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The choice | The daily blog

Waitangi Protest 1982. Photo by John Miller.

“ISOLATION from the ravages of extreme opinion has been achieved. Settlements have become commonplace. The words are those of former Labor Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer. The ‘settlements’ he refers to are negotiated treaty settlements between the Crown and Iwi.

The Iwi, officially recognized tribal entities of New Zealand, have been entrusted with the responsibility of revitalizing Maori society. Significant is Palmer’s confidence that the process has been insulated from the “ravages” of democratic interference. The critical policy choice made by leading Pakeha politicians, jurists and bureaucrats in the 1980s and 1990s was to halt the momentum of leftist Maori nationalism by inserting a layer of elite Maori businessmen between the Crown and economically and culturally impoverished Maori workers. -to classify.

Only by fostering the rapid growth of a Maori middle class could the Pakeha state avoid being forced to negotiate with social, cultural and political forces with little to lose. Moreover, forces whose lack of meaningful interest in the capitalist system might encourage its leaders to consider sponsoring an entirely different set of economic arrangements.

Fostering a Maori middle class would not only create social, economic, cultural and political forces that have much to lose, but, by frustratingkotahitanga – unity – it would protect the Pakeha State from a popular movement which it could not defeat – except by the application of overwhelming military force.

Forty years ago, the vital moral truth that Geoffrey Palmer and, after him, Jim Bolger and Doug Graham understood was that a New Zealand state strong enough to once again forcibly thwart the aspirations Maori, would not be worth living there.

This historic choice: to renounce force; made by the most enlightened leaders of Pakeha society in the 1980s and 1990s, was crucial. The settlement process – directed and controlled by the Crown – would only empower and enrich a fraction of Maoridom. But this small, highly privileged group would, in turn, guarantee the integrity of the central institutions of the New Zealand state.

The Iwi institutions built from the capital transfers central to the Treaty settlement process were modeled on the corporate structures of the Pakeha economy. The name given to this phenomenon by Professor Elizabeth Rata is “neo-tribal capitalism”. Like the Pakeha system that inspired it, iwi capitalism elevates a very small minority to great wealth and power, while devoting the majority of Maori to a life of exploitation, deprivation and despair.

Like capitalism everywhere, it’s not fair – but it works.

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Ironically, the man who came closest to destroying this mutually beneficial system, in which the elites of both ethnic communities gave little to get much, was one of New Zealand capitalism’s strongest advocates. , Don Brash. Perhaps he sensed that, having indicated their reluctance to contemplate the force majeure deployed at Bastion Point, the Pakeha elites would inevitably transfer more and more power and resources to iwi-based societies and the Māori middle class that served them. Perhaps he simply refused to consider the evolution of a “bicultural” state. Whatever the explanation, Brash’s contentious Iwi/Kiwi election campaign in 2005 brought him a hair’s breadth away from discovering exactly how much force it would take to trash the principles of the Treaty and restore the colonial state to its former glory. .

Brash’s successor, John Key, moved decisively to restore the relationship between the Pakeha and Māori elites. His contact with the Maori party and the latter’s positive response confirmed indisputably the veracity of Geoffrey Palmer’s assertion that the settlement process had gone beyond the sanction of “extreme opinion” and had become part of the mainstream dominant.

During Key’s (nearly) nine-year reign, the rapidly expanding Māori middle class became progressively more nationalistic. That they would promote their language and culture with ever-increasing fervor was quite predictable. Historically, it has been the practice of all colonized peoples not only to claim full equality with their former masters, but also to elevate the achievements of their own culture far above those of their brutal conquerors. The strong symbiotic relationship in which the oppressors and oppressed of yesteryear become entangled is simply removed from ethno-nationalist discourse.

The New Zealand state thus finds itself in a position roughly analogous to that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the 19th century. The dominant group is no longer sure of exercising its formal (but waning) imperial authority without bringing about the disintegration of the entire dilapidated edifice. The nationalist demands of its subject peoples have become so intransigent that meeting them would instantly dissolve the constitutional glue that holds the state together. Resisting their demands means war. In the end, there is no winning move – but surrender.

Admittedly, it is difficult to read John Key’s decision to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Jacinda Ardern’s decision to allow Nanaia Mahuta to commission a report on its implementation, as another something but a capitulation to the political logic of Maori nationalism.

Il Puapua is an imaginative and honest presentation of the steps necessary to establish a constitution based on te Tiriti and based on the principle of co-governance. The fact that his recommendations, which included the elimination of majority rule, drew no significant protest from Ardern and his cabinet colleagues, indicates how confident Labor was that the Aotearoa’s future will be Maori-led.

The ideological victory of Maori nationalists will not be free, however. Just as the leaders of Pakeha New Zealand had to make a choice about the use of force, so too will the new leaders of Aotearoa.

It’s hard to see how a system of government that allows 15% of the population to determine the fate of the remaining 85% can end in anything but bad. Soon enough in the play, Maori nationalists, like the Pakeha liberals of the 80s and 90s, will also be forced to choose:

Do we preserve our ideological victory and forcefully defend our hard-won political supremacy?