Local govt has held fast to colonial roots
by 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.