Ruler by Divine Right?: The Maori King, Tuheitia, has unilaterally dismissed the Chair of the Tainui Parliament, Tania Martin. The King's advisors argue that Tuheitia's status as paramount chief of his people over-rides the democratic elements of the Iwi's constitution. The English King, Charles I, asserted something similar in 1641 and sparked a civil war.
IT WILL BE an interesting test.
Over-riding the tribe’s constitution, the Maori King, and Paramount Chief of the Tainui Iwi, Tuheitia, has dismissed Tania Martin, the democratically elected Chairwoman of Te Kauhanganui – the Tainui parliament. Her offence? Issuing a report sharply critical of the way the King and Te Arataura – his advisory board – have been managing the tribe’s resources. Her report has been interpreted as a direct thrust against the King’s mana – his authority and prestige. The equivalent in European law is lèse majesté – "injured majesty".
The test can be broken into three questions:
The first is whether or not the Tainui people, acting through their marae representatives, will challenge the King’s actions.
The second is whether or not the King and his advisors will allow themselves to be over-ruled by their own people.
And the third is whether or not the political leaders of Pakeha New Zealand will have anything to say about the political drama unfolding in the Waikato.
They should. Because Tainui’s drama is practically identical to the drama our own ancestors lived through more than 300 years ago. The rights and privileges which Members of Parliament still enjoy, and which we, as free citizens, hold dear, are all directly traceable to the bloody drama known as the English Civil War.
King Charles I found it intolerable that he was fiscally accountable to his own people through their Parliament. Believing that his political authority came directly from God, he refused to accept that his powers could be circumscribed in any way by the will of his subjects. When Parliament refused his demands for money, and declared his closest advisors traitors, the King, with 400 soldiers, tried to arrest the five politicians responsible. Forewarned, the parliamentary leaders escaped. London erupted in fury. Charles and his family fled, first to Oxford, then to Nottingham, where, on August 22nd 1642, he "raised his standard" – effectively declaring war upon his own subjects.
To date, King Tuheitia’s coup has been considerably more successful than King Charles’s. His dismissal and replacement of Te Kauhanganui Chairwoman, Ms Martin, is a fait accompli. It’s as if Charles had succeeded in arresting those five members of the House of Commons – leaving their stunned colleagues to debate their next move under the watchful eyes of the King’s musketeers.
That’s where the Tainui parliamentarians are now. They must either convene Te Kauhanganui in defiance of the King and reconfirm Ms Martin in the Chair, or accept that Tuheitia and Te Arataura have successfully asserted their right to manage Tainui’s affairs independently of, and without reference to either the local marae – or Te Kauhanganui.
What will Te Arataura’s next move be if Te Kauhanganui defies the King’s fait accompli and reinstates its discarded Chairwoman? If past practice is any guide, the Advisory Board will ask for a court injunction to enforce its executive authority.
Right there is where Tainui’s drama starts spilling out of the realm of Tuheitia and into the realm of Elizabeth II. So, right now, the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Attorney General, and every other New Zealand MP, need to start thinking about what their next move will be if the worst happens, and a Pakeha judge, by sanctioning the subversion of Tainui democracy, shreds Article Three of the Treaty of Waitangi.
If our political leaders do not step in and prevent Tuheitia from succeeding where Charles I failed, then more than the whanau and hapu of Tainui have reason to feel afraid. Because, at that moment, all of us – Maori and Pakeha alike – will know that John Key’s deal with the Maori Party, has solidified into a dangerously intimate and profoundly undemocratic alliance between the executive arm of the Pakeha state, and a small, legally protected clique of aristocratic Maori politicians and businessmen.
The very same combination of unaccountable political and economic power which our ancestors, for nine bloody years, fought a vicious civil war to break up and bring under their control.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 December 2010.