Ratana, Waitangi and making Maori voices heard

Prime Minister Bill English and National Party politicians are welcomed on to the marae at Ratana.
Warwick Smith

Prime Minister Bill English and National Party politicians are welcomed on to the marae at Ratana.

OPINION: The attendance of political parties in force at Ratana last week underscores the importance in this year's election of the Maori vote, which now comprises 20 per cent of the electorate.

Maori want more say. Decades of working with Labour have not reversed the issues that blight each new generation. The Maori Party relationship with National may not have delivered all it promised but it is no worse.

The Maori Party, Mana Movement and Kingitanga attending together, Dame Tariana Turia in support, a bro hug between leaders Hone Harawira and Te Ururoa Flavell, and a smart new "One Maori" mantra sent the right message about their campaign for the seven Maori seats.

Some of the crowd at last week's Ratana celebrations.
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ.

Some of the crowd at last week's Ratana celebrations.

Flavell's claim that the Ratana-Labour accord is "finished" was premature given the Mana-Maori Party defeat by division in 2014. Unity will be paramount and principles must prevail over personalities if they are to restore trust with Maori voters.

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New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaks at Ratana.
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters speaks at Ratana.

Maori Party President Tuku Morgan promises an agreement before Waitangi with a starting point that Mana not contest Flavell's Waiariki and the Maori Party reciprocate in Te Tai Tokerau. Opportunity certainly beckons. Labour has held a majority of the Maori seats only three times over the last seven elections and not held all of them since 2002.

Last year Labour Party leader Andrew Little offended many when he described Ratana as a political "beauty parade".  Forthright and direct, he gave the pick of the policy speeches this year about the "stuff that makes a practical difference for Maori". How this will translate into votes is moot, Labour's current six-one Maori seat domination owing more to the Mana-Maori Party self-immolation than performance. 

Offers to support the 2018 Ratana Centenary and Ratana's 60 house development were trinkets others will also honour. Reflecting the liberal left tendency to avoid dealing with Maori as equals in favour of retaining minority caucuses within, his dismissal of One Maori as post-election partners is unwise given the combined Maori electoral preference for independent candidates working with Labour.

Opportunities Party founder Gareth  Morgan made a splash at Ratana.
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ.

Opportunities Party founder Gareth Morgan made a splash at Ratana.

The beneficiaries of acrimony between Mana, the Maori Party and Labour, the Greens presented a smart, youthful and stable frontline. Nearly one third of their caucus is Maori and one third of their increased party vote between 2008 and 2011 came from a spectacular sevenfold-plus increase from 5,400 to 38,700 in the Maori electorates.

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The first National MP to attend Ratana in 2002, Prime Minister Bill English lacks the teflon of John Key but possesses a natural humility Maori admire.

He as lauded for his speech in te reo but in reality it was kohanga level stuff and I doubt he can understand 50 per cent of what is said on marae. Still it was better than the last minute stumbling, atrocious pronunciation and speaking from paper that Pakeha often produce to resounding "kiaoras" from bowed Maori heads. As proficiency is directly related to comfort with other cultures, we expect more 30 years after te reo became an official language .

English's seeking greater rangatiratanga from Maori resonated but the accompanying message of a government limit on "grants, programmes and more public servants" did not. As Little said "there's plenty more we need to do and plenty more we can do".

English made the right decision not to attend Waitangi. Any invitation that says an important leader cannot speak on the marae even after the formalities have ended is a set-up.

Referring to Waitangi, his good Maori/bad Maori comparison with Ratana as the best of "positive, warm and hospitable" tikanga was disappointing. Waitangi is rightly the place we choose to celebrate the founding of our nation. It also marks the beginning of successive destructive government programmes that set in train the appalling statistics we live with today. Sure it is important to celebrate progress. The protests are also an important reminder of where we have come from and where we need to be.

Opportunities Party leader Gareth Morgan set the cat amongst the kereru. His proposals to make te reo compulsory in school and enshrine the Treaty in a written constitution were good but nothing new.

Aiming to usurp the balance of power ground from New Zealand First, his dredging up of the 2005 Treaty of Waitangi Principles Deletion Bill to condemn Winston Peters as an "Uncle Tom" while neglecting his own declarations to get rid of the Waitangi Tribunal and marginalise the Iwi Leaders Forum was culturally duplicitous.

Delving into the past as he invites, he once described Maori tribal organisations as mediocre undemocratic institutions of little relevance that fail Maori because they place little value on education. Billions of dollars in assets and several hundred Maori PhDs later the realities are quite different. Morgan is a philanthropist out of touch.

He also misjudges Peters. Many Maori admire Peters' frankness and candour. Hence New Zealand First has a significant Maori membership and caucus that is about half Maori. The Opportunities Party will unlikely match that, as for a start the Morgan Foundation is a small band of unconvincing Pakeha economists,

Morgan wants Maori to have a say but not influence decisions. His proposal to dismantle the Tribunal will curtail the most effective mechanism for addressing Maori issues since the Colonial Wars. His new proposal for a Upper House to empower Maori "self-determination" through a consultative 50-50 membership but "subject to the sovereignty" of a lower House of Representatives is silence by another means.

Morgan accuses Peters of political incest by claiming he escapes critique because he is Maori. How dare he say that about Uncle Winnie!

Dr Rawiri Taonui is professor of Māori and indigenous studies in the college of humanities and social sciences at Massey University.

 - Stuff

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