Monday 24 November 2008

Mulholland's Answer Answered

I HAVE to confess to being a little disappointed by the response to my column (‘Them & Us’, Sunday Star-Times, 16/11/08) attacking the Maori Party’s decision to throw in its lot with John Key and the National Party.

By branding the Maori Party kupapa (collaborators) I’d hoped to draw some of the leading Maori nationalist theorists and writers into the debate. It was not to be. As usual, those who manufacture the ideological ammunition used by Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and Hone Harawira – thinkers like Moana Jackson, Eddie Durie and Maria Bargh – prefer to operate quietly behind the walls of the academy, popping-up only occasionally to cast the odd, oracular, contribution into the public sphere.

Instead, I had to make do with someone called Malcolm Mulholland, from the Maori Studies Department of Massey University.

Mr Mulholland alleges that my column "provoked such a reaction among Maori communities, some believed it would be best to write this column to set the record straight."

A worthy objective, but unfortunately, not one Mr Mulholland was capable of achieving.

Let us begin with the uncomfortable historical reality of the kupapa Maori themselves: the undeniable fact that some hapu and iwi opted to ally themselves with the Pakeha colonialists, and against other Maori. This behaviour not only signals a considerably more complex political equation at work in mid-19th Century New Zealand than a simple reading of our history might suggest; but it also undermines the romantic Maori nationalist scenario of a beleaguered – but united – people heroically resisting the onward rush of British imperialism.

That the term kupapa retains its capacity to inflict pain is precisely because it touches upon matters that threaten to expose the most sensitive political realities of the Maori/Pakeha relationship.

I touch upon the nature of this deeply ambivalent relationship in the second chapter of my book No Left Turn:

The coming of the Pakeha had opened the way to a new world of undreamed of opportunity and abundance. For the bold and the intelligent, immersion in the ways of the newcomers promised a new life in which the traditional considerations of lineage and rank counted for very little. Imagination and effort brought rewards that were far beyond the generosity of chiefs – or the maledictions of wizards – to constrain. All that was required to escape the nexus of aristocratic politics and priestly magic was Pakeha gold. Money was the solvent that dissolved the age-old ties linking family, clan and tribe: money the tool with which the individual could carve himself a new identity. And the fastest way to acquire money, and all the transformations it wrought, was to sell land.

A deep and abiding cleavage was opening up in Maori society between those who believed that it was possible to have the best of both worlds – and those who did not. The modernisers believed the traditional collectivism of the tribe could be preserved – even as Pakeha religion, science and technology freed its members from the social and economic constraints of a culture grounded in scarcity. For the traditionalists, however, the best of both worlds was an unachievable mirage. When it came to tikanga Pakeha, Maori did not have the luxury of picking and choosing. The British were a proud people, who equated the technological inferiority of Maori as proof of their inadequacy in every other aspect of human achievement. As far as the British settlers were concerned, "natives" had only two choices: become like them, or be swallowed by them. They did not believe in two worlds: Maori would either acknowledge the superiority of European civilisation, or it would sweep them away.

Mr Mulholland was either unable, or unwilling, to engage in the deeper issues underpinning Maori development in the post-colonial era, preferring instead to concentrate on the party political manoeuvrings of the last four years. But, even here, his analysis is, to put it kindly, feeble.

The Labour Government’s passage of the Foreshore & Seabed Act was accomplished with maximum dispatch for one very simple reason: to forestall the growing Pakeha backlash against not simply one iwi’s victory in the Court of Appeal, but against the whole Maori renaissance. What on earth does Mr Mulholland think lay behind the unprecedented 17 percentage point jump in National Party support that followed Don Brash’s Orewa Speech?

The sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism, having been kicked into snarling wakefulness by the Court of Appeal decision and National, had to be lulled back to sleep. That was Labour’s paramount concern, and, steadfastly supported by all but one of its Maori MPs, that is what it achieved.

Has Mr Mulholland ever given a moment’s thought to the counterfactual? That Labour backed the Court of Appeal decision, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with iwi who asserted their customary rights? What does he think would have happened? Does he not believe that National’s "Iwi/Kiwi" Pakeha nationalist dichotomy would’ve swept it to an historic election victory? Does he not understand that such a government, elected with a frankly racist mandate, would have moved decisively to remove all the remaining constraints upon National’s assimilationist project: the Waitangi Tribunal; the Maori Seats; Maori broadcasting; all the institutions of Maori education in te reo; the Treaty of Waitangi itself?

Mr Mulholland’s superficial nationalism, uninformed by even the smallest amount of structural analysis, is simply not equal to the task of grasping the crucial significance of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana’s key prophetic insight. That only by linking the fortunes of the dispossessed of both the Maori and Pakeha communities, and joining them in an unbreakable political alliance, could the quest for equity and equality, common to both peoples, be achieved. Only an alliance based upon class could ever amass the political force required to negate the colossal racial advantage enjoyed by the inheritors of Britain’s imperial victory.

It was that alliance, with all its faults, disappointments and betrayals, which kept the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi alive. And only that alliance – or something like it – can hope to secure the Treaty’s ultimate fulfilment.

Tariana Turia and her colleagues will soon discover what all the hapu and iwi who turned kupapa discovered: that fighting on the Pakeha’s terms, and for the Pakeha’s objectives, only ever brings the briefest of respites.

Because, when all is said and done, once you have helped the men of power destroy all the centres of resistance to their rule, who shall you summon to defend the paltry rewards your collaboration has won?

Now that the new colonialists have mastered "divide" – can "conquer" be far behind?


Steve Withers said...

You make a convincing case. Much will depend on the (implicit and explicit) motives of the people in the National Party that the Maori party are dealing with. Whatever the outcome, the National Party will survive. But if National's policies prove to be hostile to the voters (as opposed to the iwi / hapu leaders) who support the Maori party, then the Maori party may not survive. It would not take too many votes returning to Labour to see them pass into history.

It would be important for the Maori Party to be seen to support what they can credibly support and repudiate the rest.

Sure, that puts ACT in the driver's seat....but National will endanger the next election if they give in to ACT too much. But their plan will be to lock in for 2014 a voting system that will once again let them win with 40% of the vote (be it FPP or SM) so they may be taking a longer view in any case.

The Maori party can't afford to take a longer view.

Anonymous said...

As usual an insightful dissection Chris - the counterfactual you describe would have put New Zealand on a truly dangerous course. I was surprised that the Maori Party jumped so readily into this arrangement with National, only taking the pathetic reward of "reviews" of the Foreshore and Seabed and Maori seats. With Act being the unacceptable face of the right, to the majority of voters, National needed a counterbalance to try and rein them in. The Greens were out of the running and the Maori Party represented the only real alternative - one would have thought they could have extracted something of substance for this arrangement.

For little or no gain the Maori Party have taken on a huge ammount of risk. No doubt National/Act legislation will be driven through that in some ways will be damaging to many Maori. Even if the Maori Party oppose such legislation they will still be seen, by default, as supporting an arrangement that allows the legislation to be passed. Labour, meanwhile, can shout from the opposition benches completely unhiindered by such baggage.

Unknown said...

I am interested that in your post on the Labour leadership transition you praise Labour for sticking with Helen Clark instead of switching to Phil Goff earlier in the year. This is, you say, because "appeasing evil is never the right thing to do." I couldn't agree more.

But you don't seem to think that the same principle applies in relation to the foreshore and seabed. Your argument seems to be that, in that instance, Labour's actions were justified because those actions appeased the racists and that Labour was right not to stick up for Maori rights if this averted a Don Brash government. I find that a little troubling.

In any case, I am not sure that the counterfactual you propose would necessarily have been the alternative.

Steve said...

CJ - I don't think Labour's actions had anything to do with "appeasing the racists".

Helen Clark and Labour recognised that there was a groundswell of opinion amongst Pakeha that felt threatened by the Maori renaissance. This feeling was being tapped into by Don Brash and National who were whipping up an anti-Maori sentiment. Had Labour not acted National would probably have swept to power on the back of a racist agenda that would have set back race relations in this country many decades.

This was not about appeasing evil but more about neutralisng it.

Anonymous said...

Lovely stuff as always Chris - particularly the reminder as to how the F&S Act was forced on Labour by the Hollow Men's disgraceful and deliberate incitement. Nothing galls me more than this simpering "inclusion" faux-righteousness from the very same players (including Key) who were dancing around the burning crucifix of Orewa One just minutes ago.

You might be a little pessimistic on the prognosis for the MP, though (I hope).

Recent signals hint that the strong message in Maori voting patterns has been heard. Tariana's deliberate flouting of the "cabinet responsibility" provision of the Nat/MP agreement (before the ink was even dry) might be an indication not of a "kupapa", but rather an infiltrator: a fully aware and purely-motivated risk-taker that will gain what it can for its constituents and not hesitate to piss inside the tent if necessary.

Wherein lies the risk: said urination will be necessary - the gains will never be big enough under NACT - by early 2011 at the latest, and NACT could cruise in on another scummy Orewa One wave.

But that's a long way off. And anyway, the alternative for the MP was to stay in the bush - leaving the tories free to hit hard and blame their dependence on ACT. At least this way we'll find out just where the centre of "centre-right" lies.

Unknown said...

Steve - it just seems to me that whenever Maori rights are involved, the Labour Party throws principles out the window and takes the approach that the ends justify the means. And isn't this the approach that has enabled the Maori Party to hook up with the Nats? If Labour is going to do whatever the racists want, whether to neutralise or appease, then what does the Maori Party lose by working with the racists themselves?

I would also like to challenge the assumption that taking away Maori rights was the only way to avoid a Don Brash-led government. If the Labour Party's initial reaction had been a little calmer, I don't see any reason why an outcome that protected Maori rights AND allayed Pakeha fears could not have been achieved. Standing up for the sort of principles they always talk about might just have gained the Labour Party respect (and indeed votes).