The real challenge facing the Maori Party : constructive engagement with gangs
by Denis O’Reilly
The political vortex surrounding the ACT Party has masked a good deal of rustling in the roots of the Maori Party – there is flux in the flax. At this time of the year the people who care for our harakeke are out getting rid of the detritus and letting the new growth sprout.
The guy doing the weeding at the indigenous political flaxroots, tugging at the ugly strands of apparent expedience, is Hone Harawira. His efforts are causing angst amongst those in the Maori Party who value these stringy connections to power and influence. You hear on the kumara vine that the Maori Party is dysfunctional, that there are arguments and divisions and sulks and grudges held: hey, what’s new? It’s all part of what John Key describes as the rough and tumble of politics and seems to be ‘du jour’ in the parliamentary complex.
Hone is often portrayed as a maverick. The current assertion is that he is positioning for a leadership coup. But this just looks to be a foil to shift the korero away from Hone’s real challenge, and that is to challenge the abandonment of the key ingredients of what was the Party’s seminal spark, Maori Title to the seabed and foreshore. However the pragmatists argue, probably rightly, that concessions had to be made to meet the electoral needs of the governing partner and to keep the great tent firm. They’ll hold that politics is the art of compromise. The Labour Government’s offensive legislation will be repealed. You get the best you can and live for another day. “Ce’st la vie”, “ma te wa”, “leave it be”, they may say. Not a chance of it with Hone.
I think that Hone’s oppositional stance derives from his reflexive instincts born of a lifetime of community action. He may well have leadership aspirations, but not necessarily so at the present. Hone represents the gap between the future wants of a large part of the Maori Party constituency and the present needs of the Party. That doesn’t make him Heather Roy. The first Maori to speak in Parliament was Tareha Te Moananui and he cautioned his fellow Pakeha MP’s that they and Maori were “similar but not the same”. Maori see different possibilities and differing approaches to the exercise of power. The Maori paradigm is built on broad inclusion and consensus decision making. Dissent is tolerable. Opposition can be expressed without weakening a commitment to the leadership. In my experience, strong debate often predicates an enlivened vision and a new step forward.
The opportunity for a forward step is presented by the improved position the Maori Party is likely to encounter in the matrix of power with the probable meltdown of the ACT Party. This is the chance for the Maori Party to take Hone’s challenge to heart. It could start by doing what ACT hasn’t and won’t: reflect on the difference between its espoused principles and the actual practice of its representatives in the House.
Despite the Maori Party philosophy of ‘whanaungatanga’ (the practice of the extended family linked by whakapapa) and its implied inclusiveness, Maori on the social edge increasingly tend to be excluded. Apart from Hone the Maori Party MP’s come from a middle of the road life experience; Tariana has a background in social work and community development. Although he’ll recount a tough childhood Pita is essentially an academic who can sing and dance – well perform kapa haka and waiata anyway; Te Ururoa is a teacher; Rahui comes from a conservative Mormon background and is a lawyer.
Middle class Maori get embarrassed by the poor behavior (behavior associated with both lack of wealth and poverty of spirit) of the Maori underclass. They may be their kith and kin but they are rejected as their ilk. Engaging with them is an anathema to the ideologues who deny dysfunctional and failing whanau entry to a modern aspirational Maori society. National’s Paul Quinn is currently championing a move to remove the right to vote for those citizens (disproportionately Maori) who are in prison. Labour’s Shane Jones rails against Maori gang members describing them as sub-human, an undermenscht. ‘Gang’ is just a label but it strikes a raw nerve in the Kiwi psyche generally.
On the other hand both Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia are naturally empathetic with ordinary Maori regardless of social status. Of the two Turia is the less demonstrative and seems to keep her energy for the backroom dialogue with policy advisors and officials although she has been a staunch supporter of the Mongrel Mob Notorious ’ efforts to get their members off methamphetamine. Sharples is more populist, an everyman, seemingly less interested in coherent policy and the more likely of the two to be managed by Ministerial mandarins. Yet when he goes with his gut instincts he is invariably on target. An example was his initiative (against Ministry advice) to bring Maori gang leaders together in a quest for improved behavior. It was in the context of the ‘Drivers of Crime’ programme, and, in my view, this one small meeting has done more to reduce offending than the entire Parliamentary talkfest. Still he copped some shtick and prodded by his Ministry’s minders has since backed off on the undertakings he made to the group.
The difficulty is that ‘gang’ has become meaning-based (as opposed to representational) and people attach negative experiences and memories to the word. An example is with Te Ururoa Flavell who has been devastated by the death of a young fellow in Murupara as the result of a gang skirmish. At one time Te Ururoa seemed to be actively considering ways to resolve the problematic of dysfunctional whanau Maori in gangs, but since the Murupara incident he has visibly withdrawn.
To move forward we need to use a representation –based frame where we can discuss and debate the matter without buying into and getting distracted by the detail of real life incidents. There’s the little strip line in Taika Waititi’s ‘Boy’ – ‘the best dad in the world, just not this world’ – so I think from now on I’ll refer to those that I’d previously call gang members as “Crazy Horses” (its all right I’ve got permission from the Commander in Chief, the Prez, Shogun).
So, one of the opportunities for the Maori Party is to redefine the game and engage the Crazy Horses. And the best dude they have to lead that would naturally be Hone. It would be a smart deployment, occupying his mind and energy, sending him on a mission that if mishandled would send him to oblivion, yet if successful would ensure a brilliant outcome, a redirection of the negative spend in the criminal justice system and a reduction in settler anxiety. If the Maori Party were able to mobilize the marginalized underbelly of Maoridom, the Crazy Horses, and enabled them to participate electorally, it could be extraordinarily potent.
It would do two things, bring grunt to the Maori Party’s flagship Whanau Ora policies by engaging those who cause most concern to middle New Zealand, and, at the same time, expand its voter base. This notion is of biblical proportions, perhaps one of the most repeated themes in the Good Book: “the stone that the builders rejected became the corner stone” (Psalm 118:22; Mathew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7). Ha!
If the Maori Party engaged with the Crazy Horses then it could then critically examine itself in its promotion and enablement of Whanau Ora as the pathway to “ a future where whanau determine what is in their best interests”.
The Maori Party cites as the driving elements of its philosophy:
Wairuatanga – spirituality
Hinengaro –wellness of the mind
Tinana – physical wellbeing
Whanau – the family
Whanaungatanga – extended family
Waiora – total wellbeing for the family and individual
Mauri – the life force
Mana ake – the unique identity of the family and individual
Ha a kui ma a koro ma – the breath of life from our ancestors
Whatumanawa – the open and healthy expression of emotion
Whenua -reconnection to the land
Whakapapa- maintain connections to whanau, hapu and iwi.
These implicit values underpin Whanau Ora, which the ‘responsible minister’ Tariana Turia, describes as being:
“an inclusive, culturally anchored approach that has been developed from a philosophical basis with a single overarching aim of best outcomes for whanau”.
Whilst Tariana is the Minister responsible for Whanau Ora the ‘lead agency’ for implementation and direct accountability for specific Whanau Ora appropriations is Te Puni Kokiri. This Ministry comes under the control of her colleague and co-leader, Pita Sharples, in his role as Minister of Maori Affairs. Even though they are co-leaders it is said they often have a divergence of views.
There’s one other important player in the mix and that’s Georgina te Heuheu, who is Associate Minister of Maori Affairs. Associate she may be but she is the only one of the trio who sits at the Cabinet table as a decision maker. What then does Georgina see as being the driving principles through which to express Whanau Ora? Quite a different perspective from her Maori Party fellow travelers:
“The principles that will guide the Government’s approach in increasing Maori participation in the economy are the recognition of property rights and personal responsibility; economic independence and choice; less state involvement on Maori lives through community empowerment; the nurturing of strong families, whanau and community; and engagement in wealth creation, business and enterprise”
– Hon Georgina Te Heuheu TPK Statement of Intent
By way of a passing comment, take note of the natural alignment between the Maori Party and the Nats as regards holding mutual respect for property rights. At least the Nats express respect for Maori property rights at a philosophical level if not always in practice. In like form, the Labour Party became deeply uncomfortable about the property rights implicit in the Treaty of Waitangi. They would support ‘by Maori for Maori’ programmes on the basis of social justice and effective delivery but not as a Treaty Right.
I think it runs like this. Labour is essentially founded on the concept of a level playing field of opportunity within the social construct of a meritocracy. Maori being ‘born’ to Treaty Rights somehow seems to unleash a repressed memory amongst Labour Party dogmatists – its like Maori being born with a silver spoon in the mouth and intimates a ruling class or something. For examples of what I mean just read some of Chris Trotter’s columns with their frequent and strident gripes around what he sees as Maori demanding ‘special’ status. So, in many ways the Maori Party philosophy provides a happy enough meld with the Nats.
Accordingly, whilst much of the language in Te Puni Kokiri literature resonates with Maori Party shibboleths the underlying paradigm is pure Tory. Besides Georgina’s influence much of this can be attribute to the legacy of former TPK Deputy Secretary and now National MP Hekia Parata. Hekia led the development of an intellectual framework – the Maori Potential Policy Framework – a smart piece of thinking as far as I’m concerned.
The three main principles of the Maori Potential Framework are:
Maori Potential: The first principle holds that Maori are multi-dimensional aspirational people supported by a distinctive culture and values system. The principle seeks opportunities for Maori to change their life circumstances, to improve life choices and thus achieve a better quality of life
Culturally Distinct: The second principle reflects the role of Maori and their indigenous culture within the wider society. The principle seeks respect for Maori as first people of Aotearoa/New Zealand and the cultural advantage with which Maori enrich their communities
Maori Capability: The third principle reflects the need to invest in Maori themselves as the catalyst for change. This principle seeks to build the capability of Maori people and their sense of having choices and power to act. This capability focus has the intention of better enabling Maori achieve ‘Optimal, sustainable success’. (Karauria, 2005).
The Maori Potential Framework has been graphically depicted as a Wharenui, a meeting house, the metaphoric heart of Maori cultural and spiritual activity. The four pou, the pillars of the meeting house, represent dimensions that contribute to Maori success:
Rawa (Resources): Access to and use of cultural intellectual physical and financial resource
Matauranga (Knowledge): Traditional and contemporary knowledge acquisition, protection, maintenance and transferral
Whakamana (Influence): The capacity to lead, empower, influence, and advocate for individual and collective benefit
Oranga (Wellbeing): Physical psychological emotional and spiritual wellbeing
Within the model is a staircase of potential. In descending order the steps are:
The Maori Potential Framework rejects the focus on the ‘pathology’ of Maori – the failures represented by crime and underachievement – and determined to assume the inherent potential and capability of Maori. That’s great. But, in my view, despite knowing about the problem:
“What has worked for many families over the last decade (as reflected in the Social Report 2009) does not appear to be working for those amongst our most at risk citizens. The quality of life for children raised in these families and whanau is often poor. Many will struggle to fulfill their potential into adulthood. This is particularly so where the parents lack the skills, experience and social supports necessary to underpin their children’s development”.
– TPK Current Statement of Intent
The Maori Potential ideology has led to an organizational self absolution of responsibility to pay much attention to, and to have input into, those Maori who are patently failing. This responsibility is being left, in the main, to the cornerstone agencies of the Ministry of Social Development and the Department of Corrections although TPK will “ensure consideration of the impact on Maori and whanau well being informs key decisions made by Government [Departments]”
Consequently, at an operational level Te Puni Kokiri has determined that Whanau Ora can be interpreted as “whanau and Maori achieving enhanced levels of economic and social prosperity” and has established key measures (no pun intended) of:
- Improvement in Maori life expectancy
- Increased levels of Maori employment
- Increased levels of Maori home ownership
- Increased levels of Maori household income
The difficulty for any independent observer in determining any progress is that, as yet, these KPI’s have no benchmarks in place. So the organizational language stays at a high level, describing how TPK will enable a ‘whole of government focus’ by taking a leadership role in co-ordinating the interface between central government social service funders and social service providers, and social service providers and whanau.
TPK says it intends to build more cohesive and integrated contracts and services at the provider level, and build whanau capacity to effectively engage with service providers and exercise “positive decision-making over their own well being and life”. The TPK programme aims to:
“build whanau resilience and self reliance and to enable whanau to inform and shape service development and access services appropriate to their economic, social, and cultural needs”.
Well, that might sound good on Lambton Quay. But to a whanau in Kaitaia encountering disproportionate unemployment, lower than average household incomes, relatively poor health, low success at education, Crazy Horse membership, and harsh encounters with the criminal justice system – it is all likely to sound like mumbo jumbo. This is not to say Whanau Ora can’t be enacted at a community level. It can, and it is. But my fear is that it risks being captured for the purposes of ‘deserving Maori’ and those Crazy Horse whanau on the social periphery will be locked out. And its those benefit-dependent whanau Maori living in trapped Crazy Horse lifestyles who are about to experience the social equivalent of the Canterbury quake when Paula Bennett’s welfare reforms shake them from their slumber.
So, Maori Party, support Hone Harawira in his maintenance of the health of the harakeke. Give him the task of improving Maori electoral participation by engaging with the Crazy Horses and creating a stampede of registration and the exercise of the vote. And, as part of this engagement hold the Crazy Horses accountable for their own whanau well being. Assume the best. You’ll see it when you believe it.
“This is the only word that has occurred to me to say, that when it is good and when it is evil that lies before you continue to do that which is good.
That which is evil is not so powerful as not to be overcome by good, and that which is good is the only thing that you need spend your powers upon…..”
(Tareha Te Moananui in New Zealand Parliament Parliamentary Debates, 1868, Second Volume:270)