Hone Harawira – speaking truth to power

If you drive from Auckland to Hamilton you pass through some of the richest farmland in the world. Settlements like Pokeno, Rangiriri and Huntly dot the route as the road runs down from the Bombay Hills and along the Waikato River.

Along the way virtually everything you see in all directions is confiscated land. It was stripped from Tainui after the British colonial army marched down Auckland’s Great South Road and invaded the Waikato in 1863. The land was taken for the alleged “rebellion” of Tainui but the Waitangi Tribunal found the people of the Waikato had never rebelled but had been forced into a defensive war.

The same story is repeated around the country most particularly in the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki. All together more than three million acres of prime land was confiscated as a result of the land wars of the 1840s and 1860s.

Even Tuhoe, who refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, had their most productive coastal lands in the Bay of Plenty confiscated by the Crown because they supported other tribes in the defence of their land such as at the famous battle at Orakau Pa. The confiscation of land was officially punishment for Maori resistance but the real reasons were to provide highly productive land for land-hungry European settlers as well as to defray the costs of war to seize the land in the first place.

Other myriad cases of alienation of Maori land through bribery, corruption and theft have been well-documented through the Waitangi Tribunal process but the history remains obscure to most.

Alienation has continued through most of the intervening decades. The Maori Land Court was used to individualise and privatise land titles and force the sale of Maori owned land through demanding payment of rates and dog taxes. More land was seized under the Public Works Act for war purposes and never returned.

Setting aside the expletives, Hone Harawira was 100% correct when he said “…white motherf…ers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries.” And later when he singled out Phil Goff and Labour for the biggest recent land grab – the foreshore and seabed – it needs to be seen as part of the same historical context. Those who say the issues of the 19th century have no relevance in the 21st century ignore recent history and how the devastating impact of colonisation on Maori continues to be visited in the present.

None of this should need to be said but the reaction of so many to Harawira’s angry email resembles the deeply embedded racism which Don Brash tapped into so successfully a few years back at Orewa.

I’ve been very critical in the past of the Maori Party judging people on their race rather than their behaviour. For example the refusal of Pita Sharples to criticise Robert Mugabe as he brutalised Zimbabweans, the support shown for Donna Awatere-Huata (convicted fraudster) and Taito Philip-Field (convicted of bribery and corruption). In each case the Maori Party leadership reacted to race first and behaviour second despite Awatere-Huata and Field ripping off the very people the Maori Party claims to represent. For some reason this was lost on Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia.

For the next couple of weeks this saga will continue – the Maori Party leadership trying to force Harawira’s resignation and him defending his position in the party. None of this will take Maori or New Zealand any further forward.

Abandoning Hone Harawira is a deeply disappointing approach by the party leadership. It seems they are more concerned about negative pakeha reaction than about the fundamental accuracy of Harawira’s comments and how they are perceived by Maori. It seems Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples have begun to take on the attitudes and values of their political colleagues in coalition.

For her part Tariana Turia has made it her priority to work with National ministers to implement the Whanau Ora programme whereby Maori families will get co-ordinated support from Maori providers through Maori networks. There will be some gains for Maori but these are unlikely to be significant because we know the underlying cause of the extreme social problems we face in New Zealand is the high level of income inequality which has blossomed in the past 25 years. Hone Harawira is the Maori MP who understands this better than most.

It’s the Maori Party leadership, rather than Hone Harawira, which faces a critical decision in the next couple of weeks. Will it seek to appease National or will it accommodate its strongest voice which speaks truth to power?