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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq4aOaDXIfY )

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). (http://mauistreet.blogspot.co.nz/2014/04/shane-jones-political-obituary.html

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. http://kiritapuallan.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/an-ode-to-fallen-and-an-invitation-to-the-new-ka-pu-te-ruha-ka-hao-nga-rangatahi/

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). (http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/document//Volume_93_1984/Volume_93,_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) http://moodle.unitec.ac.nz/pluginfile.php/176946/mod_resource/content/0/Katene.pdf.

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.

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