I HAVE to confess to being a little disappointed by the response to my column (‘Them & Us’, Sunday Star-Times, 16/11/08) attacking the Maori Party’s decision to throw in its lot with John Key and the National Party.
By branding the Maori Party kupapa (collaborators) I’d hoped to draw some of the leading Maori nationalist theorists and writers into the debate. It was not to be. As usual, those who manufacture the ideological ammunition used by Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and Hone Harawira – thinkers like Moana Jackson, Eddie Durie and Maria Bargh – prefer to operate quietly behind the walls of the academy, popping-up only occasionally to cast the odd, oracular, contribution into the public sphere.
Instead, I had to make do with someone called Malcolm Mulholland, from the Maori Studies Department of Massey University.
Mr Mulholland alleges that my column "provoked such a reaction among Maori communities, some believed it would be best to write this column to set the record straight."
A worthy objective, but unfortunately, not one Mr Mulholland was capable of achieving.
Let us begin with the uncomfortable historical reality of the kupapa Maori themselves: the undeniable fact that some hapu and iwi opted to ally themselves with the Pakeha colonialists, and against other Maori. This behaviour not only signals a considerably more complex political equation at work in mid-19th Century New Zealand than a simple reading of our history might suggest; but it also undermines the romantic Maori nationalist scenario of a beleaguered – but united – people heroically resisting the onward rush of British imperialism.
That the term kupapa retains its capacity to inflict pain is precisely because it touches upon matters that threaten to expose the most sensitive political realities of the Maori/Pakeha relationship.
I touch upon the nature of this deeply ambivalent relationship in the second chapter of my book No Left Turn:
The coming of the Pakeha had opened the way to a new world of undreamed of opportunity and abundance. For the bold and the intelligent, immersion in the ways of the newcomers promised a new life in which the traditional considerations of lineage and rank counted for very little. Imagination and effort brought rewards that were far beyond the generosity of chiefs – or the maledictions of wizards – to constrain. All that was required to escape the nexus of aristocratic politics and priestly magic was Pakeha gold. Money was the solvent that dissolved the age-old ties linking family, clan and tribe: money the tool with which the individual could carve himself a new identity. And the fastest way to acquire money, and all the transformations it wrought, was to sell land.
A deep and abiding cleavage was opening up in Maori society between those who believed that it was possible to have the best of both worlds – and those who did not. The modernisers believed the traditional collectivism of the tribe could be preserved – even as Pakeha religion, science and technology freed its members from the social and economic constraints of a culture grounded in scarcity. For the traditionalists, however, the best of both worlds was an unachievable mirage. When it came to tikanga Pakeha, Maori did not have the luxury of picking and choosing. The British were a proud people, who equated the technological inferiority of Maori as proof of their inadequacy in every other aspect of human achievement. As far as the British settlers were concerned, "natives" had only two choices: become like them, or be swallowed by them. They did not believe in two worlds: Maori would either acknowledge the superiority of European civilisation, or it would sweep them away.
Mr Mulholland was either unable, or unwilling, to engage in the deeper issues underpinning Maori development in the post-colonial era, preferring instead to concentrate on the party political manoeuvrings of the last four years. But, even here, his analysis is, to put it kindly, feeble.
The Labour Government’s passage of the Foreshore & Seabed Act was accomplished with maximum dispatch for one very simple reason: to forestall the growing Pakeha backlash against not simply one iwi’s victory in the Court of Appeal, but against the whole Maori renaissance. What on earth does Mr Mulholland think lay behind the unprecedented 17 percentage point jump in National Party support that followed Don Brash’s Orewa Speech?
The sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism, having been kicked into snarling wakefulness by the Court of Appeal decision and National, had to be lulled back to sleep. That was Labour’s paramount concern, and, steadfastly supported by all but one of its Maori MPs, that is what it achieved.
Has Mr Mulholland ever given a moment’s thought to the counterfactual? That Labour backed the Court of Appeal decision, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with iwi who asserted their customary rights? What does he think would have happened? Does he not believe that National’s "Iwi/Kiwi" Pakeha nationalist dichotomy would’ve swept it to an historic election victory? Does he not understand that such a government, elected with a frankly racist mandate, would have moved decisively to remove all the remaining constraints upon National’s assimilationist project: the Waitangi Tribunal; the Maori Seats; Maori broadcasting; all the institutions of Maori education in te reo; the Treaty of Waitangi itself?
Mr Mulholland’s superficial nationalism, uninformed by even the smallest amount of structural analysis, is simply not equal to the task of grasping the crucial significance of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana’s key prophetic insight. That only by linking the fortunes of the dispossessed of both the Maori and Pakeha communities, and joining them in an unbreakable political alliance, could the quest for equity and equality, common to both peoples, be achieved. Only an alliance based upon class could ever amass the political force required to negate the colossal racial advantage enjoyed by the inheritors of Britain’s imperial victory.
It was that alliance, with all its faults, disappointments and betrayals, which kept the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi alive. And only that alliance – or something like it – can hope to secure the Treaty’s ultimate fulfilment.
Tariana Turia and her colleagues will soon discover what all the hapu and iwi who turned kupapa discovered: that fighting on the Pakeha’s terms, and for the Pakeha’s objectives, only ever brings the briefest of respites.
Because, when all is said and done, once you have helped the men of power destroy all the centres of resistance to their rule, who shall you summon to defend the paltry rewards your collaboration has won?
Now that the new colonialists have mastered "divide" – can "conquer" be far behind?