I enjoyed reading Chester Borrows' excellent article about Inaia Tonu nei, "We Lead You Follow" but it makes sober and sad reading.
We as a country are failing Maori, our indigenous people.
When I hear white folk say that Maori just need to "get over themselves, that all happened so long ago" I reflect on how wrong they are. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, 179 years ago, the year my English great grandfather was born.
He came to New Zealand and fought in the campaigns of the 1860s, now known as the Land Wars and he sat my father on his lap in the 1920s. My grandfather was born in 1880, one year before the tragedy of Parihaka and I sat on his lap in the 1950s.
My Maori great grandmother grew up in the Chathams after marauding northern tribes, armed with European-provided muskets, drove her iwi from North Taranaki to Wellington and then on to the Chathams.
There are still people alive today who knew this very old generation personally.
I am not old, my youngest sibling is 53.
Get where I am going here. What we have done to Maori as a country has been done in a very short period of time. In the early 1800s, about the time Ngapuhi started arming up with muskets for utu against other tribes, there were estimated to be about 100,000 Maori.
Within about 20 years this fell through the depredations of the Musket Wars and European disease to around 70,000 people.
By 1890 the Maori population was down to 37,000 people through disease, terrible living conditions and trauma from war with a very high child mortality rate.
It was only the interventions of a few very clever and influential Maori that stopped the flow downwards, Sir James Carroll, Sir Apirana Ngata, Dr Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck) and Dr Maui Pomare to name a few. On a lighter note here, Buck and Pomare were from my iwi.
Memories of trauma are very raw for many Maori. Sure a lot have done very well but a significant proportion of Maori are not thriving, just look at the statistics, they make appalling reading for a group that make up 15 to 20 per cent of a population.
To quote Chester: "the Pakeha rate of incarceration is about 103 per 100,000 and the rate of imprisonment for Maori is 620 per 100,000". Is that something that a so-called first world Western nation should be proud of?
Maori grow up expecting a raw deal from those in authority. As a cop I was often told by the young Maori men I was arresting that I was only locking them up because they were Maori.
This, initially, shocked me but over the years I came to understand a bit what they meant. Sure I had arrested them for provable offending but what lead them to that offending compared to their Pakeha mates?
As an ex-front line worker in our society I can tell you it is a lifetime of abuse, a lack of understanding in education about what makes Maori children tick, a justice system that is skewed against the poor and under-educated, lack of employment chances, losing parents and older people who should be role models too soon due to endemic bad health and an overwhelming sense of apathy following the land confiscations of the late 1800s.
We need to do better as a country.
When I see the young Maori leaders making a stand at Ihumatao I applaud them. Sure they have attracted rent-a-demos but their hearts are in the right place.
Whilst this may be an internal iwi tiff some old people probably need to listen to their Rangatahi. There will be an answer somewhere in the middle, that is the Maori way.