Dec 1, 2010

The Rise of Corporate Iwi

 A truly fascinating development in Maori politics has been the rise of the Iwi Leadership Group (ILG). Without doubt the ILG is one of the most powerful interest groups in New Zealand. The Maori Party leadership certainly seem to view the group as the sole legitimate interest group representing Maori. But just how powerful is the ILG and do they really represent Maori?

Well, they are very, very powerful. A sign of the power of the ILG comes in the form of their influence over policy formulation. Weaker groups only have the power to influence policy after it has been announced whereas the ILG has the power to influence policy in its earliest stages. From an outsiders perspective it would appear the IWG have a monopoly over the development and direction of Maori Party policy. You could even say that they set the agenda.  

However, the ILG ‘insider status’ is the most potent illustration of their power. An insider group is essentially a group that is treated as part of the political system, a group that is consulted on the relevant issues as a matter of courtesy and obligation. Insider groups have no need to release policy papers or stage some sort of provocative action – they have the ear of sympathetic politicians and the ability to call upon the government of the day or as Annette Sykes put it; “they have the right of access”. For example the ILG was consulted directly with regard to the ETS and mining Maori land – despite only a small number of iwi having a voice on the ILG. Negotiations also took place with the ILG over the foreshore and seabed. This confirms that out the numerous Maori interest groups outside of government, the government treats the ILG as the only group with an established mandate to engage on behalf of Maori. Whether this mandate has been earned is another question.

The ILG’s success is in no small part due to the cultivation of good relations with the political class as well as successful leveraging. The ILG leverages government by threatening to oppose the government’s Maori policy, or as one anonymous commentator put it “cultural blackmail”. Without ILG support the policy could be seen as lacking legitimacy. They also use more direct methods such as threatening litigation over issues the government would rather consign to the past.  The group’s brand of indigenous corporatism is probably also a contributing factor to the success the group has had with government.   

But does the ILG really represent Maori? Well, they don’t represent me.

I consider the group to be more of a sectional interest group as opposed to a collective interest group. They represent a certain section of the Maori population – a section whose needs and desires are not exactly the same as the general Maori population. Despite this the ILG have attempted to frame themselves as a collective interest group primarily because their legitimacy relies on them been seen as representatives of all Maori. There is the argument that the ILG represents iwi and by extension the people. I do not buy this. The needs and desires of iwi authorities are not necessarily the same as the needs and desires of the people.  I certainly agree with Annette Sykes in that the ILG has shaped policy that does not “benefit Maori in any way, shape or form”.

Although I have my reservations about the Maori Party I think the mandate to act on behalf of Maori rests solely with them. Not the ILG. I echo the sentiments of Annette Sykes;

“The [Iwi Leadership Group] are corporate Maori. They're not ordinary Maori. They're the corporate entities, so what they [the Government] are doing is they're setting up a sounding board of corporate Maori. That is by no means an inclusive approach to the Maori position”

And agree wholeheartedly with Hone Harawira;

“It is us who have the honour of speaking up for our people. And we do our people a grave disservice by passing this on to somebody else to handle; and I have no intention of treating my people with such disrespect”

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