Māori Marches On.

Speech for launch at Parliament of Heke Tangata, Māori in Markets and Cities on Tuesday 15 May 2018. The event is sponsored by Te Whānau o Waipareira, the National Urban Māori Authority and Oratia Media at the invitation of the Hon. Willie Jackson, Associate Minister for Māori Development.

Kia Ora Koutou Katoa.

I begin by apologising for my inability to speak Māori. My brain seems to lack the bit which enables multilingualism, not only in Māori but in other languages. I am not proud of this inability. I have tried to make up for it by using those skills I have to support Māori.

So I was delighted when Te Whānau o Waipareira invited me to write a report on the Māori postwar experience and I am proud that they thought my work was worth publishing, as we celebrate today.

It is said that you cannot tell a book by its cover. This book is an exception because its cover captures its central theme. On the back is Whina Cooper with her granddaughter starting out on a lonely dirt road in the Far North, a road which seems to be going nowhere. The front cover shows the 1975 Land March, which she led, passing through Auckland. So Māori got from the back of beyond to the big city. The book goes on to ask what happened then.

The answer turns out to be complicated. Māori got to the city but they did not settle easily. The first half of the book is a narrative of the heke (the migration). The second is an inventory of Māori attainment; on most measurable socioeconomic indicators Māori are about a generation behind Pākehā – that is, Māori today are about where their Pākehā equivalent were 25 years ago.

The book develops two reasons why this happened. The first is that while Māori were successful in their rural environment, it was not a good preparation for city living while our public institutions did little to facilitate any adjustment.

Additionally, as Māori arrived, the economy deteriorated, especially the labour market. Unemployment rose and generic skills became less in demand compared with specialised skills. A little later the neoliberal economic policies of the 1980s and 1990s exacerbated these labour market trends while their distributional policies were deliberately biased against the poor and therefore disproportionally hit Māori.

The story and the outcome are detailed in the book – you will have to read it. But this is the time to acknowledge those who helped me with producing it.

First, I pay tribute my intellectual tīpuna. The book’s whakapapa goes back to that marvellous collection of essays The Maori People Today: a General Survey, edited by Professor Ivor Sutherland and dominated by Sir Āpirana Ngata. It describes the state of Māori some 80 years ago. Every contribution is valuable, but as an economist I must also mention Professor Horace Belshaw.

More recently, I have valued greatly the hospitality of many Māori, most often in work involved with Treaty claims. There are too many to list today; some are here, some elsewhere, some have gone onto higher places, although one has only made it to the third floor. John Tamihere, and his colleagues at Te Whānau o Waipareira, deserves special recognition for their vision and support.

It is always a pleasure to acknowledge a good book publisher for a fine production. Thankyou Peter Dowling and his colleagues at Oratia Books. It is great to be able to once more thank publicly Elizabeth Caffin who is there for the first stumblings as I try to shape a piece of thinking into a coherent thought, right through its development to the final product.

Many will think that the book has a melancholy message; that most Māori have been in the cities and the modern markets for a couple of generations and they still have not really got there. Another way of presenting the same message is that they are keeping up, catching up and the book identifies policies which can speed up the catch up.

But there is another, stronger, message in the book. That remarkably, despite the huge transition and despite the pressures on them to conform – to assimilate, Māori have maintained their Māoritanga. They have done so by intelligently adapting rather than rigidly resisting change.

The book has many examples of this adaptation but today it is appropriate to highlight the achievements of Te Whānau o Waipareira and other urban Māori authorities which are an indigenous response to the needs of Māori struggling in cities isolated from their iwi and potentially from their Māoritanga, struggling in the market without all the skills that the market economy takes for granted. It is especially poignant that in neither case was public policy well suited to help them meet the challenge.

The book quotes the Duke in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel, The Leopard, saying to his nephew, ‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.’ Māori might adopt this as a motto to summarise the extraordinary success of their heke despite the hurdles and their ongoing development of adaption while maintaining their integrity. Except it would, of course, be in Māori. It would therefore be appropriate to end my remarks asking John to express the whakataukī:

‘Ki te hiahia he ao toitū nga tikanga o tēnei wā – me mātua whakarere ka aua tikanga.’


A review of the book in the NBR is here.