Working Alongside Maori Capitalism To Enrich “Aotearoa Inc.”


THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS currently gripping Samoa calls into question John Minto’s optimistic conclusions regarding the He Puapua Report. Underlying the political stand-off in Samoa is the as yet unresolved tension between the democratic institutions inherited from New Zealand, and the much older set of political and cultural expectations inherited from pre-colonial Samoan society. So long as democracy was able to accommodate traditional leadership hierarchies and decision-making customs, the two traditions rubbed on together with minimal friction. The crisis now gripping Samoa is the product of an almost entirely unanticipated collision between the traditional Samoan way of doing politics, and the formal requirements of Samoa’s democratic constitution.

John’s core argument in favour of the recommendations contained in He Puapua is that they will give Maori and Pakeha more democracy – not less. He quite correctly points to the anti-democratic motives driving New Zealand’s nineteenth century colonial governments’ efforts to contain the potential political power of Maori – in deliberate contravention of Article III of the Treaty of Waitangi. Successive settler regimes were determined to do no more than was absolutely necessary to keep the peace between the two peoples. The four Maori seats (established in 1867) were a reluctant acknowledgement of the decisive role played by kupapa Maori (also known as “Friendly Maoris” or “Queenites”) in the recent armed conflicts over land and sovereignty.

The question raised by New Zealand’s 2010 decision to sign up to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is: To what degree is it possible for a colonial regime, founded on “a revolutionary seizure of power” (the phrase used by the New Zealand legal scholar, Professor Jock Brookfield, to describe the effective nullification of the Treaty of Waitangi occasioned by the establishment of on-the-ground settler supremacy in the 1850s and 60s) to unpick the political and cultural needlework of nation building? Helen Clark’s straightforward answer was: No. It’s not possible. Which is why she refused to sign New Zealand up to the Declaration. John Key, under pressure from the Maori Party, not only decided to sign the document, but in 2014 agreed to produce some sort of roadmap towards its eventual implementation. He Puapua is that roadmap.

The first stage of the He Puapua journey is, as John suggests, all about bringing Maori into the places where important decisions are made about their health, housing, education and employment. But, is this equation of participation and democracy justified? Although every Pakeha citizen enjoys exactly the same political rights as every other Pakeha citizen, how common is it for poor, working-class Pakeha to be found in the places where critical decisions about the allocation of economic, social and cultural resources are being made? The answer, of course, is: Not very often – if ever. Our capitalist society, like the feudal society which preceded it, reserves seats at the decision-making table for members of its ruling class, their servants – and bugger-all others. Are the exclusively Maori power structures proposed by He Puapua likely to prove any less careful about who gets invited to sit at their tables?

An answer, of sorts, is provided by the fate of Maori Television. When it began, Maori TV was based in Auckland, staffed by an outstanding bunch of extremely talented journalists and broadcasters. Its news and current affairs section was particularly effective at bringing the stories of Maori and Power to its viewers. Too effective – as it turned out. In retaliation for turning the media spotlight on the management of Kohanga Reo, Maori Television was gutted of its best and its brightest talent and relocated to Rotorua. As in Samoa, the expectations of democratic scrutiny and accountability ran head-first into traditional cultural expectations of discretion and respect.

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Over the course of the past 30 years, the colonial New Zealand state has sought to head-off any resistance engendered by the brutal imposition of neoliberalism on Maori communities, by working closely with traditional Maori power structures to set up what the academic writer Elizabeth Rata calls “Neo-Tribal Capitalism”; alongside the creation of the educated Maori middle-class required to run it. There is scant evidence, to date, that Neo-Tribal Capitalism is any more inclined to encourage democratic participation than the common-or-garden Pakeha variety. It is, almost certainly, no accident that the radical recommendations contained in He Puapua owe a great deal to the ideas contained in Matike Mai Aotearoa – the report on “constitutional transformation” commissioned by the neo-tribal capitalist “Iwi leaders Group”.

If any more evidence is required for the essential incompatibility of traditional and democratic expectations within Maoridom, one has only to consider the fate of the participatory governance structures set up to co-manage the resources handed over by the Crown in the Tainui Treaty Settlement. This brave attempt to hold chiefly power accountable did not end well.

In his post, John makes much of what he calls “the dictatorship of the majority”. This is, indeed, an aspect of the democratic process that has come in for much criticism over the centuries. In almost every case, however, those complaining most loudly about the tyranny of the majority are those most likely to suffer a reduction in power and wealth should the needs of the many ever be permitted to outweigh the greed of the few.

John simply does not admit the possibility that this might also be the case in Maoridom. He seems to see Maori as an undifferentiated mass of poor and oppressed people, kept that way by the undifferentiated racism of their colonial masters. Unaccounted for in his description of the problem are the power structures – both traditional and modern – which have been encouraged to concentrate political and economic power in the hands of tribal capitalist elites.

It is these elites who have most to gain from the changes proposed in He Puapua. Allied to the elites employed by the Crown, and the elites which still control Pakeha society, the Maori elites will be well placed to invest the profits and strengthen the defences of “Aotearoa Inc”.  The idea of ordinary New Zealanders, of any ethnicity, working alongside the Maori – or any other kind of – Elites is neither anticipated, nor desired.

As the people of Samoa are discovering, when push comes to shoves, it’s those with the power already in their hands who push and shove the hardest.


  1. The good thing about the ‘crash and burn’ stage that the globalised financial-economic-political system has now reached is that all the delusions and wrong-thinking that have characterised so-called development over the past couple of centuries will be exposed as….

    delusions and wrong thinking.

    The staggering gulf between anything politicians (agents and promoters of Ponzi global finance ) say and the real world is increasing by the day with respect to practically every area of human endeavour we might like to consider: energy, the environment, health, welfare, housing, infrastructure, culture, sport, even finance!.

    All the real-world indicators suggest the collision with reality will manifest in mayhem some time over the next year or two.

    It was, after all, only ever an exercise in looting and polluting and manipulation of the masses, and the days of looting-and-polluting are rapidly coming to and end because there is now so little left to loot. Sadly, there are opportunities for polluting.

    It is abundantly clear to anyone who has thought thing through that it will be the people least caught up in the machinations of empire -i.e. those living closest the traditional ways- who will fare best during the period of strife that has commence -unless they live on a low-lying island that will soon disappear beneath the waves, as inexorable sea level rise takes its toll.

    On the other hand, if the fundamental issues are not addressed (and there is absolutely still no sign of them being addressed) the Earth will be rendered uninhabitable for ANYONE in a few decades (at best) by the ‘technology’ the colonists used to subjugate the indigenous people.

  2. OK Mr. Bradbury, please explain why Minto’s piece of undergrad sociology was a MUST READ, but this exposé of “progressive” neoliberalism isn’t.

    Trotter’s pieces are rather hit-and-miss, but maybe this is understandable from someone who writes so prolifically and so quickly – think of some of those weak chapters in Dickens’ novels.

    “[Minto] … seems to see Maori as an undifferentiated mass of poor and oppressed people, kept that way by the undifferentiated racism of their colonial masters.”

    One wonders if Mr. Minto has read a book called “Animal Farm”.

    Ardern insists that He Puapua is just a discussion document, but it is already happening in my own workplace. Is she disingenuous, or just a bit dim? It’s hard to say.

    Trotter mentions Elizabeth Rata – if the honours system were any use at all, that woman would have been recognized for her unsung services to Māori and to New Zealand as a whole. Meanwhile, the country is being sold down the river by white liberals who apparently see no red flags in a plan to hand over power to unelected tribal elites.

    • “Ardern insists that He Puapua is just a discussion document, but it is already happening in my own workplace.”

      Not challenging you, but could you please elaborate on that statement?

    • Can you supply details of how He Puapua is being implemented in your workplace and that this is coming from government direction?

      Like all policies, anything that is implemented will be adjusted or repealed as time goes on. If Maori don’t feel kaupapa maori health organisations etc are working for them, they will vote with their feet. It won’t do any harm to give them a go. I have no doubt some initiatives will fail, but some will be successful enough to keep working on. When assets were transferred to iwi ownership (e.g Sealord) we heard a lot of opinions from people who thought this would be disasterous. We don’t hear so much about that any more. Some may have failed, but some have thrived – just like pakeha businesses.

      • BFA (and DX5) – my statement that He Puapua is “already happening in my own workplace” was inaccurate (how unpunctilious of me!). What IS happening is a similar treaty-centred institutional plan to “decolonize” and purge us of “systemic racism”. The trigger was an allegation by several Māori staff members last year that they have been subjected to “structural, systemic and casual racism” at work. An initial review found no evidence to support any of their claims, but pronounced that the institution was inevitably systemically racist because it was built on a western model. So a second review was commissioned to tell us what we need to do to cleanse us of our original sin. This second review was accepted unanimously and uncritically by the leadership, and upshot is that we are apparently all in for (amongst other things) anti-racism training, and mātauranga Māori is to be “woven” into teaching across the institution (not sure how that will go in physics or engineering). The new director of the teaching and learning centre is a specialist in critical race theory.

        So no, not government directed. But who needs government direction when so many of our institutions are full of social justice warriors and ambitious individuals eager to get ahead by demonstrating their “anti-racist” credentials.

        I see problem with a Māori-led health authority for Māori – as you say, it’s probably worth a shot. But a proposed wholesale handover of conservation land to iwi is another matter – I don’t share your optimism about “repealing” such a move if it goes wrong. Land handed over to iwi isn’t coming back to the crown. And then of course there’s the seabed and foreshore …

    • Critical Race Theory underpins the woke and their noble savage routine.
      “Critical race theory is loosely unified by two common themes: first, that white supremacy (societal racism) exists and maintains power through the law;[6] and second, that transforming the relationship between law and racial power, and also achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination more broadly, are possible.[7]

      Critics of critical race theory argue that it relies on social constructionism, elevates storytelling over evidence and reason, rejects the concepts of truth and merit, and opposes liberalism.[8][9][10]”

      Minto is simply assuming the system is racist as it has somehow become acceptable to do. The rest follows from that one gigantic, invented assertion.
      America’s society, far from ever perfect, is becoming a basket case because of racial division like this, it certainly doesn’t belong here.

      • Yes indeed KCC. Critical race theory is the moving spirit of a recent report on “systemic racism” at the institution I work at. The report presents no proper evidence, just “lived experience” anecdotes – but it has been accepted unanimously and uncritically by management.

  3. I’ve spent most of my life working in 3rd world countries and although the details change from country to country, I have witnessed a broadly consistent theme: Once the conquering colonial power withdraws leaving the locals to run their own country, old power structures and old enmities surface that cripple the nation.
    Examples include:
    The Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda and Burundi
    The Shona and Matabele in Zimbabwe
    Muslims and Christians in Indonesia
    The Lumpa and Bemba in Zambia
    The Serbians and Bosnians in Yugoslavia
    Various tribal conflicts and power grabs in Kenya
    plus many many more.

    It is relevant to note that of all the colonies that the British left in the 20th century, all but one declined in every useful measurable way: Economic prosperity, political freedom, democracy, literacy and average lifespan. (The exception is Singapore)

    The outcomes vary but are always bad; from genocide at the extreme end of the scale to nepotism and corruption at the other. Given a magic wand that could, in an instant, remove all ‘pakeha’ from New Zealand, I have little doubt that the old tribal tensions would resurface and result in a power grab with unknown but possibly dire consequences for all of those that remained.

    • Andrew this is not relevant here. There is no suggestion that Maori will take over and run a dictatorship and have tribal warfare with one another. And Pakeha? Wiped out? Genocide? What happens in Africa has got SFA to do with He Puapua. Your just scare mongering with your right wing bullshit. Get real.

    • It is nothing new that there is usually turmoil when a dominant power leaves or a power balance is upset. This clearly doesn’t apply to Aotearoa NZ – Pakeha aren’t going anywhere.
      I can’t think of any reason for your post unless it is to support a general distain for “native” populations and that they can’t be trusted to run their own affairs. If that is the case you really should not have been working in those 3rd world countries.

      • That’s a fashionable falsehood. In fact all the ex British colonies I have worked in were left with perfectly functioning roads, railways, schools, universities, industries and systems of government.

  4. The Samoan impasse is also a disagreement between Samoan factions as well as tribal culture vs electoral democracy. Both main parties are Christian conservatives with FAST being less authoritarian perhaps.

    Due to hubris the HRPP stood multiple candidates (for bogus “choice” as they were so used to ruling) and vote splitting saw gains for FAST. HRPP have sucked lemons ever since and are relying on all sorts of tactics other than respecting a democratic vote to advance their power play. The PM has even spoken to senior public servants and laid it out for them–HRPP is still the Govt!

    Does extending Māori democracy in various ways really just advantage the “Brown Table” Iwi leader types as they were tagged in the 90s? Does Māori participation in SMEs and owner operator businesses just expand a Māori petit buourgeoisie and middle class? Well assimilation failed as a state strategy before, so why would it succeed now with new branding? Brown businesses should face exactly the same scrutiny as Euro and Asian business from working class people.

    But the fact remains that post colonial fall out persists, particularly in mortality and health statistics–until real change occurs there will be action fought for by Māori and their allies.

    • ” Once the conquering colonial power withdraws leaving the locals to run their own country, old power structures and old enmities surface that cripple the nation”… I have a question for you.. Would it be rational to assume from that statement, that the colonisation of, all those countries, was actually an act of humanity to save them from societal collapse? I can safely assume that the arrival of the invaders from afar, had no effect whatsoever on the “balance” of power within those societies? Are you saying to me that decades of research on how the most “tractable” group, or tribe would be given the power by proxy, and once the invaders ran away from their responsibilities, then whoever had managed to get the closest to the coloniser got a head start on filling the power vacuum left behind? So it was all just the natives being natives? Cool.. You’ve saved me a heap of reading and decluttered my think box…

  5. I think the point about supporting He Puapua is that we the peasants want a voice for the peasants to fight for the peasants at Govt and Ministry level and just maybe He Puapua is a possible vehicle to achieve that, given that most kiwis don’t give 2 hoots for all separatist scare-mongering bandied about by the white privileged. What is good at lifting our couzies up, will be good for the peasants too. And if there is no seat at the table for the peasants at least we can all stand together and give our privileged masters the big finger in some unity.

    • It’s an example of replacing succession with some made up stuff that only exists in people’s head. Everyone who rejects free and fair elections pretty much hit on the same headcannon.

  6. If Chris is alluding to the vast sums of money already transferred to Maori through treaty settlements and how that money has not been seen to help the plight of the underprivileged to any great extent, I can see his reasoning. The big Maori business ventures offer some employment opportunities but do the profits get to the poor. You be the judge. Their Neo drip down system is no better than the Government’s. If any funds needed for restructuring our present system are directed to the ministries involved and distributed to where the need for change exists the idea has a chance. My cynical nature tells me like always those at the top distribute what’s left after they’ve had their fill.

    • Those ‘vast’ sums of money you mention were roughly the same as the dosh the government handed out to South Canterbury Finance.

      • I’m well aware of that but my point is I’ve not seen much benefit for underprivileged Maori from any money they have received. Most systems our society work with see the bloated bureaucracy at the top get the lion’s share and theirs is no different.

    • Where our TOW claims money goes is our business its only a fraction of what our land is worth anyway new view and by the way we are tax payers too and we have never got our fair share of the NZ pie.

    • ToW settlements have nothing to do with or have an obligation to remedy the Crowns responsibilities and its failures.

      ToW settlement ‘reparations’ have no precondition(s) to them to finance the Crown or government in its responsibilities to provide infrastructure, social services and health and education as a resource.

      ToW settlements are less than 2% of the quantum.

      The crown can pay the cost to fix what they have created over the past 180+ years of fuckwittedness and poor decision making.

  7. @ Chris. Did you and John have some sort of falling out in years gone by, or is it that his wisdom doesn’t quite fit with yours – neatly enough?
    Maybe when you’re both parked up in some Ryman Care rest home with a dalit or filipino ‘economic’ refugee wiping your arses you could get over your fixation and become allies rather than doing your best to undermine each other.
    You know … transformation and kindness style.
    It’s becoming bloody tedious

    • Give me a passionate opponent over a bored critic any day of the week, OWT. I engage with John’s ideas because they are important and deserve to be taken as such.

      In the words of C.S. Lewis: “The next best thing to a noble friend, is a noble enemy.”

  8. Chris. I believe that you are missing some importqant aspects of how maori society operates. The fundamental importance of whakapapa and whanaungatanga.
    Yes we have leaders who follow the big business model of governance, that is what those trusts were set up to do. e.g. settlement money that came with strings such as “professional” governance and minimum rates of return for investments. Those leader have been doing the job they were given.
    While they are constrained by the wider world (and those rules of the game), there is no point us trying to ask them to operate differently. We would have to change the world for that to happen.
    However, given the right to redesign our institutions, our other leaders will emerge. Our marae based leaders. And there are well established ways of levelling people so that elites cant damage whakapapa and whanaungatanga and marae. At the moment our “capitalist” leaders (our uncles) are protected by the wider world that has colonised us. But that will change when we can de-colonise our institutions.
    Of course change will be slow and painful and include mis-steps along the way. It would be nice to think that we could be allowed to go through that process without others judging our mis-steps harshly and out of context.
    We can only hope for the opportunity and to be left alone to do the work.
    John minto got it right.


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