Māori Critic and Conscience in a Colonising Context – Law and Leadership as a Case Study
(Presented at the 27th Annual Conference of the Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, 10 December 2010)
Kaihautū, Te Whare Whakatupu Mātauranga
The structural relationship of dominance and subjection between the power elite of the metropolitan society and Maori subalterns became entrenched [during the nineteenth century]. Today, some of these subaltern leaders, through training, or association with the power elite have been infected with an appetite for bourgeois success. They seize an opportunity to achieve economic power by championing Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi in the alien fora of courts and the Beehive. In pursuit of this agenda they unwittingly maintain the hegemony of the ruling class by responding to the latter’s definition of how Maori cultural and economic aspirations should be achieved.
Ranginui Walker made this statement some eighteen years ago, in light of the contentious Sealord Deal that had recently been struck between the Crown and selected individuals claiming to represent iwi. While probably not surprising, it should nevertheless be of grave concern to all of us that his comments are equally relevant to contemporary developments. Annette Sykes recently scrutinised the activities of the National Iwi Chairs Forum, observing that hapū claims for mana motuhake and political independence are being surrendered to the iwi leaders’ quest for greater participation and influence in the New Zealand economy. She argued that this situation “illustrates the continuing subjugation of Māori to a neo liberal economic hegemony to protect the stability of the construct of Crown unitary sovereignty”.
Today I want to acknowledge the crisis in Māori leadership that presently confronts us. Given the audience, it is not my intention to speak about the steps that we as Māori need to take in order to remedy the situation – that discussion belongs to another forum. However, I do intend to examine the process whereby Māori concepts of leadership have been distorted beyond all recognition. I also hope to make some suggestions as to how Pākehā might avoid being complicit in the ongoing colonisation of Māori decision-making and representation.
Māori Conceptions of Reality and the Role of the Rangatira
As peoples have done the world over, our ancestors expounded their own unique theory of existence in order to explain the mysteries of the universe and to understand their place within it. This theoretical framework embodied a philosophy of life that was both reflected in and reflective of their social norms and practices. It was developed over time immemorial as they travelled throughout the Pacific, and further refined here in Aotearoa over many centuries. It enabled them to make sense of the world around them, while providing the foundations for a behavioural code that allowed them to survive and to prosper. Its core is still able to be discerned by the generations of the present and the values it embodies remain as relevant as ever.
Central to this philosophy is the concept of whakapapa which establishes that everything in the natural world shares a common ancestry. With this knowledge of interconnection comes an acute awareness of interdependence which, in turn, fosters the realisation that our survival is contingent upon the nurturing of relationships, both with one another and with the world around us. Closely related to the idea that relationships must be actively fostered is the imperative to maintain a state of balance, both amongst ourselves and between ourselves and other facets of creation. Practices such as rāhui and karakia are utilised as means of maintaining balance between people and the world around us. Regular communication with ancestors through the use of karanga, karakia and whaikōrero show the value placed upon the connection between present and past generations. Amongst the living, it is understood that all members of the group, young, old, female and male, have their part to play in ensuring the collective well-being. Our responsibilities to future generations continually inform and guide our actions in the present.
It is important, particularly in the context of a discussion of leadership, to note that the presence of balance necessarily negates the concept of dominance and its corollary, subservience. The principle of hierarchy has no place in a conception of reality that asserts the interconnectedness of all living things and that requires the perpetual nurturing of relationships to ensure the maintenance of equilibrium.
The word that is most commonly used to refer to a leader, rangatira, provides a clear indication that Māori leadership has nothing to do with the assertion of power by one (or some) over others. With “ranga” coming from the word “raranga” which means “to weave” and “tira” referring to a group, it is apparent that the task of the rangatira is literally to weave the people together. The understanding that survival is dependent upon the preservation of social cohesion through the maintenance of relationships is implicit in the term “rangatira”.
Further light is cast on Māori understandings of leadership by the following list of attributes of a rangatira as outlined by Bishop Manuhuia Bennett:
Te kai a te rangatira, he kōrero
Te tohu o te rangatira, he manaaki
Te mahi a te rangatira, he whakatira i te iwi
The literal translation of first of these statements is that the food of a rangatira is speech. This is not to suggest that all a leader is good for is talking – although leaders are generally gifted speakers – the deeper meaning refers to the need for a rangatira to stand by their word. Integrity is of the utmost importance; if a rangatira commits to a particular position or course of action, they are expected to fulfil that commitment. Saying one thing and doing another, or taking a course of action without accepting responsibility for the consequences of so doing are not the behaviours of a rangatira.
The second statement tells us that the sign of a rangatira is the ability to care for others. Generosity of spirit and action are extremely important qualities in a rangatira, who is expected to acknowledge and enhance the mana of others in all that they do. This suggests that a Māori concept of leadership represents the antithesis of the pursuit of personal gain or glory, focusing instead on the extent to which the uniqueness of others can be encouraged and celebrated.
The third aspect referred to by Bishop Bennett harks back to the central task of a rangatira, which is to facilitate unity thereby enabling the group to move forward with confidence. It is probably no accident that a further meaning of the word “ranga” is to set in motion a body of people. Finding a position on any one issue that everyone within the group can feel satisfied with is no easy task, requiring excellent listening skills, an intimate knowledge of the people, a solid understanding of group dynamics, and the ability to inspire and persuade.
This model of leadership is consistent with a philosophical tradition that centres on interconnection, interdependence and the maintenance of balance through the fostering of relationships.
Western Conceptions of Reality and Power
In stark contrast to Māori philosophy is the principle of hierarchy underpinning Western conceptions of the world. Paula Gunn Allen argues that “the systemic belief that dominance is synonymous with superiority and that superiority is a reflection of the divine” has lain at the root of “the entire apparatus of Western civilization since its infancy”. According to Gunn Allen, the conviction that order, harmony, goodness, propriety, and peace are the products of hierarchy is deeply embedded in Western thinking. She also makes the observation that all Western nations are structured upon a trickle-down model:
Regulations are initiated at the top, then segmented and dispersed throughout the system; they are implemented and enforced by those holding ever-decreasing increments of scope, information, and authority. Power increases as one goes up the “chain of command” . . . approaching its maximum at the level of prime minister, president, pope, secretary-general, or CEO.
Robert Yazzie discusses the Western notion of superiority in the context of Social Darwinism, which assumes that a certain group of people (male, wealthy and usually Protestant) has the right to make decisions for others and to control the government and the economy. He also refers to the theory’s corresponding assumption as to the inferiority of particular categories of people, noting that “history and contemporary practice show that they are women, non-Christian, and people of colour”. He explicitly applies the Western concept of hierarchy to the structure of colonialism, describing it as “a triangle of power” in which those who deem themselves superior assume the right to control the multitude of lesser beings. Indigenous peoples who were inconveniently located in parts of the globe that Western colonizers claimed a god-given right to possess were invariably classified as inferior.
The Colonisation of Māori Conceptions of Reality
While assuming the subhuman status of indigenous peoples whom they sought to colonize came easily to the European invaders, being confronted with conceptions of reality that were so antithetical to their own nevertheless presented certain challenges. Early colonists in Aotearoa needed a strategy for dealing with an indigenous population to whom the concept of hierarchy was completely foreign. Luckily for them, colonization was nothing new by the time they came to Aotearoa; they had available to them an abundance of colonizing precedents, throughout the Americas and elsewhere, upon which to model their own behaviour.
The solution lay in giving a significant proportion of the target population (in this case, Māori) a stake in the hierarchy. What better way to convince a group of people to buy into a system of rank than by reassuring them that their rightful place in the pecking order was higher than that of another group? What more effective divide and rule tactic than convincing half of the Māori population that they were inherently superior to the other half? As Andrea Smith and others have noted, instituting patriarchy proved to be the perfect first step to naturalizing hierarchy, thereby facilitating the colonization of people whose society had not formerly been hierarchical.
In Aotearoa, the means utilized to institute patriarchy can be divided into two main categories. The first comprised actions that consistently privileged Māori men over Māori women. The second involved the reinterpretation of Māori philosophy so as to erase all memory of its true nature and to convince Māori that patriarchy and hierarchy had always been entrenched in our beliefs about the nature of reality. I propose to deal with each of these briefly.
The favouring of Māori men over Māori women came naturally to our colonizers during the earliest years of contact, accustomed as they were to the norm of male privilege within English society. As Linda Smith has noted, Māori men were the ones with whom the colonisers negotiated, traded and treatied. Crown representatives who sought Māori signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi and Te Tiriti o Waitangi during 1840 largely ignored the possibility of women signing. This approach has been recorded as having angered Māori women, thus leading the missionaries to allow some women to sign. There were also occasions where Hobson’s agents refused to give in to pressure for women to be allowed to sign, probably losing potential male signatories as a result. This pattern of bolstering the authority of Māori men at the expense of Māori women has permeated the Crown-Māori relationship ever since.
A more recent example of this phenomenon is the Māori Women’s Welfare League, set up in 1951 with the principle objectives of promoting Māori health, education and welfare. The League established itself as a major political force almost immediately, surveying Māori housing needs in Auckland to prove to the Minister of Māori Affairs that there was a desperate shortage of housing available to Māori. However, for reasons that will be returned to shortly, complaints were made to the Minister of Māori Affairs that the League’s activities were extending into areas considered inappropriate for women. The Crown response was to create and provide administrative support for the New Zealand Māori Council, a largely male and conservative institution which became a government “sounding board” for pending legislation. It should be noted that the government provided insufficient resources for the Council to be able to discharge its functions effectively, and generally ignored the Council’s advice on proposed legislation. Yet, the very fact that the Council was established by the Crown as a Māori voice in preference to the League demonstrates that the colonisers still preferred to negotiate with Māori men, 120 years after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Examples of the Crown’s privileging of Māori men over Māori women are too numerous to go into here. Suffice to say that this pattern of behaviour has been remarkably persistent. It should come as no surprise that the “subalterns” about whom Ranginui Walker was speaking in the quotation that opened this paper were all Māori men. Throughout the years of tortuous Crown-Māori negotiations concerning Māori fisheries from 1987 to 1992, the Crown recognised the mandate of an extremely select group of Māori men to act as negotiators on behalf of all Māori. The three principal Māori negotiators in the drawing up of the Sealord Deal came from that same group of men. We have indeed, as Kathie Irwin noted in 1992, seen “the evolution of strange new cultural practices in which men are bonding to each other, through patriarchy, to give each other participatory rights across Maori and Pakeha culture, in ways which exclude Maori women”.
Moving to the second main way in which patriarchy has been instituted within Māori society requires a consideration of how our conceptions of reality have been reinterpreted through the lens of patriarchy and then fed back to us as authoritative representations of who we are. The seeds of this destructive process were sown by the missionaries, who decried our polytheism as evil and who insisted that there could only be one supreme god, male of course. Gunn Allen is convincing in her description of monotheism as a political strategy upon which the conquest of all nations is premised. A particularly convenient tool in the missionaries’ quest to convert us to their monotheistic view of the world was introduced disease, the effects of which enabled them to point to the superiority of their god as opposed to the apparent impotence of our spiritual beings. The following words of Haunani Trask, written to describe events in Hawai’i, apply with equal force to our own situation:
Conveniently for the missionaries, the Hawaiian universe had collapsed under the impact of mass death. The fertile field of conversion was littered with the remnants of holocaust, a holocaust created by white foreigners and celebrated by their later counterparts as the will of a Christian god.
Early ethnographers also played their part: as these Pākehā men turned their attention to us as objects of study, they inevitably sought out Māori male informants to interview about our traditions and then sifted the information through their own cultural understandings about the place of women before publishing their “research” and securing for themselves reputations as experts on Māori culture.  The Māori view of the world that was regurgitated by the likes of Elsdon Best and Percy Smith is unrelentingly male-centred and, thanks to their widely-accepted status as experts and their ability to publish, it has been widely disseminated and unquestioningly received as an accurate portrayal of Māori philosophical traditions. So successful has this process been that by the 1950s Māori men themselves were convinced that the Māori Women’s Welfare League was usurping the authority of men by assuming a political role. It was complaints to the Minister of Māori Affairs from Māori men that led, in part, to the Crown’s decision to establish the New Zealand Māori Council as an appropriate body for it to deal with.
The detail of the damage done by the patriarchal/hierarchical reinterpretation of Māori theories of existence could be discussed endlessly, but for the moment I would like to take just one example to illustrate how insidious these colonised representations of our most fundamental precepts have become.
The concept of whakapapa, as I have indicated earlier, is absolutely central to our understanding of the world. It is my view that whakapapa is inherently non-hierarchical in structure and purpose, serving to link all facets of creation in a complex web that extends in all directions and into infinity. However, a disturbing thing has happened to the concept of whakapapa since literacy came to these shores. The Western practice of reading and writing from the top of the page to the bottom means that written whakapapa is almost always represented on the page in a form that implies hierarchy, that is, from top to bottom and from left to right. It has even become common for speakers to use phrases such as “ka heke iho” when reciting whakapapa to indicate notions of descent from ancestors reflecting, I believe, the way that they visualise what they have learnt in written form. This is despite the fact that the word “whakapapa” literally means to build one layer upon another which, if anything, suggests that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us rather than the other way around. It is also pertinent to note that using terms such as “ka heke iho” as a substitute for the more appropriate “ka puta ki waho” avoids acknowledgement of the fact that each new addition to the whakapapa is born out of a woman. Other worrying developments abound. In my view the modern-day tendency to focus on the males in whakapapa, ludicrous when one considers that without both female and male there would be no whakapapa, stems directly from the inculcation of patriarchy into our philosophies. Even concepts such as tuakana and teina, denoting the specific roles and responsibilities of individuals depending upon their position within a whānau, have become horribly deformed by the imported notions of primogeniture which, we are now assured, is authentically ours.
This turning of Māori philosophy on its head and its recharacterisation as the mirror-image of Western belief systems is no unintended outcome of the colonisation process but rather an integral component of its success. The aim of the coloniser in the settler-state colony is, as George Tinker has explained, to supplant the colonised in their own land. This requires an array of genocidal tactics, from the reckless introduction of disease, to military invasion, to theft of land and resources. It also includes a raft of assimilatory policies designed to digest the residue of survivors from the holocaust of the nineteenth century. Assimilation – recreating us in the image of the coloniser – is the most enduring method of securing cultural genocide.
The Crisis in Māori Leadership
Against this background I want to turn back to the recent Jesson Lecture, where Annette Sykes condemned the National Iwi Chairs Forum for assuming a high caste status because its members are increasingly the only individuals that the Crown sees as relevant on Māori issues. One of the most insulting aspects of the Crown’s behaviour towards Māori is its constant expectation that we speak with one voice – and one “reasonable voice” at that - on all issues. This denies the enormous diversity that exists within whānau, hapū, iwi and beyond, reducing the entire range of Māori experience to a carefully confined caricature that the Crown finds politically and administratively palatable. It is also entirely consistent with a philosophy that assumes the right of the few to speak for the many, and that believes in the power of hierarchy to deliver “order, harmony, goodness, propriety, and peace”, to use Paula Gunn Allen’s words. It is pertinent to note that of the seven members identified on the National Iwi Chairs Forum Executive, six are men, as are the overwhelming majority of Forum members.
As Sykes notes, the Crown has seized upon the National Iwi Chairs Forum as a “Māori issue one-stop-shop”, with which it has sought to discuss such wide-ranging matters as climate change, a freshwater management regime, geothermal resources, the seabed and foreshore, and public-private partnerships. In the process, it is openly giving the Forum a stake in its hierarchy, persuading it to accept its subordination to the Crown in return for being elevated above the people it claims to represent. In the process, the Crown also neatly avoids its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi to deal with Ngā Rangatira o Ngā Hapū:
When it is seen in this context, the newly constructed layer of Maori leadership seems to be a quango which the Crown then resources as part of its specific consultation requirements in the expectation it will generate an acceptable Maori view.
Not only is this obstructive of the direct relationship foreshadowed and guaranteed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which is one between Nga Rangatira o Nga Hapu and the Crown; it is indicative of a more fundamental fact that the group’s accountability is not to our own kaupapa. It is not unreasonable to assert that the Crown is seeking to engineer a Treaty partner in its own image that is subordinate to it.
Nor does the Māori Party escape unscathed from Sykes’ analysis. She provides compelling evidence that the National Iwi Chairs Forum Executive has become highly influential in determining the Māori Party’s position on crucial issues. She also reveals the Party’s role as “doorman,” facilitating direct access for the Forum to the key cabinet strategy committee on Treaty issues, comprising Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, Chris Finlayson, John Key and Pita Sharples. Of course the potential for the Māori Party to become co-opted by Western ideology has existed since the day it was born, enmeshed as any political party inevitably is within the parliamentary system. The danger increased exponentially as soon as it entered into a relationship with the National government, showing a preference for pragmatism over principle and a preparedness to accept a subordinate role in relation to its new-found political friend and ally. Nevertheless, there are many in the Māori electorate who are bitterly disappointed at the speed and magnitude of the Māori Party’s descent from the moral high ground which saw its unprecedented emergence as a political force to be reckoned with, barely five years ago.
What Can Be Done?
It is obvious that some two centuries of persuading our men that they are superior to Māori women and that patriarchy has always been a central tenet of Māori philosophy has produced the desired result. To a large extent, hierarchy has indeed become naturalized within Māori experience. The Crown does not have to look far to find a small group of Māori men who are prepared to assume the right to speak on behalf of their whānau, hapū and iwi, accepting false flattery and short-term material gains in return for subordination masquerading as power.
This does not mean, however, that all Māori men behave this way, or that Māori women have any intention of putting up with it. Following the Jesson Lecture, a national hui of Māori women was held in Hauraki to discuss the negative impacts that colonisation has had on Māori leadership. He Whaainga Wāhine issued a media statement condemning the exclusion of Māori women from national, regional, local and Māori political forums; declaring that the Iwi Leaders Group do not speak for Māori women; and challenging Māori leadership that advance the political agenda of the National-ACT-Māori Party Coalition at the expense of whenua, whānau and hapū wellbeing. The hui, called at short notice, has generated a great deal of interest and further hui are planned.
In the context of this conference, however, a more important question might be what each of you can do to contribute to resolving the crisis that we currently face. The first thing you must do, wherever you find yourself placed in the white male hierarchy that infects the colonial state of New Zealand, is to acknowledge your privilege. If you choose to enjoy the benefits of that privilege without acknowledging it, and without actively challenging a system that relegates Māori to a lesser status or that reserves to itself the right to redefine Māori philosophies at whim, you are complicit in the continued subordination of Māori in our own land.
Specifically, you should seize any opportunity to challenge the expectation that Māori ought to speak with one voice. You should regard with suspicion versions of our philosophical framework that conveniently characterise us as inherently patriarchal or that saddle us with Western notions of hierarchy. This does not mean, of course, that I am encouraging any of you to become new-found experts on the authenticity of Māori tradition – the decolonising of our own philosophies is work that must be done by Māori – but simply that you refrain from rushing in to decry Māori beliefs as patriarchal when the true picture may be rather more complex. And finally, I hope that you will remain open to forming alliances with us when the opportunities arise. If you are genuinely committed to a decolonised Aotearoa, Māori will be willing to work together with you toward achieving that end.
 Walker, R “Changes to the Traditional Model of Maori Leadership”, 1992.
 The Sealord Deal was shortly afterwards passed into law in the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992.
 Sykes, A Bruce Jesson Lecture, University of Auckland, 27 October 2010, pp 11-12.
 These statements were made when Bishop Bennett closed a hui called by the Crown Forestry Rental Trust in December 1999, at Hopuhopu.
 Gunn Allen, P Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting, Border-Crossing Loose Canons (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998) p 66.
 Gunn Allen, p 68.
 Gunn Allen, p 69.
 Yazzie, R “Indigenous Peoples and Postcolonial Colonialism” in Battiste, M (ed) Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000) p 42.
 Yazzie, p 43.
 Smith, A Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005) p 23.
 Smith, L ”Maori Women: Discourses, Projects and mana Wahine” in Middleton, S Jones, A (eds) Women and Education in Aotearoa 2 (1992) p 49.
 Orange, C The Treaty of Waitangi (1987) p 90.
 Orange, p 90, where is it noted that Major Bunbury refused to allow a Ngāti Toa wahine rangatira to sign at Cloudy Bay. Her husband also refused to sign.
 Maori Welfare Act 1962.
 Walker, R Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou (1990) p 206.
 Cox, L Kotahitanga (1993) p 106.
 Walker, 206-207.
 They were Tipene O’Regan, Robert Mahuta, Matiu Rata and Graham Latimer.
 Tipene O’Regan, Matiu Rata and Graham Latimer.
 Irwin, “Towards Theories of Maori Feminisms” in Du Plessis, R (ed) Feminist Voices (1992) p 18.
 Gunn Allen, p 71.
 Estimates of the Māori population of Aotearoa prior to contact with Europeans range from 100,000 to 500,000. While exact population figures before 1769 may not be certain, it is well known that they began to decline from that date, a process that accelerated dramatically during the mid to late nineteenth century. By 1896, when the Māori population had reached a low point of 42,000, our extinction was being confidently predicted by the colonists: Durie, M Ngā Tai Matatū: Tides of Māori Endurance (2005) pp 29-31 and Pool, I Te Iwi Maori: A New Zealand Population Past, Present and Projected (1991) pp 57-60.
 Trask H From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereighty in Hawai’i (1999) p 6.
 Elsdon Best, for example, a prolific writer of material on Māori culture during the early 1900s, was referred to in 1922 as “the greatest living authority on the Māori”, an extraordinary claim considering that there were approximately 50,000 Māori living at the time! (Acting Director of the Dominion Museum, J. MacDonald, made this statement in his preface to Best’s 1922 monograph Some Aspects of Maori Myth and Religion.) Population figures for 1922 are taken from Pool, p 110.
 Rei T, McDonald G & Te Awekotuku N, “Me Aro Koe kit e Hā o Hine-Ahu-One” in Else, A Women Together (1993) p 9; Szaszy, M in Rogers & Simpson Te Tīmatanga – Tātau, Tātau: Early Stories from Founding Members of the Māori Women’s Welfare League (1993) p 225.
 Tinker, G Preface to Churchill, W Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools (2004) p 14.
 This phrase has been borrowed from Churchill, W Kill the Indian, Save the Man p 12.
 Sykes, p 12.
 Meaning a voice that mostly coincides with its own viewpoint.
 Sykes, p 6.
 Sykes, p 7.
 Sykes, p 13.
 Sykes, p 19.
 Sykes, p 19.
 Media Statement, He Whaainga Wāhine, 28 November 2010.
 Unlike many who recently were unable to resist immediate and strident criticism of the Te Papa directive suggesting caution in the case of pregnant or menstruating women visiting the collections of taonga.