Jon Stokes: Clear air at Waitangi this year for Maori to ponder a big question

Victoria Kingi, Maori Housing Conference organising committee member. Photo / John Borren
Victoria Kingi, Maori Housing Conference organising committee member. Photo / John Borren

Miraculously as we build up to this year's Waitangi Day, there is not a misguided and emotive "Maori" issue dominating the nation's attention, writes Jon Stokes.

Last year somehow, the TPP was allocated as the most pressing issue for Maori.

It should not have been, and as it turns out it was not an especially important issue for Maori. Ironically, it was neutered by the leader of the very country the agreement was said to be designed to favour.

This year, other than the shenanigans of some at Te Tii Marae, and the issue of who from the political ranks will attend its pageantry, there is opportunity for the most pressing issue to be one actually relevant to Maori.

This year is an election year, which will determine whether there is real momentum in focusing on the crucial myriad of issues for Maori including housing, income disparity, education, health, and Maori development over the coming three years.

The last year has seen some harrowing outcomes for minorities in some of the world's largest and most powerful democracies. We have seen a growing nationalism among disaffected middle-class white voters in the UK and US.

Reading the feedback on media websites and general social media pages, shows this country too has an increasingly vocal and vicious group who share the views of many of the Trump crew intent on taking down the "Libtards" and who do not believe anything from the "liberal mainstream media".

Oddly I see several brown faces weighing-in on the side of many of the simplistic and ultimately damaging policies and views being shared and implemented by Trump, his administration and supporters.

This election year, Maori issues will be again topical.

Backlash and criticism of the "privilege" Maori endure will return as a theme that will be eagerly supported by a growing number of those looking for something to blame for the failings in their world and sense that the dominance their demographic once enjoyed is now waning.

Maori, this year especially, will need a champion to respond when the attacks come and to shine light on the "alternative facts" which are now the staple of the hard right.

We will need champions to withstand Winston, and whichever Act politician and stray National MP or electoral hopeful has a go and seeks the easy route of criticising Maori.

The Maori Party, which has been ably led by Minister of Maori Affairs Te Ururoa Flavell, supported by his articulate and confident co-leader Marama Fox, are ideally placed to be our champions.

There has been a reinvigoration of the party in recent years and it has been more nimble and active in responding to the needs of Maori and ensuring we are getting a fairer share of government resources.

Tuku Morgan as relatively new party president can take some credit for this invigoration. Tuku is a man who is excellent at working the crowd.

He just struggles to follow through on promises made, and to know where his influence stops and it becomes the responsibility of others.

There is the challenge for Maori at Waitangi. Who will be our champions? Who will control the Maori party as we move towards election later this year and following the election.

If candidates are selected by the regions, and if voters in the seven Maori electorates decide who goes to Parliament, what part do the unelected officials of the "royal house" of the Kingitanga have in influencing Maori Party policy and decisions.

Is it really possible for Hone and the Mana Party to work in an alliance with the Maori Party?

If Labour manages to offer enough sweeteners to Winston to get NZ First to coalesce with them and the Greens to form the next government, then what real influence will Labour's Maori MPs have in such a crowded tent?

When Maori congregate this Waitangi Day, be they iwi leaders at the Bay of Islands Copthorne, or speakers at Te Tii Marae, or those throughout the motu who may be fishing, swimming, relaxing and spending time with whanau - they need to set aside time and deliberation to determine how Maori are best placed to maximise their potential for the next three years, by deciding who we want leading and ensuring our voice is heard, and that we are getting our fair share of allocation resources from the corridors of power after the next election.

Jon Stokes is a former Maori issues reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

- NZ Herald

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