Iwi leaders risk losing touch

12 Feb

By Matt McCarten

(Reprinted from Herald on Sunday, February 9, 2014)

That Iwi Leadership Group made a big mistake on Waitangi Day.

There’s been a lot of criticism over the years that many of them are a bunch of fat cats sucking on the teat of previous Waitangi settlements, living the good life. Staying at the ritziest hotel in the Bay of Islands with all the political and government elites on our national day is never a good look.

I don’t particularly begrudge the iwi leaders staying in the same air-conditioned five star accommodations where the politicians and our VIPs hang out. But they may have become ignorantly arrogant in this privileged isolation from their own people.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson – “pigs might fly.”

How else do they carelessly say they are holding a breakfast for politicians but making a point of excluding non-government MPs? Not only did that exclude party leaders like local MP Hone Harawira, Greens Metiria Turei and Winston Peters, but astonishingly they snubbed the man who could this year be elected prime minister, David Cunliffe. That’s just not smart.

If there’s a change of government the Iwi Leaders Group may find themselves breakfasting alone next February.

Many Maori believe the Iwi Group has become a Brown Roundtable that reflects a corporatist culture no different from their Pakeha capitalist counterparts.

Senior members of the Iwi Group asked for $600 million to settle Ngapuhi claims – that was careless. Ngapuhi seemed to pluck this figure out of the air with the only justification that their iwi is much bigger than Ngai Tahu and Tainui, who got $170 million. This plays into prejudices these settlements are more about iwi bosses raking in money rather than legitimate compensation for historical theft. In reply, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson’s “pigs might fly” smackdown revealed a cavalier contempt to the process and disrespect to Ngapuhi.

Any self-respecting leader would have put the little twerp in his place. But the Prime Minister’s offer to flick the negotiators $4m was enough to get iwi leaders purring.

What gets forgotten is the so-called hold-ups aren’t about money. Settlements average 3 per cent of an iwi’s loss. Where else could someone steal someone’s property, then repay a few cents on the dollar, and then call the victim greedy? Treaty settlements are about past wrong being acknowledged with victims having a forum to tell their story.

Once the process is completed a small amount of compensation (and I mean small) is made. Sadly that reality is overshadowed by the story that on Waitangi Day elite cynics sit at an invitation-only breakfast wheeling and dealing where money is the focus. That belittles everyone – Pakeha and Maori.

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column is a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

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