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Te Puea Marae, Tūhoe & the State of (Māori) Welfare

Te Puea Marae, Tūhoe & the State of (Māori) Welfare

It was the radio report that did it for me, and the tears flowed. A young woman (named “B” in public) and her whānau were farewelled from Te Puea Memoral Marae, after several days of staying there. Their plight caught national attention because B is a cancer patient, and the family been forced to move to Auckland from Hamilton for B’s treatment, staying with family and friends because no affordable housing was available.

Why did I weep? I wept, not only out of compassion for that whānau and the hardship they have been through, but also out of pride.  Te Puea marae had extended to this whānau true manaakitanga, and when the family left the other day to move into a brand new state house, they were farewelled with a poroporoaki. There was kōrero, song , prayer, and tears. Listening to the account, my heart was full. Tikanga Māori and bloody hard work by the family and the volunteers, and social service providers (including WINZ) had shown the meaning of manaakitanga, and the rangatiratanga  of this whānau had been upheld without bureaucratic interference.

To explain (if you didn’t already know!). Te Puea Memorial marae in Māngere decided in May to open up to the public in response to a perfect storm phenomenon in Auckland.

One storm comprised house prices in Auckland increasing by nearly 80% in 5 years, hiking rents in the process and forcing some already vulnerable families into overcrowded bedrooms and garages, or in some cases, out of homes entirely and into cars, or worse.

Another (related) storm has been the decline in available affordable housing, due in large part to the growth of investor-based house purchases, and lack of homes being built sufficient for the growing population. One estimate (see p 20-21), based on 2013 census data reckons 10, 000 houses have simply not been built that could have served to help accommodate Auckland’s growing population.

Arguably, another storm has been the relatively high levels of estimated disengagement or lack of engagement of those in need of housing assistance with the Ministry of Social Development; up to 41% of homeless recently surveyed had not engaged with MSD about housing needs.

So, in May all of these storms converged, and B, her whānau, and all the whānau and individuals staying at Te Puea were sheltering from this combined ferocity. Te Puea Memorial Marae, by opening its doors, and setting up its Manaaki Tangata programme, has taken  voluntary responsibility for the welfare of ‘the people’ at least to the end of August. The marae’s vision of who “the people” are is not exclusive, but it places Māori at the top of the  list, according to Marae chair Hurimoana Dennis.

There is another broader aspect to this story that demands attention. What Te Puea is doing (and other marae and entities around the country beginning to follow its example, including Manurewa Marae) is arguably fulfilling, at least in part, the role of the welfare state. Too grandiose a suggestion? Perhaps not when seen alongside other recent developments, as well as in historical context.

After all, the work being being done by Te Puea Marae is, at one level extraordinary, and at another level completely ordinary. Māori seeking to provide welfare for Māori in a Māori way is a very old story. Even at Te Puea Marae tself, this is hardly new, although the added residential element has created a more intense dynamic.

Kaanga Skipper, marae board member and direct descendant of Te Puea Herangi who the marae is named after, said Te Puea helped many people in the community when she was alive and would be happy at what they were doing.

“I believe when she put the pou into the ground she put me in the ground to make sure I would be available and be here to carry on with the work that she has done.”

There are countless examples of structures, organisations, rōpū, councils and committees set up from the 1840s to the present day by Māori to provide welfare for poor Māori. Often this was necessary because Māori were not considered suitable recipients for charity, and land ownership was assumed to suffice as a resource base upon which Māori  could survive. The later decades of the 19th century put paid to that notion for many Māori communities, but official discrimination against Māori based on that presumption would last well into the middle 20th century.

The Kīngitanga had, even at its foundation in the mid 19th century, the notion of Māori as the dispossessed poor soon to be reliant on the system and aid of others. While preventing land loss was its primary focus, welfare was inextricably linked with that focus.  Māori had become like fish, caught from the sea, and left to dry; maybe to be reliant on the aid of foreigners. In 1858 Wiremu Tamihana provided the following translation of part of Taranaki chief Te Akerautangi’s speech in debating the installation of Potatau as Māori king:[1]

“‘Welcome O King;—welcome to Waikato.

The shame I feel is great
For thou hast made a hapless exit.
And now thou art as fish caught from the sea
And placed upon the stalls to dry;
Are we to feed upon the things that come
From lands far distant?
O son, thou gavest this to me
And caused these lips to be polluted
Which once were sacred. Lo, I’ll lop it off.
Lest it should lead me to adopt its measures.”

Crucial to the idea of providing for Māori welfare was to possess or access sufficient power to make decisions about Māori welfare. Some initiatives sought to establish Māori governance bodies; for example Māori councils were established under legislation in 1900 to enable Māori to make rules about, and attend to, what was understood to be local welfare needs. Māori MPs such as Sir Apirana Ngata and sought to operate within government to achieve Māori welfare through rural land development schemes. But as Māori became separated from land, thus concepts of welfare shifted somewhat from dependence on land to urban-based support from the 1950s. Māori shifted activities accordingly, creating urban-based cooperatives, such as the Māori Women’s Welfare League in 1951.

Many of these initiatives proved an extraordinary testament to the drive of Māori communities to cooperate with the government, but to solve their own welfare problems. As one shining example, the Māori War Effort Organisation (MWEO) morphed from a tribal-based entity intended to facilitate and encourage Māori recruitment for World War II into an extraordinarily successful welfare organisation that had unparalleled reach into Māori communities. An attempt to bureaucratise and centralise the MWEO and capture its success as a part of Native Affairs (later Māori Affairs) Department undermined the success of that original entity, but led eventually to the establishment of the current New Zealand Māori Council and its district Māori committee system.

Bear with me, we’ll be back in the 21st century soon…

And by 1966, 33 such committees had been established in Auckland alone, taking on tasks such as mediating landlord/tenant relationships, providing budgetary advice, undertaking prison work, overseeing Māori wardens, establishing urban marae and carrying out a host of other activities merely labeled “welfare work”.

Sound familiar?

One of the marae established in Auckland during this fertile period was Te Puea, named of course for the redoubtable Tainui leader Te Puea Herangi who popularised the Kīngitanga, and established many marae, prime among which was Tūrangawaewae at Ngaruawāhia. Her greatest fight was against Māori poverty, which she fought all her adult life.

One remarkable thing is not so much the work that Te Puea Marae has done and does now, but that mainstream New Zealand might actually think this focus is new, or unprecedented. If that is the case, that would only go to show how far Māori have been identified in the national eye with being both poor and terminally helpless.

Much of this misperception (if indeed it is such, and not merely a figment of my imagination) can sheeted home to the monolithic power of the idea of the welfare state.  Regardless of the fact that the welfare state, as engendered in 1938 deliberately excluded and underpaid Māori for decades, on the administrative presumption that Māori were too communistic and simply not cut out for self-respecting citizenship, Māori have over the decades become the nonpareil subjects of the welfare state. Of course, as Māori lost land, whānau connection, economic footing and social standing, this welfare identification was probably  inevitable, but has handily erased other powerful versions of the Māori social narrative.

In short, many Māori have always had a vision of Māori welfare that establishes Māori solutions to Māori poverty. A kind of separatism, as Lindsay Mitchell worries, alongside other luminaries of constitutional thought such as John Key?. I don’t think so, because the equally powerful vision in Māori society is that of sharing in the common good with all New Zealanders.

In fact it is this very tension between these two notions (rangatiratanga and sharing in the common good) that underpins a very relational Māori approach to citizenship. Māori communities have sought Māori solutions to welfare because we believe the relationship between Māori the Crown guarantees us that space. The self-same relationship with the Crown guarantees us the same status as everyone else, with concomitant access to the common good. Both manifestations of this relationship can be easily traced to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Treaty settlements are beginning to reveal this interplay even more sharply specifically in regards to welfare, and even more specifically in regards to our benefit system. As I wrote in another post:

The recent Tūhoe settlement [in 2014] includes a social services management plan whereby the iwi works in partnership with Crown agencies to deliver better social services to Ngāi Tūhoe. Interestingly, Tāmati Kruger made the following statement in April [2014]:

…under mana motuhake, the iwi plans to take responsibility for the estimated $9 million of benefit money distributed to Tuhoe annually. As part of the 40-year plan, the tribe will take state funding and use it change the dependency culture.

Kruger said: “We want to work with the Ministry of Social Development in utilising the $9 million of benefits to use some of that for job creation, and also changing a mindset in Tuhoe around being beneficiaries of the state.” 

This plan is in development, on the government side.

At the end of last year a report was made public on the MSD website. MSD commissioned the report by Sapere Research Group to explore the possibilities of devolving Crown liability for social security  on to Tūhoe. This was an exploration of possibilities rather than the formulation of a set plan, and is certainly not indicative of Crown policy. However,the very fact these possibilities are being debated and floated is important, and these discussions must be monitored and kept public.

In my view, relational citizenship, as practiced by Māori, results from maintaining balance between seeking common benefit, or common good for all, and upholding rangatiratanga.

And I have a few warning bells in my mind.

According to this report, MSD is currently working on measuring the actuarial liability for the Crown for Tūhoe’s long terms welfare costs (in line with the investment approach). One of the more interesting parts of this ‘think piece’ takes its shape from a question the report writers were asked:

We have been asked specifically by MSD as to how we would ‘sell the liability’ and, more specifically, if you wanted to ‘sell’ some of the [welfare] liability to Tūhoe, how would you do it?

Wow. Once we can put a price on “welfare”, anything is possible. One suggested model for ‘selling the liability’ this could be:

Partial fiscal decentralisation. Under this option, the individual rights of the beneficiaries would be changed – or provision for an opt-out made – so that a calculated sum of money would be allocated to the Tūhoe to meet agreed social and economic objectives but with a degree of freedom to be negotiated for the Tūhoe to spend these funds more effectively than under the present centrally-managed system. Reasons for doing this would be to honour the relevant aspect of the settlement agreement, but also because it would be believed that the Tūhoe could get better results from the money because of the knowledge, proximity and influence with the potential beneficiaries

There is a lot of water to go under the bridge as yet. Tūhoe has not been consulted on these ideas, because they have (according to Sapere) required the Crown  signatories to the Services Management Plan first to expend the resources to carry out these investigations. It could be years before the shape of the Tūhoe solution to Tūhoe welfare is made public.

But it’s important to be aware that these are the kinds of directions being explored, with massive implications for the notion of a single welfare state. Whatever direction is chosen, if the relationship between any iwi in Tūhoe’s position and the Crown (in regards to welfare) is “divested” too far, the iwi could be the ones to suffer.

The same may be said for the work being done by Te Puea and other marae in the urban context. Here’s hoping the balance does not tip too far.

 

 

[1]      Wiremu Tamihana Southern Cross (New Zealand, 6 August 1858) in E Stokes,Wiremu Tamihana– Rangatira (Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2003) at 165.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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