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On The Left - The Carter Columns

On The Left - The Carter Columns: Pulling together, not pulling us apart.

by Jordan Carter

I went to Waiheke las Saturday, to a meeting at the Piritahi Marae organised by
the Waiheke Branch of the Labour Party. The key speaker was John Tamihere. It
was an immensely upbeat and positive meeting, but it left me with an overwhelming impression of my own inadequacy:

* I don't know Maori, despite having lived here since I was ten years old. How can someone grow up in a country and not know their own heritage?
* I was and am totally ignorant of protocol on a Marae.
* Trying to understand the problems Maori face is a very difficult thing for
someone like me - arguably a white leftie liberal - to do.

I raise this meeting and my own feeling of silliness because one of the most
frightening features of the election campaign so far is ACT's beat-up on the
Treaty of Waitangi. ACT is making a cynical play on the fears of middle New
Zealand that the Treaty settlement process is out of control, is an abuse and
must be stopped, now.

Let me be blunt. I despise ACT for the racism underlying their proposals. They
have to be stopped. Quite apart from the rest of their hard right agenda, this
on its own should be enough to make anyone think twice about voting for them.

This column is about the settlement process and the future of Maori people in
this country. I don't make any claim to perfection; I am not Maori and cannot
by definition ever have a true understanding of the issues Maori face. I am
though a young New Zealander, and I hope I have as much right to comment on
these issues as anyone else, though I can understand others having a different
view.

It's critical to the future of New Zealand that we acknowledge one thing, here
and now. The hegemonic attempt to impose "One New Zealand" needs to go. We
are not one people. We never have been. And we never will be one single
people.

More to the point: why on earth would we want to pretend that we are? Strength
arises from diversity. Maori, their culture, art, language and so on, along
with the Pacific and Asian influences working through our society, are what
makes us unique. Rejection of assimilation doesn't mean cultures won't
mingle. What it does mean is a rejection of assimilation on one party's terms,
which is the underlying argument of ACT's message.

Why attempt to crush our diversity under "One New Zealand" politics and
policies that take no account whatsoever of reality?

Being kind, what one can say of this longstanding project to assimilate and
destroy Maori culture is that it hasn't worked. We have a situation where
every single statistic points to a cycle - a worsening cycle - of Maori
dependency, sickness, poverty and despair. National's version of
mainstreaming, "treat-everyone-the-same-irrespective-of-their-differences"
programmes has failed, and failed horribly. It hasn't worked, it can't work,
it won't work, and it needs to go.

The so-called "race issue" arises from the fact that Maori will not - cannot -
accept the existing state of affairs any longer, and the reaction of a settler
culture that is still too often attached to the fantasy of One Nation and
European supremacy.

One of the key steps on the road to rebuilding New Zealand has to be the
completion of the Treaty settlement process. Nobody wants it continue any
longer than it must. But that is no reason for cut-off dates. That's no
reason for a fiscal envelope. A properly funded Waitangi Commission must
complete research on claims as soon as they can. Justice delayed is justice
denied, as John Tamihere said on Marae on Sunday morning. Coupled with this
needs to be a major effort to spread an understanding of just how great the
abuses of last century were, and why restoration is not only right and just,
but in everyone's interests.

A problem with the process, which has resulted in long running litigation, is
the inability of the Crown to understand changes in social structures among
Maori. Failure to acknowledge changes in such structures simply ensures that
some Maori will miss out on the proceeds, and that benefits nobody. It's
impossible to impose structures on Maori from the outside. Only organisations
that are truly based in Maori communities can possibly stand and represent
Maori. Labour's policies to fund Maori organisations in the delivery of social
services is the best way forward, because it allows information closest to
where needs are to be used to meet them - not having some Wellington
bureaucracy telling Maori how they should run their social services.

Other than settlements, it's time to unbundle the mainstreamed or
assimilationist patterns of public spending on Maori. It should be apparent to
anyone that the spectacular success of the kohanaga reo movement and of kura
kaupapa Maori, the development of whare waananga now, along with the success of
such organisations as the Waipareira Trust in meeting the social services needs
of urban Maori, points the way to the future.

I genuinely believe that only when we see a real devolution of decision making
on social services - health, education, housing, welfare and so on - will we
begin to see a real improvement in the appalling statistics of Maori today.

This isn't about separatism. This isn't about conflict. It certainly isn't
about dividing the nation into two hostile camps. It is about addressing a
failure of policy that is based on a desire to suppress and destroy Maoridom in
total, and replacing that failure with something that works for Maori. What
works for Maori will work for everyone else too - make no mistake about that.
It is in nobody's interests for this country to maintain a slowly ticking time- bomb that is the underclass we have so foolishly created.

Once the settlement process is largely completed, and once Maori are beginning
again to get on their feet economically, I think we will see the further rise a
strong, independent Maori culture again. The recovery that began in the 1970's
is only the beginning, and once Maori have a secure economic base the
resurgence will only grow. It does us all well to remember though that the
advances that have helped enable Maori to come to the current stage of
development - the initiatives in devolution, the extension of the Waitangi
Tribunal back to 1840, the massive expansion of kohanga reo and kura kaupapa -
have all been sustained and supported by Labour. Our record is unmatched by
any other political organisation in New Zealand, and combined with a very
strong field of candidates for this election, that is why Maori are coming home to Labour.

ACT's attempts to play on the fears of an insecure and unknowing electorate are
frightening beyond belief. Even worse is the way they are using this issue to
push attention away from their far right economic policies. By playing on
people's fears; by distorting and misleading people; by appealing to the gut
racism of New Zealanders, they take our politics down a very dangerous road.

While I am still allowed to speak freely in this country, I will attack that
kind of strategy as best I can. Because if this country wants to be united and
secure, then playing division isn't the way to do it. Resolving the problems
is. You can't set time limits, sweep things under the carpet, and expect them
go to away. That is the route to evil.

Racism stops here. Don't let ACT get away with it.

Jordan Carter
carters@ihug.co.nz


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