Had bad sex with someone you don’t even like the smell of? It’s just one of those shared human experiences that forms us: move on. Chalk it up to Experience. For goodness’ sake don’t lie awake at night feeling guilty about the devastating breach of your own standards; this is what we are supposed to do. How else are we to learn and grow?

I’m not suggesting guilt has been eradicated as a phenomenon; of course not. Instead our shared mainstream culture tells us incessantly that guilt is a Bad Thing that gets in the way of the good (read: pleasurable) life. Instead we have to be individual responsible adults, we have to manage our way out of our self inflicted crises; we have to own stuff, and then move on to other stuff. Which sounds OK, really. Except how do you own stuff when you are not encouraged to feel guilt about that ‘stuff’ in the first place? How do you have the maturity of “be responsible” for what you do when you have never perhaps been taught to be still and listen to the enormity of what you have done and the harm you have caused?

Perhaps this problem exists because we have a less clear idea of what is bad in the first place, we are less able to see lines before we have crossed them. Instead, systems are there to tell us when we have done something wrong. Systems exist upon which to displace our guilt, and our true blame. Let the systems creak into action, while we think about something, anything, else. And when it all goes terribly wrong, the system can bear the fault again. It is  perfect self-sustaining…(heh) system. There is always a process (a la Steve Tew) or a bureaucracy that can intercede to stop us from really seeing ourselves for what we really are: not denizens of liberated light at all; but flawed and sometimes bad, often good, usually mediocre creatures.

So these young men mentioned above screwed up; they are all guilty of something, but do they even know what they are guilty of? Forget the offences, or the broken guidelines, or rules. Forget the breaches of systems. Do they know what they have done? Have they been left in the silence of their thoughts or in the uncomfortable scrutiny of their heartbroken families to face the truth of who they really are? Or have they been lulled by the phone-calls of lawyers, by the obfuscation of dissemblers, by the spin doctors, by sheer and simple denial, into believing that they don’t have to face that? Guilt is so overrated, so…dys-functional.

The odd and apparently contradictory thing is, we now live in a climate whereby social shaming has become de rigeur, where we feel entitled to vilify, and hate and point out the morally blameworthy aspects of stupid and wrong things that people say and do. I’ve done it myself; and boy is it satisfying. Being right is just so self-fortifying, and helps me avoid facing those moments when I am, in fact,  egregiously wrong in some way. But social shaming has no interest in guilt. We keyboard warriors are not interested in whether our target lies awake at night mortified by his or her doings; we don’t give a damn. We crave the satisfaction of making our moral superiority known, and the delicious possibility of a craven backdown or grovelling apology by our target.We don’t give a crap about anything real. We just want some kind of surface accounting that we call ‘justice’.

I’m speaking in broad brush terms, of course, and there are many souls in our society that no doubt do understand and feel guilt for what they have done. Perhaps the young men I have mentioned do too. I don’t know, I have no more access to their internal worlds than they do mine. And guilt, not expiated and resolved can lead to terrible psychic anguish and pain. Guilt is not a ‘good’ or ‘desirable’ state; it is merely a way in which we are forced to become familiar with the good and bad within each of us; to know ourselves. And maybe, to become better. I can only hope that we all seize that opportunity if it comes to us. It just seems that knowing and seeing ourselves is the last thing our mainstream culture really wants us to do.

[This post first appeared in a slightly edited form on E-Tangata]

 

 

The Māori in the Room

The Māori in the Room

I had one of those “only Māori in the room” moments yesterday. I have a lot of those. These moments don’t offend me. I work in mainstream tertiary education, I’m Māori and I profess to know something about things Māori. I’ve worked in my field for 10 years. So what did I expect?  Despite all that, these moments can be awkward. So yesterday,  I was in a meeting about a research funding proposal with very clued-up academics from various faculties. The heads swivel in my direction as I am asked my opinion on what I think the best direction for Māori would be in regard to X or Y of the proposal. There is a pause.

Expectations hang heavy in the air. The words I say are to be weighed and perhaps given a weight disproportionate to their value.  Or perhaps the reverse. Sometimes, in moments like these, I can feel my cheeks flame, and sometimes blind panic threatens to set in. On this occasion however, I just snorted, laughed and said, “well, I don’t know!” I may even have thrown my hands in the air.  That’s usually how it is. I really don’t know what Māori need, what Māori want; what direction would be best for Māori, how best to cater to, provide for, uphold, respect, all things Māori. I have no portal into the Māori hive-mind. I take educated guesses in context.That’s all I can ever do.

Of course, a lot of things have had to happen for me to have been the only Māori in that room. The absence of other senior Māori academics weighed more on me than did the cumulative weight of Pākehā expectation. There has been recent research done on the experience of senior Māori and Pasifika academics, so I’m not about go over over the ground that you can read about for yourself here. Suffice to say, my experiences are hardly isolated, as a member of the 6% of the academic workforce who identifies as Māori.

Actually, my ruminations headed in a different, but related, direction. Because I am not just assumed to be an ethnic representative of a people or peoples at moments like this, I am expected to be a proponent of, and knowledgeable in, Māori culture to some degree.

Ah, culture. You marvellous double edged sword, you.

After my meeting, I came home to a Facebook post that underscored the deep ambivalence I have towards our dominant notions of Māori culture.  And here it is; from an article outlining recent efforts being made to get young Māori into information technology.

Computer graphics company Animation Research’s founder Ian Taylor [Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngā Puhi] said the lack of Māori engagement in ICT was disappointing, as in his experience when Māori got their hands on technology they adapted very quickly.

“I believe that Steve Jobs, he didn’t realise it – but he designed the iPad for young Māori. It wasn’t in our DNA to use paper and pen, never has been. We use our hands, we carve, we tell stories. We’re great storytellers and technology has allowed us to engage in that way.”

Reading this reminded me of another such moment in 2014 and another public statement from a prominent Māori educationalist, which I paraphrased at the time:

Terehia Channings of [the recently closed] Turakina Māori Girls’ College, speaking on Te Tēpu tonight of the benefits of Kapa Haka for kids said (I’m paraphrasing) “Well, Maori are practical people. We have problems with maths and science, we learn best with our hands.’

In both cases (and you don’t have to search too far to find other such presumptions bubbling up amongst friends and whānau) an ossified and essentialist understanding of Māori culture is held up and venerated. Māori people are practical, we make things and do things. We tell stories, we perform stories, but we don’t write them down for others to read. And we probably don’t read them either.

[Forgive me if I take a moment off-screen to bash my over-educated head against a rather inviting pale red brick wall.

OK I’m back.]

I remember interviewing the actor and all-round extraordinary bloke Wi Kuki Kaa in 1992. He mused that people had often said to him that Māori were “naturals” at acting, at rugby, and kapa haka.”Nah”, he reckoned. In his view, if he had been raised in another family in another culture he would have been good at the things in those cultures. Māori weren’t “natural” at kapa haka…they were taught to be that way. There may be a genetic inheritance at work, but that can always be retooled in other cultures.

Culture is a human creation, that is all. It is the product of generations of people doing, saying, writing, thinking, eating acting, singing, playing, and being together. Rinse, and repeat. There is no magic formula, there is no high watermark of culture. There is no line we cross exactly when we know a cultural practice or a whole culture has died or forever changed. We just forget. And then we forget that we ever knew.

But culture, despite its blurred edges, performs an important function. Adherence to, or membership of, a culture (over and above mere ethnicity) grants us entry into something transcendent, beyond ourselves as individuals. Membership of a minority culture in particular gives us access not only to that culture and to a meaningful cultural life, but the rights of protection that accrue to that culture at international and in domestic law. If there is no collation of practices, characteristics and products that can be identified as being ‘of’ a given culture then it cannot be protected.

On the one hand we might tend to view culture as a mysterious unifying quality that marks out one set of human beings from another set of human beings. On the other hand, culture is a constraint. Once the hallmarks of a given culture are identified, reinforced and repeated, it becomes really difficult to challenge. Innovation and change pose huge risks to those who identify, particularly with an indigenous or minority culture.

So the very moment we call on culture to help us advance a position, identify solutions to political problems, create unity, affirm kinship, it bites us on the backside and orders us back into the box of our own bloody making. There is no phrase that fills me with more dread than “Māori are…”. And yet, sometimes I use it. Because how else do we target and speak to Māori without identifying who we think Māori are? How do we employ Māori knowledge or seek it, without being open to seeing such knowledge is peculiarly Māori in the first place? How do we challenge Māori culture without first acknowledging that it exists?

I guess the answer is in common sense and moderation. We should reject essentialism and the constraints it places on our evolution as a people. We should reject the position that sees no culture: that way lies hegemony and oppression all over again.

And for the Māori in the room? She had better be a good tightrope walker, is all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Te Puea Marae, Tūhoe & the State of (Māori) Welfare

Te Puea Marae, Tūhoe & the State of (Māori) Welfare

It was the radio report that did it for me, and the tears flowed. A young woman (named “B” in public) and her whānau were farewelled from Te Puea Memoral Marae, after several days of staying there. Their plight caught national attention because B is a cancer patient, and the family been forced to move to Auckland from Hamilton for B’s treatment, staying with family and friends because no affordable housing was available.

Why did I weep? I wept, not only out of compassion for that whānau and the hardship they have been through, but also out of pride.  Te Puea marae had extended to this whānau true manaakitanga, and when the family left the other day to move into a brand new state house, they were farewelled with a poroporoaki. There was kōrero, song , prayer, and tears. Listening to the account, my heart was full. Tikanga Māori and bloody hard work by the family and the volunteers, and social service providers (including WINZ) had shown the meaning of manaakitanga, and the rangatiratanga  of this whānau had been upheld without bureaucratic interference.

To explain (if you didn’t already know!). Te Puea Memorial marae in Māngere decided in May to open up to the public in response to a perfect storm phenomenon in Auckland.

One storm comprised house prices in Auckland increasing by nearly 80% in 5 years, hiking rents in the process and forcing some already vulnerable families into overcrowded bedrooms and garages, or in some cases, out of homes entirely and into cars, or worse.

Another (related) storm has been the decline in available affordable housing, due in large part to the growth of investor-based house purchases, and lack of homes being built sufficient for the growing population. One estimate (see p 20-21), based on 2013 census data reckons 10, 000 houses have simply not been built that could have served to help accommodate Auckland’s growing population.

Arguably, another storm has been the relatively high levels of estimated disengagement or lack of engagement of those in need of housing assistance with the Ministry of Social Development; up to 41% of homeless recently surveyed had not engaged with MSD about housing needs.

So, in May all of these storms converged, and B, her whānau, and all the whānau and individuals staying at Te Puea were sheltering from this combined ferocity. Te Puea Memorial Marae, by opening its doors, and setting up its Manaaki Tangata programme, has taken  voluntary responsibility for the welfare of ‘the people’ at least to the end of August. The marae’s vision of who “the people” are is not exclusive, but it places Māori at the top of the  list, according to Marae chair Hurimoana Dennis.

There is another broader aspect to this story that demands attention. What Te Puea is doing (and other marae and entities around the country beginning to follow its example, including Manurewa Marae) is arguably fulfilling, at least in part, the role of the welfare state. Too grandiose a suggestion? Perhaps not when seen alongside other recent developments, as well as in historical context.

After all, the work being being done by Te Puea Marae is, at one level extraordinary, and at another level completely ordinary. Māori seeking to provide welfare for Māori in a Māori way is a very old story. Even at Te Puea Marae tself, this is hardly new, although the added residential element has created a more intense dynamic.

Kaanga Skipper, marae board member and direct descendant of Te Puea Herangi who the marae is named after, said Te Puea helped many people in the community when she was alive and would be happy at what they were doing.

“I believe when she put the pou into the ground she put me in the ground to make sure I would be available and be here to carry on with the work that she has done.”

There are countless examples of structures, organisations, rōpū, councils and committees set up from the 1840s to the present day by Māori to provide welfare for poor Māori. Often this was necessary because Māori were not considered suitable recipients for charity, and land ownership was assumed to suffice as a resource base upon which Māori  could survive. The later decades of the 19th century put paid to that notion for many Māori communities, but official discrimination against Māori based on that presumption would last well into the middle 20th century.

The Kīngitanga had, even at its foundation in the mid 19th century, the notion of Māori as the dispossessed poor soon to be reliant on the system and aid of others. While preventing land loss was its primary focus, welfare was inextricably linked with that focus.  Māori had become like fish, caught from the sea, and left to dry; maybe to be reliant on the aid of foreigners. In 1858 Wiremu Tamihana provided the following translation of part of Taranaki chief Te Akerautangi’s speech in debating the installation of Potatau as Māori king:[1]

“‘Welcome O King;—welcome to Waikato.

The shame I feel is great
For thou hast made a hapless exit.
And now thou art as fish caught from the sea
And placed upon the stalls to dry;
Are we to feed upon the things that come
From lands far distant?
O son, thou gavest this to me
And caused these lips to be polluted
Which once were sacred. Lo, I’ll lop it off.
Lest it should lead me to adopt its measures.”

Crucial to the idea of providing for Māori welfare was to possess or access sufficient power to make decisions about Māori welfare. Some initiatives sought to establish Māori governance bodies; for example Māori councils were established under legislation in 1900 to enable Māori to make rules about, and attend to, what was understood to be local welfare needs. Māori MPs such as Sir Apirana Ngata and sought to operate within government to achieve Māori welfare through rural land development schemes. But as Māori became separated from land, thus concepts of welfare shifted somewhat from dependence on land to urban-based support from the 1950s. Māori shifted activities accordingly, creating urban-based cooperatives, such as the Māori Women’s Welfare League in 1951.

Many of these initiatives proved an extraordinary testament to the drive of Māori communities to cooperate with the government, but to solve their own welfare problems. As one shining example, the Māori War Effort Organisation (MWEO) morphed from a tribal-based entity intended to facilitate and encourage Māori recruitment for World War II into an extraordinarily successful welfare organisation that had unparalleled reach into Māori communities. An attempt to bureaucratise and centralise the MWEO and capture its success as a part of Native Affairs (later Māori Affairs) Department undermined the success of that original entity, but led eventually to the establishment of the current New Zealand Māori Council and its district Māori committee system.

Bear with me, we’ll be back in the 21st century soon…

And by 1966, 33 such committees had been established in Auckland alone, taking on tasks such as mediating landlord/tenant relationships, providing budgetary advice, undertaking prison work, overseeing Māori wardens, establishing urban marae and carrying out a host of other activities merely labeled “welfare work”.

Sound familiar?

One of the marae established in Auckland during this fertile period was Te Puea, named of course for the redoubtable Tainui leader Te Puea Herangi who popularised the Kīngitanga, and established many marae, prime among which was Tūrangawaewae at Ngaruawāhia. Her greatest fight was against Māori poverty, which she fought all her adult life.

One remarkable thing is not so much the work that Te Puea Marae has done and does now, but that mainstream New Zealand might actually think this focus is new, or unprecedented. If that is the case, that would only go to show how far Māori have been identified in the national eye with being both poor and terminally helpless.

Much of this misperception (if indeed it is such, and not merely a figment of my imagination) can sheeted home to the monolithic power of the idea of the welfare state.  Regardless of the fact that the welfare state, as engendered in 1938 deliberately excluded and underpaid Māori for decades, on the administrative presumption that Māori were too communistic and simply not cut out for self-respecting citizenship, Māori have over the decades become the nonpareil subjects of the welfare state. Of course, as Māori lost land, whānau connection, economic footing and social standing, this welfare identification was probably  inevitable, but has handily erased other powerful versions of the Māori social narrative.

In short, many Māori have always had a vision of Māori welfare that establishes Māori solutions to Māori poverty. A kind of separatism, as Lindsay Mitchell worries, alongside other luminaries of constitutional thought such as John Key?. I don’t think so, because the equally powerful vision in Māori society is that of sharing in the common good with all New Zealanders.

In fact it is this very tension between these two notions (rangatiratanga and sharing in the common good) that underpins a very relational Māori approach to citizenship. Māori communities have sought Māori solutions to welfare because we believe the relationship between Māori the Crown guarantees us that space. The self-same relationship with the Crown guarantees us the same status as everyone else, with concomitant access to the common good. Both manifestations of this relationship can be easily traced to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Treaty settlements are beginning to reveal this interplay even more sharply specifically in regards to welfare, and even more specifically in regards to our benefit system. As I wrote in another post:

The recent Tūhoe settlement [in 2014] includes a social services management plan whereby the iwi works in partnership with Crown agencies to deliver better social services to Ngāi Tūhoe. Interestingly, Tāmati Kruger made the following statement in April [2014]:

…under mana motuhake, the iwi plans to take responsibility for the estimated $9 million of benefit money distributed to Tuhoe annually. As part of the 40-year plan, the tribe will take state funding and use it change the dependency culture.

Kruger said: “We want to work with the Ministry of Social Development in utilising the $9 million of benefits to use some of that for job creation, and also changing a mindset in Tuhoe around being beneficiaries of the state.” 

This plan is in development, on the government side.

At the end of last year a report was made public on the MSD website. MSD commissioned the report by Sapere Research Group to explore the possibilities of devolving Crown liability for social security  on to Tūhoe. This was an exploration of possibilities rather than the formulation of a set plan, and is certainly not indicative of Crown policy. However,the very fact these possibilities are being debated and floated is important, and these discussions must be monitored and kept public.

In my view, relational citizenship, as practiced by Māori, results from maintaining balance between seeking common benefit, or common good for all, and upholding rangatiratanga.

And I have a few warning bells in my mind.

According to this report, MSD is currently working on measuring the actuarial liability for the Crown for Tūhoe’s long terms welfare costs (in line with the investment approach). One of the more interesting parts of this ‘think piece’ takes its shape from a question the report writers were asked:

We have been asked specifically by MSD as to how we would ‘sell the liability’ and, more specifically, if you wanted to ‘sell’ some of the [welfare] liability to Tūhoe, how would you do it?

Wow. Once we can put a price on “welfare”, anything is possible. One suggested model for ‘selling the liability’ this could be:

Partial fiscal decentralisation. Under this option, the individual rights of the beneficiaries would be changed – or provision for an opt-out made – so that a calculated sum of money would be allocated to the Tūhoe to meet agreed social and economic objectives but with a degree of freedom to be negotiated for the Tūhoe to spend these funds more effectively than under the present centrally-managed system. Reasons for doing this would be to honour the relevant aspect of the settlement agreement, but also because it would be believed that the Tūhoe could get better results from the money because of the knowledge, proximity and influence with the potential beneficiaries

There is a lot of water to go under the bridge as yet. Tūhoe has not been consulted on these ideas, because they have (according to Sapere) required the Crown  signatories to the Services Management Plan first to expend the resources to carry out these investigations. It could be years before the shape of the Tūhoe solution to Tūhoe welfare is made public.

But it’s important to be aware that these are the kinds of directions being explored, with massive implications for the notion of a single welfare state. Whatever direction is chosen, if the relationship between any iwi in Tūhoe’s position and the Crown (in regards to welfare) is “divested” too far, the iwi could be the ones to suffer.

The same may be said for the work being done by Te Puea and other marae in the urban context. Here’s hoping the balance does not tip too far.

 

 

[1]      Wiremu Tamihana Southern Cross (New Zealand, 6 August 1858) in E Stokes,Wiremu Tamihana– Rangatira (Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2003) at 165.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kermadecs, a fishing settlement, and the Long Forgetting.

The Kermadecs, a fishing settlement, and the Long Forgetting.

 

I imagine John Key must have had a lovely warm feeling as he announced before the world  (well, the UN in New York) that New Zealand was finally going to set up an ocean sanctuary at the Kermadecs, the gorgeous smattering of islands in our exclusive economic zone about halfway between here and Tonga. I had a similar feeling when I heard the announcement. What’s not to love?  The world’s oceans desperately need protection; various studies have been tolling mournful tidings about all kinds of grave problems facing our oceans’ health. By one stroke, NZ is now set to better meet our international obligations on protecting coastal and marine spaces.
Our Cabinet, a few days before Key’s speech at the UN, had decided to do what Titanic director James Cameron and the current US Secretary of State John Kerry had been asking us to do. And once the announcement was made, the Left was falling over themselves to remind us that the Greens submitted a private member’s bill on that very issue a few years back, and that Labour had a policy horse in that race too.
Why is there a problem with such a winning idea? Because the Kermadecs, as a part of New Zealand exclusive economic zone, comprises an area from which deepwater quota is currently sourced. So that means the forthcoming sanctuary (comprising a gargantuan 620,000 km2) will be excluded from all fishing and mining. Māori will not be able to source our commercial quota from that area. Nor will there be any opportunity to expand fishing operations in that area. In simple terms, this contravenes the 1992 commercial fisheries settlement. The “Sealords Deal”, as it became known, provided to Māori in recognition of claim settlement 10% of the quota in the QMS as at 1992 (and 20% of any new quota. Plus a bunch of cash and other stuff. Iwi were allocated the quota on a coastline basis, and Aoteroa Fisheries Limited was set up to manage assets on behalf of all iwi, not just those with coastline. Yes. All iwi have a stake in the commercial fisheries settlement.
It didn’t take long for the first rumblings of Māori discontent to surface at such loss of opportunity to appear. Nor did it take long for non-Māori commercial fishing interests to voice opposition to the Crown’s plan. Māori (including Te Ohu Kaimoana) and those other commercial interests have now filed lawsuits against the Crown.
OK, I can’t pretend to be an expert in these (or any other) matters, but it’s pretty easy to see why the Government has got itself into trouble, and yet more litigation, with Māori over this sanctuary. It was inevitable.
The Gummint had simply, it appears, forgotten to remember the Maoris. Again. Well, almost. On the day before Key gave his speech, months, maybe years after the germ of the idea for a sanctuary had developed, weeks after Cabinet sign-off, Dr Nick Smith made a couple of phone-calls to Ngāti Kurī and Te Aupouri as a courtesy to let them know about the announcement Key was to make in a few hours. Smith affirmed:
I do not claim, and have never claimed, that that was consultation.
Indeed. And Te Aupouri and Ngāti Kurī have been allocated seats on the proposed governance  body and support the initiative, despite disappointment at the lack of consultation. However, this is an issue that goes well beyond those 2 closest iwi. In the Cabinet paper, commercial Māori fishing quota rights (as established in 1992) were mentioned as ‘nominal quota’. As an ‘administrative quirk’ because no-one had been using them (see para 50 here).

According to Smith & Key, Māori have not fished in the Kermadecs for at least 10 years, and in any event, only about 20 tons are caught there every year anyway. If Māori are losing rights, that’s OK, because ALL quota holders are losing rights. And anyway, just like anyone else, Māori can pick up their quota OUTSIDE the Kermadecs. Cos, well…fish swim, yeah?

Indubitably, fish do swim.

It may well be quite right that Māori will be practically untouched in their current daily lives by the creation of this sanctuary.  And actually, the exclusion of fishing from the sanctuary might just make the quota fish caught outside it MORE valuable to Māori. So maybe, just maybe, Māori should just get in behind, support the sanctuary, which is a public GOOD after all, and quit looking like a pack of greedy opportunists.
Now wait a minute. Where have I heard talk like that before? It was just over a year ago, when Dr Nick Smith (what, him again?) unveiled plans to sell off Crown land in Manukau for housing purposes. It was a very welcome move; Auckland desperately needs land for housing development. Except that some of the land to be sold off was subject to a Treaty settlement whereby Ngāti Whātua were to have rights of first refusal in the event of sale. This decision ended those pre-emptive rights. Pre-emptively. Court action ensued. A few months later a new agreement was entered into, and High Court action was withdrawn. And Ngāti Whātua now has first rights to develop housing on the land.
Come on, Nick. these two situation are analogous to some degree, surely. A public outcry and massive pressure to DO SOMETHING ABOUT A VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE. Dr Nick Smith comes up with a fantastic solution that will create a public good and a warm feeling for all. Except for that pesky (what was the word? oh yes…) “quirk” of a legislated settlement in place, with a right legislatively bestowed (regardless of how it was used) upon Māori in compensation for earlier loss. A unilateral decision from you (well, and Cabinet) to kill off said right in a defined area. Aggrieved Māori. Surprised and disappointed Government. Court action.  We know what comes next, right? Settlement, a new suite of rights or some kind of compensation for the loss of opportunity, or something similar. Remember the foreshore and seabed anyone?

Ultimately, the sanctuary will go ahead with Māori support, because Māori too understand that we need our oceans to be looked after for future generations. But as Marama Fox rightly said in the first reading of the Bill about the furore that erupted in the wake of the announcement:

All of that could have been avoided, had the conversation been had in the first place. So it is with some trepidation that we support the bill through this first reading stage. We are happy that we are going to have a taonga for all of Aotearoa to enjoy, but let us do our homework properly so that there is nothing to come back on us in the later years and we find ourselves having to relitigate this entire issue.

True, there was no legislative duty upon the Crown to consult iwi in this matter. Regardless, the Treaty relationship continues, despite the existence of ‘full and final settlements’. To paraphrase and subvert Bill Clinton’s campaign team’s slogan from the presidential campaign in 1992: what’s one of the most important thing facing Māori voters today? “It’s the relationship, stupid!”

So Dr Nick…the next time you have a bright idea can you uphold the mana of the Treaty partner by talking deeply to some real live Māori people who are not in the habit of forgetting our social, political and legal history before you go to Cabinet?

 

 

[Dear Reader, an earlier version of this post is available on E-Tangata.]

N-words and the good ol’ Christchurch childhood.

N-words and the good ol’ Christchurch childhood.

Yup, offensive words are used in this post. There is a point to it, ‘kay?

So 61 people have registered objections to the  National Geographic Board’s proposal that the Canterbury place-names Niggerhead, Nigger Hill and Nigger Stream be changed to Tāwhai Hill, Kānuka Hill and Pūkio Stream respectively. And the cute little poll appended to this article reckons 59% of respondents want to keep the N-names.

I don’t know why the objectors are objecting. It might be for perfectly legitimate reasons, for example some genuine issue with the proposed new name. (The earlier proposal for Nigger Stream was for it to be renamed ‘Steelhead Stream’ after a kind of trout, but Cantabrians sensibly pointed out that this trout doesn’t swim in that stream  – hence the new Pūkio proposal).

But for the rest of them, (and those in the poll) who now apparently have some emotional attachment to these old names  what the heck are they thinking? There is no nice historical provenance to these names to get all misty-eyed over. Check out the report here. There are, for example three ‘Darkies’ place-names in Westland. These names appear to refer to ‘Darkie’ Addison, a highly successful African-American prospector in the 1860’s. Fair call. I would not weep if they were changed, but nor woud I object: they mean something and tell you something about the place. The closest we can get with ‘Niggerhead’ is that it was a name for type of grass common to the area that…well, grows in clumps. Hence the allusion, right? Classy. Bollocks to keeping that name, when the perfectly good Māori name for that plant (Pūkio) will do the trick.

So, if name history gives us nothing, if there are perfectly good and meaningful names that could otherwise be used that connect to the flora and fauna of the place, and if the current names are simply offensive to all right thinking people, where the hell are some of these objections coming from? Gee. Given that the names suggested to replace these epithets are all Māori, I dunno. Could it be simple racism? I’ll leave that for others to decide.

I am old enough to remember how common the word used to be in 1970s/1980s Christchurch. One of my mother’s favourite sayings was ‘nigger in the woodpile’ referring to an unforeseen problem. As a kid I used to parrot ‘Eeny-meeny miney mo catch a nigger by the toe, if he squeals let him go…’. I don’t talk about woodpiles to my kids, and tigers are pretty good squealer replacements. I also remember a handstand game we used to play at Paparoa St School (and maybe Heaton Intermediate) where us girls would chant “Nigger, nigger pull the trigger, pop, bang GO!”, where we would do a handstand on the “GO” and the person who stayed up the longest won. These were mere words to us, and I don’t for one moment ascribe to those long ago kids nefarious intent.

But.

Language means something. Public and casual racism in the labels and idioms we use exclude and divide, and the intent behind the repetitive use of the words don’t matter. There is no room for misplaced sentimentality for an old teensy piece of language popular in Canterbury  that meant nothing positive to anyone and merely serves to alienate Māori, African Americans or any other dark-hued person from the rest. We cannot really control the language of others (and nor do I want to), but changing the names would be easy, pain-free, and somehow meaningful.

Here’s to a better environment where such words truly are unusual, not quaint and ‘of their time’, where they jar and shock us, and are consequently freely rejected as the lexical bastards they are.

 

 

Losing Mater.

This is the text of a post I wrote just over a year ago, and never actively shared on social media. Maybe today’s the right time. It’s a year today since Adrienne Lillian Stephens died at the Bethesda Rest Home and Hospital. I will never forget being with her and my brothers as she took her final breath. She had gone by then. Nor will I forget the aroha and manaaki with which we were surrounded in the days after; the friends and whānau (especially her best mate Vana) who came from near and far to do her honour. Never will I forget the care and love the staff at Bethesda gave her and us in those weeks and days. After she died, they asked us to leave the room for just a few minutes do they could tidy her up. They plaited her hair. They put fresh flowers in the room. She was beautiful.

I’m not sure how to mark this kind of anniversary, and when I re-read the post below, I figured that sharing something I had written at 3am in the midst of the grief of that time would be OK. I hope so. So much has changed in the last year, so many tears shed, and yet life has carried on. E tōku Māmā, ka heke anō ngā roimata…

*****

Are there any such things as ghosts of those who still cling to life, I wonder? I feel my mother here in her house, the house where I grew up. I hear her, beyond the range of my real hearing, moving about the house, softly. Carrying her hot water bottle up to bed. Moving softly outside to feed the birds, the creak upstairs must be her on her way to the loo, probably clutching the ever-present transistor radio. I hear the oven door closing. I can smell her too, or at least, the tobacco smoke, that ever-present blue haze, accompanied by the hacking cough. I can sense her sitting at the dining room table ruminating over the crosswords, adding items to the shopping list, keeping up with the diary. Cackling quietly to herself over some absurdity in the paper. I hear the shuffle of the spindly wooden chair as she stands on tiptoe to peer over the top of the fence onto Papanui Road for the latest local outrage to get her juices flowing. She always watches The Road. The missing recycling bins; the occasional vandalised letterboxes; and the sniffy reproachfulness of Her Next Door, who (apparently) everybody round here loathes. The Road is a living stream of cars, people, dogs, bikes, news, and the rumbling buses belching their payload of gritty exhaust fumes, mimicking little earthquakes that nobody needs. And then there is her little green oasis nestled between the house and the fence. The place where the birds come to feed and talk. The broken birdbath, the dishes with honey water and the containers with breadscraps. I can hear her “took-took”ing to the birds. Not those bloody starlings though. No truck with those bloody bullies. Wax-eyes, sparrows, fantails…and before the earthquakes, the hedgehogs. We wonder where the little hedgehog family went to, four years ago. She misses them.

I am sitting here at 2am in the morning and I am waiting for the bang of the poker on the floor upstairs to let me know it’s time to Turn That Bloody TV Off. I’m waiting for the turn of the handle of the door into the hallway and for her to drift into the room on her way to put the kettle on. She’s going to be pretty mad. Never the tidiest of people, I have let the lounge in which I am camping turn into, well, a freedom camper’s paradise. Minus the poo, at least.

So I can hear all these things and see them all too, if I close my eyes and block out the Emmerdale marathon on TV. But she isn’t here, and she never will be again. At least, I don’t think so. Not until she lies here and we gather for her.

My mother is sleeping fitfully, no doubt, a few streets over, at the Bethesda Rest Home & Hospital. Her mind and body wander now, and she is waiting for the close of this chapter. I’ll go back tomorrow to sit with her. I’ll marvel anew at the kind of ethereal beauty that has come upon her recently as she slips just a little further away from us. She slips in and out of this world and then she’ll blindside me with her wit and knowingness. And then she’s off again into a world we can’t really enter. Her knees are enormous. That’s what happens when the flesh disappears from every other part of her body. Joints become bulbous.

Smoking, the one thing that gave her The Passenger, as she calls her tumour, the one thing that put her in hospital last month and into 24 hour end-of-life care this month, is also the thing that gives her days rhythm, her movements purpose. The crosswords and diary sit unfilled, except by us, her children, as we try to fill in the gaps, perhaps to hold out to the world that there is still continuity with that old life. Twice a day comes the pilgrimage, the slow wander with the walker, or lately, the wheelchair, to the scruffy green patch, with the tables and plastic chairs, where she lights her cigarette, breathes deeply, and sighs in contentment. The smoke floats around her like a deadly nimbus; but the irony still pinches. That one thing that puts her here, is the one thing that gives her any remnant of her owned life now. She picked up her first cigarette at the age of 15 in Eastbourne, about the time she left school and her parents divorced, around 1951. She thinks she pinched one of her dad’s. Well, they all smoked. And now, she revels in the camaraderie of the shunned. She smokes out here with the staff and with a couple of the residents. She’ll smoke alone if you let her, and the cigarette perches weakly between her fingers with the ash always threatening to drop onto her lap. The smoke wreathes me too, and I breathe it in.

The other day one of the new nurses joined us; a lovely young lady in her twenties. As my brother said later, she knows, surely, that my mother may be her future. If so, she gives no sign, just her kind smile.

So much kindness at that place. When she had a terrible pain break through the slow-release morphine fug yesterday, our mother wept, and her eyes were wide with fear. I pressed the call-button willing my own tears to stay inside, and within seconds the nurses were there, bustling, stroking, soothing, administering, watching. “Don’t scare me like that!’ said one, not because the situation was beyond her ken, but because she just didn’t want my mum to be in that terrible pain. Neither do we.

Well. Perhaps time to try and sleep again, before the tears burst out again and the sounds of my mother’s not-yet ghost once again inhabit these quiet hours.

MaterGoodbye.jpg

Banning Karakia in schools? A cultural can o’ worms, or beat-up?

My eye was drawn to a catchy headline thrown to me by my Facebook feed the other week. The headline read:

Karakia could fall foul of ban on Bible teaching in state schools

Upon clicking, I discovered AUT Professor Paul Moon had asserted  that: “Banning religious practices in schools, may inevitably extend to removing karakia from schools as well”. This piece was followed up by a report on Te Karere.

My first response to these reports was a swift stab of, “Oh, no you bloody don’t!” Many, many Māori would have had their hackles raised at the mere prospect of State interference in what many consider to be primarily a cultural, rather than a religious, practice. I can’t think of a serious endeavour, or hui, in everyday Māori cultural life, where karakia don’t have some kind of presence, even if a muted one. The most irreligious of Māori will often still take part in karakia. Would kids and teachers in kura kaupapa Māori, for example, really be faced with a ban on saying karakia? I wondered.

So why has this issue been raising its head (and not for the first time)? You may have missed it, but an important case was due to be heard in the High Court last month. Jeff McClintock had filed a claim against Red Beach school in Auckland for alleged failures of its duties under the Education Act 1989 in regards to the allegedly discriminatory treatment his daughter received after she opted out of Bible classes. The matter morphed into a national issue and by early April this year, the big guns were lined up to be joined as parties to either side of the action; including the Human Rights Commission, the Secular Education Network, and the Churches Education Commission.

Interest had been building over the past 18 months or so, tensions were rising…and then; nothing. Mr McLintock failed to get some papers into the court on time, and the case was thrown out, its central claims left un-argued. Despite this damp squib anti-climax, there may yet be some progress on this front, as an appeal has been lodged against the court’s decision.

So what is the connection between McClintock’s issue and karakia? The article I read did not identify exactly how karakia might qualify as ‘a religious practice’ or how it could be controlled or banned, let alone if , or how, such a path could even be implemented. There are a few building blocks that need to be put in place before we can agree with the Secular Education Network’s confident assertion that McClintock’s case (if it does get heard) would not result in the banning of Maori cultural practices.

First of all; just what are we allowed to do, in our public education system? Some of the answer is in s77 of the Education Act 1964:

every State primary school shall be kept open 5 days in each week for at least 4 hours each day, of which hours 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon shall be; and the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character.

So, our primary public education system is a secular one, and has been since the inception of free, compulsory education in 1877; separation of church and state, and all that.Except..when it may not be.

(And interestingly, secondary education need not be secular, and Boards of Trustees have discretion to allow non-discriminatory religious instruction under the Education Act 1989; arguably a hangover from the days when education was not compulsory beyond the age of 13)

s78 of the 1964 Act says that primary schools can close for short periods of time during the day:

for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors approved by the school’s board and of religious observances conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board or for either of those purposes; and the school buildings may be used for those purposes or for either of them.

So. religious instruction and religious observation can be carried out at secular primary schools during periods of agreed closure. As an example, during lunchtimes, schools are ‘closed’ for instruction, so available for Bible classes as matters of religious instruction (teaching children what to believe, not teaching about religions). This is when the children who opt out might be set aside to read a book, or even wash dishes, or some other alternative activity.

Yes, opt out. Under s79(1) children may opt out of any such instruction, as long as their parents or guardians request this, in writing, of the school. Not opt-in, whereby parents or guardians request in writing that children ‘sign up’ for such instruction.

Ah. You see; this system also applies to religious observation, not just instruction. And that is where we have to look more closely at what karakia may, or may not, be. Because if karakia count as religious observation under s78 then schools need to ‘close’ during the day in order to facilitate such observation, and parents have to notify their schools in writing if they wish their children not to participate in karakia. And if a case such as McClintock’s succeeds in prompting law change, for example changing opt out to opt in, then religious observation would be included, and parents and guardians would need to write in for their children to be able to participate in religious observation; IF karakia can indeed be called that. To say that such a change would threaten a chilling effect on cultural practices at the very least would not , to my mind, be scaremongering. A ban would not be technically correct, but it wouldn’t have to be.

So we have to grapple with this question: what the heck are karakia anyway? There is no doubt that sometimes prayers occur in New Zealand primary schools that are Christian in nature, but that called karakia (and sometimes called īnoi). As alluded to above, we have been down this track before. Three years ago, some staff at a Christchurch primary school were unhappy about prayer being used during school hours.

Children from the Avondale primary school’s Maori bilingual unit lead pupils and staff in daily prayer, a tradition stretching back two decades in a school that is a melting pot of race and creed.

Principal Heather Bell says beginning the day this way brings a sense of grounding to the school and creates a sense of belonging.

Translated, the brief Maori prayer penned by the school’s kaiarahi reo or Maori language assistant, says: “Lord look after us, guide us with your work today, in your holy name.”

Some, perhaps many Māori will say such prayers are not, in fact, karakia at all. Ngaire McCarthy is a keen proponent of the view that karakia have been co-opted by Christianity, and that at their traditional core, karakia are in no way religious:

The traditional karakia that is used to open and close ceremonies is not a Christian prayer, it is a ritual chant, a set form of words to state or make effective a ritual activity. Karakia are recited rapidly using traditional language, symbols and structures.

The early missionaries saw Maori traditions through a Biblical framework and believed that karakia was always a prayer, so they took the word and reinterpreted it to mean Christian prayer. The word karakia then became just another tool of colonization.

If the few kaumatua (elderly Maori) who articulate the karakia, are Christian, they will continue to misrepresent our customary karakia. This puts them into direct conflict with our pre-colonization customary traditions.

According to 19th century sources; karakia were used to ensure correctness of process, to mark transitions, to ensure safety (among many other things). Te Mātāpunenga defines karakia in the following way:

Karakia. A set form of words to state, confirm or make effective the intent of a ritual activity, and the reciting of these words, thus often translated by terms such as “incantation”, “charm”, or “spell”. In modern usage the term has been extended to include Christian and other religious services (for example, a church is often referred to as a whare karakia). In traditional ritual activity strict adherence to the proper the form of the karakia was essential; hesitation, mispronunciation or omissions in its recitation could negate or reverse its intended effects and bring harm to those involved. The word is Proto-Tahitic in origin, with similar meanings in Tuamotuan, Rarotongan and Mäori.

On one view then, karakia are cultural ritual without religion, and ought to be entirely safe for use within the primary school environment. On this view culturally bastardised prayers are masquerading as karakia, and fall foul of the law.

I really question this dualistic approach to understanding karakia. For one thing, the moment any traditional karakia envisages, propitiates, or acknowledges any power or entity outside of the human experience; that karakia takes on a spiritual dimension, and it becomes a matter of definitional point-scoring in determining when matters spiritual shade into matters religious.

Further, the presumption that Māori traditionally had no religion sometimes stemmed from ethnologists and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries (a great collection of such attitudes are listed and traversed in detail in Elsdon Best’s Māori Religion and Mythology) who assumed that Māori practices lacking temples, and in most cases, reference to a supreme being, could not comprise “true religion”. This attitude smacks of a similar insistence that Māori law could not comprise “true law” because there were no courts or Parliament. The extent to which Māori religion remains in modern New Zealand, as with law, is an open and fascinating question.

The courts in New Zealand, and Canada have all had to consider what counts as ‘religion’ as Fiona Wright identified in 2007:

Australian and New Zealand courts have said that religion involves belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle as well as canons of conduct that give effect to that belief…Canadian courts have described religion as a “particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship” combined with “belief in a divine, superhuman or controlling power” [..] In essence, religion is about freely and deeply held personal convictions or beliefs connected to an individual’s spiritual faith and integrally linked to one’s self-definition and spiritual fulfilment, the practices of which allow individuals to foster a connection with the divine or with the subject or object of that spiritual faith.

So depending on your definition of religion karakia can be defined as religious observations for the purposes of the Education Act 1964.  Or depending on your definition of religion, karakia are not religious and won’t count for the purposes of the Act.

On either reading, karakia are still cultural practices. This is arguably the line skated in Te Aho Matua (the curriculum followed by Kura Kaupapa)  which ascribes a special place to karakia:

5.2 Ko te tino painga o te karakia he mea whakatau i te wairua, whakawatea i te whatumanawa me te hinengaro, whakarata i te ngakau, whakataka i ngā raru, kia ngawari ai te whakauru atu ki te mahi kua whakaritea hei mahi.

[Kura kaupapa Māori] practise karakia as a means of settling the spirit, clearing the mind and releasing tension so that concentration on the task at hand is facilitated.

 

But there will be times when merely ‘settling the spirit’ involves invocation of a deity or deities, and the cultural thus arguably includes the religious.

So if the McClintock case ever does get argued, and if restrictions do end up being  placed on religious instruction in primary schools, in order to protect secular education, and to uphold the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (in NZBORA, s13), Māori cultural rights (protected under s20 of the BORA) will most definitely be under threat.

And I wonder (with my tongue in my cheek..but only just) about implementation. Who will put their hand up for the job of karakia police, patrolling schools and kura, watching and listening for karakia and those code words in Māori that sound suspiciously religious (depending which official is defining ‘religion’ that day), and must face strict control, rather than those that sound merely ‘cultural’, that can be left alone. How would any kind of regulation not involve cultural interference?

After all that, I think I’m back to my old gut instinct with which I started this piece: “Oh no, you bloody don’t!”

 

[Please note: this post is an updated version of the original posted on E-Tangata http://e-tangata.co.nz/news/if-we-ban-the-bible-from-schools-will-karakia-be-next]

 

 

 

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