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Local govt has held fast to colonial roots

Opinion Piece

by Meredith Akuhata-Brown

Meredith Akuhata-Brown

When you talk about Maori sovereignty and Te Tiriti o Waitangi at a governance table it is expected that you will get some pushback from people who hold strongly to a view that we are all “one” people. Of course, the discussion on Maori wards meant councillors’ email inboxes were inundated with strong opposition to the decision to honour our Tiriti obligations.

My comment that “the time is always right to do what is right” is from one of my heroes Martin Luther King Jr, who as we all know fought tirelessly for civil rights. I believe wholeheartedly that the time for division and ongoing institutional racism to stop is now.

The issue is that within the Local Government Act we have to review our representation every six years and to acknowledge our obligations to the Treaty of Waitangi by considering Maori wards. Now, previous reviews never considered Maori wards but we did discuss the number of councillors and election options, and community boards. This was met with some strong submissions from the rural sector who were concerned they would lose their voice at the table.

Now the rural sector has four wards within our region and the city ward has nine councillors, because of the population and the way the commission works its percentages. These two types of ward cannot be challenged, only the Maori ward can. The irony is that most of those who oppose the review and implementation see it as racist.

I was so grateful to receive a report recently that gave some depth and insights into how our local government was formed and how it has managed to hold fast to its colonial roots, and that this is because of those roots.

Most submitters opposing are elderly Pakeha men and I understand why this is. It’s because much of the systems that we are governed by have been created by Pakeha men.

“However, these local government provisions were not to extend outside the pale of Pakeha settlement. The Act provided for ‘aboriginal districts’ to be set apart in which Maori laws, customs, and usages, ‘in so far as they are not repugnant to the general principles of humanity, shall for the present be maintained’.” Pakeha within these districts would live by tribal lore.

“The chiefs or others, according to their usages, should be allowed to interpret and to administer their own laws,” wrote Earl Grey, but this tribal self-government was only ever intended to be temporary.

It’s the issue of “temporary” that I believe has been the tension, as the bedrock intent of governance was that Maori would simply not be there; “With an increasing British population, and with the advance of the natives in the arts of civilised life, the provincial districts will progressively extend into the aboriginal, until, at length, the distinction shall have entirely disappeared.”

For Maori, nothing is temporary. Supporting submitters talked about the intergenerational impacts of colonisation, with the hope that their children will inherit a legacy that assures them a seat at the table, affording them the rights of authentic representation.

Of course I am sharing my personal opinion on this matter, but I will say from my own experience that governance isn’t equal and while some see me as a Maori representative at the table, this isn’t the case. I wasn’t raised Maori.

I do know that not all Pakeha feel the same about Maori and vice versa. However, for our region to truly grow strong roots of a new shared legacy we need to be courageous and honest. We need to understand why in 2020 we still have racist legislation — let’s change that.

  1. Ken Ovenden says:

    Meredith, here you are stating “why in 2020 we still have racist legislation – let’s change that” and yet you are pushing for an apartheid-racist based system of local politics. What you really want is “POWER”, correct?

    1. Lara says:

      Tena Koe Ken,
      Your comment in response to Meredith’s considered and intelligent commentary struck me as rather unkind.
      Don’t we all want and indeed deserve a bit of POWER at times and what is so wrong with Maori wanting their fair share of the POWER anyway?
      Are you feeling threatened by Maori people, who make up half of the local population, having Maori wards?
      What is so terribly wrong with Tangata Whenua having equitable representation?
      The sky won’t fall, so please be reasonable. Otherwise you sound exactly like the kind of older Pakeha male she is referring to.

      1. Ken Ovenden says:

        Lara, I do not feel threatened by anyone except those you should feel threatened by. My concern is blatant racism being shoved on to Gisborne people by the proposal of race-based local politics. There is already every opportunity for anyone, including Maori, to stand for local election – why should that be based on what race you are?

        1. Moki says:

          Why have the councils been made up of mostly Pākeha males despite the area having a population that is half Maori? I say five seats to Māori and the sooner the better – call them by their iwi names and not Māori and they won’t be able to petition them.

    2. David, Auckland says:

      Do you actually know what apartheid means? As what is being suggested is not apartheid by any measure.

  2. Frank Newman, Whangarei says:

    Here are the most important lines in Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech:

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.”

    “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

    “I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

    King was aspiring for unity and equality – not separation and most certainly not a division of people by the colour of their skin as is proposed with race-based seats on council.

    1. Pamela Crawford says:

      Except it isn’t separatism as all councillors Māori and non-Māori would be working together.

      1. G R Webb says:

        So why the need for racially separate groups of people to decide who represents us all?

    2. Lara says:

      Martin Luther King was not indigenous to America. His people were forced there to be slaves.
      Maori are indigenous to NZ and NZ has a treaty with Maori. The situation is not comparable.
      Perhaps the words of Black Hawk of the Lakota people is a better fit for this situation: “How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.”
      Whilst MLK’s sentiments are resonant and important they are not relevant to the need for Maori wards.

      1. Gordon Webb says:

        And Lara remind us all which version of the Treaty and which clause guarantees separate voting rights and wards for Maori?