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Waitangi & the Unsung Virtue of Uncertainty

Waitangi & the Unsung Virtue of Uncertainty

It’s never very far from my memory; the time in 1988 I took a taxi to Jupiter’s Casino on the Gold Coast with a couple of army friends of mine. All I can really recall is shrinking down into the back seat, between my companions, in bemused horror as the taxi driver proceeded to tell us all about how the Tasmanian Aborigines were exterminated, and that, on the mainland “they should have finished the job”. I was 18 and working at Expo 88 in Brisbane at the time, in a year of bicentennial celebrations of the European settlement of Australia. I was doing my bit back then to contribute to Australian patriotism and until that moment I had never really given the other side of the story another thought.

If you are a social media type with a New Zealand Facebook account you will likely have had a few interesting or disturbing posts on your feed in the lead up to Australia Day on 26 January, marking the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships to Sydney Cove in 1788. This Day is intended to be a celebratory one:

On Australia Day we come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian. It’s the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation. It’s the day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the future.

In my case the social media posts I saw were less than celebratory (see here and here for examples), and largely consisted of withering criticism of Australia’s treatment of Aborigines. Invasion Day provided another view of a day intended to celebrate the formation of Australia as a nation. In truth, I shared the odd post myself.

At times like this New Zealand discussions about race relations between the majority populations of Australia and New Zealand and their respective indigenous communities takes on a competitive tinge. We New Zealanders are just SO much better than Australians at ‘dealing with’ indigenous peoples, and every year Australia Day gives us that lovely frisson that comes from revelling, for a moment, in the feeling of a job well done. There is, after all, some evidence to suggest that our race relations are better (such a quaint term that, ‘race relations’ a time when we rarely talk of ‘race’ anymore). Smugness is sterile though; each country has quite a different political, cultural and social history, not to mention a vastly different linguistic and demographic landscape.

And any little sense of complacency we might have been lured into by way of Australia Day on Jan 26 is soon obliterated by our own tortured anxieties (for some, at least) about Waitangi Day on Feb 6.  Usually there is some issue or take that demands protest and attention, for which Waitangi Day becomes a kind of cultural and political lightening rod. This year it is the approaching local signing of the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement). Some Māori have promised protest at Waitangi, while the John Key proclaims  his normal state of resolute relaxation about any such protests.

And, on cue, a few weeks out, Pākehā Media Personality Angst Against Waitangi (PMPAAW) kicks in. In 2012 it was Paul Holmes who delivered up an absolute doozy against which the Press Council upheld complaints. Paul spluttered:

I wouldn’t take my three great uncles who died at Gallipoli and in France – Reuben, Mathew and Leonard – to Waitangi Day and expect them to believe this was our national day. I wouldn’t take my father, veteran of El Alamein and Cassino, there. Nor would I take my Uncle Ken who died in a Wellington bomber, then try and tell him Waitangi Day was anything but filth.

No, if Maori want Waitangi Day for themselves, let them have it. Let them go and raid a bit more kai moana than they need for the big, and feed themselves silly, speak of the injustices heaped upon them by the greedy Pakeha and work out new ways of bamboozling the Pakeha to come up with a few more millions.

The same year Richard Long had a go. in 2014 Cameron Slater jumped on the train, Peter Dunn reiterated calls for a New Zealand Day to replace Waitangi Day in 2011. This year, it was Mike Hosking’s turn, although on TV rather than in print. ‘An annual ritual of abuse, anger and ignorance’, in Mike’s view. Well, I’m not sure which ritual he was referring to, the one at the lower marae, or that perpetrated by PMPAW.

Snarkiness aside, I have never had any problems with dissent about Waitangi Day, from any quarter. These protests, complaints and flagellation are absolutely necessary. New Zealand must never, in my view succumb again to a comfortable view of itself. This uncertainty about our national identity and our connections between our communities is absolutely essential if we are to function well as a nation in the future.

The seeds of this uncertainty were sown in the years between 1835-1840 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi, and only in the past 40 or so years have those seeds begun to bear fruit more obviously in the public consciousness. But make no mistake, in regards to Crown-Māori relations uncertainty has been our national lifeblood. The Treaty of Waitangi is but only one agreement between the Crown and Māori among hundreds in our multi-textual legal history. These agreements included deeds of cession, confiscation agreements, and regional pre-emptive agreements each agreement opening up new relationships, new portals for negotiation, new sites of political uncertainty.

In fact, the single most enduring and salient feature of political constitutionalism in colonial NZ has been Maori insistence on treating any agreement with the Crown as never final, but, in the words of Mark Hickford, only as:

‘punctuated moments in conversations without end’.

Time and again, year after year, decade after decade Māori have insisted on negotiation, compromise, recognition and political space. Sometimes they have got it, oftentimes not.

So, from the perspective of what we could call political identity formation, or constitutionalism, the Treaty of Waitangi generates a kind of positive uncertainty. We don’t actually know what the future will bring in the relationship between Māori, the Crown, and the peoples of New Zealand. We cannot take solace in the presumption that what has been always will be. There are new settlements, new agreements, new cultural landscapes and new relationships forming and dissolving every year. None of this is comfortable.

I like comfort and moderation. So I have some sympathy with the call for the simplicity of a New Zealand Day, such as that called for many times by MP Peter Dunne:

“We have so many wonderful things about this country that we should be celebrating; we have achieved great things as a nation and continue to do so. We need to be proud of all of that and celebrate what it is to be a Kiwi.

“Waitangi Day is not doing that and has not for a long time.

Mr Dunne said Waitangi Day rarely leaves Kiwis feeling more “united, positive or upbeat”, and non-Maori avoid the day.


Dunne and those like him seem to wish for a simpler, more certain idea of what being a New Zealander is; something more like an Australian Day celebration (without the messy complications of stolen generations and drunk NRL players).

I think we can celebrate and be pissed off at each other. Why are these things mutually exclusive? They can’t be for me, my Pākehā and Māori ancestors collectively got me into my current situation as an urban born Māori who has had to learn what being Māori even means.

So, arguably, Waitangi Day has a far different function than a mere “National Day”, it is a reminder of uncertainty, and to be frank; a safety valve. As Tim Watkin observed in 2012:

I want to hear the anger, not least because silence leads to disenfranchisement and ultimately to violence. It’s when the shouting stops that the bomb-making begins, so let’s celebrate that our national day encourages citizens to speak their truths rather than kill for them.

So wherever I go and whatever I do this Waitangi Day (more likely to be blobbing rather than protesting) I will at some point take a moment to be grateful for our national uncertainty. The alternative is more frightening.

[Please note this post is available at E-Tangata in a slightly edited form.]



The Deadlands and a vampire flick…just what the heck is ‘a Maori film’ these day anyway?

Many years ago now I was deeply absorbed in the question: ‘what is a Māori film?’ I was working in Māori radio and making a documentary series about that very question. Or at least, that was how it turned out, because that was very much the question at the forefront of my interviewees’ minds. I interviewed (namedrop alert…) Merata Mita, Tama Poata, Rāmai Hayward, Barry Barclay, John O’Shea and a whole bunch of other luminaries of the New Zealand film industry about what they thought of the state of Māori film-making at the time (1992-1993). The reel to reel tapes are mouldering in our basement somewhere but snatches of those long ago conversations have always remained with me. I recall Barry Barclay pointing out that so much Western culture movie-based story telling was simply  continuous retelling of King Lear; the single hero or anti-hero, the focal point of all action and dialogue, with the accompanying story arc. Māori film-making, Barry reckoned, was less about King Lear, or John Wayne and more about the interconnected web of people that comprise a community, a mode of storytelling employed in the 1987 feature film Ngāti (which he directed), whereby no one person is ever really The Point.  (You can see an interview with Barry about Ngāti and the extraordinary impact of Pacific Films on NZ film-making here.) And one thing Merata Mita (director of Mauri) said that has always stayed with me over all the intervening years was this:

“The person behind the camera changes the person front of the camera.”

In her view, the Maoriness of a Māori film was defined not only by the nature of the story that it tells, nor by the ethnicity or culture of the actors on screen but by an accounting of power. Who had the power to define the nature of the images that went up on the screen? Only if Māori controlled that image and that story, could such a film be called a truly ‘Māori film’. In the last couple of days the same argument has been raised by Leonie Pihama about the Toa Fraser-directed mau rākau bloody revenge flick The Deadlands which is currently on release, garnering rave reviews and, it seems, many a bottom on a seat (Number 1 at the NZ box office as I write).

The Deadlands is compromised according to the power argument because most of those who wield the power over the nature of the images being portrayed on the screen are not Māori. The director is not Māori, neither is the primary producer. Interestingly, Leonie refers to Glenn Standring, the writer, and a producer, of the film, as ‘being raised as a Pākehā’, referring to Glen’s own account that he did not discover his own Māori ancestry until until his 20s. There are, of course other Māori also involved in the production of the film, (nepotism alert), one of my brothers, Tainui Stephens is one of the co-producers. I wonder if the fact that Tainui, like me, did not truly discover his own Māoriness until his young adult years also disqualifies him, in the eyes of some, from being Māori enough to be considered a wielder of power for the purpose of defining a Māori film. That’s the slippery slope we get on when we start defining others by their purported cultural quantum (as opposed to the good ol’ blood quantum).

I get the power argument, I really do. It is a vitally important lens with which to critique and evaluate Māori development, and most certainly, Māori film is a marker of Māori development. Others more articulate than me will have to articulate the precise manner in which The Deadlands is truly different to 19th century image based Pākehā portrayals of the Māori as the Noble Savage. Maybe the Deadlands does perpetrate stereotypes about Māori that Māori have been trying to break away from in film for so long. I’ve seen rushes of the film, but not the whole product as yet, I’m gearing up for I’m not yet qualified to say.

But I wonder if one less desirable consequence of the power analysis of Barclay, Mita, Pihama et al is the denial of agency it affords to two very important sets of people intimately involved in any given film. For one thing, all those other presumably powerless Māori who are also as much part of the storytelling as those behind the camera. Even though they may not have the say on what goes in the recycling bin. It is, after all, those artists, the actors, who bring their own mana and their own histories to that story. The other set is the audience. Seriously, I have never seen such enthusiastic acclamation by Māori for any feature film. It’s not universal of course, `cause not everyone is up for blood-drenched, cannibalistic, gut-spilling mayhem with their popcorn. And the critique by Māori language experts of the Māori language script has already started. But Māori are voting with their feet and their pingas, and their praise. For a taste, check out the Facebook Page. The over-riding theme of the comments (with the occasional detractor) is ‘mean Māori mean!’

In view of this acclamation, I wonder if one criterion of a Maori film is also simply whether Māori claim it as such. I often think of that kind of argument when I have those sad, sad conversations with Māori raised Pākehā or with little connection to their whakapapa. I think to myself ‘would their tupuna claim them?’ I have never come across a situation where I have thought the answer would be no. So…if Māori claim The Deadlands as a Māori film, maybe that ought to be listened to.

Harking back, just for a final moment, to my misty water-coloured memories of those long ago interviews. I remember Tama Poata (writer of Ngāti) saying he was looking forward to the time when Māori could just get on with making movies, about any topic whatsoever – even, he giggled,  “Maoris in space!” I thought of his comment earlier this year when I went to see Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s other gorefest movie What We Do in the Shadows. Now there’s a bloody good film that fits the power requirement. Both directors are Māori, it features two Māori leads, Both writers are Māori, three of the four producers are Māori and there are no demeaning images of Māori or problematic stereotypes to contend with or brush over. Not exactly a Māori story (and Taika knows how to write those, of course) and maybe not ‘Maoris in space’ exactly, but pretty damn close. I don’t suspect most Māori will automatically consider Shadows a Māori film as they appear to consider The Deadlands to be, but I for one am happy to claim it e hoa mā!



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…’ 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.

Shane and the Dragon: the risks of appealing to difference

It’s very tempting to believe, as a Māori, that I have some kind of connection to an essential cultural truth that is just a little different, and a little bit better than others around me without that connection. The feeling might occur in unexpected moments; in a joke shared in the reo, in singing a song at a tangi, in an offhand comment at the supermarket, in catching Pūkoro on Māori TV after school. As someone who has had to learn to be Māori, I’m quite conscious of being privy to something greater than myself. Fortunately for me those ‘connection’ moments are far more common now than in my more culturally tentative 20s.

This feeling of special connection, as well as whakapapa connection, is useful, after all; it can be a bulwark against the torrent of all the other messages I might receive over the course of my adult life, the ones about how being Māori is a passport to the bottom-of-the-heap statistics. But it is not much of a leap from this sense of being ‘set apart’ culturally, to a sense of playing by a different sets of rules in other ways. So these words leapt out at me from an RNZ Manu Korihi report yesterday in regards to the report released recently on Shane Taurima’s activities at TVNZ:

The panel members were particularly interested in [Shane Taurima’s] response about how he managed conflicts in the Maori world.
He told them that Maori journalism was different.
He said instead of reporters having topics to cover, such as health and business, tangata whenua tended to be assigned to tribal areas from which they come from.
Mr Taurima said Maori journalists were challenged by whanau and friendships everyday.
But an advisor to the board carrying out the investigation, the former correspondent Chris Wikaira, rejected the explanation.
He saids basic journalism such as balance as fairness, was universal and did not change because of a person’s ethnicity.

The report itself fleshes Shane’s observation out a little more: (available at:

The world of Māori broadcasting and journalism, and particularly Māori language reporting has differences from reporting in the Pākehā world. We are challenged by our whānau and friendship relationships every day, which mean that conflicts of interest and the potential for perceptions are at the forefront of our minds every single day, as we believe those relationships, whilst ensuring that they do not stray into our onscreen or editorial work.”

I find the characterisation of a “Māori broadcasting and journalism world” and a “Pākehā” world of journalism and broadcasting to be interesting, as if there is a veil through which we must pass to operate in either world. I suspect Shane was making an appeal to difference here, that somehow the rules are different in each world. It’s pretty easy for those of us who have ever worked in broadcasting to believe that. But here there be dragons, maybe taniwha, if you don’t know where your ethical waka is heading.

On one level I completely agree with Shane that Māori journalists and broadcasters do have to operate differently just to be able to do their jobs properly, in the same way that Māori lawyers ‘do law’ differently, in the same way that Māori psychologists work differently with Māori clients. The point of ‘doing it differently’ in different contexts is to benefit Māori professionals, Māori clients and Māori in the community generally, to ensure ultimately that Māori are served properly by whatever profession is in focus. At the heart of these ‘different’ ways of doing things is the practice of whakawhanaungatanga, the establishment of common ground and right relationships between the Māori professional and the Māori client in such a way that that client (and by extension the Māori community) gets the right service. It makes complete sense that Māori journalists will have to operate differently in order to have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on in Māori communities, so that those communities will see themselves reflected in the work of that journalist, of that broadcaster, and not some imagined caramel collective with only a passing resemblance. Sometimes, as in the recent Native Affairs investigations, the image that is reflected back to the community may be true (or at least a version of true) but not flattering.

Whakawhanaungatanga is critically important as a way of Māori connecting with each other, discovering and reinforcing whānau, hapū, or iwi ties, or in the absence of those, some other shared identity that makes sense in that moment. Isn’t this mode of practice then at odds with the usual pressure upon professionals, legal, journalistic, or whatever, to create space between the professional and the client, for the professional to maintain disinterest? Not at all, if whakawhanaungatanga is exercised in honesty and transparency. When I was a probation officer (many moons ago) writing reports on offenders it could be essential to spend time with an offender (love those labels) talking about our shared ancestry, where he and I grew up, or whatever else was right for the moment to create that spark of fellow-feeling between us. I might still recommend imprisonment at the end of the process. He knew it, I knew it, but the whanaungatanga was still there, and still necessary, even within the giant monolith of our criminal justice system.

It is, of course, so much harder for someone who was in Shane’s position of being under direct and constant pressure from his whānau and iwi to return to politics to balance the demands of his people with the demands of transparency and accountability to TVNZ. The pressure must have been enormous, but the demand for transparency and honesty in the preservation and exercise of whakawhanaungatanga remains the same. Chris Wikaira’s reported response to Shane’s quote above is also worth quoting in full from the report:

Mr Wikaira reviewed the transcript of the Panel’s interview of Mr Taurima. His view was thatthe basic tenets of journalism, ie balance and fairness, are universal and that a conflict is aconflict regardless of the ethnicity of the person at the centre of it. Furthermore, while he acknowledged that Māori journalists often have more interests to balance (be they familial, tribal or political), the management of these needs to be consistently applied. The potential reputational damage to TVNZ overrides any cultural nuance, and it required Mr Taurima to disclose these activities. He noted that this issue was less about tikanga Māori and cultural nuance and more about a senior manager in a mainstream media organisation managing his political aspirations in a mainstream political party.[99]

I’m sure few of us are blameless when it comes to blurring lines between our professional and private responsibilities. I’m not. But nothing in the Māori rule-book excuses Māori professionals from the other professional demands on us. I don’t have, as a condition of my Māoriness, an entitlement to throw away the rule on client confidentiality, or objectivity. Nor, in legal practice did I have an entitlement to ignore conflicts of interests in that context. In my current job I don’t get to appeal to difference to justify dispensing with fairness in marking my students’ exam papers (much as I dearly want more Māori to be passing those blimmin’ things). If I want to be good at what I do, I have to exercise whakawhanaungatanga in all those contexts, and keep up with those other professional demands. And bear the cost.

For me to appeal to difference, to specialness to justify dispensing with those other professional demands suggests that I might think it’s OK, as a Māori, to engage in whakawhanaungatanga without transparency and honesty (or tika and pono, to put it another way) with all those relationships. For me, that’s a level of comfort that I’m … well, just not comfortable with.

Thank Heavens for Donald Sterling and other Lightning Rod Racists

Make no bones about it, Donald Sterling helps many of us sleep better in our beds at night. The owner of the LA Clippers gives form to the formless. Like a lightning rod he draws the ire and righteous anger of all of us who pride ourselves on our ability to tolerate difference. He ticks all the right boxes, powerful, super-rich, white, curiously formed (looking as if he has been carved out of aged Lucite), not to mention helpfully braying racist claptrap to his latest (wired-up?) lovely in the grip of his papery claws. (see He is in the mould of the equally odd local multimillionaire Louis Crimp…remember him from a couple of years back? Old, bigoted, wealthy:

“All the white New Zealanders I’ve spoken to don’t like the Maoris, the way they are full of crime and welfare.” (

There is a kind of functional purging that happens when such obvious bogeymen are exposed in this Western society. It reminds me a little of what Aristotle named ‘catharsis’; the ‘pity and fear’ an audience to a tragic play felt when the protagonist invariably fell from what had been a lofty height (Oedipus, Agamemnon and so on). Catharsis in that ancient context meant feeling pity for the plight of the doomed protagonist, and a kind of compassionate fear for ourselves lest we undergo a similar fate. Well. I don’t detect pity for Louis & Don, this kind of modern catharsis is a little different, we feel a kind of cleansing revulsion.

Yet underneath all that disgusted wrath perhaps we also feel a little bit of fear lest we are revealed to have similar bigotries within us. This fear is perhaps at the heart of our curiously formalistic approach to eradicating racist and sexist symbols from our language and our public actions. As Jeremy Clarkson has just discovered, uttering the N-word creates a moment of talismanic horror that he can atone for on the public altar of Twitter ( Eradicating such obvious symbols from our overt actions and words saves us from having to examine what we really think and feel. Replacing these symbols with new ones can also be handy. Keen to be seen as a non-racist? Why, take a selfie with a banana in honour of Dani Alves’ pretty wonderful response to thuggish banana throwers in a football match at Villareal on Sunday. When the banana landed near him as the Brazilian was about to take a corner he picked it up, ate it and carried on. The fact that this was apparently a preplanned marketing campaign is overlooked in favour of the simple beauty of the new inclusive symbol, so right for t-shirts, now selling for 25 Euro each.

I’m not going to engage in a sociological examination (you’ll be relieved to know) of the dynamics and causes of racism, sexism or homophobia. I understand the analysis that tells me that racism (and other isms) is produced from ‘power dynamics’ in society. Those with power can exclude consciously, or otherwise, those without power, based on a denigration of the race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality of the excluded. I get that. What worries me about that analysis is that it (superficially) excuses us, if we ourselves fall into any one or more of the excluded groups, from examining ourselves. I can’t be racist, I’m Māori. Well, I’m less interested in whether an ‘ism’ can be attached to my outward language and behaviour. I’m more interested in the failure of imagination that I am definitely in danger of sharing with Louis and Don. We are all at risk of this kind of failure, regardless of the label we put upon it.

I have a young female relative in my large extended family whom I love dearly. She’s a teenager, a gorgeous, bright, talented girl. And she is ashamed of being Māori. She doesn’t acknowledge her own Māori name, she wonders why the only Māori women she sees (outside of her family) are fat and why the men are all criminals. She can’t yet imagine, you see, that there are other Māori realities, other Māori futures. Even when she sees Māori that don’t fit that mould she may not shift her thinking. Perhaps those ‘other Māori’ are just aberrations to her perceived truth. Like Don, Like Louis, she makes false deductions from limited information, and won’t or can’t (yet) imagine how things could be different. All is not lost for her, and I am ever a believer in the power of human imagination to create change. Eventually I think she will be able to imagine Māori differently. Louis & Don haven’t managed this leap of imagination, it appears, but I would wager that none of us is totally cured from this particular condition. Some people have more power to harm than the rest of us, based on their bigotries, which is why we need protective laws and actions designed to counter and prevent harms from racism, sexism and the like. But let’s not be fooled, Louis & Don are not strange or remote, they are in the room with us.

Derek Fox, and the mystery of the public dollar

It takes a special kind of bellicosity to both dissemble and attack Geoff Robinson on Morning Report in response to innocuous questions such as ‘Are there any life members on the Kōhanga Reo Trust?’, but Derek manages that kind of uncomfortable and unhelpful combination with unfortunate aplomb. My personal distaste for Derek’s style aside though, his question (and one also discussed on Paul Henry’s show last night, albeity briefly) of ‘when does a public dollar stop being a public dollar’ merits attention. But I’m not sure why it does. Probably because of its superficial (and deceptive)  simplicity. Derek challenged Geoff by saying (and I paraphrase): ‘When you go to the grocery store and pay for your groceries are you then spending public dollars?’ Geoff responded, “well of course not, that’s my money, I can do with it what I like’. ”Well, same diff!’ crowed Fox. (well, in more words than that, but you get my drift). Sorry Derek, that is just plain wrong, and worse, it is disingenuous. Let’s look at what Te Pātaka Ōhanga does. From some comments like Derek’s, you’d think they were purely contract service providers themselves, and so, you might be forgiven for thinking they are paid a contract price for their services, and just like an insurance company would receive payment for insurance taken out by some publicly funded agency, and then what they do with that money is their business and not open to public scrutiny. The lines are nowhere near as clearly drawn here. Look at the opening sentence on the TPO website: Te Pataka Ohanga Limited (TPO) is a wholly owned subsidiary company of Te Kohanga Reo National Trust and was formed to help manage the growth of Te Kohanga Reo and maximize the bargaining power through strategic partnerships with providers, allowing quality services and products at discounted rates. While the entity might be owned by Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, clearly TPO does things for and behalf of Te Kohanga Reo. That impression is strengthened in the next sentence: Te Pataka Ohanga Ltd also manages a range of services, on behalf of Kohanga like insurance, mokopuna oranga pumau, scholarships, computers (Dell), Internet service providers (ICONZ), Fuel Cards and many more listed on this web site. According to Māori TV’s Maiki Sherman:

‘However, according to Te Pātaka Ohanga’s constitution, it was established solely to manage the economic activities of the National Trust. Also, all profits not reinvested in the company are transferred to Te Kōhanga Reo or an approved charity.

 Is Fox trying to argue that these functions are entirely private ones, not in any way connected with the public nature of the funding received by TPO in the first place? TPO is not analagous to the insurance company, nor is it analogous to the salaried public radio broadcaster buying his milk and bread with that salary. Geoff, in buying his milk and bread is carrying out a private function, and his salary was tagged for that purpose, and reported as such in the relevant financial reporting documents. Geoff is at the end of that process, and when the money is in his possession, there is no accountability back to his employer. TPO, by contrast, is intimately involved, and indeed responsible for the economic activities of the parent trust. TPO is not at end of the funding chain, and what they do with the money reflects on Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, and don’t forget, the leftovers of that money goes back to TKRNT (or another nominated charity). I’ll bet Geoff doesn’t give his leftovers back to Radio New Zealand. 

Fox’s defensiveness doesn’t help Te Kōhanga Reo, although I understand entirely his desire to protect and defend what the Trust does. He should understand that he is helping to achieve the opposite. Kāore taea e te tipu e rea, mēnā kua ngaro a Tamanuiterā. 

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