Dec 5, 2010

Annette Sykes, Maori Elite and Neo Liberalism

I have an enormous amount of respect for Annette Sykes and I like to think I have more than a few things in common with her. She was born and bred in Kawerau and witnessed “a thriving mill town reduced to a community that is dependant on the diminishing generosity of the welfare state”. This experience shaped her perspective. I was also born in Kawerau (in 1991) and I grew up witnessing the horrifying consequences of Ruth Richardson’s neo liberal fantasies and this experience shaped my perspective. Whenever I came back from boarding school and now university I always take time to reflect on the damage two decades of neo liberal policies have had on the town.    

But anyway Annette recently delivered the annual Bruce Jesson lecture and spoke about ‘The Politics of the Brown Table’. It was an illuminating speech and well worth a read as she sheds light on the National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF) and the Iwi Leadership Group (ILG). The Maori Party also cops substantial criticism. In the previous post I made a number of observations about the ILG from an outsider’s perspective. Annette is very active in Maori politics and her speech contains a collection of perceptive insights into the ILG and the NICF from an insider’s perspective. You can read her presentation here. This post is a further discussion of some of her points and neo liberalism.

Much of her address is a harsh critique of the so called ‘iwi elite’ and their neo liberal agenda. In my opinion her assessments are true and justified. Without doubt neo liberalism undermines Maori efforts for self determination. Neo liberalism encourages the privatisation of communal assets, the commodification of Maori land, the extension of market forces into Maori areas previously untouched and an increase in corporate power and inequality. This all contributes to depriving Maori of the ability to determine the conditions of their lives. Annette Sykes quotes Moana Jackson who makes the pertinent point that Rangatiratanga;

“has in effect been redefined yet again as a neo liberal right of self management bound by the good faith of the Crown and what the Court of Appeal called in the 1987 Case the ‘right to govern’. Moving on from the past and recognising the special place of tangata whenua has become a journey not of constitutional change but of devolution and the authority of the State to devolve or permit Iwi to manage certain resources and programmes subject to government funding and rules of contract”

Neo liberalism makes our people sick.

Annette also discussed iwi authorities. It is worth touching on iwi authorities as market models with an indigenous flavour. In the push for development iwi have embraced the neo liberal model. Iwi are now seeking neo liberal ends such as the right to exploit natural resources and the commodification of land and taonga. They also want to play a part in the privatisation agenda of the current government (e.g.private prisons, PPP etc...). It appears to me that iwi authorities have rationalised such goals by adopting the ‘trickle down’ philosophy. They seem to reason that Maori participation in the neo liberal experiment will result in indirect ‘trickle down’ benefits for ordinary Maori despite the trickle down theory been rather discredited. Iwi authorities are also structured like a bad business. There is a worrying overlap between governance and management (leading to more power in the hands of management), little to no accountability and murky decision making processes.

 I like this particular observation Annette made not of iwi authorities but Maori authorities in respect of a new Maori hegemony;

“The compliant acceptance of this state of affairs, by the few not the many, illustrates the continued subjugation of Maori to a neo liberal economic hegemony to protect the stability of the construct of Crown unitary sovereignty”

Annette also believes, and I tautoko this, that the NICF and the ILG are enagaging with government on behalf of Maori without a mandate. Certainly I do not know who my Ngati Awa representative is nor do I remember any person ever coming forward to discuss receiving such a mandate. I do not know if this is the situation with other iwi but I would assume it is. It is vitally important that the NICF have an established mandate as they have been leading dialogue with the government on many issues – instead of the Maori Party. However, it appears the NICF and the ILG are a just a group of self elected elites. “High Caste” as Annette puts it.

Annette makes a great point that it suits the government to have a “one stop shop” for Maori policy in the form of the ILG. Why? Because the government can fulfil their statutory consultation obligations and expect not to run into unworkable opposition because the ILG support their neo liberal agenda.

So I encourage you to read Annette’s speech - it truly is excellent. My hope is people of her standing and ability are listened to by our so called Maori leaders.

Hat tip Te Whaainga Wahine 


  1. I’ve been considering this issue of corporate iwi elite for a while - I’d like to put a counter argument almost as a devils advocate.

    Maori as people have all sorts of ideologies – they have evolved as we have and they are valid because at the core they incorporate Te Ao Maori. Do we really believe that Tuku Morgan or Mark Solomon have plans to make themselves billionaires whilst their people starve and suffer. Are the members of the ILG and all of the other ones scum who are betraying themselves and their people? Or is it that they are doing their best under an oppressive capitalist worldview, combined with the monumental effects of colonisation, to gather power and influence for maori. What influence do they actually have? What jet airplanes are they flying around in? Mark Solomon’s pay is in Ngai Tahu’s annual report along with all of the various ways the money is being spent to empower maori. So what is the story? They are victims like all maori because they are maori. They aren’t some powerful elite – they are ex truck drivers and school teachers who have been elevated to positions within their iwi. They didn’t ask the government to set up the corporate iwi structures – they were given them and we have seen the scrutiny they get and the ridicule when mistakes are made. By defining maori via class or some other western construct, we devalue our own heritage and kaupapa. We are maori that is the beginning and end of the story. We use whatever to further the empowerment of maori as we always have done. We use the throwaways they give us and we tunnel away and undermine their paltry agendas and when the dust is settled, maori are empowered.

  2. Kia ora Marty,

    Initially I was hesitant to define this issue as one of class and economics primarily because I do not like the application of these ideas to Maori because they often do not capture Te Ao Maori, our Maori worldview, so are more often than not inapplicable (I also did not want to sound like Chris Trotter and the commentators over at the Standard). Reading your reply Marty I think I was mistaken to define the issue as such and the other points you make are right. Tēnā koe.

    However, I am not sure all ideologies are compatible with Te Ao Maori. Although some can be adapted to incorporate Te Ao Maori while others can be understood through Te Ao Maori I firmly believe neo liberalism cannot be reconciled with the Maori worldview.

    But hei aha, it is far easier to criticise than it is to understand and acknowledge.

  3. Kia ora muzza

    The issue is complex and this idea of what is authentic maori voices is interesting.

    I probably should have added this footnote (from my post)

    "So I let myself rant on a bit there - aroha mai. Just remember that IMO empowerment of maori, will empower us all and bring us all together - we are all connected on the same waka.

    My point around the ranting is that the real enemies for all of us are capitalist, commodification, individualist, selfish and greedy ideologies - they are not maori constructs although some maori follow those false gods with vigour.

    I oppose those false gods with vigour."

    I am pretty sure we are in agreement on this.

  4. Indeed we are.

    There is not a more insidious force that undermines Maori efforts for self determination than capitalism. The notion of production for private benefit will never translate into progress for all Maori.

    So it is interesting watching Iwi leaders pursue capitalist ends such as mineral exploitation rights, intellectual property rights and other property rights. Combine this with the available capital of Iwi katoa and the political clout of Iwi leaders and Maori begin to look like a very powerful people. Perhaps Maori are beginning to use capitalism to their advantage?

    But we must be aware of the by-products of capitalism. For example the destruction of our traditional food sources through the pollution of waterways or the destruction of our whenua as a result of waste problems.

    Maori must also be mindful of the past and take into account the experiences of other indigenous peoples if we are to manage capitalism to our advantage. I think it can be done and must be done because I do not see an end to capitalism in the foreseeable future.

  5. Excellent post. In response to the devils advocate argument even if becoming a Maori Elite was not something they consciously did it is still negative in its impact on Maori where the advancement of Maori happens only to a few and governments should try and distribute resources to Maori through its settlements in ways that do not allow an elite to be forcibly created within the Iwi. Those Maori leaders if they care for their Iwi should also do their best to mitigate its effects where possible. Len Brown for example was given a supercity with little avenue for providing local public engagement but he took that engagement and increased it himself through the powers he was given. There is no reason statutory created Iwi bodies cannot do the same if given good leadership.

  6. Well, i finished high school, was married before I had kids, and am a professional. Statistically speaking, that makes me Maori elite. I'm also fluent in my reo and know my way round my marae, which the vast majority of my whanau are not and do not. Am I embarrassed of ashamed of being in the so called elite? Hell no, I celebrate it, and I work my ass off to support my whanau to be 'successful' too in whatever way they can.

    This tearing down of succsssful Maori and the imposition of a class perspective is actually, in my view, the antithesis of what my culture is about.

    Now I think Annette has a point in terms of political structures and Crown/iwi engagement, but the personal attacks on individual Maori is patronising of the wider iwi base (ie Annette assumes that her experience is representatvie of everyones's, and that all iwi leaders are disconnected from their people). And actually all of the iwi chairs she name checks are regularly re-elected by their people!

    It is also counter-productive because Annette offers no solutions. So how are iwi supposed to provide services for their people, unless they have an economic base? How can iwi leaders better communicate with their people? Those are all valid questions, but Annette offers no solutions except that tangata need to be more connected with whenua (How? What does that even mean? Labouring jobs?!), the establishment of a Planning Council (comprised of whom? presumably not iwi leaders!) and a series of constitutional hui (didnt we try that in the 80s?)

    I guess its true, haters gonna hate!



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