Jon Stokes: Waitangi grandstanding wasted opportunity for Maori

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This year's Waitangi "issue" has been selected. Photo / John Stone
This year's Waitangi "issue" has been selected. Photo / John Stone

This year's Waitangi "issue" has been selected. It has been determined that the TPP agreement is the most pressing issue on the Maori agenda.

While I disagree, probably favouring inequality and housing as more pressing, I am left to ponder who decides the "issue" each year as the hardy annual of Waitangi Day commemorations rolls around?

Each year there is a new topic, or a variation of a previous one, normally involving protest. Often the most vocal critics get the most attention, cue Kingi Taurua, who it is fair to say is not the media go-to man on any other Maori issues, or any other issues for that matter, at any other time of the year.

Does anyone remember how important it was that the Maori (party) flag be flown on the Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day? Or the speculation about whether Helen Clark would attend Te Tii Marae? Or what protest action the Popata brothers would be involved in that year?

The most depressing thing about the predictable and cyclic nature of this process is that, firstly, it demonstrates the poor leadership and inability to co-ordinate across Maoridom, and, as a result, a lack of ability to decide and set a beneficial agenda for Maori for the national focus that comes each year.

Imagine Waitangi commemorations focused, for example, on analysing why Maori suffer far more deprivation and inequality than non-Maori in our society and seeking solutions and Government support.

Secondly, it shows that Maori have limited control over Waitangi Day's messages, and that invariably this becomes the plaything of others to determine what the pressing "issues" for Maori will be each year in the days between Ratana Celebrations on January 24-25 and Waitangi on February 5-6.

Thirdly, it means that too often emotion and impulse take the place of strategy and analysis among our "leaders" or those who are determined to speak on behalf of "Maori".

Of all the speakers and views at Ratana last month, why was it that criticism of the TPP by Tainui chairman Rahui Papa was used by most media?

I will make a prediction. There will be theatrics at the commemorations this year.

There will be images of flags waving and protesters marching. There will be emotional speeches which will garner much attention.

We will be able to read of these things and watch on television leading up to and including February 6.

Then on February 7, the sun will rise again, and life will go on, and another opportunity to focus on something achievable for Maori will have been lost.

Will the TPP signing be reversed or will New Zealand's involvement as a country change as a result of whatever happens before and leading up to this year's Waitangi Day commemorations?

Will one job for Maori be created, or will a whanau move out of poverty as a result of the actions of those who are committed to saying "no" to the TPP?

Will Jane Kelsey and co be as equally eager to help with legal challenges and submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal on more typical and mundane realities for Maori such as addressing the disproportionate representation across almost all negative social statistics that Maori endure?

Since protests at Waitangi Day commemorations became the norm, Maori have made some progress from the exclusion and absence from the decision-making tables in this country that was once the norm.

Yet in some areas, we remain rudderless and like reeds in the wind to the whims of others in determining what are the most pressing issues for Maori on the one day when we are guaranteed to get national attention - Waitangi Day.

• Jon Stokes (Raukawa, Maniapoto) is a former Herald reporter on Maori issues who provides communication and strategy advice to a range of Maori and non-Maori individuals and organisations.

- NZ Herald

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