Should Paul Moon tell The Truth about Maori activism?
When it wasn't titillating its readers, the Truth was terrifying them, with stories of the communist threat to the New Zealand way of life or the secret, Libyan-funded Maori army training in the backblocks of the North Island. At the end of the eighties, the Truth began a slow decline, and by the time Jock Anderson was installed as editor a couple of years ago the paper was little more than a place for the sex industry to advertise. Anderson, who wrote for the Truth back in its salad days, has attempted to restore some of the paper's former glory by running a series of articles on New Zealand race relations that can only be described as provocative.
After the police arrests of the 'Urewera 14' in late 2007, the Truth rediscovered its old 'the Maoris are coming to murder us in our beds' meme with a vengeance, running articles which claimed that Tame Iti was a servant of both Osama bin Laden and Hugo Chavez. The paper has also run a number of bizarre articles about Maori history, which appear to be designed to discredit iwi which are seeking recompense through the glacial 'Treaty process' for the loss of their land and other consequences of colonisation.
At about the time it was revealing Tame Iti's 'connections', the Truth ran a cover article about a supposed Moriori claim to the lands of the Waikato. The paper claimed that a 'Moriori King' - in the photo the paper provided he looked more like an alcoholic vagrant than a monarch - was about to make a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal for the return of the land owned by the Waikato people, on the grounds that the Moriori were the 'original owners' of that land. The article was an obvious attempt to appeal to the still-widespread belief that the Moriori were the first inhabitants of all of New Zealand, and not a group of early Maori who settled the Chatham Islands and developed a unique culture there in isolation. No 'Moriori King' has made a claim for the 'return' of the Waikato, but that won't have bothered the Truth. Tabloid newspapers have the memory of goldfish.
The August 13th issue of the Truth carried yet another shocking story about the danger that Maori radicalism poses to ordinary Kiwis. The cover of the issue features a photo of a protester waving a Tuhoe flag, and the headline 'Maori v Maori'. According to Jock Anderson's 'exclusive' article on page three, 'wild-eyed manic Maoris are gearing up for violent confrontations with Maori leaders and other New Zealanders'. Anderson claims that a civil war is beginning within Maoridom, as iwi split into factions over the best way to divide the proceeds of Treaty settlements. Anderson lists a series of recent incidents which supposedly support his argument, but most of them, like 'threats to camp outside John Key's home' and 'refusal by Maori to recognise courts and the judicial system' concern Maori conflict with the New Zealand state, not with other Maori.
Undeterred by his failure to make the case for a coming brown-on-brown bloodbath, Anderson wheels out his prize witness - 'historian and controversial author' Paul Moon:
Moon says that the protest movement which rose in the 1970s is now very different...
"Some people, such as Tuhoe, have legitimate grievances over settlement proceeds. But in other cases the basis for action is pretty flimsy" [Moon says].
According to Moon the effects on Maori of the economic crisis, growing hardship and unemployment, coupled with dissatisfaction over lack of grassroots benefit from Treaty settlements, are turning Maori against Maori.
"The ordinary Maori in the street hasn't seen a cent from settlements", says Moon, who says there is now a gradual realisation among Maori that tribal trust boards are the target of protest action - not the Crown or government. He says there is a risk people who protest for less than good reasons can harm others who have achieved a lot.
Moon's comments appear to refer to a number of recent cases where hapu or small groups of hapu have rejected settlements made by the iwi to which they belong, and tried to sabotage those settlements with legal cases and protests. In a few extreme cases, dissident groups have attempted to secede from their iwi and open negotiations with the Crown on their own.
In the East Cape region of the North Island, for instance, a handful of Ngati Porou hapu rejected the decision by the leadership of their tribe to support the seabed and foreshore legislation introduced by Labour. They have become so alienated from the conservative but powerful leadership of Ngati Porou that they have announced their withdrawal from the iwi, and also from New Zealand itself.
The 'government of Takimoana', which claims to control a strip of coast just south of the East Cape, has announced that it intends to hold its own negotiations with the government of New Zealand, and to pursue its own course of economic development. The hapu which support the new 'state' have taken to claiming that they were never a part of Ngati Porou, and that they are therefore not bound by the decision of the tribe's elders to sign the Treaty of Waitangi and become New Zealand citizens in 1840. Understandably, there has been considerable tension between the leaders of the Takimoana 'government' and the leadership of Ngati Porou.
Other, less spectacular examples of the fracturing of iwi can be found in the Auckland region, where the former Ngati Whatua hapu of Te Taou now insists on negotiating with the government as a separate iwi, and in the Bay of Islands, where a Nga Puhi hapu has laid a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal for the ownership of the land around Te Tii marae - land which is normally considered to come under the mana whenua of the whole iwi.
It seems to me that Moon's explanation for the splintering of iwi is too simplistic, and that his attitude toward the dissident groups is too harsh. The phenomenon of secessionist hapu has to be seen as a consequence of the successes as well as the failures of the Maori renaissance and the Treaty process which has both co-opted and extended that renaissance.
It seems easy for some commentators to recite the failures of the Treaty process - the fact that major iwi like Tuhoe and Nga Puhi are still nowhere near reaching settlements, the corporatisation of some iwi which have received settlements, the fear and loathing that the process has caused amongst some non-Maori - but harder for them to remember successes, like the return of stolen land at places like Bastion Point, the establishment of Maori as an official language of New Zealand and the flourishing of the kohanga reo movement, and the funds that have been channelled towards the health and education of iwi members, rather than into the business schemes of a brown capitalist class. The inadequacies of some iwi leaderships have encouraged secessionist rebels, but so, surely, has the confidence which has been gained as a result of the victories won during the Maori renaissance.
The splits that have produced groups like Te Taou and the Takimoana 'government' can be considered symptoms of dynamism, as much as fragmentation. The scholarship of Angela Ballara and others has shown us that Maori society in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries - the period immediately before the defeats in the Land Wars and the cantonment of the remnants of the defeated tribes on undesirable land far from the cities - was highly dynamic, with hapu intersecting with each other in complex ways as alliances were formed and dissolved. In the early days of resistance to colonisation, Maori showed a related form of social innovation, as they formed inter-iwi organisations like the King movement.
Even the rebels at Takimoana may have some sort of historical precedent: they quote Te Kooti at the beginning of their founding document, and they can perhaps be considered successors to the 'hauhau' faction of Ngati Porou, which in the 1860s rose up in protest at the loyalty the tribe's conservative leaders showed towards the Pakeha government that was waging war on the Waikato Kingdom. (Of course, unlike the Ngati Porou hauhau of the 1860s, and despite what Jock Anderson would like to imagine, the rebels of Takimoana have no interest in taking up arms).
Moon is also surely wrong when he claims that the new conflicts within Maoridom do not relate to the New Zealand state, and to the policies of the people who control that state. The hapu of Takimoana have explicitly challenged the authority of the New Zealand state, as a result of their deep dissatisfaction with the seabed and foreshore legislation. Te Taou have differentiated themselves from Ngati Whatua partly because they want to negotiate directly with the New Zealand state.
The wisdom of Moon's decision to chat with Jock Anderson can be considered separately from the pros and cons of his analysis of contemporary Maori politics. Moon is a prolific contributor of opinion articles to papers like the New Zealand Herald, and he has become a go-to man for many editors wanting a quick quote about some aspect of New Zealand history or contemporary race relations. Moon's last book was deeply problematic - I've discussed some of its arguments here - and he has nothing resembling the intellectual reputation of senior scholars of New Zealand history like Judith Binney and Miles Fairburn, yet he has become perhaps the best-known living New Zealand historian.
Moon's evident hunger for media space is not necessarily a bad thing: too many academics shy away from an engagement with the sort of public issues he has debated vociferously in our big papers. Moon's recent letter to the Herald condemning the Celtic New Zealand circle as conspiracy theorists and pseudo-historians shows that he is also prepared to use the mass media to make a stand for responsible scholarship and rational discussion of the past.
It is hard to avoid the feeling, though, that Moon erred in talking to the Truth, a paper which has always preferred irrational condemnation to rational discussion. Although Moon's comments to Jock Anderson are neither irrational nor inflammatory, Anderson has placed them in a context where they are liable to be misinterpreted. Moon should have known better.