Many Maori, including myself, feel let down by the Maori Party. The party promised so much, there was grand rhetoric and great notions of what could be achieved but sadly reality diverged from the desired script. A common criticism from the left is the Maori Party has favoured symbol over substance and to a lesser extent shown far too much deference to the ‘Iwi elite’ and not enough compassion towards Maori at the flaxroot. But by framing the issue as one of class and of symbol vs. substance are we missing the bigger picture? Are symbolic gains and deference to iwi leaders the first step towards a larger goal? I think so.
The Maori Party’s primary goal is to normalise kaupapa Maori and empower the Maori political establishment and in turn empower Maori – essentially a long term strategic goal. Therefore, I think the Maori Party is of the view that they cannot empower Maori until Maori issues enter the mainstream consciousness and are an accepted part of the government’s agenda. Second to that goal is to empower a political establishment that can engage and persuade the government of the day – cue the Iwi Leaders Group. With this in mind it appears that the party’s symbolic gains are about normalising Maori issues and are a step towards real Maori empowerment while the party’s deference to iwi leaders is about empowering a politically effective Maori organisation that can influence the agenda and outcome of political decision making.
Unless Maori issues are a permanent part of the political landscape we will always struggle to remain relevant, struggle to cultivate understanding and remain recipients of token gestures when the political climate allows. Furthermore, unless iwi are empowered they have no chance to effectively leverage government on our behalf and therefore bend the system in our favour.
However, I do not think this is full justification for some of the actions the Maori Party has taken. As I have detailed in previous posts I am very, very disappointed with what the Party has done. This post may give the impression I have had a change of heart – I haven’t. Lew’s comments in this post and the views of some friends have led me to reflect more closely on the party’s motives.