Iwi leaders should spend less time dreaming of ways to profit from sales of state-owned assets, and more time on salvaging the children of their tribes, says Labour’s Economic Development (Maori) spokesperson Shane Jones.
“What we need are short, sharp solutions. In the absence of leadership from Dr Sharples, iwi leaders must focus on salvaging the children of their tribes instead of sucking at the teat of asset sales that won’t solve anything long term for Maori.
“In times gone by issues concerning our children were often seen as a responsibility for the state,” Shane Jones said. “Well, the state can’t solve everything, especially when Dr Sharples is ripping the heart out of Te Puni Kokiri. Our iwi leaders must stand up, if Dr Sharples won’t.”
As far as wedge politics goes, this is good stuff. The divide between the iwi elite, which increasingly includes the growing Maori middle class, and the Maori underclass is a source of tension in Maori politics. Jones’ is siding with majority opinion on this issue. Many Maori, read the Maori underclass, resent the fact that wealth from Treaty settlements has not ‘trickled down’. I’ve said before, many iwi take a top down approach to distributing income. For example, tribal executives are paid handsomely, a tribe’s tertiary students receive decent financial support and kaumatua and kuia often receive financial support too. However, those on the bottom of Maori soceity – for example single parents – receive no support. This approach serves to perpetuate the privileged position of the Maori elite. I should add that privileged is a relative term, meaning the Maori elite are privileged in comparison to the Maori underclass – not in comparison to Pakeha.
The largest source of tension is, in my opinion, the priorities of the Maori elite. Some iwi leaders, and others like Wira Gardiner, are enthusiastically pursuing asset sales. However, Maori overwhelmingly oppose asset sales. Many in the Maori elite also seem more concerned about maintaining their power and pay checks than serving their people, the most prominent example is Tuku Morgan and a handful of other members of Te Arataura.
The prevailing feeling is that iwi should be looking at investing more heavily in their people rather than fretting about their bottom lines. This is an idea I sympathise with, but do not agree with. Social services are the responsibility of government. Iwi have a social obligation, no doubt about that, but iwi do not have the means to offer social services. Firstly, iwi do not have the economy of scales, but most importantly iwi are not self sufficient. In other words, iwi can not fund social services out of their pocket unless, of course, they pay more attention to growing their bottom line. I hope you can see that it's a bit of a paradox. Sure, if Maori were paying taxes to iwi, then iwi have a social and moral imperative to fund and deliver social services. This, however, is not and never will be the case.
Anyway, back to the politics of this issue. Jones’ is siding with the Maori underclass here and painting the Maori Party into a corner – a corner with the Maori elite. It will be interesting to see how Jones’ plays this. I would expect to see him cultivate tensions further.
Another interesting aspect of this issue is Hone Harawira. Hone has, over the past year or so, owned this issue to the exclusion of Labour. Jones is, in my opinion, more capable than Parekura Horomia, but Hone has never lost a battle against Jones. I think it comes down to whether Jones has any credibility on this issue. For those that don’t know, Jones comes from the Maori elite. He was, in his opinion, born to rule and he was heavily involved with Maori business and treaty settlements. The same treaty settlements that have done so well in creating and entrenching a Maori aristocracy, or a Maori ruling class would be the more appropriate term. Hone, on the other hand, comes straight from the Maori underclass.
To be honest, I don't like the use of wedge politics in Maori politics, but this is a debate Maori need to have. Do iwi have their priorities right? What is the role of iwi in contemporary Maori society? Are treaty settlements creating a Maori elite and so on.