THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS currently gripping Samoa calls into question John Minto’s optimistic conclusions regarding the He Puapua Report. Underlying the political stand-off in Samoa is the as yet unresolved tension between the democratic institutions inherited from New Zealand, and the much older set of political and cultural expectations inherited from pre-colonial Samoan society. So long […]
THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS currently gripping Samoa calls into question John Minto’s optimistic conclusions regarding the He Puapua Report. Underlying the political stand-off in Samoa is the as yet unresolved tension between the democratic institutions inherited from New Zealand, and the much older set of political and cultural expectations inherited from pre-colonial Samoan society. So long as democracy was able to accommodate traditional leadership hierarchies and decision-making customs, the two traditions rubbed on together with minimal friction. The crisis now gripping Samoa is the product of an almost entirely unanticipated collision between the traditional Samoan way of doing politics, and the formal requirements of Samoa’s democratic constitution.
John’s core argument in favour of the recommendations contained in He Puapua is that they will give Maori and Pakeha more democracy – not less. He quite correctly points to the anti-democratic motives driving New Zealand’s nineteenth century colonial governments’ efforts to contain the potential political power of Maori – in deliberate contravention of Article III of the Treaty of Waitangi. Successive settler regimes were determined to do no more than was absolutely necessary to keep the peace between the two peoples. The four Maori seats (established in 1867) were a reluctant acknowledgement of the decisive role played by kupapa Maori (also known as “Friendly Maoris” or “Queenites”) in the recent armed conflicts over land and sovereignty.
The question raised by New Zealand’s 2010 decision to sign up to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is: To what degree is it possible for a colonial regime, founded on “a revolutionary seizure of power” (the phrase used by the New Zealand legal scholar, Professor Jock Brookfield, to describe the effective nullification of the Treaty of Waitangi occasioned by the establishment of on-the-ground settler supremacy in the 1850s and 60s) to unpick the political and cultural needlework of nation building? Helen Clark’s straightforward answer was: No. It’s not possible. Which is why she refused to sign New Zealand up to the Declaration. John Key, under pressure from the Maori Party, not only decided to sign the document, but in 2014 agreed to produce some sort of roadmap towards its eventual implementation. He Puapua is that roadmap.
The first stage of the He Puapua journey is, as John suggests, all about bringing Maori into the places where important decisions are made about their health, housing, education and employment. But, is this equation of participation and democracy justified? Although every Pakeha citizen enjoys exactly the same political rights as every other Pakeha citizen, how common is it for poor, working-class Pakeha to be found in the places where critical decisions about the allocation of economic, social and cultural resources are being made? The answer, of course, is: Not very often – if ever. Our capitalist society, like the feudal society which preceded it, reserves seats at the decision-making table for members of its ruling class, their servants – and bugger-all others. Are the exclusively Maori power structures proposed by He Puapua likely to prove any less careful about who gets invited to sit at their tables?
An answer, of sorts, is provided by the fate of Maori Television. When it began, Maori TV was based in Auckland, staffed by an outstanding bunch of extremely talented journalists and broadcasters. Its news and current affairs section was particularly effective at bringing the stories of Maori and Power to its viewers. Too effective – as it turned out. In retaliation for turning the media spotlight on the management of Kohanga Reo, Maori Television was gutted of its best and its brightest talent and relocated to Rotorua. As in Samoa, the expectations of democratic scrutiny and accountability ran head-first into traditional cultural expectations of discretion and respect.
Over the course of the past 30 years, the colonial New Zealand state has sought to head-off any resistance engendered by the brutal imposition of neoliberalism on Maori communities, by working closely with traditional Maori power structures to set up what the academic writer Elizabeth Rata calls “Neo-Tribal Capitalism”; alongside the creation of the educated Maori middle-class required to run it. There is scant evidence, to date, that Neo-Tribal Capitalism is any more inclined to encourage democratic participation than the common-or-garden Pakeha variety. It is, almost certainly, no accident that the radical recommendations contained in He Puapua owe a great deal to the ideas contained in Matike Mai Aotearoa – the report on “constitutional transformation” commissioned by the neo-tribal capitalist “Iwi leaders Group”.
If any more evidence is required for the essential incompatibility of traditional and democratic expectations within Maoridom, one has only to consider the fate of the participatory governance structures set up to co-manage the resources handed over by the Crown in the Tainui Treaty Settlement. This brave attempt to hold chiefly power accountable did not end well.
In his post, John makes much of what he calls “the dictatorship of the majority”. This is, indeed, an aspect of the democratic process that has come in for much criticism over the centuries. In almost every case, however, those complaining most loudly about the tyranny of the majority are those most likely to suffer a reduction in power and wealth should the needs of the many ever be permitted to outweigh the greed of the few.
John simply does not admit the possibility that this might also be the case in Maoridom. He seems to see Maori as an undifferentiated mass of poor and oppressed people, kept that way by the undifferentiated racism of their colonial masters. Unaccounted for in his description of the problem are the power structures – both traditional and modern – which have been encouraged to concentrate political and economic power in the hands of tribal capitalist elites.
It is these elites who have most to gain from the changes proposed in He Puapua. Allied to the elites employed by the Crown, and the elites which still control Pakeha society, the Maori elites will be well placed to invest the profits and strengthen the defences of “Aotearoa Inc”. The idea of ordinary New Zealanders, of any ethnicity, working alongside the Maori – or any other kind of – Elites is neither anticipated, nor desired.
As the people of Samoa are discovering, when push comes to shoves, it’s those with the power already in their hands who push and shove the hardest.
Source: Setting The Agenda – The Daily Blog https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2021/05/25/working-alongside-maori-capitalism-to-enrich-aotearoa-inc/