Someone recently asked me the question ‘what has this government done for Maori’? And I answered ‘currently nothing’. And on reflection I’m starting to think that could just be the greatest thing the government could do for Maori – nothing.
The great political satirist PJ O’Rourke has said, "The nine scariest words in the English language are I’m from the government and I’m here to help."
Not 60 years after the British government offered to help Maori at Waitangi, if they’d just sign on the dotted line ‘here, here, and here, Mr Heke’, Maori had lost 95% of their land. Government troops had just recently finished a cracking game of ‘shoot bloody great holes in Maori trying to defend their land’. And when that was over, and the government ‘helped’ Maori by confiscating large tracts of Maori land, they then gave more ‘help’ by playing an equally scintillating game of ‘let’s use the Native Land Court to take even more Maori land.’ Our population dropped from an estimated 1840 level of 150,000 to just 43,000 by 1900. I suppose at the time Maori would have been thinking ‘imagine how much worse it could have been if the government had not helped us in 1840’.
And since the mid-20thcentury more government help has resulted in our prisons being half-full with Maori, who only make up 15% of the population, our unemployment rate stubbornly remaining twice that of general population no matter how good the economy, a huge number of our Maori households dependent on some form of government welfare, and our Maori people looking forward to an earlier death then the rest of the population.
Thank goodness for government help.
Since that time both Labour and National have undertaken a programme of iwi-based Treaty of Waitangi settlements. One could cynically argue the government said to Maori ‘I know we took billions of dollars of your land back in the day but we were helping you at the time so don’t be so bitter – here’s 10 shillings in compensation and don’t spend it all at once. Right – where’s my knighthood’? But I won’t argue that because that would be cynical.
So the settlements are coming in, and as Tainui and Ngāi Tahu have shown, the shillings can be grown into significant dollars. These billion-dollar operations will soon be matched by other settling iwi, who will strive to grow as aggressively as these trailblazers (watch out for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei – amazing story). And it won’t be done because the government ‘helped’. One can hardly argue that giving back what you unethically took in the first place is ‘helping you’.
Ngāi Tahu has shown that when left to their own means iwi are more than capable of growing an economic base and delivering some pretty good social initiatives. They’ve even started a savings scheme for their iwi to (as it says in the prospectus) ‘create a better future for Ngāi Tahu whānau through greater wealth and wellbeing’. I bolded the ‘wealth’ bit myself.
With limited government interference (which it calls ‘help'), Maori will get on with doing the ‘help’ bit themselves. Indeed Maori will pursue wealth. Ngāi Tahu is not proposing a better future through greater welfare and wellbeing. They explicitly say ‘wealth’.
We do know when a government of any hue offers to help Maori we get very poor very quickly. Don’t believe me? Look at how wealthy Maori were before the government came and offered to help us in 1840. We owned the whole country up to then for goodness sake.
So with wisdom in hindsight – government, please carry on doing nothing for Maori.
Ward Kamo has been a longtime presenter and panellist on Maori Television. He has worked in management consulting across a broad spectrum of sectors including iwi, forestry, public, insurance, tertiary, and electricity.
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