Thursday 15 December 2022

Kaipara: A Struggle For Political Legitimacy And Cultural Power.

Contested Ground: There is a widely held view among Māori, and some Pakeha, that New Zealand’s liberal-democratic system is a relic of colonisation, rendering it both oppressive and morally repugnant. Accordingly, in the mainstream news media’s reporting of the Kaipara controversy the political weight of the protagonists has been determined, almost entirely, by their ethnicity.

THE QUESTION dividing Kaipara’s electors, and the rest of New Zealand, is one of political legitimacy and cultural power. Whose protocols should prevail: the standing orders of the local council; or, the tikanga of the local iwi?

In strictly legal terms, the standing orders of the Kaipara District Council, as interpreted by the elected head of the council – Mayor Craig Jepson – must prevail. The order of business, and the manner in which that business is conducted, is for him – and for him alone – to determine.

Except, in the rolling maul that is New Zealand’s racial politics, the letter of the law no longer counts for very much. As events in Kaipara have proved, it’s all about who can mobilise the most outrage – especially in the news media and online. On that score, the woman at the centre of the controversy, the woman representing the Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward, Pera Paniora, is well ahead on points.

At the heart of the controversy lies Ms Paniora’s attempt to begin the first meeting of the newly-elected Kaipara District Council with a karakia, or prayer. According to standing orders, it is the Mayor who has the responsibility for opening the Council’s inaugural meeting. This he was attempting to do when Ms Paniora interrupted the proceedings with a request to recite a karakia, and upon being refused permission, protested, and had to be brought to order by the Mayor.

Ms Paniora justified her interruption of the proceedings by claiming that the Mayor was acting in defiance of tikanga (custom and practice). Mayor Jepson responded by taking a firm stand on the secular character of political authority in New Zealand – a doctrine derived from the liberal-democratic insistence upon the separation of Church and State:

This is a council that’s full of people who are non-religious, religious, of different ethnicities and I intend to run a secular council here which respects everybody and I will not be veering from that.

Given that New Zealand is one of the most secular nations on earth, with fewer than half the population evincing religious belief, the Mayor would appear to be on solid ground. Rather than privilege one councillor’s religion over everybody else’s, his solution, to have no prayers at all, struck many New Zealanders as eminently sensible.

In the ears of many Māori, however, Mayor Jepson’s words struck an unmistakably “racist” note. In their estimation, it is not for Pakeha, no matter what political office they may hold, to prevent a young Māori woman from upholding tikanga by initiating a hui (meeting) with a karakia seeking God’s blessing upon the proceedings. Jepson’s actions kindled an angry response from Māori (and not a few Pakeha) across the country. Who did he think he was?

Well, he probably thought he was the legally recognised leader of the Kaipara community. The 4,228 votes he received from the electors of the Kaipara District, representing 50.5 percent of the 8,366 votes cast, earned him the title, status, and powers of Mayor.

Once, that title would have merited the respect of the news media, but – no more. The mainstream news media remained steadfastly silent on the subject of Mayor Jepson’s political legitimacy, and his legal authority as Chair of the Council. It similarly refused to address the question posed by the Mayor concerning the appropriateness, or otherwise, of injecting religion into what are generally understood to be secular proceedings. All that seemed to matter was that he had silenced a young Māori ward councillor at her first meeting – an action which most of the news media’s reporting strongly implied was racist in both intent and effect.

Few, if any, reporters raised the question of who carried the most democratic weight in this argument. Ms Paniora had secured 246 out of the 535 votes cast by electors on the Māori Roll in the Te Moananui o Kaipara Māori Ward. At 45.9 percent, her support was impressive, but not as impressive as Mayor Jepson’s 50.5 percent. Also unremarked upon was the fact that just 246 votes were required to make Ms Paniora a Councillor, considerably fewer than the 4,228 votes required to make Mr Jepson a Mayor. Or that the General Roll turnout in Kaipara District was 50.4 percent, compared to the Maori Roll turnout of 29.4 percent.

That none of these numbers were taken all that seriously is attributable to the widely held view among Māori, and some Pakeha, that New Zealand’s liberal-democratic system is a relic of colonisation, rendering it both oppressive and morally repugnant. Accordingly, in the mainstream news media’s reporting of the Kaipara controversy the political weight of the protagonists has been determined, almost entirely, by their ethnicity. That Māori have taken offence at the behaviour of a Pakeha politician is deemed to be resolvable only by the latter’s more-or-less total capitulation to the former.

That Mayor Jepson has announced a compromise solution to the contretemps, whereby each councillor will, in turn, be given the opportunity, before the formal opening of Council meetings, to invite his or her fellow councillors to join them in a meditation, prayer, or incantation of their own choosing, has been represented as too little, too late. In matters of this sort only the most complete abasement before the tikanga of the mana whenua (local wielders of power) will do.

It is important to acknowledge what is happening here. What the country has been witnessing in Kaipara is a struggle for political legitimacy and cultural power. Intended, or not, Ms Paniora’s bid to recite a karakia in the opening seconds of the newly-elected council’s first meeting constituted a test to see whose ways would prevail in the Kaipara District. The ways of the inheritors of the Anglosphere’s liberal-democratic system of government, with its historical suspicion of social hierarchies and religious sentiments, and its secular faith in the egalitarian rules of orderly deliberation? Or, the ways of Te Ao Māori: imbued with spirituality, guided by tikanga, and executed by those with the mana to both convince, and to command?

It is difficult not to sympathise with Mayor Jepson, to whose aid and comfort so few people have sprung. Where were the electors of Kaipara District who, just a few weeks ago, thought this man Jepson worthy of their support? Is there really no one in the North willing to stand up for liberal-democracy? Certainly, the comparison with the hundreds of local Māori who were willing to come out on to the streets of Dargaville yesterday (14/12/22) in support of their representative is a telling one.

The game is far from over, but at the moment the score is definitely: Paniora 1, Jepson Nil.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 15 December 2022.


Gary Peters said...

What a shame Jepson's voters didn't come out in support of him and who cares if they were then pilloried in the press and labelled racists.

It's also a shame that local maori, who certainly seem in the majority in that area were not sufficiently motivates to "defeat colonialism" by getting of their bums and voting!

Andrew Nichols said...

You really dont like Maori culture do you? There really is only one way eh?

Graham Wright said...

If rejecting a prayer at the start of a Council meeting makes the mayor racist, then repeated discourteous interjections makes Councillor Paniora arrogant and presumptuous. I doubt that the prayer, presumably in the Maori language, would have been understood by the mayor and eight other councillors – but presumably the deity speaks Maori. Yet another discourtesy.

This minor incident has stirred a hornet’s nest of - for and against - across the country to no discernible gain or advantage – save to those with an ulterior motive stir the pot. A council meeting is just that, nothing more, nothing less, and no place to invoke an agency subscribed to buy less than half of the population.

Kit Slater said...

An excellent essay. There appears to be a confluence of rising trends that go beyond the basic Marxist will to destroy capitalism that is contributing to this form of societal disruption. Much of it can be sheeted home to an increasing expectation of freedom of behaviour arising out of a “putative absolutism of rights”. But as Bentham puts it, this is nonsense upon stilts. All rights must be legal and specific so inhere in the monopoly of the state. But democratic states’ ability to enforce limits to freedoms is restricted by concerns for reputation and the hope of re-election.

In the meantime, American concepts such as the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement offer the casuistry and sophistry to tie up legal and civic authorities, and the influence could be seen in our March parliament protests. The effect this has on Maori activists is evident, and results in an arrogant, and increasingly aggressive, assertiveness which stretches the bounds of civilised discourse. This may not be resolved amicably and could contribute to, as Barbara Walter suggests and Chris has written of earlier, in anocratic civil strife if not actual war.

Gary Peters said...

I made a comment on another blog that I had never had a post deleted or moderated out of existence on Bowalley Road. I guess I spoke too soon. Not sure what in my post offended.

Gary Peters said...

Or maybe you're occupied with income earning issues rather than income loosing 😉

D'Esterre said...

Well of course no locals would stick their heads above the parapet. It's a smallish area: people would be afraid of the consequences.

When we saw the news, we in this household guessed that he'd be bullied into submission. And so it has proved. Something similar happened to Sean Rush here in Wellington a few years ago.

For what it's worth, Mayor Jepson is correct. Many of his constituents and other councillors will doubtless agree. But in private: going public in this sort of case is a risky enterprise nowadays, as we've seen.

Shane McDowall said...

Well done, Chris.

Could not have said it better.

Perhaps Ms Paniora is unaware of silent prayer.

The mainstream media's spinelessness is astonishing, but not surprising.

The Barron said...

Most organizations, including many local body councils, have already sought and considered protocols and consulted Mana Whenua on these. That Kaipara has not done this attests to a culture within previous councils. Mayor Craig Jepson opposed Maori wards. His compromise is a deliberate reflection of his own world view. That Pakeha New Zealand is the dominant and naturalized cultural base and that Maori are one of an number of minority groups. This denies indigenousness as having any status within a settler society.

I have been privileged to have gone through a welcome to country from Queensland first nation peoples. I note that many events in Australia now incorporate such acknowledgement of the indigenous at openings. The welcome to country tradition has acceptance widely in Australia largely as a result of NZ naturalizing the involvement of the indigenous in our practice. I am proud that we have been an example that has helped smooth the way in others cultural path.

Then we have a backlash. Karakia should be seen as cultural rather than religious. This is why protocols are important. Despite Mayor Jepson's objections, Kaipara agreed to include a Maori ward. A minute per meeting to allow cultural accommodation and cultural safety, as has been adopted in many other bodies, seems reasonable given the rest of the meeting is dominated by the introduced culture. The cultural insecurity displayed by Jepson and others is disturbing. This is the view that if we allow Maori expression, we delegitimize the right of dominance. Of course the right of dominance is delegitimate, the point for Jepson is that it symbolizes this.

Just to quickly comment on Chris' -

...the secular character of political authority in New Zealand – a doctrine derived from the liberal-democratic insistence upon the separation of Church and State

We open Parliament with a prayer (although those rules have just been modified) and our Head of State is also the Head of the Anglican Church. Indeed, when Hobbs came to get a Treaty with the indigenous people of NZ he did so as a lieutenant governor of NSW, a colony with an official Anglican state church. During Treaty debate, Bishop Pompellier had considerable influence over those from Kiapara. Reluctantly realizing that Catholic sensitivities must be accommodated, Colenso and Williams came up with a solution from their Anglican bias, a verbal undertaking -

“E mea ana te Kawana, ko nga whakapono katoa, o Ingarani, o nga Weteriana, o Roma me te ritenga Maori hoki, e tiakina ngatahitia e ia”

“The Governor says the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also the Māori custom, shall alike be protected by him”

The Anglican clerics trick was to include Maori tikanga which was seen as heathen alongside that of the Pope. However, this was seen as the foundation of religious freedom in NZ. While this was seen as 'Article 4' the oral promise, the rights of Maori were then reiterated with the inclusion of the protection of taonga in Article 2. This has been recognized in NZ Courts as including intangible things of value to Maori, this includes tikanga and karakia.

So any 'liberal democratic' view on the relationship between state and religion is filter through a relationship with Maori. Why would the Kiapara Council not consult the local mana whenua and develop protocols instead of a Mayor grandstanding his cultural insecurity?

Gary Peters said...

Andrew, I have maori in my family, some of whom have represented New Zealand at international level portraying their culture and I have no problem with that.

I would have as much issue with a Japanese councillor demanding all participants honour their Shinto religion or a muslim demanding we all face Mecca and recite their incantations.

There is a time and a place for all cultures but a secular meeting is not one of them, in my opinion.

The Barron said...

Just one more quick comment as this is headed "A struggle for political legitimacy", and the theme of democratic principles in this blog. Councilor Paniora was elected legitimately through the agreed electoral process. This makes her a full councilor with all the power and privilege's of those on council. I do not think it helpful to question the mandate. She has the same vote as the Mayor on matters before council. While the mayor may chair the council, he is bound by standing orders. Those are set by the council.

Since my previous posting I have become aware that karakia was past practice at the beginning of Kiapara council meetings. The Mayor deviated from custom and practice. I understand that as a new councilor, Paniora wished to use a different karakia than the one previously used. A Mayor should have cited the custom and practice. As I stated previously, most councils will consult with mana whenua as to protocols. In this case the any councilor can put it to the council to conduct such consultation. Any councilor can put these then into the standing orders as per the majority required in accordance with the existing standing orders. The mayor can then either abide by the amended standing order or pass the chair to another councilor, again depending on the standing orders. The mayor is only one council vote.

The Barron said...

Would you have a problem with Sinto in Japan? We are in NZ blending that which came first with that which followed. Seems the path to our nationhood.

Kit Slater said...

This issue could be regarded as one of ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ where the institution of town or city management owes nothing to Maori culture, just as the marae owes nothing to Western culture. Insistence on a karakia is thus out of place in one and at home in the other.

John Hurley said...

The Barron said...

This denies indigenousness as having any status within a settler society.
Well good, because we don't want two classes of citizen because one has an ancestor who was here in pre-European times.

Patricia said...

Just look at Mayor Jepson in that photograph and how he is sitting. That says it all.

The Barron said...

I presume the "we" is everyone in your compound

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't for colonisation, we wouldn't be having this conversation...
I think everyone has been relaxed about and even happy with our bi-cultural developments including karakia. However the mood is changing owing to the aggressive, secretive and undemocratic political agenda of the Maori MPs in the caucus of the present government.
If we had been informed of the intended policies and programmes and consulted on the implementation of them there would have been a chance to debate and resolve the issues. Because this hasn't happened people are just shouting "enough" by doing or saying what they can in their own sphere to show resistance to the wider political agenda.
Hell, people are saying things like "I used to love the haka at the start of the All Blacks games but now I won't watch it". That is pushback in one's own sphere. And there is plenty more to come.

Loz said...

The political leadership class is systematically dismantling our tattered and abused democratic institutions and practices.

As far as I know, the earliest reporting that discussed the Maori wording of the Treaty was in 1843 from the Auckland newspaper the Daily Southern Cross. The scathing assessment considered Captain Hobson and his advisors had committed a criminal fraud in suggesting Maori had ceded sovereignty to the Crown & as such stated, all the institutions, "our Courts of Justice, our Police Magistrates, are a perfect illegal farce. Our position in this country is precisely that of mere subjects to the native government." "The Natives surrender nothing whatsoever. and the Crown of England obtains no more legal or real title by it to the Sovereignty of New Zealand than it had before Captain Hobson or Mr. Willoughby Shortland, his secretary were born."

The full page article is worth reading. It suggests that democracy may simply be considered illegal in New Zealand. This is in complete conflict with the democratic revolutions of the 1700’s and 1800’s that defined legal systems and government as illegitimate unless they were derived from the principle of inherent equality of all.

Democracy and Human Rights, or the Treaty and Maori Rights, are becoming mutually exclusive political ideals.

John Hurley said...

Anonymous The Barron said...
I presume the "we" is everyone in your compound

You are having difficulty making your case, despite the capture of state institutions you can't capture public intuitions.

Gary Peters said...

I know Patricia, men have testicles, how sad ......

Gary Peters said...

I think you are right MC. We are happy for a soft path to follow or at least walk beside but when it becomes a stick to wack someone with we are less pleased.

To think this conversation was something we would never have thought possible a few years ago.

Do maori really want to tell us all what to do or is it just mahuta and jackson?

Patricia said...

Gary Peters. None of the other men in the photograph sit like that. Most women and many men would find it offensive

Gary Peters said...

I think Patricia needs to get out more.

Now this photo has me womdering .....

And this one ... Well.....

And these girls need help eh Patricia....

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris, well said. I think part of this is a sharp conflict between scientific and anti-scientific thinking. Anti-scientific as distinct from unscientific. Unscientific, I think, may be amenable to education, evidence and discussion. Anti-scientific is the rejection of science as something done by stale pale males in the service of colonialism, and therefore to be rejected with colonialism.

How that can wind up is shown by the hard line anti-vaxxers.

But is it possible to do science in a co-governed country. Who decides what gets funded and what does not? Is claiming "Maori discovered Antarctica first" really deserving of millions of public dollars to fund "research excellence"? When Ngai Tahu scholars point out this is based on Polynesian verbal tradition from before New Zealand was settled, and recorded by a colonial scholar in a way Ngai Tahu scholars consider render the story completely unreliable?

(Personally,I'm happy funds go to those promoting the story to put it to the test. Build a traditional vessel from traditional materials, crew it with traditional navigators wearing traditional garments. Head south, and see how far you can get. I'm happy with also funding a modern vessel to go along for support and rescue, if needed. I'm almost certain the rescue function would be needed, and probably in the roaring forties, still well north of Antarctica).

As with all things co-governed, can a minority overrule a majority, and, if it can, isn't that undemocratic?

Radio New Zealand recently hosted a discussion of gene-editing for pest control to achieve the predator free by 2050 goal. It may be possible to eliminate mammalian pests with a gene drive that spreads infertility in the population. If so, total elimination of a targeted species may be possible, and with no traps or poisons, just a failure to produce viable offspring. Initial work on mosquitoes overseas is promising, but no one, anywhere, is yet working on such technology for mammals.

Obviously research into this, let alone using anything developed, needs a social license, a broad enough acceptance,so that it can be done. (About the current situation with 1080. Those strongly opposed are in a small minority, facing political bipartisan support for using one of the best tools currently available).

Yet the RNZ broadcast considered only the Maori response, not anything broader, as though the idea of a Maori veto is already accepted. The spokesperson they interviewed is Maori, and already working in the conservation area. His first point, however, was Maori are not all of the same opinions. There's huge diversity of views (and some sharply contrasting ones, as shown by the Antarctica debate). In his opinion, discussion of genetic technologies should be done by approaching Maori in each area, and taking time to come to a considered view.

All well and good, but is there time for that? If a National led government comes in this year, and decides to proceed with caution by funding research in laboratory containment, is that acceptable to Maori? Or would it be seen as a breach of the treaty, an act of bad faith by the crown? If rats are targeted, should kiore be spared, because some consider them a treasure, not a pest?

If Maori on Rakiura/Stewart Island get on board with efforts to make Rakiura predator free by using any new technology developed, but Te Tai Tokerau reject any such thing in their territory, can a project on Rakiura still proceed?

And isn't it a bit racist, an example of the soft bigotry of low expectations, to think Maori can only function in their own culture, and are somehow incapable of understanding any science? Why shouldn't any Maori be able to learn concepts of science, to be able to make informed choices about, say, vaccines to protect them, or treatments for diabetes that may extend and improve their lives? Or can all the ill effects of colonialism only be counteracted by trying to retreat to a mythical past, and avoiding anything modern tainted by colonialism?

Anonymous said...

Same anon as Dec 20 at 10:27 here Chris. I recently had a chance to re-read Michael King's History of New Zealand, or at least the chapters on pre-European history.

I'm old enough to remember being taught in primary school that Maori were savages who ruthlessly eliminated the peaceful Moriori. Michael King demolishes such tales, and gives a much more balanced view of the history, rather than the self justifying stories of the colonialist regimes successors that were peddled to me in school in the 1960s.

But now we seem to have swung too far the other way. Maori allegedly lived in harmony with nature and each other, maintaining an Earthly paradise.

I also had the chance to read the latest Stephen King, "Fairy Tale", over the holidays. The version of history now being boosted is as if Michael King has been rewritten by Stephen King. The peaceful and normal, almost a paradise on Earth, we first see slowly but surely succumbs to increasing, and apparently unstoppable, unspeakable horrors.

This view is also seen strikingly presented in "Avatar- the way of water". The indigenous ocean dwelling tribe of Navi live peacefully and harmoniously with Mother Nature. The colonialist "star-people" bring only exploitation, death and destruction. It's so one sided James Cameron has teased in interviews that Avatar 3 may show a darker side of the Navi, and a more positive side of humans. Maybe. If Avatar 2 does well enough financially to fund Avatar 3.

I hope James Cameron does show a more balanced view in future. We certainly need to return to a more balanced view of history than the one we're getting now.

Anonymous said...

Me again, following on from 12:49 today. I forgot to add James Cameron in Avatar 2 puts science and scientists in their place, too. A token pale stale male is put in his place by being told his science is being paid for from the exploitation of wealth he's part of. Implied, rather than stated, is he better keep any dissenting opinions to himself, or that funding will be cut off. Unfortunately, far from being an inaccurate view, as over the last four decades science funding has been even more than before linked to giving a return on investment. The exceptions prove the rule, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Large Hadron Collider were built to probe reality, the one at the largest scale, and the other at the smallest. Each a tribute to human ingenuity, and each incredibly expensive. But neither are at all likely to ever return a cash dividend. Just give a better than ever before understanding of the reality we all share.