Māori protesters march for their sovereign rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi / Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

By Nathan Crombie

To argue from seats of power the democratic merit of governance that structurally and insidiously oppresses Māori – after having reaved for generations our lives and lands – is to persist unfettered with the plunder of a nation never meant for sharing.

Democracy is an ideal not many voters would kill or die to defend. Only a scratch of us experience political definitives, confrontation, lethal violence. By mute tradition the greater count of righteous voters today applaud martyrdom for democracy only and by secret ballot become only complicit killers. No individual duty. No blame.


Uncle Bruce Stewart, Tapu Te Ranga Marae founder and koro, Ngāti Raukawa Te Arawa / Photo courtesy Daniela

Central and territorial supremacy suffer the same lethal quiet, halls of power most times near abandoned by we the people, leaving too many duly elected office-holders to mire in corporate hegemony and self-interest, neutered of moral resolve beyond personal cabals and sponsors.

Come election day and the cardinal conceit of freedom again bends the knee and beggars the will. All, at once, become the capricious body politic, our rights together enshrined in law and our wrongs diluted by our number.

Victorious candidates are charismatic or persuasive, or advocates of policies and promises with the greater mass appeal of the moment.

But alone, as always, the elect manufacture our totems and taniwha of dominion, our golems of trade and democracy, from members’ bills and white papers, conscience votes, royal commissions, and common and statute law.

Fifth century Athenian Greeks, as an antidote to rule by the elite, first wrestled the primary template of democracy, or rule of the commoners, from the wilds of the human heart and mind.

Dame Whina Cooper Te Rārawa/ Image courtesy nzhistory

Dame Whina Cooper Te Rārawa/ Image courtesy nzhistory

Drawn from the same fierce wellspring was the concept of appointment by lot, with the selection of legislative and judicial officers completed via chance, a model welcomed and upheld over the past thousand years by reasoning citizens in Ionia, Italy, Switzerland, Florence, India and Venice.

Sortition also has been advocated in our own day as a means of superior governance in Ireland, Iraq, and the House of Lords. Its orthodoxy deems appointment of legislators by lottery as democratic, but oligarchic when office is attained by ballot.

In our own place, freely and fairly elected Masterton district councillors voted the appointment to two council committees a pair of iwi representatives – Mihirangi Hollings Rangitāne o Wairarapa and Ra Smith Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa with committee speaking and voting rights.

Last month a fresh triennial crop of councillors took office, swiftly deciding by a narrow margin to uphold the appointments, defeating attempts to postpone the full council vote.

A highly vocal and vaguely tactical opposition was provoked, and sustains, in “defence of democracy” and in line with opponents of other similar proposals across New Zealand.

By contrast, representatives have been long appointed to both the Wairarapa District Health Board and the Greater Wellington Regional Council. These roles have been universally respected, with each appointment made without the merest ripple of resistance.

And this in the face of the grotesque suppression of Māori autonomy and authority over the past 175 years of colonisation. Remember Te Ranga. Remember Pukearuhe. Remember Parihaka. Remember.

Crown apology for Ngāi Tūhoe/ Image courtesy Mike Scott Fairfax New Zealand

Forced to endure a contrivance of self-rule, Māori must concede and contort to fit a notion of political participation that is profound in its white male privilege, and pitiably limited in its alignment to tikanga and te ao Māori.

The same shackle binds tribal Australians, First Nation citizens in Canada and the Americas, indigenous and sequestered peoples across the globe, and by default every woman, who after centuries must still wage a daily and perilous war of concession against a priapic and Pākehā elect – who all too often rule without authenticity, amity, integrity, or restraint.

Political parity for modern Māori still pivots very high in the tree, beyond the ordinary reach of a minority population comprising the inter generational survivors of attempted genocide.

Yet we persist.

When equity is a routine denial and tyranny of the majority defines our struggle, we persist. Even as dwindling ranks of tangata Māori tread to the grave a path engineered by the few and executed by the many, we persist.

Tihei mauri ora.

Today we hold life and a living sovereignty – Te Tiriti o Waitangi – assembled and assigned to us by the tipuna of our kind and culture each.

So now, as ever, we will rise together under law and lead ourselves.

Until our law once again is our own.