Is it the emotive urgency of the karanga, the old kuia's voice trembling with passion as she welcomes people onto the marae?

Is it the deep beauty of whaikōrero, when poetry, proverbs, politics, the past and the present collide in the soaring oratory of the elders?

Is it the laughter of Māori children, singing waiata at kōhanga reo around the country?

Or is it the raised voices of protest that have delivered my people from the brink of destruction to the opportunities for revitalisation that we have today?


Why are so many Pākehā so scared of hearing what Māori have to say?

Over the past few months, a war has been raging in provincial New Zealand. On one side, a Pākehā majority has argued that allowing the indigenous minority to elect representatives from their community to represent them is undemocratic.

On the other, a Māori minority has continued the battle for rights and representation that we've been fighting for over 200 years.

Five towns and cities around New Zealand have rejected Māori wards recently, influenced, no doubt, by the right wing lobby group Hobson's Pledge, which poured resources into campaigns to encourage voters to vote against seats for Māori representatives.

By a racist quirk in our legislation, if a mere 5 per cent of voters present a petition to a local authority, it is bound by law to hold a referendum on Māori representation. It's a loophole not available to anyone who opposes a specific ward for farmers.

And we have plenty of those. Around the country, rural wards feature prominently on many councils. Their existence means that a minority – farmers – have an outsized influence upon public decision-making.

Funny, isn't it, how democracy picks and chooses who it favours?

Funny too how Hobson's Pledge isn't railing against the clearly undemocratic rural wards.


When it boils down to it, this argument is about hearing each other, and those who vote against Māori wards are in essence voting against listening to Māori opinions.

They're voting against having a few people around the decision-making table who can say, "I've followed the tikanga (protocols) of my people, I've spoken to the key stakeholders, and this is the view that they'd like to add to the wider conversation on this issue."

Māori wards will not mean that Māori have the power to make decisions about issues that affect the whole community.

They will no more bring about tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) than the Māori seats in Parliament could bring about any power wielding mechanism for Māori self-governance.

Indeed, a significant criticism of Māori wards is that they don't allow for any real shift in the balance of power. Which is why this conversation really comes back to being heard.

Māori hear Pākehā all the time. With the greatest respect to my Pākehā colleagues, it doesn't escape me that I am one of very few regular Māori columnists in the print media. I suspect that, along with my colleague John Tamihere, we might be the only Māori columnists currently writing a regular opinion column for a national newspaper.

A couple of Māori voices among a newspaper commentariat of a significant number are not enough. And the underrepresentation of Māori voices continues throughout much of the mainstream media.

The media can be seen as an interesting parallel in this situation. I wasn't given a column because I am Māori. I am not employed to write about Māori affairs in a way that a specialised Māori issues reporter might be. I write columns about all kinds of things, and as a result, I inevitably miss writing about many of the important issues that affect Māori.

I also don't speak te reo Māori (although I'm learning), and I wasn't raised in the Māori world. So I do not have the level of understanding required to be able to represent the happenings of Te Ao Māori adequately. I do my best, but it's not enough.

The same can be said of Government. It is true that Māori do sometimes get elected to general seats both in local and central government, (although representation at a local government level is particularly low) but as generalists, they aren't able to represent Māori in the way that a councillor elected in a Māori ward could.

A significant number of Māori in local and central government also have little engagement with Te Ao Māori – they may be on their own journeys to understanding their whakapapa and Māoritanga – so some of them don't have the skills or experience to act as a bridge between the Māori and Pākehā worlds.

Which is where the Māori seats come into their own. MPs elected to Māori seats are expected by their electorates to know Māori issues inside out. They're expected to be at hui, to speak kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) with the people they represent, and they're expected to then take the knowledge and the views of their people back to Parliament, so they can be heard and factored into decisions made by the house.

It's much the same logic that I'm sure was followed when rural wards for farmers were adopted. And that's without even going into the fact that much of the land that is included in rural wards was stolen from Māori.

And while I've avoided going there in this column, because I know that if I bring up our problematic history a slew of letters will land on my editor's desk before you could say "colonisation", we all know, deep down, that this double standard for farmers makes a farcical mockery of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Does the majority have the right to vote on whether or not the minority should be heard? Should a large and powerful group be able to deny a small and less powerful group the opportunity to be represented in public decision-making?

Apparently, if you're a farmer, no. If you're Māori, yes.