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General Debate - Activist Thinking

General Debate - Activist Thinking

Wednesday 20 October 2010; 4.10pm Hone Harawira, Maori Party Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau

Coming into parliament means different things for different people.

For some, it's a family thing - their uncle was a politician, so they wanna be one. For others, it's a career choice - good money, good perks.

For some, it's a passion for a political belief - union background, free-market, a love of the environment, Maori issues ... and for others it's a conscious decision to be of service to the public.

Some people come via the party route - party activist, branch chairman, electorate secretary, national council, Member of Parliament ... and a lot of MPs come straight out of the real world - thankfully.

My own entry into parliament came off the back of a massive protest march that I lead from Te Rerenga Wairua to the steps of parliament itself in 2004, a huge outpouring of Maori anger at Labour's Theft of the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, and a conscious Maori decision to say "no longer will we accept the back benches of a party that has taken Maori for granted for far too long."

And as an activist, I felt a little at odds with my role in parliament, and indeed my role in the newly formed Maori Party, and it took a while before I came to terms with what that role should be.

I have been an activist most of my adult life, a strong believer in the rights of Maori, a strong supporter of the rights of indigenous people all round the world, and I like to think that I am also a person who is prepared to take a stand against injustice as well.

That don't make me anything special - there are others who have been through this place and a lot more who wouldn't even bother coming into parliament, who have done far greater things than me - but it does define who it is that I am.

And in the early days I nearly lost touch with that background, but as different issues came up and I became more confident about speaking in the house, I soon realised that it was that activist background, and the things I had learnt on the streets, that guided my thinking on what I should be saying in here.

And when I balanced that background with the kaupapa of the Maori Party - mana atua, mana whenua, mana tupuna, whänaungatanga, kötahitanga, manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, kaitiakitanga, and te reo - I realised that those activist instincts, that natural inclination to be staunch on Maori rights, was right for me both in and out of parliament; and I realised that my role in parliament was to continue that activist tradition, to continue to push those boundaries, to challenge accepted opinion, and at all times to push the Maori view of the world.

That decision to stand up for Maori rights has often gotten me into trouble with parliament, the media, a whole heap of Pakeha, and occasionally with my own party leadership.

And that's given me cause to ask myself whether or not I should just quieten down, play the game by the rules, talk like a robot, don't make waves, don't push boundaries, don't upset people, and basically act like a good MP .. but the question I kept coming back to is why should I?

If I go quiet: who carries the Maori flag in parliament? who takes those Maori issues to the edge? who speaks for the hearts and minds of the ordinary Maori? And who will say it exactly how they mean it?

I'm not trying to big-note myself here, but that's just how it is; that's my role.

One of my early mentors once said to me that "the role of the activist is to wake people up; to force them to think; and to make them ask why people do things a certain way".

That role is as important to me in 2010 as it was when I first heard it 40 years ago

I know it doesn't endear me to those who want us to be seen but not heard. I know it won't score me any points with the political leaders in this house. And I know it means a lot of doors are slammed in my face around here - some by my enemies and some by my friends.

But when we wake up in the morning, it's not the rest of parliament we see in the mirror. It's not even our own party colleagues - its ourselves.

And if we aren't first honest to who we are, then we're just dancing to some other buggers tune.

I'm happy with my life, I'm proud to represent the people of Tai Tokerau, I am proud to be a member of the Maori Party, and I have no plans to buckle under to those who seek to shut me up.

Kia ora tatou katoa!


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