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Added by Craig Steel
A summary of the racial effect on New Zealand’s prosperity

Sadly it is common place for the race debate to rise to the fore on national holidays.

People from the waist down walking across a road crossing

Sadly it is commonplace for the race debate to rise to the fore on national holidays (as it did again this Anzac period when self-proclaimed protagonist Wikatana Popata said he had “had enough of Pakeha” – TVNZ’s Close Up). However, what is less frequently examined but is of greater importance for us as a nation is our ability to understand the economic impact ‘disenfranchised’ groups within our society have on our prosperity.

While we are well aware of the social costs of failing communities, we tend not to enter into the debate as to how we are affected as a nation, a debate we will need to have if we are to advance in the future. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, data confirms Maori are not making any meaningful headway in the areas we consider important in modern society (including health, education, employment, housing, income equality, and crime) despite our efforts to support them. Is this because we as a nation have failed Maori or is it because Maori (or at least too many) have failed to adapt to our changing world?

In fairness, I believe much of the above is not due to ‘failed’ policy or a ‘lack of interest or concern’ as many imply, but rather it is due to the fact that where many Maori continue to live is bereft of opportunity. If we take the far North for example, while idyllic and often beautiful, it offers little to the next generation of Maori even though it is home to Whanau. The point is, where people reside has a significant bearing on the outcomes they experience. If we want access to better health care, education and employment, we may need to move to where these things can be found. If however, we chose to remain where we are, we will need to be more resourceful in order to off-set the limitations we would otherwise encounter (it is interesting to note however that the ‘urbanisation’ of Maori hasn’t mitigated these issues – which I will endeavour to shed some light on as to why that might be the case later).

If facing limited opportunities, most people will take it upon themselves to move in order to improve the circumstances for their family. However for Maori, as indeed for all indigenous people, it isn’t as simple as ‘moving on’ for they tend to consider the role of preserving ancestral lands as an important part of their ‘purpose’ (in life) rather than a ‘job’ for historians. So while most Europeans will willingly move if there are insufficient opportunities to enable them to sustain their way of life, for Maori it is different as moving away from their lands is almost akin to turning their backs on their Hapu.

 

For this reason, I am of the view that we need to explore how we as a nation can better enable or ‘mobilise’ Maori, not to try and take back what was previously theirs, but to once again become a people of pride who have the strength and capacity to make their way (in this world) by leveraging their Mana and history rather than assuming their Mana has been destroyed because of the loss of their lands (incidentally, I support the repatriation of lands wrongly taken; however it will never be sufficient to restore Maori Mana. Rather their Mana, in my opinion, will only ever be restored when they find a way to provide their Tamariki or children with what they need to prosper in the future).

 

If we were to reflect on the ‘cost’ of Maori failure (or the failure of any group for that matter) on our society, it is enormous. Not only are there the direct monetary costs of having to care for their well-being, which any modern society would want to do, there is a social cost to their isolation which affects us all. For example, if a family requires financial assistance to help them keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table for their children that is one thing, however, what is of far greater concern is the fact that those children are likely to ‘feel’ forgotten and irrelevant and as a consequence, come to believe they ‘unworthy’ of anything more than a life of hardship and neglect - thereby continuing the cycle of poverty and deprivation as experienced by their parents. If we were to ask something more of them at a later date, which we inevitably do, i.e. when they leave school, how will they fare? Will they be able to commit and engage in an intelligent manner or will they be incapable of contributing in a meaningful way because of their impoverished upbringing? While I have no wish to make excuses for anyone (irrespective of their ethnicity; albeit there are always unique circumstances for differing groups), I am a firm believer in the idea that a nation needs to recognise its children as its future and unless they are ‘enabled’ they will remain a liability. There is no doubt this lack of cohesion and unity creates extraordinary inefficiencies for Government Agencies that are mandated with the responsibility of assisting them. However, their ability to actually change their outcomes is limited to say the least (Incidentally, I have chosen not to attempt to provide a financial summary of the cost of Maori failure but rather a view as to what might be possible to help Maori succeed).

 

Policy

Are the sobering outcomes Maori continue to experience due to poor or inadequate policy?

While there will no doubt be some policy failures, I believe our failure to improve Maori outcomes has more to do with our failure to ‘enable’ Maori to ‘want’ to take responsibility for themselves and their future than their ‘inability’ to take care of themselves as many believe, which is no doubt considered by all Maori – whether they are facing hardship or not – as an insult on their intelligence. Unfortunately, it is easy for us (non-Maori) to say that it is Maoridom’s failure to take responsibility for themselves that has led to their demise rather than a lack of opportunity that has inhibited their ability to improve – as inferred by their most ardent backers.

Identifying such a difference in my opinion is vital for if we overlook it we will provide the extremists with the ammunition they require to fight their cause rather than giving Maori as a whole a reason to believe they can improve their predicament and the rest of the nation will support them. The challenge here is most of us like to think the ‘dissatisfaction’ in Maoridom is shared by a small minority when in actual fact I believe Hone Harawira is right when he says it is infinitely more common than we like to imagine. A question I believe we each need to ask is who of Maori descent could we expect to be happy with how things are or remain unconcerned with the plight of their people? How could any Maori living in this country not be affected by the failure of so many of their own? To say they do not support the extremists may be true but that doesn’t mean we should assume they are comfortable with the status quo. Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that if we (non-Maori) adopt the stance that ‘most Maori are happy’ and there is ‘nothing more to be done’, we will increase the number of Maori who turn – even if only on each other. The reason I say this is because the challenge for ‘moderate’ Maori is balancing their position between being grateful for the opportunities their nation has provided them (as for the rest of us) and empathising with their people about the problems they are facing. If they appear to share Mr. Popata’s sentiment, they risk being marginalised by wider society. However, if they turn their backs on their people or are forced to look the other way, they risk being perceived by their whanau as deserters. The point is most Maori I have met believe they are given equal opportunity however that doesn’t negate the fact that they know too many of their people are failing and something more needs to be done. That doesn’t mean we need to cave into the extremist’s demands or adopt an opposing stance, but if we want to improve their predicament, and thus the future for us all, it requires us to explore how to enable them to benefit from what both parties have to offer.

 

Before I continue it is important I state my position on ‘equality’ as much of what I have written provides evidence of my concerns around inequality. To me equality is first and foremost about having equal ‘opportunity’. I do not believe it is about experiencing an equal ‘reality’. The reason I say this is because I believe life is what we make it meaning it is not only inappropriate but arguably absurd to expect it can be anything different. In other words, providing a person is given equal opportunity to be recognised, acknowledged, educated and employed is what ultimately matters. If however I assume that equal opportunity means equal outcomes, I will miss the point entirely. As an example, if I choose to live in a remote location, it would be foolish of me to think I would be able to access world-class education or health care outside my immediate door. However if I was prepared to get ‘on line’ or travel to a central hospital, then I would want to be treated like everyone else irrespective of my background or ethnicity.

 

Restoring Mana

If Maori are to prosper, their Mana will need to be restored. In order to achieve this, I am of the opinion they will need to recognise that their significance as a people is not subject to the ‘return of their lands’, but will come about as a result of the ‘restoration of pride’ in their culture and history. The reason I believe this to be the case is that no matter how honourable successive governments may be in wanting to ‘right past wrongs’, not all that was taken can be returned. What I mean by this is while some land (not all by any stretch) will be returned, the loss of Mana can’t be as it was never deliberately ‘taken’ even though it was evidently ‘lost’ as a result of changes in land ownership.

Mana, one could argue, is a term used to not only describe a person’s make-up and character but also their substance and capacity (intellectual and physical) as an individual and thus their ‘power’ and ‘authority’. For this reason Mana more than just reflects an individual’s presence in this world, it symbolises their worthiness as a human being.

The problem for Maori is not that they are the only people who value mana (all human beings do), it is the fact that their Mana is more closely related to their Whakapapa (genealogy) and Whenua (land) than non-Maori meaning the confiscation of their lands has had a greater impact on their demise than most of us like to imagine. If we as a nation recognise the significance of this notion, we will better understand the cause of Maori concern over land ownership including the seabed and foreshore. In many ways one could argue that it doesn’t matter who owns state-controlled land providing its usage can be agreed but if we as differing parties continue to overlook its impact on Maori (Mana), we may never reach a consensus as to how best to move forward let alone how to live together.

The problem as I see it is many Maori believe we as non-Maori don’t care about their predicament - which I believe is not only unfair, it is fundamentally untrue however the problem for non-Maori is continuing to support their cause when we see minimal results from our investment and even less appreciation for our efforts.

On the other hand, the problem for Maori is accepting immigrants, indeed ‘guests’ in their homeland, may benefit more than themselves from what this land has to offer (due to their respective efforts) while their people continue to suffer from their perpetuating loss of Mana.

 

What can non-Maori do to improve Maori outcomes?

In fairness I hope all Kiwis, irrespective of their background, will continue doing what they can to improve life for all (including Maori) by accepting a portion of their earnings will be directed towards our indigenous people’s prosperity, employing others based on their skills and attributes, being happy to be employed by organisations irrespective of their owner’s ethnicity and not discriminating against minorities or those different from themselves when going about their daily business.

I also hope we will be willing to enter into a deeper debate about how we can enable Maori to advance. While we are fortunate to live in a country that is rich in resources, we can’t dig gold out of the ground to make up for our marginal productivity meaning we need to explore alternative models (and/or policies) that better target those who need our assistance; not because we want to pursue a path towards separatism, but because it is inappropriate to assume a unique group of New Zealanders will continue to cost the nation money on a continuing basis when they are perfectly capable of forging their way if better understood and enabled.

 

What can Maori do to improve their outcomes?

The most important thing I believe Maori can do to improve their situation is to accept the fact that no one is interested in seeing their people fail. If Maori were to appreciate this point, it may precipitate a change in attitude that will help them address their problems. That is not to say that I am suggesting their issues are not justified however if we are to help Maori improve their outcomes, we all need to play a part. At the same time, I believe Maori who are receiving ‘special’ attention need to demonstrate an appreciation of our (non-Maori) assistance. While I know there are many in Maoridom who believe they are owed, few of us living in this country were personally responsible for their misfortune. I also believe it will be important in time for Maori to forgive the rest of us for what we have done (or failed to do) that has contributed to their hardship for until they do we will never operate as one (people). In saying this I accept it will take an extraordinary amount of wisdom and strength given all they have suffered, but unless they can reach such a point (which most non-Maori hoped would be achieved following the repatriation of land and other financial settlements) their suffering will only continue.

For the benefit of the next generation, I believe Maori need to not only demonstrate greater faith in their young, but they also need to make a conscious decision to educate their children to prosper in modern New Zealand. I don’t mean indoctrinate them with the causes of past failures in order to keep the racial debate alive, but to impart a view that will enable them to recognise they are equal to all and more than capable of succeeding in this land they call home. This step-change in Maori performance can only come about as a consequence of leadership and intervention however not only is it needed, it will be more than welcomed (one of the reasons I believe so many young Maori have left New Zealand is because they don’t want to suffer the same fate as so many of those before them).

If we are serious about improving the health and economic prosperity of our nation, we need to prove to the likes of Mr Wikatana Popata that we are not as he says disinterested in Maori, but that we are interested in all and committed to doing what we can to enable everyone to succeed for if there is one thing for certain; if Maori fail, New Zealand can only but struggle.

To achieve this I propose we shift the conversation from a ‘racial’ debate to an ‘economic’ debate - not because I am interested in trying to mitigate Maori concern, but because I am interested in trying to find an appropriate nationwide solution. If the effect (and financial cost) of ‘Maori’ outcomes continues as it is trending, it warrants a rethink as to how it should be positioned in our psyche for the failure of a people is more than a social issue, it is an economic time bomb.

 

 

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