Apr 13, 2012

The trouble with a tribal parliament

Interesting news from RNZ:

Some members of the Te Arawa tribe are looking at the possibility of creating a "tribal parliament", says the chairperson of the Rotorua-based Te Arawa Lakes Trust, Toby Curtis.

Initially floated a few years ago, the concept gained momentum at the trust's annual meeting in March, and Mr Curtis says an organisation has been set up to investigate the details of setting up a single tribal body.


Tainui iwi would be willing to help the Te Arawa iwi set up a tribal parliament in the Bay of Plenty, says spokesperson, Rahui Papa.

(Mr Curtis) says the Kauhanganui or the Waikato-Tainui Parliament model appeals to him, because both tribes have similarities.

That’s a worry. Te Kauhanganui (TK) has proved ineffective as a governing body. Te Arataura, the executive committee, has acted (often against the wishes of the majority of the tribe) without restraint from TK. It would be stupid to model a Te Arawa parliament on TK.

The complexity of many iwi structures breeds internal instability. Often there is no clear hierarchy, powers and responsibilities overlap and tribal members are excluded from the day to day running of the tribe’s assets and, quite often, denied the benefits of those assets.

I cautiously, very cautiously, support the idea of tribal parliaments. However, the autonomy of the hapu must be retained. Under the Tainui model Marae and hapu are largely irrelevant in the face of the Tainui superstructure. Te Kauhanganui, Te Arataura, Tainui Group Holdings, the Kingitanga and so on overshadow and diminish the role of the Marae and hapu. Power is centralised and then dispersed among subsidiaries, for example Tainui Group Holdings.

One element of the problem is that specialist legislation is not in place to create suitable iwi structures. Many iwi structures work within the framework of, for example, the Incorporated Societies Act, rather than an act relevant to Maori needs. This is one area where the Maori and Mana parties are very quiet. Labour has made some noises around evaluating post-settlement iwi structures, but has not released any detail.


  1. If there is a tribal Parliament will they also represent urban Maori who no longer have any Iwi or Hapu connections?

  2. Hi Alex,

    Well, presumably not. Most runanga, tribal governing bodies etc have no formal mechanism to recognise and give representation to urban Maori. At least not that I know of.

  3. "I cautiously, very cautiously, support the idea of tribal parliaments."

    This is basically my position too. They are a good idea in theory (although not a game changer) but in practice their implementation's been pretty weak.

  4. The problem with tribal parliaments is that try to emulate the NZ Parliament. They never achieve equality without the power to make laws and collect taxes. The best option is greater autonomy at hapu and marae level. At that level everyone participates and everyone benefits.
    Ko te raru o nga paremata o nga iwi, ka whakamatau kia orite ki te mana o te Paremata o Aotearoa. E kore rawa e taea mehemea kaore he mana hanga ture, kaore hoki he mana ki te kohi taake. He pai ake te tuku i te rangatiratanga ki nga hapu me nga marae. Kei reira te iwi whanui. Ka whai wahi te katoa i roto i nga mahi, a, ka whai hua te katoa. Kei reira te whakatutukitanga o te korero a Lincoln, "ka riro ma te iwi ratou ano e whakahaere, hei painga mo te iwi." Kaore kau he wahi mo te tangata e hiahia ana kia rangatira ake i tona whanau, kia whiwhi hoki i nga manomano tara hei utu-a-tau.

  5. @ Morgan - So wouldn't that then mean that a tribal Parliament would do nothing for the various segments of Maori society that are more likely to be disadvantaged?



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