Sunday, May 1, 2011
Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Politics
I am extremely fortunate to be a member of two organizations that recognize the Treaty of Waitangi as a document that dictates how they operate. It saddens and frustrates me that as a nation we still struggle with recognizing tangata whenua and what true bi-culturism really means. This lack of understanding has continually been exploited and has often fractured the political landscape and what we are witnessing now is a continuation of this. With Hone Harawira forming his new Mana Party and Don Brash grabbing the leadership of Act we see two new lines in the sand being drawn and the potential of cultural confusion and race based politics being a large part of the coming election.
We are never going to be able to be comfortable with our bi-cultural heritage unless we can really deal with the wrongs of the past and develop an effective way of respectfully moving forward. Don Brash claims that it just means everyone being treated the same and Hone would be the first to say that, when huge inequities of health and wealth exists between Maori and Pakeha, we have problems and we need Maori focussed solutions.
Defining what the Treaty means and developing a way to recognize it in a practical and meaningful way is complex and hugely challenging, but possible. My experience of the Green Party and NZEI Te Riu Roa has demonstrated to me how it can be done and it involves empathy, respectful communication and compromise. Sadly these factors are not common elements of how we do politics in this country and even under MMP we still have a system where the "winner takes all" and the majority can ignore the minority in decision making.
NZEI Te Riu Roa has been a Treaty based organization for over a decade and while stating the intent was a matter of a vote, acting on it has been a real journey of discovery and, to be honest, not always a smooth journey. Initially the organization was split into two separate strands to allow self determination of our Maori members, this was a useful initiative as Maori could then discuss their issues and determine what was important in forums that were culturally comfortable to them. While the two strand structure recognized the Maori voice and the way NZEI Te Riu Roa operated as a whole shifted in noticeable ways, ultimate decision making was still dependent on a majority vote and misunderstandings and mistrust still existed.
The separate nature of the strands had also meant a separation of the membership at a number of levels and communication between the two groups became problematic. Maori were expected, despite smaller numbers, to manage their own structures and attend their own meetings then also support the "mainstream" system as well. While Maori were expected to operate and work in both strands few Pakeha felt comfortable attending Maori hui, although they were welcome to do so.
Attempts were made to educate the general membership about what the Treaty meant to Maori and how it could be recognized effectively in the organization and the discussion that was generated was useful. While the two strands still exist NZEI Te Riu Roa has shifted to a new level of understanding, not only do we provide culturally supportive structures and celebrate diversity when we come together in our meetings, but we have started actually listening to each other with real empathy. We have discovered at long last that it is not only having the systems in place, or the money made available, it is continuing to talk together in honest ways and being open to new ideas and ways of approaching problems.
It will always be problematic when Maori are a minority in their own country and in any organization, that when giving "equal" status it then implies equal power. The sense of fairness for many becomes distorted when a minority group is allowed to possibly dictate to the majority and these are the feelings that Brash like to exploit. Where cultural diversity exists there can never be always one answer to a problem and if a monocultural system dominates it means a majority culture will likely dictate how all others will exist. This approach is really simple and easy for those like Don Brash but will essentially further create an imbalance of power and wealth and destroy the wonderful diversity that exists in Aotearoa.
We will truly reach a level of political maturity in this country when the likes of Hone doesn't feel the need to form yet another party to effectively represent his people. With the dissatisfaction of many Maori with the Labour Party and the Maori Party I would have hoped that they would look to the Green Party as the best vehicle for progressing their issues and concerns. Our recognition of the Treaty as a foundation document of our party makes us distinct from others and our democratic and consensus decision making processes are similar to those of Maori. Our recognition of the importance of the land we live on and the water and air we rely on also reflects shared values and kaupapa. When Maori and Pakeha can coexist in one political party and manage to feel that they can effectively be heard and represented by that party, then we will be closer to achieving something worth celebrating.