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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Confessions of a moderate Maori voter…(If that’s OK with you, that is).

On my Facebook feed this morning I read the following status update written by a friend. It made me wonder. This was a cry from the heart for something that Māori have apparently lost. This woman was just..

[r]emembering the days when we weren’t separated by our political beliefs but were connected through kaupapa, whakapapa, hope, and making Aotearoa a wonderful and amazing place to live.

The many likes and comments on this status showed that quite a few people were agreeing with this thinking: Māori have become too politically divided, too self interested, too disconnected from this things that really matter, too divorced from the kaupapa. Māori live in a fallen, individualistic world. The answer to the fall is somehow to rediscover cohesiveness between ourselves as a people, remember the ties that bind us, to reject those things that divide. That’s a pretty powerful vision, especially for a people, such as Māori who, research and our own discourse tells us, are more likely than Pākehā to adhere to collectivist practices and values.

True to my own bloodymindedness I read the question above and thought…’um..no I don’t remember that time, because I’m not sure it ever happened.’ I think that if we apply the microscope to any period of Māori social and political history what looks like unity and cohesiveness mutates and disappears before our very eyes. Māori value collectivism, including securing collective outcomes (even if only at the expense of other Māori collectives) sure, but that has never translated to hive-think. Our mythology is suffused with stories of conflict, especially between siblings or cousins, and between grandchildren and grandparents, Tāne separating Rangi and Papa in the face of opposition from Tāwhirimatea, Māui’s enduring conflicts and collaborations with his brothers in fishing up Aotearoa and slowing Tama-Nui-te-Rā, and in Māui stealing his ancestor’s jawbone, Tāwhaki overcoming the hatred and jealousy  of his cousins or brothers-in-law, and tricking his grandmother by filching her taro tubers in his and his brother’s quest to ascend to the highest levels of heaven.  And so on. Any number of other myths show intense rivalry, conflict  and sometimes desperate cooperation before fundamental change is able to take place. Māori mythology does not present us with homogeneity. The towering figures of these narratives are intimately bound by whakapapa, but fight furiously for different visions of how the world ought to be. Māori mythology gives us a pretty good template for modern Māori politics and, in that light, makes the split between Hone Harawira and the Māori Party seem positively pre-ordained. I’m not sure what the template would be for the coming together of the disparate elements of Internet Mana, but hey, there would be something in there somewhere…maybe.

A couple of the comments on the status I mentioned above refer to a dismay that Māori are not only divided, but can to be seen across the political spectrum. As one said: ‘Frustrating I would say! Look at our mates in every camp!’ This reminded me of the many comments made in the wake of National releasing its list in July. With 2 Māori women in the top 10 (Hekia Parata and Paula Bennet) some comment was made on the left of the spectrum of those women’s betrayal of Maoridom by their alliance with National. As one Facebooker commenting on Annette Syke’s posted link sharing the list wrote:

Yes agreed and to be honest if getting a promotion up the ranks is a result of screwing over your own people then it’s not really something to be proud of.

The tenor of such comments reflects once again the dearly-held notion that a true Māori political vision is a unified one, and those who cross into other political fields, away from the perceived locus of Māori political cohesiveness, are betraying Māori. I just can’t buy that. But that’s because I’m a hopeless political moderate (more on that below)

So while Māori political representatives are spreading throughout the political spectrum more easily in MMP times what can be said about the other part of that equation: Māori voters?

It is probably not a terribly original observation that our voting behaviours (and not-voting behaviours) can reveal a lot about us and how we became formed as individuals. Voting itself is an intimate thing; no matter the promises you make to others, or the signals you send out to the world at large and the people who care to listen, the moment in the voting booth is just between you and your conscience. Of course, we can never know exactly how people vote, we can only know what people choose to tell us about how they voted.

Still it might be good in the lead up to this election, in the wake of all the Dirty Politics palaver, to take a quiet moment or three to work out why we vote as we do (or don’t vote, as the case may be). For some of us our inner voter/non-voter might have been created by a coherent set of political principles held from an early age that we adhere to through the years. Perhaps we vote because of how our whānau and our tupuna voted. Political beliefs might be analogous to a religious belief, in these kinds of cases. Only a crisis of faith caused by some true political upheaval (like the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the consequent rise of the Māori Party, for example) might cause a deviation for these kinds of voters.  Were there identifiable moments in our pasts, discrete incidents that sealed our voting fates? Were there moments that forced us to give up an old allegiance or create a new one? How might these events have helped create us as individual voters or non-voters? Or is it a messy accretion and conglomeration of experiences and beliefs that have created our voting personas?

There are some limited things we do know, or think we know, about how Maori voters behave. We know, for example, that about 55% of Māori are enrolled on the Māori Roll, with 45% enrolled on the General Roll. Young Māori are more likely to be non-voters, and there is some evidence to suggest that Māori enrolled on the Māori roll are more likely to be involved in Māori communities and more likely to vote. Māori in Australia are more likely than New Zealand-based Māori to be politically apathetic. We also know that Māori are far more likely to give their party votes to Labour, but also, to vote split.

But the stats and research don’t tell us anything really about how Māori voters and non-voters arrive at their voting decisions.

So how are Māori formed into the Māori voters or non-voters about to participate in, or ignore, the coming General Election? I’d love to see your whakaaro on this in any comments you might like to leave! This is not so much a question about how you intend to vote (or not vote), but what set you on that path. Karawhiua!

And now for the confession part…(cos that’s what it says in the title)

The unpalatable truth, for what it’s worth, is: I’m a moderate centrist. So moderate as to be infuriating to anyone with actual political conviction. I’m sure if former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer was to describe someone like me he would say ‘She is an irredeemably moderate person.’ (In case that sounds odd, I’m referring to the time he once called NZ an ‘irredeemably pluvial country’, meaning: it rains a lot.) In my view this centrism means I prefer a political vision that takes most people with it. Therefore I eschew the edges of mainstream political thought that serve few people.  But, until Māori have a full economic role in this country, we will continue to fall short of all we can be as a country. And, no, I have not made my mind up yet on who to vote for.

But even for an horrifically moderate centrist like me, there is a kind of whakapapa to my (and everybody’s) voting persona. Why am I so resistant to that which is beyond the political mainstream?

I remember our home’s ‘carless day’ from the Muldoon era circa 1979. It was a Monday. I was 9. I didn’t care. Nor did I care about things Maori in those days, although I sporadically went to ‘Mahrey Club’ (Te Kotahitanga Juniors actually, with the extraordinary and extraordinarily scary (to me) Tihi Puanaki)  because my brother did.  Not long after, prices and  wages were frozen for a couple of years. I had no idea what that meant either. All I do remember was my mother’s heartbreak when Labour won the 1984 election. ‘Not those bastards!’, she groaned. Muldoon had been an economics whizkid, he was on the board of governors on the IMF! And the World Bank! (I was just impressed that there was such a thing as a Bank of the World..) What the hell did that upstart from Manggerry know about running an economy?! The choice New Zealand voters appeared to have, in my mother’s view, was between control and, well, absence of control. National represented for me, in those formative years, stability, familiarity and economic knowhow in the obvious absence of my own knowhow. Labour represented the fly-by night government that would only last one term. I really internalised my mother’s distrust of the Left. I rebelled against her in so many other ways, but not in my politics. I learned as a kid to distrust politicians that I perceived (regardless of the objective truth of the matter) to be unstable and inexperienced.

For my first election (1990) I had no understanding then of what Māori may have stood to lose or gain from the policies of political parties. I don’t think I really had, throughout my teenage years, a concept of Māori as, in part at least, an identifiable voting bloc.  Those of us who were Māori  at our overwhelmingly Pākehā high school were too busy trying to be Māori enough to be distinctive, but not so Māori as to fright any well-bred horses. My first brush with actual politics came when I met David Lange in 1988 when he came and spoke to a bunch of us somewhat start-struck teenagers working at the Brisbane World Expo about how how he and his government had brought the winds of neo-liberal change to our previously stilted and fun-less lives. We were the vanguard of change, apparently.  Us and our shiny newness and our eagerness and our willingness to believe that we could do anything and be anything we wanted. But then I shook his hand and he wouldn’t meet my eyes. So there went my vote. I then became wary of what I saw as larger than life political personas. The eyes might just be empty.

I was on the Māori roll by then, not because I had any idea of what Māori political aspirations were, or need were. I just wanted to be able to identify in a civic manner, that I was Māori. I became one of a handful of outliers to vote for National in the then Southern Maori seat in the 1990 election. The following years saw me drift slowly Left, and I’m I’m not even sure why. I don’t think I knew why I voted why I did. There was no epiphany.

The final moment for me came in 2004 on the day of the Hikoi to Parliament on the Foreshore and Seabed debacle. Two moments actually. One came in the grounds of Parliament hearing and seeing the veneration expressed for Tariana Turia as the leader of a new age. I saw the huge posters of her smiling face, and I had another Lange moment. I didn’t want to put my trust in a saviour for Māori who would rescue Māoridom from the Pākehā Pharaoh. The second moment came from hearing two Pākehā ladies at my work, after the Hikoi, sneer at the marchers, one of them saying something that sounded suspiciously like ‘If I had a gun…’. That moment solidified for me that Pākehā mainstream politics could not deliver good outcomes for all Māori without Māori being part of designing and delivering those outcomes. Voting for parties pursuing a Māori vision then became possible for a centrist like me. But I have no illusions that that Māori vision requires homogeneity of thought and a harmonious unity that has never really existed, not even in our mythology.

The children of the Takamore case: scaling the unscaleable?

When the news started filtering through from late 2007 about the dispute over James Takamore’s tūpāpaku I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Being a Christchurch-raised urban Māori with a Pākehā mum, with almost no contact with my hapū or iwi until my 20s I suspected that, however the dispute ended up, the adult children of James Takamore would suffer disenfranchisement, loss and estrangement from their whakapapa, and that this suffering would last generations. 7 years later, and the niceties of the legal issues and disputes aside, I still have the same feeling.

A small digression to put my sinking feeling into context. I remember the one and only time I visited my father’s marae and kāinga in Ahipara as a 7 year old skinny white Māori girl with patent leather shoes (really, and in a navy-blue sailor suit, no less) how terrifying and strange it all was. And that was with people who cared about me, and wanted me to be there. It wash’t until my nephew died some 8 years later that I returned, and then again, another several years after that until a third visit. And then another, and then another. I’d love to say that me and my hapū are tight now, but it wouldn’t be strictly true. I have some pretty good relationships now, but the real-life ties (as opposed to the metaphysical ones) are still pretty fragile. That’s often the way for us urban-borns. Of course I can’t presume to speak for all of us, but some of us will never truly make those ties that enable us to really be part of the functional group. We will remain liminal creatures, some talking up the mysterious nature of the connection we feel with the ancestral land of our tupuna in an attempt to feel the connection. In most cases those feelings will be absolutely heartfelt, but for some, grounded in little reality. Take us to that place, let us out of the car outside the homestead, with that pathway leading up to the front door, and that journey of a few steps becomes very long indeed.  A few months ago, I attended a wānanga at one of my marae, did the karanga on behalf of those coming on, only to learn I had completely botched one of our Northen tikanga. I was told gently by my aunty a couple of days later. After the feeling of mortification had passed, and the flaming in my cheeks had subsided, I was OK with it, failure at our tikanga is just something to be expected for those of us not raised in it. All I can do is try and be better. Some 12 years ago the late, and lovely Associate Professor Nin Tomas, a whanaunga of mine externally marked a law assignment of mine, where I mentioned in its pages my own default disenfranchisement from hapū and iwi dynamics. She wrote in the margins: “So come home.” Perhaps it could be just that easy for us, the children and grandchildren of the urban migrations. Except, for many, it’s not.

I can’t presume to know how the adult son and daughter of James Takamore feel or have felt over the past 7 years experiencing their own cultural estrangement in such an horrifically public and prolonged manner. From public documents it’s pretty plain that at the time Mr Takamore was taken north, the children, and their mum were at a significant cultural disadvantage in negotiations with the Kutarere-based whānau who came to Christchurch to ask for his tupapaku to be able to return to them. The following excerpt comes from the Supreme Court judgment available here:

Ms Clarke and Mr Takamore’s son resisted the request but Mr Takamore’s Kutarere family continued to press into the night the claim that he should return with them to the Bay of Plenty for burial. The discussion was heated and, for Ms Clarke and her son, distressing.

[19] After the son appeared to acquiesce reluctantly, Mr Takamore’s paternal uncle (who also lived in Christchurch) intervened to say that the son was being pressured and that the discussion should be continued the following day. At least one member of the Kutarere family stayed with Mr Takamore’s body while Ms Clarke and their son went home. The next day, after some delay and after it appeared that Ms Clarke was reluctant to return to resume the discussion, the Kutarere family, now with the support of the uncle who had intervened the night before, took Mr Takamore back to Kutarere. The Kutarere family believed their actions to be justified according to tikanga. They may have considered that the son (whose views were culturally of particular importance) had sufficiently acquiesced to give them the moral authority according to tikanga to take Mr Takamore home, at least when there was no resumption of discussion the next day and they were left with Mr Takamore’s body. If so, there was significant cross-cultural misunderstanding. For their part, Ms Clarke and her children were completely at a disadvantage, since they had no understanding of the process being followed and the risk they ran in appearing to withdraw from contending for their rights. [paras 18-19]

I read that passage and the clash of rights aside, I can at least imagine how traumatic this episode must have been, how unsure of the cultural landscape they must all have been, while fresh in their own grief for the sudden death of their Dad.

There is no doubt that tikanga, when allowed to operate as designed, can be a wonderful instrument to achieve equilibrium, but this case shows that it can create disequilibrium (albeit as a result of a clash with Pākehā law as well) in the pursuit of some larger goal of the larger collective entity. I can’t presume to make any judgment on the correctness or otherwise of the tikanga used in 2007 or in succeeding years up to and including yesterday’s attempted exhumation. I’m wondering instead how tikanga can henceforth be used to reconcile and repair. Counsel for the Kutarere whanau at least acknowledged this longterm view of the role of tikanga, before the Supreme Court in the transcript of argument:

I would say on the evidence [tikanga] imposes obligations that ensue beyond the decision and, with respect, the Court cannot compel those of any party in the sense of that restorative long-term process and, you know, I don’t know what will  be the situation, but in a generation’s time when, as I say, Mr Takamore’s mother has passed, if Ms Clarke has passed, is it, would it be a different conversation that those future generations are having about all of this and where they all sit? Possibly, one can’t guarantee that.

So perhaps the Tūhoe based whanau are prepared to accept the cost in the short to medium term at least that their whanaunga in Christchurch must suffer in order that the interests of the collective   are met, on the presumption that generations to come will heal the rift, that utu will be restored. I don’t know. But knowing how hard it is to make that cultural journey just when all that gets in the way is unfamiliarity and insecurity, how much harder will it be for the Christchurch whanau, left with the legacy of pain and perhaps even humiliation they now have, to take those steps? When tamariki and mokopuna come (if they have not already), what will being Māori mean to them? Regardless of the means, tikanga, Western law, whatever, used by both sides of the dispute, how will the children and grandchildren of each side of this dispute feel about each other in years to come? Maybe, and this is the heartbreaking risk, just maybe, they won’t think of each other at all. Maybe that is the ultimate price the children of this case will pay.

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