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Flavell: Waka Umanga (Maori Corporations) Bill

Waka Umanga (Maori Corporations) Bill

Wednesday 12 December 2007; 11.10pm

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member of Parliament for Waiariki

There is a whakatauaki which is apt to refer to, as we embark on this Bill to provide for the formation and registration of new statutory governance entities – ‘waka umanga’ – by tribal groups and Maori associations. It goes like this.

Me matou ki te whetu, i mua i te kokiri o te haere

Before you set forth on a journey, be sure you know the stars

Our tupuna were celestial navigators and astronomers, referring to the stars as a key navigational beacon for ocean voyages, calculating time and seasons, and attributing names to various periods in the lunar cycle –such as Whiro, Tirea, Ohoata, Orongonui, Maurea, Mutu.

Names were also given to the individual stars or whetu - Te Ikaroa, Te Mangoroa, Te Paeroa o Whanui, Whiti-kaupeka, Nga Patari, and many many more.

The legwork was done, negotiation with key stakeholders was thorough and complex, and no journey would be embarked upon until every last factor was accounted for.

And so as we launch this waka umanga project; basically a tailor-made legal structure to cater for the governance needs of Maori collectives, we, the Maori Party, ask ourselves the question – has the same quest for certainty been followed?

Madam Speaker, a key selling point of the proposal is that registration as a waka umanga is optional.

Choice is good we say. Well that is, of course, depending on whether the choice is a real one.

Because it would appear from the outset, that a powerful incentive exists for iwi: that if they gain a legitimate status under the eyes of the Crown they are all the more likely to be in a safe position to receive Treaty settlement funds and assets.

Now the problem is, Madam Speaker, inevitably, how we define the very nature of the problem in the first place.

Let me put it like this.

Is it a problem as defined by whanau, hapu and iwi? Or is the nature of the problem envisaged in this Bill, really just a solution to address a problem for the Crown?

The solution dreamt up by agents of the Crown to solve problems that the bureaucracy has in itself created by imposing inadequate legal structures on hapu and iwi during Settlements. These are the sorts of questions we are asking.

We come to this Bill knowing of course that the governance needs of Maori collectives are not being properly catered for in the existing legal structures such as trusts, companies and incorporated societies.

And so, hey presto, this Bill specifies that corporate governance arrangements and standards be included in the charter of every waka umanga, including procedures for internal dispute resolution.

And with true legalese attention to detail, waka umanga must meet certain standards of accountability before it can be registered. This includes the election and duties of governors, planning, financial management, the role of the CEO and other specifics.

Madam Speaker, while the motive to address the problem of trusts, companies and incorporated societies was a positive one, the proposed legal entity closes down the possibility of developing Maori models of governance consistent with tradition, with tikanga and tino rangatiratanga. I think that’s the major point.

The upshot of it all is that while we may all see there are some issues with Maori governance, there’s no doubt about that, that require a response, the one-stop-shop-standard-one-size-fits-all corporate model approved by the Crown is not, we say, and never will be the only answer.

And this was alluded to a little bit by the honourable Tau Henare.

As our whakatauaki tell us, before you set forth on any journey, be sure you know the full pattern of the stars before you.

What this Bill proposes is a legal entity that is both more easily subject to Crown control and less expressive of tino rangatiratanga. Great for the Crown, Madam Speaker, not so great for the Treaty partner.

And so, we believe the solution lies in rephrasing the problem in terms of how to make the Crown recognise Maori governance entities, as formulated by Maori.

A different starting framework could have come up with something quite different.

We have to wonder, if whanau, hapu and iwi had been given the opportunity to create their own governance model, to determine their own governance entities, what would that have looked like.

It comes down to rangatiratanga.

It could have been different. The Bill could have reflected the korero that was laid down at Te Wananga o Raukawa last month at a hui held specifically to explore a kaupapa Maori organisational framework.

The hui was stimulated by the Ngati Kahungunu pepeha, Mā te rango te waka ka rere: which refers to the importance of having the foundation correctly prepared in order for a project to be launched successfully.

Literally, the rango are the rollers used in the launching of a waka.

So when an important waka was built, the trees for the rango were taken at the same time that the tree for the waka was taken. They had their own karakia, and had to be treated with the same degree of care and respect as the waka itself.

If the preparations with respect to the rango were not properly carried out, the waka would not be properly launched and therefore would not glide speedily into the water.

Following this line of thought, a paper provided by Ani Mikaere at the hui, and it demonstrates the importance of having a strong contextual footing before any such project is established. She said, and I quote:

How should we view the Waka Umanga Bill?

It may well incorporate aspects of tikanga, thereby modelling the cultural sensitivity that the Crown proclaims to be in accord with its Treaty obligations, but clearly the accommodation of tikanga values within a Western legal framework is a totally different prospect to the acknowledgement of tikanga as the supreme law of the land.

Madam Speaker, in the same hui, Annette Sykes argued that tikanga Maori, with its ethical foundations in whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga, should provide the basis for law in this land.

Her response to the waka umanga proposal was that in seeking to define authority within western imperatives, western frameworks and processes of käwanatanga; waka umanga was in itself a further denial of the fundamental right of tino rangatiratanga affirmed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

And this, Madam Speaker, is the key issue.

The Waka Umanga Bill may well incorporate aspects of tikanga, but clearly the accommodation of tikanga values within a Western legal framework is a totally different prospect to the acknowledgement of tikanga as the supreme law of the land.

The over-riding recommendation from the hui Madam Speaker, held in November was in recognition that any such governance model needs to be developed by Maori.

We in the Maori Party recognize that even though the Law Commission did seek to consult Maori, it was consultation with a restricted agenda, and so the possibility for wide ranging options to be considered was similarly limited.

If the Law Commission had undertaken a different process, they may well have come up with something quite different.

Madam Speaker, tangata whenua attending the hui at Te Wananga o Raukawa opted for that difference.

They suggested that hapü and iwi should be given the time and space to come up with their own governance models, and that the Law Commission assist with this project.

We are of course fully aware of the risks of opposing a proposal such as addressed in this Bill.

We know the argument that the proposed law will be an improvement on what we currently have. Well in formulating the waka umanga concept, the Commission has striven to create a mechanism that is

“specifically shaped to meet the organisational needs of Māori tribes and other groups that manage communal Māori assets”.

And yes, of course that is an improvement on the status quo, and we look positively on that.

But at the end of the day, it is still a Crown measure that accommodates tikanga in some way. In this way, it is but another subordination of tikanga Maori to the laws and philosophical foundations of other worldviews, Western frameworks.

Ani Mikaere, in her paper, How Will Future Generations Judge Us, asked the hui to consider that as tangata whenua, their cultural survival demanded that they look to tikanga Māori for solutions, encouraging them never to lose the ability to imagine.

So in summary, Madam Speaker, we remember the message of the pepeha, Mā te rango te waka ka rere, and the importance of ensuring the foundation is correctly prepared in order for a project to be launched successfully.

The questions raised at hui and by some of our leading analysts and thinkers throughout Maoridom make us all the more aware that the foundation for this waka is not yet on steady ground.

We will support the Waka Umanga Bill at this first reading, to ensure the voices of te Ao Maori are brought to the table. But we will be alert to the question that haunted the hui – how will the future generations judge us?


ENDS

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