Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Upper Crust

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this post since I caught Marae Investigates last weekend. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it is school holidays and hanging with my kid beats sitting in front of a computer but finally I have found a quiet moment and the inclination to put pen to paper… Or thoughts to Word.

What got me thinking was a story featured on the Sunday morning programme that focussed on a “Maori Ministerial party” trip to China. Once again the story was presented in an ok manner but it got me to thinking about a few conversations I have had with a couple of the whanau recently and that led me to wanting to talk about the idea of Maori Aristocracy.

I know this means that once again I am going to discuss an issue rather than the media’s treatment of it despite clearly outlining the purpose of this blog when I first started but please indulge me, again.

Maori Aristocracy? I hear you ask. Yeah I did the same thing when I first heard the term, probably even laughed a little but don’t let the use of an old English term throw you - there is indeed a class system operating within modern-day Maoridom, something that has always been a little bit disconcerting to me.

The trip, made with Maori Affairs minister Dr Pita Sharples, was an opportunity for a contingent made up of chief executives and chairpeople of some of the biggest Maori businesses to talk trade and development with people in China.

Reporter Jodi Ihaka accompanied the party and along with producing a series of stories from the trip, she also blogged about it.

But her words did little to settle some doubts that have been clanging around in my head.

During her story Ihaka said she could not reveal how much the business deals could be worth for the group because “commercial sensitivity”

“We can reveal that there was singing and dancing.”

Weak really because what I really want to know is the exact thing that they won’t talk about. And funny how people always quote commercial sensitivity when it comes to the money thing.

Yet in her blog Ihaka said collectively the contingent represented 36.9 billion dollars of Maori wealth.

 Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer says Maori add value to New Zealand Inc and that was made internationally clear during the Rugby World Cup. From the opening ceremony to the closing, Maori were all over it.  So, building on that success and taking Maori Inc to the world is part of what the plan for this trip to China and Hong Kong.   I'm told it's about branding Maori as players.

“I'm also told the mission will benefit all of New Zealand.  The mission is of some benefit for the chief executives and chairpersons of some of the biggest Maori businesses in New Zealand who come on these missions because they were asked to by the Minister or because they want to do business with China.

“Collectively they represent 36.9 billion dollars of Maori wealth.

“Individually - they represent success, money and moving Maori to a much better place than we are now.   Maori economic interests are everywhere but they mostly represent New Zealand's five biggest export earners such as dairy, tourism, meat, wood and seafood.

“The China mission if they choose to accept it also enables them to collaborate with each other.

“June McCabe, Matt Te Pou, James Wheeler, Jamie Tuuta, Whatarangi Peehi-Murphy, Pania Tyson-Nathan, Kauahi Ngapora and Te Horipo Karaitiana.

“These are big names in big Maori business representing:

 “Federation of Maori Authorities, Wakatu Inc, Central North Island Iwi Holdings, NZ Maori Tourism, Poutama Trust, Ngai Tahu Seafoods, Whale Watch Kaikoura and New Zealand Manuka.

 “The opportunities for iwi Maori are endless.  Already one iwi is talking business with another.”

Ihaka clearly trumpeted the trip as a good idea and while it is heartening to hear about Maori success stories the idea of this group reeks of a select few getting a leg up from their mate/cuzzy Dr Pita Sharples.

And it got me to thinking about how you get an invitation to join such a contingent. Well I’m guessing you need to be part of the “Maori Aristocracy” to get anywhere near a trip like this.

And I am not talking about the old school notion of aristocrats where you would assume that that the group are members with rangatira blood, this it would seem is a new breed.

As I have already said Maori have always had a class system, back in the day there were the chiefs, their family and the slaves. But this has nothing to do with whakapapa, it is more about the people you know.

I mean it helps if you have the right surname but to be included in this elite group you need to have credentials, preferably the ones that add letters to the end of your name and zero’s to your pay packet. You also need to know how to network or brown-nose (depending on how you see it).

Nothing wrong with that huh? Hardwork and dedication will always be rewarded.

Well yes but the problem with such a group is the same problem that the Iwi Leaders Group face and that is that belonging is pretty subjective.

For me talk is cheap and I do not need you to tell me what you have done in the past – your actions should speak clearly enough.

Mana-munching and nepotism never sit well with me and while I am glad that there are Maori out there spreading their wings I do not think that you should be given special treatment simply because you say that you have done something special. In time the people will judge your achievements and only they can give you the mana.

So strike your deals, line your pockets but remember when all is said and done the people will know what you left behind.

Meanwhile what is encouraging is that TV1 news are using the resource they have in their Maori news programming and featuring stories from programmes such as Marae Investigates and Te Karere have produced. This is wonderful.

These sorts of programmes have uncovered some interesting issues including a complaint from a Taranaki woman who had been placed in the care of a convicted rapist during her childhood.

And I am glad that there are Maori reporters and programmes out there that are endeavouring to tell our people’s stories even if some of the elements do not sit well with me personally.


  1. Thanks Karla, I agree that a Māori aristocracy is emerging. Some of these individuals are amongst the nouveau riche, while others have worked themselves into positions of power in Māori organisations. The trickle down effect from the Treaty settlements has not occured in the way that most thought it would. Instead there seems to be a greater divide than ever before in the have and don't have sections of Māori society. I guess this is reflective of the broader society that we live in, but we don't have to like it. It is not helped by the creation of elite groups such as the Iwi Leaders Forum or the growing number of Māori knights and dames forming the bro-rocracy, or Māori politicians suffering on their ministerial/parliamentary salaries. Are these people truly representative of those who make up their constitutiencies?

  2. the people who say they reprsent maori but have no elected mandate hold no abilty to speak for anyone but themslves.