Equality bigger than Iwi

Don’t get hooked up on the definition of an iwi, the real question of Maori equality is much bigger

Ray Nunes, April 1998

The question of ‘what is an iwi’ is still being argued in court at the time this article is being written. At stake immediately are the Fisheries Commission assets of $500 million. Should they go only to Maori organisations with proven Maori tribal links or should they go to all Maori regardless of where they live and irrespective of tribal links?

To get to the bottom of this question one must look not just at documents such as the Treaty of Waitangi; one must examine Government policy during the last few decades. Thirty or forty years ago the question of what was an iwi – whether it was a tribe or a people – had no significance, not even for historians of Maori development.

Gradually it came to the notice of the authorities that the Maori population was soaring, and with this there were growing Maori demands for equality and substantial restitution for the value of the land stolen from them. The Maori Land March of 1975 was one manifestation of this.

A fraudulent document

At that time there was widespread recognition that not only were the Maori driven forcibly off their land but also that the Treaty was no more than a shyster document which gave legal cover to the British imperialists which annexed New Zealand, to the wholesale seizure of Maori land and its sale to colonists, and particularly to British capitalists such as those who owned the land robbery business called The New Zealand Company. The slogan ‘The Treaty Is a Fraud’ became widely accepted as a truism. The Labour Government tried to damp down agitation by declaring Waitangi day a holiday so as to make it popular with workers and thus aid in dividing Maori from Pakeha. But it did not work. Demonstrations at Waitangi showed that.

As is known, Maori discontent over the question of land claims led to the massive Maori protest at Bastion Point. The size and influence of the protest soon gave the Government pause. The question of diverting the Maori rebellion became sharper. Along with their slogan ‘The Treaty Is a Fraud’, a ‘Maori Sovereignty’ movement developed, with hostile Maori demonstrations at Waitangi itself and more land occupations asserting Maori rights of ownership.

Bourgeois bell-wethers

The idea took hold in Government circles of building up a group which would act as Maori bell-wethers, stooges who would work to reconcile a majority of Maori with the idea that the Treaty was a good thing and could be used to advance Maori claims which had been deliberately sidetracked by the so-called Native Land Courts for well over a century.

The bell-wethers were a growing Maori bourgeoisie – i.e., – capitalists, who saw a profitable future for themselves in collaborating with the Government. They did this by carrying on a widespread publicity campaign around the slogan of ‘Honour the Treaty’ in opposition to ‘The Treaty Is a Fraud’.

Good boys and good-boy money

The bell-wethers today are heading up the Fisheries Commission and various Maori Trusts, some already in business, others trying to settle their tribal land claims. While the majority of Maori are barely making ends meet and Maori unemployment is still over 18 per cent of the total number of unemployed, these people are getting big money for being the Government’s good boys; you could call it ‘good-boy money’.

Honorariums, ha-ha

With the Fisheries Commission at present in the public eye some light is being shed into the dark corners of Commissioners’ incomes. Let us take first of all directors’ fees. These have now been labelled – in usual governmental double-speak – as ‘honorariums’. Don’t make us laugh. Up to now an honorarium has been regarded as a token payment to partly cover expenses of people giving their services free to non-commercial organisations, - e.g. sports clubs or small service bodies. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines honorarium as: ‘a fee, especially a voluntary payment for professional services rendered without the normal fee’. The Fisheries Commission fees are far from normal – they are abnormal while the work load is small.

What are the Directors fees, or, deceptively, honorariums? Sir Tipene O’Regan as Chairman received $33,000 for the last year (to October), while his deputy, Sir Graham Latimer, gets $24,000. Some token payments, eh? Ten other Commissioners each get paid $17,000 a year. But that’s only a part of their rewards. The twelve shared $874,000 in honorariums and consultancy fees in the year to last October. No wonder urban Maori who are arguing in court for a cut of the Fisheries assets say the amount paid out is outrageous. That is not all, however. Besides Directors’ fees the Commissioners were paid a further $647,000 in consultancy fees.

Maori leader Willie Jackson points out that the directors’ fees are almost the same as the total median yearly income received by ordinary Maori which is only $17,260 and he works full-time for it and gets no consultancy income – just a slight difference! But we haven’t come to an end yet. Some Commission members are sitting on other Maori trusts and companies they direct.

If this isn’t ‘creaming off the top’, what is?

Hard labour?

It is claimed that Commissioners work hard for their money. Their ‘hard work’ consists of attending the Commission’s monthly meetings and reading some briefing papers. No wonder they have time and means to draw nice incomes from sitting on the boards of other trusts and companies.

So what has this to do with the question of iwi? Quite a lot. To share the assets of the Fisheries Commission with urban Maori would nullify the first High Court decision that the assets belong only to tribal organisations. It might even affect the directors’ fees and the constitution of the Commission.

Democratically speaking, should the assets belong solely to tribal bodies? Do the latter represent the majority of Maori? Of course not. Urban Maori make up 70 per cent of the Maori population, the majority by far. So just how democratic is the Government and its courts in excluding urban Maori? The fact is that the avenue of tribalism is, for the Maori bourgeoisie, the road to riches which are being and yet to be made from being beneficiaries of Maori land settlements in which they ensure that government funds are channeled towards them in return for their services in damping down Maori sources of discontent.

The Spark has exposed the ‘creaming off’ process before this. Just one example. In our issue of September 1994, we exposed what was happening in the Ngai Tahu Trust. Excerpts from our article are printed in the article following.

A working class standpoint

There are some additional points which concern the Workers’ Party of New Zealand position in regard to Maori problems.

First, let us note that our main concern is with the struggle of the working class to achieve a socialist society (the dictatorship of the proletariat). To achieve this it is necessary to unite all of the working class, which means establishing close fraternal unity between Maori and Pakeha workers in the struggle to overthrow capitalist, exploiting rule. This means that we oppose separate Maori and Pakeha unions, which can only divide the workers to their own detriment.

On the question of Maori sovereignty our Party fights for the greatest possible autonomy for Maori. However, we oppose exchanging on exploiting Pakeha social order for a similar one run by Maori.

We are a party of the working class. To us the only road forward to the emancipation of the Maori is through the achievement of a socialist society which will emancipate all workers. Whatever difficulties may lie in the road, with compact, militant unity of the entire working class they can be overcome.

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