Opinion: In a conversation this week I was reminded of the fatigue many Māori feel when elections roll around. It has been remarked on to me very often over the years. “Here we go, as the election nears it is a good bet that issues of Māori ‘privilege’ will raise their head. When political footballs get kicked around they are typically brown.” This year looks like no exception, and may be a new peak.

Both Act and National got the dogs barking and running in circles with some early use of the “whio kuri” [dog whistle]. But we are now pretty much out in the open-shouting-stage of the voter mustering process.

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Whether it is hospital waiting lists, governance of public entities, education content or resource management, outrage is stirred among those who feel their life is being adversely affected by any action to improve Māori lives. Whether there is a potentially adverse effect or not (with the latter almost universally the case) it seems emotion can be readily stirred.

As the week rolled around I got into a discussion about this with a Pākehā business associate I have known for a long time and who I respect. We are able to discuss quite a bit from different viewpoints without scrapping, and this was no exception. Part of the discussion referenced an idea that is not uncommon, that being “Maori” in public debate is a very broad concept from people who are deeply immersed in Te Ao Māori through to those who have little knowledge of association with their whakapapa. The idea advanced was that if more special provisions were made for Māori then a very wide range of people might choose to identify with that for their own benefit.

You are much better to walk arm in arm with someone who is alongside you and strong, than someone who is neither. That thought should guide us all

As it happens I do know people who have taken advantage of various special entry or support provisions who I might have thought did not need them. That is part of “middle class capture” of many social supports and I might say it is predominately a Pākehā pursuit. But this idea there is too much special provision and that people who are somehow less than fully “Māori” take advantage of it is something different and it is far from unique to my conversation. The idea is that many people who may not be considered by others to be Māori will identify as such whether they have strong and obvious such relationship or not.

My answer was, so what? Maybe it is a good thing. If it becomes so attractive to be Māori that even those who are not Māori try to become Māori, then we might all be better off. We could indigenise “privilege” and mount a sneaky attack on racism!

Of course we know that nothing like this is anywhere near happening. The special provisions that are being made here and there for Māori still go nowhere near delivering equity. There will continue to be a strong case for specific provisions promoting Māori interests based on human rights, Tiriti rights, and simple common sense responses to inequity (ie doing more of what works and less of what does not work).

Just a few days previously I had been privileged to be at a hui at Manuwera Marae in Tāmaki Makaurau.

In a really strong speech, Rawiri Waititi addressed the people there: “You may not know your maunga. You may not know your awa. Your awa and your maunga know you. You may not know your reo. But your reo knows you. You may not know your marae, but your marae knows you. You are good enough because our tipuna made it so.” It was a call to unite around authentic Māori voices. And it was inclusive of any whakapapa links that could be established. His korero was also inclusive of those who did not whakapapa, like me.

You are much better to walk arm in arm with someone who is alongside you and strong, than someone who is neither. That thought should guide us all. This is simply not an “us and them” situation unless we choose to make it so. In practice, what strengthens Māori strengthens us all.

Indigeneity matters. The patterns of thought and behaviour, of philosophy and action, which developed in this space are unique and valuable in themselves. Colonisation, partly through and partly in spite of Te Tiriti, did try to ignore, repress and assimilate these things as suited the newly dominant culture.

We are in a phase of history that is rolling that back, whatever some may think. Unless you close your eyes and ears you must see that. There is no way of putting that cork back in the bottle nor should there be. Demographics alone support this shift in history. This place is not unique, such change can be seen in many places around the world.

Many people now share two or more cultures in their birth and life. As one of the thoughtful contributors to an AUT hui recently on Tiriti issues said: “I want to be able to be comfortable living with both of my cultures.” Neatly encapsulating what is the case for so many of us. That hui was about approaching “Tiriti” issues as “Piriti” or “bridge” issues. The people who would divide us are not those pushing for equity and full cultural expression on both sides of the bridge, but those who would tear the bridge down.

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