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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.

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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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