The emergence of the Mana Movement has given an urgency to our drive to renew our perspective on Māori liberation. Furthermore, the departure of the Redline group has given us cause to re-examine our past positions on a number of matters, including indigenous issues. In order for us to begin that work, I have tried to reconstruct those former positions. This was far from easy, since most of the early WP material is no longer available on line, and my personal involvement with the Party was fairly marginal when the Foreshore & Seabed controversy broke. The latter, along with the WP position on the Treaty of Waitangi and Tino Rangatiritanga (TR) form the three topics of this discussion document, since those were the major issues of contention between ourselves, the rest of the left, and the Māori Sovereignty movement.
I want to begin by acknowledging the specificity of Aotearoa, in that it is unique amongst imperialist countries in having a sizeable indigenous population possessing a significant social weight. This fact is important to Cultural Nationalists as well as Marxists: “Unlike any other indigenous colonized people, the Maori live within white culture. Not on reserves. Not in rural areas. [...] This is the Maori radicalizing potential.”[Awatere]
We have recently had some debate within the WP around the character of pre-European Māori society. I believe that the basic argument advanced in Ray Nune’s pamphlet is correct – that the lack of a regular surplus in pre-European Māori society prevented the formation of class society.
In any case, Māori did not have any concept of private property in the form of land:
The Maori people [...] were not interested in the ownership or “possession” of land as the Treaty expressed it. Philosophically, at least, it was land that possessed the people. Land was a medium for building and maintaining relationships. Buying and selling real estate was unknown. But it was soon to become only too problematic.
In 1835, the British Resident, James Busby convened a meeting of 34 chiefs to sign a Declaration of Independence, designed to head off claims from rival imperialists.
As Europeans continued to arrive in ever greater numbers, Governor Hobson was instructed to obtain the surrender of sovereignty from the chiefs in order to enable annexation. Some chiefs opposed signing. Forty-three Chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. Over the following months, many other chiefs signed, bringing the total number of signatories to around 500.
As each chief signed, Hobson shook hands, saying, “He iwi tahi tatou” (We are one people), thereby laying down the ideology of assimilation that was to dominate colonial policy well into the twentieth century. Each chief who signed the Treaty was given two blankets and some tobacco.
The English version of the treaty clearly states (Article 1) that the chiefs cede “Sovereignty” to the Queen of England. The Māori translation, however, renders the word “Kawanatanga” – a transliteration of “governance” which had no equivalence in Māori society. Moreover, Article 2 of the Treaty guaranteed the chiefs “undisturbed possession” of their resources in the English version, translated as “tino rangatiritanga” (absolute chieftainship) in Māori. Thus the version of the Treaty that the chiefs signed did not appear to relinquish sovereignty for Māori. Ranganui Walker argues that while “nominal sovereignty” may have been ceded to the Crown, the chiefs believed they retained “substantive sovereignty” over their lands.
The Treaty was also significant in being the first official document to refer to tangata whenua as “Māori” (literally: normal, usual or ordinary). Pre-European contact Māori had no single term for themselves; groups were distinguished by their tribal names alone.
Extensive efforts were made to secure more signatures of North Island chiefs, but two paramount chiefs refused to sign, Te Wherowhero (Tainui) and Te Heuheu (Tuwharetoa). Te Heueu repudiated those who had signed with the words:
I will not agree to the mana of a strange people being placed over this land. Though every chief in the island consent to it, yet I will not. I will consent neither your act nor your goods. As for these blankets, burn them.
Hobson declared the whole of the South Island, terra nullius (“land belonging to no one”), thus dispensing with the need to obtain the consent of Ngāi Tahu.
At the time of the signing of the Treaty, Māori outnumbered Pākehā ten to one. The chiefs who signed could not have envisaged the consequences of colonisation that was to follow. Ranginui Walker commented that: “By their acquiescence in the Treaty, the chiefs opened the way to replicate among their own people the colonial experience of African tribes and the Indians of the American continent.”
The colonial state almost immediately ignored and neglected the Treaty, but for Māori it was the major point of reference with the state that they returned to again and again. Movements such as the Kingitanga and Kotahitanga appealed to the government by reminding it of its obligations under the Treaty.
Chief Justice Prendergast declared the Treaty to be a “simple nullity” in 1877, but latterly the Crown’s view has shifted significantly. The Fourth Labour Government introduced the Treaty of Waitangi Amendment Act in 1985, which made claims retrospective to 1840, which Walker credits to pressure from the emerging Mana Motuhake. “Consequently, the activist movements suspended resort to direct action, as the tribes moved to avail themselves of the tribunal and other legal avenues”
The balance of power between the Crown and iwi meant that proportion of land returned, and the per capita value of settlements has been very low. “When Sir Robert Mahuta was asked why Waikato settled for so little he replied ‘Because we’re tired of being poor.’”
There are Māori activists who focus exclusively or excessively on the Treaty. Sections of the Mana Movement are not immune from such “Treatyism”. Such an approach is mistaken, not least because it’s not hard to conceive of a thought experiment in which British imperialism annexed New Zealand through military conquest alone, and without resort to the deception of a treaty (as it did elsewhere).Would this scenario mean that Māori could therefore claim no group rights? Clearly such rights need to derive as much from Māori’s status as tangata whenua, as from their enshrinement in the Treaty.
That said, to ignore or downplay the significance of the Treaty (as the WP has done) is ahistorical. We must acknowledge that the Treaty has been, and continues to be, a point of resistance between Māori and the Crown.
What I think the WP has failed to grasp is that there are two Treaties. There is the the Treaty, a fraud perpetrated by British imperialism designed to achieve colonisation on the cheap; and Te Tiriti, a contract in which Māori agreed to the settlement of tau iwi, but did not renounce their sovereignty. It is the latter treaty from which TR activists derive their radical subjectivity. Perhaps some of that outlook is utopian and backward-looking, like the hankering for a Saxon golden age by English nationalists who denounced the “Norman yoke” in the 17th century. But I don’t think it is entirely.
The Foreshore and Seabed
In 1997 a confederation of tribes from the northern part of the South Island, Te Tauihu o Nga Waka, applied to the Māori Land Court to determine whether their customary rights to the foreshore and seabed remained extant. The confederation was concerned about the impact of aquaculture on their customary fishing rights, and was frustrated at being shut out of the marine farming industry by Marlborough District Council.
Judge Hingston reached the conclusion from the case that, in the absence of evidence of express extinguishment, customary title to the foreshore remained extant. In 2001 the Attorney-General appealed this ruling. Te Tauihu o Nga Waka appealed to the High Court in 2003. Chief Justice Sian Elias concluded that the Māori Land Court had the jurisdiction to determine the status of the foreshore and seabed. The response of the opposition National Party was to polarise the issue along racial lines, stoking up fears of Pākehā being denied access to the beach.
In January 2004, Don Brash delivered a speech to Orewa Rotary Club denouncing alleged Māori privilege. He asserted that “The Treaty of Waitangi should not be used as the basis for giving greater civil, political or democratic rights to any particular ethnic group.” The reaction of the Labour-led government was to pass the Foreshore and Seabed Act in November 2004, which deemed the title to be held by the Crown.
My recollection of the WP attitude towards the F&S Act at the time was: (i) that it was no big deal, and (ii) that it was probably better for the foreshore to remain in “public” hands, than to be controlled by what may be undemocratic iwi. On the first point, we missed the boat on how important (even if only symbolically) the issue was to Māori. On the second point, reading the Act as being “nationalisation” of the foreshore was way wide of the mark for several reasons.
Firstly, nationalisation is not always progressive. There is perhaps some parallel here with the “orthodox” Trotskyists who accommodated to the the Stalinist states by making a fetish of their “progressive nationalised property”. James Connolly’s comment is apposite on this point:
[S]tate ownership and control is not necessarily Socialism – if it were, then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Gaolers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would all be Socialist functionaries, as they are State officials – but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials, would be Socialism. [...] To the cry of the middle class reformers, “make this or that the property of the government,” we reply, “yes, in proportion as the workers are ready to make the government their property.”
Secondly, there is the historic relationship of land alienation between Māori and the Crown. Often, “it was the state that took their land, not individual settlers.” And finally, there was a racist double standard within the law, in that it extinguished Māori customary rights, but did not expropriate any of the roughly 30% of coastline under private ownership (mostly in the hands of rich Pākehā).
Annette Sykes described the Act as “the largest confiscation of land since the early colonial period.” The WP did not engage with the spontaneous movement of the June 2004 hikoi. It was during this ferment that the Māori Party was launched, as a split from Labour. Pita Sharples set the tone by declaring the party to be “neither left nor right”.
The National-led government repealed the F&S Act as part of its coalition deal with the Māori Party. It was replaced with the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 which allowed Māori the right to make claims for protected custody rights, but based on the extraordinarily high threshold of proof showing customary use dating back to 1840. The consequence of these laws today, says Sykes, is that: “the government is licensing transnational companies like Petrobras to mine the petroleum and other mineral deposits which subsist in the continental shelf.”
Donna Awatere’s Maori Sovereignty, based on articles published between 1982-3, is regarded as the sourcebook of the modern TR movement. Awatere advanced the bleak thesis that all white people were captives of their “own” culture, that “white society” could not be changed, and that Māori should instead seek their liberation through “withdrawal and exodus.” Potentially progressive allies were written off as hopelessly conservative (Trade Unions) or mired in splits caused by “individualism” (the Left). Even Pacific Islanders were dismissed as having formed an uneasy alliance with Pākehā against Māori Sovereignty.
Today, parts of the polemic are obviously very dated (such as Awatere’s assertion that there is no New Zealand identity (independent of British colonialism). However, many of the heavily essentialist notions she presents have since become widely accepted, albeit in a watered-down form. There is a radical gloss to the thesis, drawing on Gramsci. She accuses the Trade Union and Left Wing movement of possessing a corporate class consciousness based on “inward looking selfishness”, which she counterposes to the opportunity to create a hegemonic class consciousness based on Māoritanga.
Arguing from a Marxist perspective, Evan Te Ahu Poata-Smith commented:
Awatere’s account of the Pākehā left had such a powerful political impact precisely because it highlighted many of the inherent weaknesses and real shortcomings of the ideas that existed on the left. Unfortunately, however, it often prevented through its very rhetoric and posturing the possibility of building a mass movement that represented a real challenge to racism and the state because its emphasis on autonomy in struggle resulted theoretically at least, in the exclusion of Pākehā, whatever their social class and gender, from playing a key role in fighting for Māori liberation.
Ranganui Walker has written a historical account of the struggle for Māori liberation from the perspective of cultural nationalism. Attempting to explain recurring divisions within Māori movements, Walker states that: “ Although Maori radicals are the cutting edge of social change, the conservatives are the slow grinding edge.” Poata-Smith, however describes how class interests can actually lead to a contradiction of interests of the two. For instance, he describes how conservative elements within the Ngāti Whātua leadership eventually colluded with the government to end the occupation of Takaparawhau/ Bastion Point, “reveal[ing] that on the one hand the Maori middle class will support certain kinds of struggle so long as it advances their interests but their endorsement of militancy is sharply curtailed if the protest actions threaten their own position or the system itself.”
Poata-Smith further notes how the frequent denunciation of such leaders as “sell out”, “kupapa”(traitor), or “house nigger” by radicals, fails to explain their social role. Far from lacking cultural fortitude, “this group of Māori are perfectly conscious of their own interests. The problem is, however, that their material interests are not the same as those for working class Māori.”
Poata-Smith identifies how the interpretation of TR has been transformed a number of times:
In the period from the early 1970s onwards, four interconnected interpretations were to emerge: tino rangatiratanga as Maori capitalism (in tribal or individual form), tino rangatiratanga as Maori electoral power (primarily through the orthodox parliamentary system), tino rangatiratanga as cultural nationalism, and tino rangatiratanga as involving more radical far-reaching strategies for change.
The degeneration of elements of the TR movement has been latterly analysed by Sykes, who identified her own previous complicity with “the rise of a Maori elite with the process of litigating, negotiating and then implementing Treaty settlements, many of whom have become active sycophants of the broader neo liberal agenda which transfers a limited subset of publicly owned assets and resources into the private ownership of corporations to settle the injustices that have been inflicted upon hapu and iwi Maori.”
Along with the rise of the corporate warriors, Poata-Smith also identifies collapse of Stalinism as politically disarming groups such as the CPNZ and SUP, who were unable to effectively oppose the generalised retreat from class and socialism.
Sykes, whose background is in leftwing cultural nationalism, has to a large extent converged with the Marxist analysis of the trajectory of the TR movement. But idea of the Ao Māori/ Ao Pākehā world view is still widely accepted within Mana. Poata-Smith contends, “Given that identities are blurred, multiple and historically contingent the idea that the main division in society is between Māori and Pākehā also risks fragmentation of the movement itself because it inevitably leads to confusion and fights over authenticity.”
Elizabeth Rata’s take on TR is worth examining, especially since Phil Ferguson claimed that she was an academic whose views were close to that of the WP’s. Rata argues stridently against the constitutional inclusion of any “foundational group rights”. She charts the emergence of an elite based on the creation of what she calls “neo-tribes” (to distinguish them from traditional iwi). This is based on a “total rupture” between the pre- and post-colonial periods, due to the traditional redistributive Māori economy being incompatible with accumulative capitalism. Ideologies of culture like neo-traditionalism (emphasising kin over class) and culturalism (identity is primary) support the new elite.
To this phenomenon, she counterposes the political economy approach, where politics and economics are primary (but “textured” by culture). The group rights alternative, Rata argues, leads to brokerage politics and the formation of a self-interested elite.
I think Rata provides a trenchant critique of the “Brown Table” with her analysis. However, she conflates that tendency with the whole of the TR movement. She ignores the class struggles occurring within iwi and hapū. And her motivation for opposing group rights is that: “The structural cohesion of the nation-state itself will be destabilised by altering the meaning and practice of citizenship.” Well, we want to smash the state!
Rata also overemphasises the historical rupture of colonisation. Whist most Māori today may be urbanised, proletarianised and detribalised, many still retain strong links to their “bones”, their ancestral lands and traditions. The victory of capitalism is not as complete as Rata makes out.
To Poata-Smith’s list, we may add a fifth interpretation of TR: self-determination in legal processes. Moana Jackson writes of the “criminality of imposed law” of colonisation and repudiates the idea that “in Aotearoa Maori people were held to have no law, and therefore no authority, because the early settlers could not discern in Maori society the things they identified as ‘legal’ – the courts, the police, the written reports.” Traditional society had to be suppressed “in order that the monist idea of ‘one [English] law for all’ could be imposed
Jackson exposes criminal law as largely ideological, and contrary to the liberal view, is subject to political power and cultural bias. Interestingly, Rua Kennena flew a flag with the slogan “Kotahi Te Ture/ Mo Nga Iwi E Rua/ Maungapohatu” (One Law/ For Both Peoples/ Maungapohatu), which was seized as evidence for his trial for sedition in 1916. Today the phrase “one law for all” is used by the likes of Don Brash demagogically and hypocritically (since in reality, Brash supports class law, not “one law”). “The key in the phrase ‘one law for all’”, writes Jackson, “is not the process but the result at the end, and the result must be justice for all.
What I find problematic in Jackson are not his alternatives to the current legal system (a focus on rehabilitation/ restorative justice and community – rather than just individual – responsibility), but rather, his slippage into relativism: “The French have their way of getting justice, the Americans have their way of getting justice, so the Maori people have their way of getting justice, and that is as valid as any other.” My concern is that this approach may inadvertently open the door to reactionary measures, like the introduction of sharia courts to try muslims.
As this brief survey shows, TR is a heavily contested term, and to reject it wholesale seems to me dogmatic and class reductionist. Perhaps we can say, as Socialist Aotearoa do, that TR is impossible to realise without overthrowing capitalism. In any case, it is the task of socialists in the Mana Movement to help redefine and transform TR into a revolutionary cause.
Awatere, D. (1984) Maori Sovereignty, Broadsheet
Connolly, J. (1899) http://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1901/evangel/stmonsoc.htm
Jackson, M. (1991) “Maori Access to Justice” Race Gender and Class
Jackson, M. (1995) “Justice and political power: Reasserting Maori legal processes” in Hazlehurst, K.M. (ed.) Legal pluralism and the colonial legacy: indigenous experiences of justice in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, Avebury
Rata, E. (2005) http://tazi.net/JFriedman/IMG/pdf/RataSS_20Address12Feb05.pdf
Rata, E. (2011) http://www.nzcpr.com/guest232.htm
Poata-Smith, E.S. Te Ahu(2001) The Political Economy of Maori Protest Politics 1968-1995 PhD Thesis, University of Otago
Poata-Smith, E.S. Te Ahu (2005) http://www.pjreview.info/issues/docs/11_1/pjr11105review_strugg_p211-217.pdf
Walker, R. (2004) Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle Without End, Penguin