Sadly it is common place for the race debate to rise to the fore
on national holidays (as it did again this Anzac period when
self-proclaimed protagonist Wikatana Popata said he had "had
enough of Pakeha" - TVNZ's Close Up). However what is less
frequently examined but is of greater importance for us as a
nation is our ability to understand the economic impact
'disenfranchised' groups within our society have on our
While we are well aware of the social costs of failing
communities, we tend not to enter into the debate as to how we
are affected as a nation, a debate we will need to have if we
are to advance in the future. Unfortunately, but not
surprisingly, data confirms Maori are not making any meaningful
headway in the areas we consider important in a modern society
(including Health, Education, Employment, Housing, Income
Equality and Crime) despite our efforts to support them. Is this
because we as a nation have failed Maori or is it because Maori
(or at least too many) have failed to adapt to our changing world?
In fairness I believe much of the above is not due to 'failed'
policy or a 'lack of interest or concern' as many imply, but
rather it is due to the fact that where many Maori continue to
live is bereft of opportunity. If we take the far North for
example, while idyllic and often beautiful, it offers little to
the next generation of Maori even though it is home to Whanau.
The point is, where people reside has a significant bearing on
the outcomes they experience. If we want access to better health
care, education and employment, we may need to move to where
these things can be found. If however we chose to remain where
we are, we will need to be more resourceful in order to off-set
the limitations we would otherwise encounter (it is interesting
to note however that the 'urbanisation' of Maori hasn't
mitigated these issues - which I will endeavour to shed some
light on as to why that might be the case later).
If facing limited opportunities, most people will take it upon
themselves to move in order to improve the circumstances for
their family. However for Maori, as indeed for all indigenous
people, it isn't as simple as 'moving on' for they tend to
consider the role of preserving ancestral lands as an important
part of their 'purpose' (in life) rather than a 'job' for
historians. So while most Europeans will willingly move if there
are insufficient opportunities to enable them to sustain their
way of life, for Maori it is different as moving away from their
lands is almost akin to turning their backs on their Hapu.
For this reason I am of the view that we need to explore how we
as a nation can better enable or 'mobilise' Maori, not to try
and take back what was previously theirs, but to once again
become a people of pride who have the strength and capacity to
make their way (in this world) by leveraging their Mana and
history rather than assuming their Mana has been destroyed
because of the loss of their lands (incidentally, I support the
repatriation of lands wrongly taken; however it will never be
sufficient to restore Maori Mana. Rather their Mana, in my
opinion, will only ever be restored when they find a way to
provide their Tamariki or children with what they need to
prosper in the future).
If we were to reflect on the 'cost' of Maori failure (or the
failure of any group for that matter) on our society, it is
enormous. Not only are there the direct monetary costs of having
to care for their wellbeing, which any modern society would want
to do, there is a social cost to their isolation which affects
us all. For example if a family requires financial assistance to
help them keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table
for their children that is one thing, however what is of far
greater concern is the fact that those children are likely to
'feel' forgotten and irrelevant and as a consequence, come to
believe they 'unworthy' of anything more than a life of hardship
and neglect - thereby continuing the cycle of poverty and
deprivation as experienced by their parents. If we were to ask
something more of them at a later date, which we inevitably do,
i.e. when they leave school, how will they fare? Will they be
able to commit and engage in an intelligent manner or will they
be incapable of contributing in a meaningful way because of
their impoverished upbringing? While I have no wish to make
excuses for anyone (irrespective of their ethnicity; albeit
there are always unique circumstances for differing groups), I
am a firm believer in the idea that a nation needs to recognise
its children as its future and unless they are 'enabled' they
will remain a liability. There is no doubt this lack of cohesion
and unity creates extraordinary inefficiencies for Government
Agencies who are mandated with the responsibility of assisting
them. However their ability to actually change their outcomes is
limited to say the least (Incidentally, I have chosen not to
attempt to provide a financial summary of the cost of Maori
failure but rather a view as to what might be possible to help
Are the sobering outcomes Maori continue to experience due to
poor or inadequate policy?
While there will no doubt be some policy failures, I believe our
failure to improve Maori outcomes has more to do with our
failure to 'enable' Maori to 'want' to take responsibility for
themselves and their future than their 'inability' to take care
of themselves as many believe, which is no doubt considered by
all Maori - whether they are facing hardship or not - as an
insult on their intelligence. Unfortunately it is easy for us
(non-Maori) to say that it is Maoridom's failure to take
responsibility for themselves that has led to their demise
rather than a lack of opportunity that has inhibited their
ability to improve - as inferred by their most ardent backers.
Identifying such a difference in my opinion is vital for if we
overlook it we will provide the extremists with the ammunition
they require to fight their cause rather than giving Maori as a
whole a reason to believe they can improve their predicament and
the rest of the nation will support them. The challenge here is
most of us like to think the 'dissatisfaction' in Maoridom is
shared by a small minority when in actual fact I believe Hone
Harawira is right when he says it is infinitely more common than
we like to imagine. A question I believe we each need to ask is
who of Maori descent could we expect to be happy with how things
are or remain unconcerned with the plight of their people? How
could any Maori living in this country not be affected by the
failure of so many of their own? To say they do not support the
extremists may be true but that doesn't mean we should assume
they are comfortable with the status quo. Indeed, I would go as
far as to suggest that if we (non-Maori) adopt the stance that
'most Maori are happy' and there is 'nothing more to be done', we
will increase the number of Maori who turn - even if only on
each other. The reason I say this is because the challenge for
'moderate' Maori is balancing their position between being
grateful for the opportunities their nation has provided them
(as for the rest of us) and empathising with their people about
the problems they are facing. If they appear to share Mr Popata
's sentiment, they risk being marginalised by wider society.
However if they turn their backs on their people or are forced
to look the other way, they risk being perceived by their whanau
as deserters. The point is most Maori I have met believe they
are given equal opportunity however that doesn't negate the fact
that they know too many of their people are failing and
something more needs to be done. That doesn't mean we need to
cave into the extremists demands or adopt an opposing stance,
but if we want to improve their predicament, and thus the future
for us all, it requires us to explore how to enable them to
benefit from what both parties have to offer.
Before I continue it is important I state my position on
'equality' as much of what I have written provides evidence of my
concerns around inequality. To me equality is first and foremost
about having equal 'opportunity'. I do not believe it is about
experiencing an equal 'reality'. The reason I say this is
because I believe life is what we make it meaning it is not only
inappropriate but arguably absurd to expect it can be anything
different. In other words, providing a person is given equal
opportunity to be recognised, acknowledged, educated and
employed is what ultimately matters. If however I assume that
equal opportunity means equal outcomes, I will miss the point
entirely. As an example, if I choose to live in a remote
location, it would be foolish of me to think I would be able to
access world-class education or health care outside my immediate
door. However if I was prepared to get 'on line' or travel to a
central hospital, then I would want to be treated like everyone
else irrespective of my background or ethnicity.
If Maori are to prosper, their Mana will need to be restored. In
order to achieve this, I am of the opinion they will need to
recognise that their significance as a people is not subject to
the 'return of their lands', but will come about as a result of
the 'restoration of pride' in their culture and history. The
reason I believe this to be the case is because no matter how
honourable successive governments may be in wanting to 'right
past wrongs', not all that was taken can be returned. What I
mean by this is while some land (not all by any stretch) will be
returned, the loss of Mana can't be as it was never deliberately
'taken' even though it was evidently 'lost' as a result of
changes in land ownership.
Mana, one could argue, is a term used to not only describe a
person's make-up and character, but also their substance and
capacity (intellectual and physical) as an individual and thus
their 'power' and 'authority'. For this reason Mana more than
just reflects an individual's presence in this world, it
symbolises their worthiness as a human being.
The problem for Maori is not that they are the only people who
value mana (all human beings do), it is the fact that their Mana
is more closely related to their Whakapapa (genealogy) and
Whenua (land) than non-Maori meaning the confiscation of their
lands has had a greater impact on their demise than most of us
like to imagine. If we as a nation recognise the significance of
this notion, we will better understand the cause of Maori
concern over land ownership including the seabed and foreshore.
In many ways one could argue that it doesn't matter who owns
state controlled land providing its usage can be agreed but if
we as differing parties continue to overlook its impact on Maori
(Mana), we may never reach a consensus as to how best to move
forward let alone how to live together.
The problem as I see it is many Maori believe we as non-Maori don't
care about their predicament - which I believe is not only
unfair, it is fundamentally untrue however the problem for non
-Maori is continuing to support their cause when we see minimal
results from our investment and even less appreciation for our
On the other hand the problem for Maori is accepting immigrants,
indeed 'guests' in their homeland, may benefit more than
themselves from what this land has to offer (due to their
respective efforts) while their people continue to suffer from
their perpetuating loss of Mana.
What can non-Maori do to improve Maori outcomes?
In fairness I hope all Kiwis, irrespective of their background,
will continue doing what they can to improve life for all
(including Maori) by accepting a portion of their earnings will
be directed towards our indigenous people's prosperity,
employing others based on their skills and attributes, being
happy to be employed by organisations irrespective of their
owners ethnicity and not discriminating against minorities or
those different from themselves when going about their daily
I also hope we will be willing to enter into a deeper debate
about how we can enable Maori to advance. While we are fortunate
to live in a country that is rich in resources, we can't dig
gold out of the ground to make up for our marginal productivity
meaning we need to explore alternative models (and/or policies)
that better target those who need our assistance; not because we
want to pursue a path towards separatism, but because it is
inappropriate to assume a unique group of New Zealanders will
continue to cost the nation money on a continuing basis when
they are perfectly capable of forging their way if better
understood and enabled.
What can Maori do to improve their outcomes?
The most important thing I believe Maori can do to improve their
situation is to accept the fact that no one is interested in
seeing their people fail. If Maori were to appreciate this point
, it may precipitate a change in attitude that will help them
address their problems. That is not to say that I am suggesting
their issues are not justified however if we are to help Maori
improve their outcomes, we all need to play a part. At the same
time, I believe Maori who are receiving 'special' attention need
to demonstrate an appreciation of our (non-Maori) assistance.
While I know there are many in Maoridom who believe they are
owed, few of us living in this country were personally
responsible for their misfortune. I also believe it will be
important in time for Maori to forgive the rest of us for what
we have done (or failed to do) that has contributed to their
hardship for until they do we will never operate as one (people)
. In saying this I accept it will take an extraordinary amount of
wisdom and strength given all they have suffered, but unless
they can reach such a point (which most non-Maori hoped would be
achieved following the repatriation of land and other financial
settlements) their suffering will only continue.
For the benefit of the next generation, I believe Maori need to
not only demonstrate greater faith in their young, they need to
make a conscious decision to educate their children to prosper
in modern New Zealand. I don't mean indoctrinate them with the
causes of past failures in order keep the racial debate alive,
but to impart a view that will enable them to recognise they are
equal to all and more than capable of succeeding in this land
they call home. This step-change in Maori performance can only
come about as a consequence of leadership and intervention
however not only is it needed, it will be more than welcomed
(one of the reasons I believe so many young Maori have left New
Zealand is because they don't want to suffer the same fate as so
many of those before them).
If we are serious about improving the health and economic
prosperity of our nation, we need to prove to the likes of Mr
Wikatana Popata that we are not as he says disinterested in
Maori, but that we are interested in all and committed to doing
what we can to enable everyone to succeed for if there is one
thing for certain; if Maori fail, New Zealand can only but
To achieve this I propose we shift the conversation from a
'racial' debate to an 'economic' debate - not because I am
interested in trying to mitigate Maori concern, but because I am
interested in trying to find an appropriate nationwide solution.
If the effect (and financial cost) of 'Maori' outcomes continues
as it is trending, it warrants a rethink as to how it should be
positioned in our psyche for the failure of a people is more
than a social issue, it is an economic time bomb.
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