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?
- No Māori affiliated with the National Party can ever claim to come from a base of Kaupapa Māori
- Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in terms of policy victories
- Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in the strength of the loudest voice proclaiming it.
- 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.