By Ward Kamo
We're a few days post Waitangi Day. Nothing like some space to get a realistic look at the events of that day. The general mood of political commentary was that "something has changed". Breathless articles spoke of "historic speeches", "history-breaking right to speak on marae" and "PM wins at Waitangi".
This is all in reference to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's five days at Waitangi. And let's not be churlish. She was very good. Her speech at the Waitangi grounds was faultless. And her serving breakfast to hundreds of attendees was a masterstroke that will have resonated strongly with Nga Puhi and the other iwi in attendance. It is the same 'Kiwi' touch that John Key brought to the role and that made him so popular.
But I am discomfited by the breathless reporting from Waitangi as though all Maori issues have been resolved merely by the presence of the youthful Prime Minister Ardern. There is a growing 'Obama' feel with this prime minister in the way elements of the media are portraying her.
Barack Obama was hailed early in his presidency as the new hope for the world. So much so he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 (merely months into his presidency) on the basis it would give momentum to a set of causes — presumably world peace being one of them. This was before Obama had actually done anything concrete to enhance world peace. And history now shows he didn't do much for world peace at all.
Embarrassingly, in 2015 the ex-Secretary of the Nobel Committee Geir Lundestad expressed disappointment the award had not achieved what the committee had hoped for.
I think the quote from the late Christopher Hitchens, the acerbic British commentator, concerning Obama's Nobel Peace Prize best sums up where we stand with the current Prime Minister. He wrote "good intentions are rewarded before they have undergone the strenuous metamorphosis of being translated into good deeds or hard facts".
With that in mind what has the Prime Minister and her new government actually done, apart from give a great speech, for people to believe things have changed in regards to the vexed issue of race relations? Well the short answer is 'nothing'.
Further the lack of protest the Prime Minister faced could more reasonably be attributed to the move away from Te Tii Marae where most of the shenanigans (mud flinging, PM pushing, and dildo throwing) normally occur.
The Waitangi Grounds is a tightly controlled space that is well policed and well managed by the trustees there. There was never going to be protest up there. So it's a stretch to say this Prime Minister has brought a calm previously not seen.
I'm also discomfited that the success of Waitangi continues to be attributed to the Government. And this is a shot at governments past as well as present. There is nary a mention of iwi contribution to the success and calm of Waitangi Day (and let's be real — the past few Waitangi Days have largely been peaceful notwithstanding the odd thrown sex toy). It is always attributed to central government political leadership.
The focus is always on prime ministers as though they have the ultimate mana when it comes to defining the tone for our national day.
Maori speakers at Waitangi are often given a cursory one-line quote in various articles describing the day and it's often only the line that drew a laugh from the audience (Clarke Gayford being referred to as 'Clark Gable' by one speaker was one of the few quotes given). Otherwise iwi are nothing more than bit players in the drama that is Waitangi Day reporting — unless they are protesting.
Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little was quoted as saying: "I think the overwhelming impression of this weekend is people were looking for something new … and we've kind of seen that". Great.
But what will be new and a genuine measure of how united we have become as a nation is when Maori leaders' speeches and comments are given the same space and breathless reporting as Pakeha leaders.