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Maori Voices in Parliament Still Strong

Maori Voices in Parliament Still Strong After 140 Years
Dr Pita Sharples, Maori Party Co-leader 4 August 2008

The importance of Maori representation in Parliament was set out clearly and powerfully in the first-ever speech by a Maori MP, according to the Maori Party.

“140 years ago today, my whanaunga Tareha Te Moananui, M.P. for Eastern Maori, rose to address the House,” said Maori Party Co-leader Dr Pita Sharples.

“Noting first things first, Te Moananui began by saying, in Maori: ‘I am the the first Maori who has stood up in the presence of your assembly to speak what I have thought and decided to say in your presence’,” said Dr Sharples.

“He recognised the significance of Maori people having the right to say whatever they wanted to say in Parliament,” said Dr Sharples. “He went on to explain why, and then he used the opportunity to place several vital issues on the floor of the House – issues which the nation still wrestles with today.”

“He emphasised the importance of goodwill and co-operation, but Te Moananui also said: ‘My thoughts and the thoughts of Maori people are not similar to the thoughts of the Europeans, they lie in a different direction’. This is the very reason the Maori Party was formed – to bring Maori perspectives into debates on issues and legislation that affect the whole country,” said Dr Sharples.

“The particular issues he raised concerned claims by Maori who were not tangata whenua being accepted by the Native Land Court, and that laws for impounding wandering stock were not enforced fairly as between Maori and Europeans.

“The question of proper ownership of ancestral lands has come back to haunt us through the Treaty settlement process, in which the Crown deals with large natural groupings of claimants, and seeks fairness as between claimant groups – by allocating the lands of one claimant to another,” said Dr Sharples. “We will hear these claims again as we consider legislation to settle the CNI and Te Arawa deals.”

“Te Moananui was aggrieved that he had not been able to impound stock wandering onto his lands. He said ‘When I thought to have a pound myself, I was taken to court; so it has occurred to me to propose to you that when you make a law, you should make it for me as well as for yourselves. It has been laid down in the Scripture, and also by your own law, that there should be one law for both of us.’

“You can’t help thinking of the Foreshore and Seabed debacle as you read that, whereby tangata whenua were denied their rights under domestic and international law to have their customary rights recognized, and instead racist and discriminatory legislation was passed to confiscate aboriginal title without compensation.

“In one respect at least, things have improved. Te Moananui spoke in Maori, as did most of those who followed him, including Metekingi Te Rangi Paetahi from Western Maori, Frederick Nene Russell from Northern Maori, and John Patterson from Southern Maori, but the only record we have is in English.

“The record also tells us, that while an interpreter was organized at the last minute to translate Te Moananui’s speech, the commitment to te reo was so insignificant that the four Maori MPs always struggled to make a difference”.

“These days, as the Maori Party once again normalises the use of te reo Maori in Parliament, we not only have interpreters for the benefit of those who do not understand Maori, but Hansard records speeches in Maori as well as in English.

“Over 140 years of Maori representation in Parliament, there have been many ups and downs, but there is a lot to celebrate today,” said Dr Sharples.

“For one thing, Maori people are still here today, with a distinctive culture and world view, and a right to express ourselves, in our own language, alongside our Treaty partner in Parliament.

“Under MMP, and with a Maori Party in Parliament to be the authentic and independent voice of tangata whenua, we have opportunities that our tipuna never did, to advance towards tino rangatiratanga.

“These things are precious, and we must protect them and use them to our best advantage, in the spirit of co-operation and goodwill that Tareha Te Moananui set out 140 years ago.”


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