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Tariana Turia speech to Diplomatic Club

Diplomatic club

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Thursday 28 July, Wellington; Duxton Hotel.

the last time I was associated with members of the diplomatic corp was when I spoke out about comments made by New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Canada, former Labour MP Graham Kelly.

You may recall the moment when he managed to offend tangata whenua (indigenous peoples); ethnic communities, conservation and environmental groups, in one foul swoop.

Just to refresh your memory, one of his most appalling comments was his version of the history of Maori “Once they got to New Zealand, they started fighting and eating each other so there have been Maori wars ever since then”.

It certainly made me look at the nature of our diplomatic representatives from this country - and conclude that in this case he was neither ‘diplomatic’ nor a ‘representative’ of the land I call home.

This question of representation is the one I want to discuss with you today - the nature and status of indigenous representation within the New Zealand parliamentary environment.

As we enter day three of the official election 2005 campaign, it is a very opportune time to be sharing with delegates from throughout the globe the challenge of representation. I hope to be able to hear later of your experience of how the nations of the world give voice to the aspirations and drive of the first nations peoples.

The representation of indigenous peoples within parliament has been hotly debated ever since the establishment of separate Maori seats in 1867.

Twenty years ago in 1986, the Royal Commission on the Electoral system pulled together what has been the most significant review of these seats. The review described a number of advantages and disadvantages of such a mechanism to protect and provide for Maori interests in Parliament.

As with today, there was unequivocal support from the indigenous peoples themselves to retain the political seats. The seats were seen as representing a nation prepared to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to symbolize the very foundation of our nationhood.

For those of you who come from nations founded on constitutions, you will understand fully the significance of a document such as Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a blueprint for national harmony.

We understand Te Tiriti as bringing with it the means to build bridges between our peoples, to guide us in moving our nation forward. It presents the concept that two sets of sovereignities; with completely different world views; could co-exist together, by mutual arrangement.

It was Te Tiriti o Waitangi that provided the basis for pakeha settlement in this land - indeed some have called it the first immigration contract of New Zealand.

The treaty introduced the idea that Rangatiratanga (self-determination of the Maori treaty partner) and kawanatanga (Crown sovereignity) could be reconciled and their relationship enhanced. This can be a flexible arrangement, as pakeha accountant Pat Sneddon remarked:

"In recent times it has been usual to juxtapose Maori sovereignty with Crown sovereignty, both in direct competition for precedence. It does not have to be so. There is evidence that the original intent of the parties to the Treaty allowed for joint protection under the law but separate sovereignty over assets and taonga."

The Maori seats, whether in 1867, in 1986, or today in 2005, were seen as contributing to indigenous self-determination as a symbol of their special status as the Treaty partner.

However, there were also some disadvantages listed by the Royal Commission. In brief these were:

- the nature of the representation sitting in these seats was ineffective at actually protecting Maori interests;

- the unwieldy size of Maori electorates made it difficult for the Maori MPs to service their electorates (in my electorate for instance, in Te Tai Hauauru it can take about seven hours to drive from Tawa in the South to Tirau in the North; and another three hours across from New Plymouth in the West over to Palmerston North).

- There was a blurring of responsibilities evident which could give cause for some mainstream MPs to think they only represented non-Maori.

The question before us today is are these issues insurmountable?

Indigenous peoples throughout your lands and ours, are increasingly arguing for guaranteed political representation.

Around the globe the right to self-determination has been sought since the international pact on civil and political rights in 1966 which first describes a people’s right to establish their own political, social, economic and cultural development.

Our aspirations are that our rights as indigenous peoples will be interwoven with our basic citizenship rights, to ensure that those qualities which distinguish us as indigenous, resplendent in our unique identities and cultures, are retained - and not destroyed or marginalized through systematic oppression or neglect.

Our whakapapa, our genealogical imprint, is the source of our identity - through our links to our ancestors and heritage.

As some of our people say, you can pretend to be a politician, but you can’t pretend to be Maori.

However, what the foreshore and seabed debarcle proved to the world was that indigenous people and others in this land have had enough of political sham, of the pretence of representation.

They will not tolerate Maori politicians who pay more attention to the pressure of the political party - than their accountability to their own, their Maori constituency.

They have called for the Maori seats to be returned to Maori - not used by mainstream parties for their own party political purposes.

This is where the National Party has got it so blatantly wrong. They have heard one part of the issue - the dissatisfaction of Maori with the existing representation in the Maori seats - and jumped to the wrong conclusion - that the solution lies in the abolition of the Maori seats.

It is a simplistic, politically expedient stop-gap measure designed to appeal to a particular constituency.

It might be useful for that Party to go back to the Royal Commission and more recently the 2001 Parliamentary Review of MMP, which affirmed the

“importance and cultural and constitutional significance of separate Maori representation led to the retention of the seats”.

The challenge ahead of us as a nation is that we can indeed restore the significance of these seats in establishing an authentic voice for Maori in Parliament.

We know that as of September last year there were 193,000 electors registered on the Maori roll (who can vote for the Maori seats) and 158,000 who declared Maori descent but registered on the General roll.

Today as Maori eighteen year olds join up to enrol to vote; eleven out of every twelve are enrolling on the Maori Roll. We see this as a reason for great celebration - our young are seeing the Maori roll as a source for political representation.

The critical task facing the nation is not only to safeguard and preserve the rangatiratanga of IWI, of indigenous peoples - but also to ensure that all Members of Parliament are also accountable to Maori electors as KIWI - whatever roll they are on.

It is our belief that IWI and Kiwi equals UNITY, not division.

It is not a case of either / or; of the majority and all others; of One New Zealand, One People, One at the exclusion of everyone else.

As Levi-Strauss said,

‘Humanity is forever involved in two conflicting currents, the one tending toward unification, and the other toward the maintenance or restoration of diversity.

From where I am from, as river people, we know that it is in the currents of our river, that creativity thrives.

In our pursuit of unity, we will experience the ebb and flow that diverse worldviews bring. In planning for growth we experience rapids, floods and smooth flow, but the one constant thing is the middle current that flows from the mountains to the sea, and that is people as our priority.

We believe that unity and diversity can be mutually reinforcing.

The Maori Party is driven by a set of universal values, kaupapa, which guide us in our practice, our policy, our philosophy. One of these values is kotahitanga, which is to demonstrate commitment and unity of purpose in pursuit of a vision.

We have found this message to have great currency with many of our international communities.

They have shared with us their support for standing up for ourselves - recognizing cultural wellbeing as the right of all groups living in Aotearoa.

They recognize the responsibility of representation not just for today, but for their descendants to inherit a future which includes their unique legacy.

That is our biggest opportunity for advancing this nation - a time where we recognize the collective wealth in people and seek that which binds us together in the sense of common-unity.

The Maori Party will not contribute to the ongoing clamour to create divisions based on race.

We don’t pretend to have the answer for everything, but at least we know what all voters want. Respect.

That is our call to the nation - to live the promise of all our ancestors who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi - in pursuit of a future founded on mutual respect, where all cultures are represented and recognized as worthy of honour, and where rights are retained alongside of responsibilities.

It is our time, and together we can achieve the change we most desire in our world.


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