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ANZAC day, Shane and Māori leadership: do we really need another bloody hero?

A few months ago I had a delightful experience. I got to visit the ramshackle, dusty, grubby and altogether questionable Mad Max II museum in Silverton, just out of Broken Hill in Australia’s Outback. Full of old banged up cars, clothes, models and props from the Mad Max movies I found myself entranced, and seduced again by my teenage memories of Mad Max in all his 80s glory. We found ourselves some DVDs that night, and sitting through some, sleeping through the rest, I realised once again that the past is another country. And that bloody awful Tina Turner song hid some even more awful movie by the time we got to Mad Max III. No, we don’t need need another hero, now bugger off and take your mullets with you. (Don’t know the song? Check out this: )

I found myself humming Tina’s song quite a lot over the past few days as ANZAC day approaches and news of Shane Jones’ departure broke. ANZAC Day and Shane Jones for me, at least, highlight one of Māoridom’s continuing problems, the valorisation of past heroes (such as the men of the 28th (Māori) Battalion, Tā Apirana Ngata, et al) and the search for new (almost inevitably male) heroes to take their place. A sentence from Morgan Godfrey’s interesting recent post on Shane’s departure illustrates this thinking: Maori political history isn’t rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more “progressive” candidate is deeply offensive. Maori have waited too long for too little. Shane was an opportunity and one many – including myself – were willing to back. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as we’ve come in more than a decade to the centre of power. Winston was the last Maori politician to come close to real power. It’s been a century since Maori actually touched it (Carroll as acting prime minister). (

I find this quote interesting because of the yearning it expresses, as Māori wait for a leader to arrive; a leader presumably to lead Māoridom from its current state. Shane, the implication is, could have been such a leader. Thus, a people continues to wait.

Another similar sentiment was expressed by Kiritapu Allan in her blogpost ruminating on Māori political leadership The Maori vote is wide open, but the vote is calling for a champion for justice who is pragmatic enough, and in touch with the pulse of Maoridom enough, to create some excitement about the opportunities that a post-settlement world creates for hapu and iwi.

These posts from young, sophisticated Māori urban commentators echo a cry I hear occasionally, a lament really, that Māori have no true ‘leader’, at least, not one that reach across the divides of class, race, and political affiliation. Since the arrival of Old Testament narratives along with colonisation in the early 19th century many Māori have held fast to the notion that a Mosaic, or a Messianic figure will some day appear to lead Māoridom (Ngā Tiu) out of the wilderness and into the Promised land. There is now a lot of scholarship about these powerful myth narratives in Māori thinking (see Bronwyn Elsemore, Judith Binney, Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal, Selwyn Katene and so on) Māori history and mythology is suffused with heroes grappling with the evils of colonialism. An obvious and influential example are the mythological narratives that grew up around the deeds and the personas of Te Kooti Arikirangi and Rua Kenana, both messianic figures  in the foundation of the Ringatū church (and stories still abound of the forthcoming successor to their legacy). (,_No._4/Myth_and_explanation_in_the_Ringatu_tradition%3A_some_aspects_of_the_leadership_of_Te_Kooti_Arikirangi_Te_Turuki_and_Rua_Kenana_Hepetipa,_by_J._Binney,_p_345-398/p1)

Of course Māori are a heterogenous bunch, and notions of leadership within Māoridom have undergone massive changes over the last couple of centuries. Leadership has evolved from models primarily based on ariki, rangatira and tohunga, to charismatic, transformational leaders of the 19th century, on to leaders affiliated with powerful corporatised Māori interests (trust boards, the New Zealand Māori Council, Māori Women’s Welfare League, tribal rūnanga). (see Katene 2010)

So yes, Māori notions of leadership have changed and adapted to modern needs,but the idea of A LEADER to surpass all, and to tap into the Māori (and national) psyche is a long-lived, powerful and seductive one. This nostalgia for our wartime heroes, this late-blooming nostalgia for what Shane Jones might have become, this apparent yawning gap in Māori leadership begs, in my view, a far more important question: what about those of us who would be knit together by such leaders? How prepared are we as individuals, whānau, and hapū to engage politically with those among us who would lead, to such an extent that such leaders would be bound to do what we require of them?

I would prefer to see less bemoaning the lack of Māori leadership and a focus on ordinary people and what we are prepared to do to create leaders in the first place. Are we prepared to take our whānau down to the ballot boxes on polling days to vote in our local body and central government reps? Are we engaging on Twitter and FB about issues other than what we ate for breakfast? Are we engaged with our kōhanga, our school boards, our marae, our sports committees, making decisions and showing our whānau what it means to make decisions and take the consequences? Are our own actions lighting sparks in the eyes of the seven year olds or the ten year olds in our homes? Are we actually present? Or are we waiting for a fully formed mythopoeic leader to emerge from the mists of our past, cloaked with the benedictions of our tupuna  for us to claim her or him as our own?

Heroes are never what they seem to be, Shane watched porn on the taxpayer. Apirana was sometimes impatient with ordinary frailty, our veterans are and were brave men with feet of clay. We don’t need another hero, because there are no heroes. What we need are active, involved, engaged Māori across the political spectrum to make the damn thing work for Māori. Among us are all the leaders we need. Or deserve.

About Sparrowhawk/Kārearea

Legal academic and writer, Wellington. (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Pākeha. Nō te Hāhi Mihinare hoki)

13 responses »

  1. Great post.

    I would prefer to see less bemoaning the lack of Māori leadership and a focus on ordinary people and what we are prepared to do to create leaders in the first place.

    This. But I think we’re creating leaders everyday. It’s whether society extends the opportunity to lead.

    Personally, I’m not waiting for the perfect leader to arrive. That I’m not willing to wait for a more “progressive” leader is an expression of impatience. I have no time to wait for someone to lead us to the promised land. I’ll work with the “opportunities” we have and the imperfect leaders we’ve created. The past is littered with missed opportunities. Shane was a missed opportunity and I mourn that, but I don’t yearn for the promised leader (I think that’s a “false chalice”). I admit I’m attracted to the nostalgia of it all – I like its mythic power – but I take a more pragmatic view too.

    But you are certainly right: we need less waiting and more creating. We have plenty of community leaders, it’s how we translate that into politics. How? I have no idea.


    • Thanks Morgan, only just saw this here, it had been marked as spam!?! Thanks for your comments. I do admit to being a little spellbound by the power of a charismatic individual to bring about real change (I’ve got a bit of a thing for Pope Francis atm, truth be told), so powerful individuals matter, obviously. Perhaps part of the the problem is in the anointing process (and this was not only from Māori). Shane, for one, was anointed very early in his career as ‘the one to watch’, and we do have a tendency (the commentariat, media, ordinary punters, etc etc) to look for the great next hope, the ‘pale rider’ (to borrow from the Western Shane theme) to sort us out. I think you are right, Shane was a missed opportunity, I’m more worried about the missed opportunities in our homes and in our schools that we see every day and don’t realise it. Thanks again.


      • Phil Wallington

        The next hope… the “pale rider” fallacy has been a constant theme in TIME Magazine over many decades. At regular intervals they have a cover story and ” in-depth” survey which selects an eclectic bunch of individuals and predicts future greatness and high political office or other grand ambition is within their grasp.
        Almost invariably these chosen individuals either succumb to disgrace or obscurity. Picking winners in life and politics is about as useful as regular visits to the TAB.


      • haha! Yes, not a tendency exclusive to Māori, that’s for sure, Phil. I blame the ancient Greeks…


  2. Thank you, this is an awesome post. I agree totally: we don’t need heroes. We need to stop looking for heroes and look at what we have now. We need people prepared to lead. And we have them! They are already among us. They are in each of our whanau, hapu. They are us! We have the vision for where we want to go, we have the knowledge for how to get there, we have the tools, the resources, we have the energy. There is nothing holding us back. Maranga mai, forward!


  3. To quote Public Enemy, “None of my heroes appear on no stamps”. I agree. The Age of Searching for Maori Messiahs must surely be over. We’re capable of expressing our opinions forcefully and with passion. But perhaps we need to be more forthright and honest about what’s happening inside our whanau and the impact it has on how we communicate with our communities and the rest of the world. I think democracy, while at times hostile towards our development still offers Maori communities the opportunity to build our collective security. Transparency though, is key. Which is why I think some of these recent issues like the Kohanga Reo National Trust and it’s commercial arm; and the appointment of Maori Television’s new CEO remain worthy of further scrutiny. They’re important institutions that can play a role in bringing out our inner heroes. So we don’t have to keep endlessly searching for Messiahs.


    • Kia ora Noah. Agreed. Not least because such corporate institutions (and I don’t use the term pejoratively, just descriptively) provide the standing place for so many of our 20th century/21st century leaders, the demand for transparency of the leadership is actually higher in my view. The organisations ought to develop and support such leadership, not act as a bulwark between Māori leaders and Māori communities. The last few weeks have raised my fears that that is what is happening. I understand the defensiveness, I really do. It just does us no favours. Thanks again!


      • Kia ora Sparrowhawk/Karearea. Awesome blog you have here e hoa (Morgan’s too btw) ka pai to mahi.

        It’s one of those funny things. Sometimes so much expectation is placed on successive generations of Maori individuals to lead. Yet there’s always examples of the lack of investment placed in individuals to lead effectively. Hence, the pressures of obligation and duty can be enormous. Maybe it’s because we live in the shadow of Crown institutional dominance. Perhaps there’s the fear it’s influence is spreading to Maori institutions? I’m not sure but I know the scrutiny placed on KRNT and the MTS CEO recruitment process is/was healthy. I was pleased to see the court case for Bev Adlam was made public. More of these issues discussed openly in every sphere of Maori life is welcomed by me.


  4. Great post e hoa.

    I agree with your sentiments in full – Māoridom don’t need another ‘anointed leader’ to step into a political powerhouse position and to lead us into the promised land. I also agree, out leaders are everywhere – running our kouta, our Kōhanga, our paepae and our Boardrooms.

    If anything that the current turnover in central body Māori political leadership highlights for me is that Māori political leadership cannot be done in a vacuum. The next generation of political leadership should take heed of the lessons (and legacies) of the Māori politicians just gone: politics is about numbers and in order for a strong Māori focused agenda to succeed in a mainstream party, you have to have your numbers behind you.

    So, practically, what does this require? In my simple view: strategic vision from a few like minded individuals that are willing to set aside individual ego for collective gain… and then do a lag of dirty work on the ground forming ideological foundations and building buy-in from the people within the communities.

    The next wave of Māori politicians have to run in a pack – it could have happened in the Māori Party but, for various reasons, didn’t occur. The days of the Māori Messiah are long gone. This era requires leveraging multiple fronts, and for a broad church of Māori leadership to step-up. But the step-up needs to occur together on specify aligned and agreed grounds otherwise the same seams will continue to fall apart.

    Maoridom doesn’t need another blimmen hero. But I think Maori central politics could definitely do with a boost of strategic collective leadership on clearly identified agendas.

    Heoi ano e hoa, ngā mihi māhana e re tuahine, e re tuakana hoki.



    • Ka pai e te tuahine! I wish I could agree that the days of wishing for the Māori Messiah are long gone. I remember well being part of the Foreshore and Seabed hikoi in 2004 (sheesh, or was is 2003??) and being part of that wonderful expression of mass protest was humbling, but I also found it a little disturbing because of the near veneration of Tariana at the time, and the big posters of her face everywhere. I wondered to myself how she could ever live up to the new expectations of her. As it turns out, she hasn’t. (of course she hasn’t!! Who the heck could!). That Mana feels free to post that Herald cartoon on their website showing Pita and Tariana as kurī feeding on the crumbs from John Key’s table would have been unthinkable once upon a time. Sometimes some of the rhetoric I hear about Hone Harawira is similar, about his near mythic capacity to lead Māoridom to a better place. Projected yearning untainted by any actual political power. I think you are right that strategic collective leadership could be the answer to this problem, which is hard to engineer in a party political system, but it can be done! Heoi anō, ka nui taku mihi ki a koe!


  5. Personally I favourite less focus on political leadership. At the risk of being branded an outcast, I hope one day this Maori – Crown relationship can be relaxed a little. Sometimes it feels a little too close.

    Instead I would like to see more focus on fostering entrepreneurial leadership in Maori communities. Not necessarily to monetise everything. Rather, to encourage greater ideas on how to make our world a better place using existing technologies; and to develop new technologies. Science is opening whole new ways of harnessing what’s out there. It’s a brave time to be alive. Maori communities should be taking part in this knowledge – gathering and sharing too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: A month with nothing to lose | Homepaddock

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