As I ponder the proposed changes to the Green Party constitution, I wonder whether Pākehā civil society in Aotearoa isn’t bemusing itself with the notion of tiriti partnership as a cultural change at every level, from the local gardening club up. Whereas, in fact, the partnership is primarily a constitutional issue, a partnership relation between iwi and Crown in need of rigorous negotiation, and Māori understand that. The Matike Mai project led by the late Moana Jackson is the most ambitious conceiving of possible models that partnership might take. Unfortunately it seems to have been placed in the too hard basket and instead localised cultural tinkering seems to be the name of the game.
The Greens, who are predominantly a Pākehā organisation operating within the parliamentary system as it stands – an unsatisfactory improvisation as far as tino rangatiratanga is concerned – are currently planning to place a Māori-focused organisational layer on top of the current membership-based, local- cum-regional structure which votes in national facilitators for policy development, campaign mounting, fund raising, list forming and so on. And then there is the caucus of MPs. The plan is a little like placing a marae committee, including the creation of kaumātua, on top of this Pākehā structure, and suggesting that this signifies a tiriti partnership.
Within the Greens, as in the trade unions, there is every reason for tangata whenua members to caucus (as Greens or union members), and to choose culturally appropriate meeting procedures, as long as the wider constitution is respected. It is also appropriate that the wider organisational structure is culturally ‘comfortable’. But what does that mean? That the meetings of a secular organisation begin and end with the asking for God’s blessing? And of course, this cultural comfort applies to women, lesbians, gays, people with disability etc. And do I hear, class?
And then there is the question of language. There is a current argument for a greater visibility of te reo. There was a similar call in the 1980s until Māori realised it was a waste of resources to service Pākehā for whom learning te reo was becoming fashionable, like French for the Victorians. I have an argument against the facile use of any language. Of course one learns some phrases to get by while visiting, but each language has a complex past that a non-native speaker can’t possibly comprehend. My late friend, Malcolm Yockney (Ngāti Rongomaiwahine), was a skilled linguist, studied Māori for many years, watched every Waka Huia programme, yet also recognised he could never be a native speaker with a vocabulary of local references, nuances and metaphors.
Does greater visibility mean there should be a translator at every union meeting or negotiation, at every Green branch meeting? That every document should be bilingual? And then there is the growing use of metaphor; with waka and paddlers currently popular. Should we also be able to draw on the prophetic poems of William Blake, or the writings of Virginia Woolf – there would be useful imagery. It both becomes more interesting but also potentially chaotic and perhaps slightly bizarre when the ultimate goal is constitutional change necessarily couched in legalese.
Perhaps there is the need for the anarchist whakataukī: we can either think of ourselves as all the same and therefore equal, or we can think of ourselves as all completely different and therefore equal. Identity becomes a circular journey, which returns me to the original point, that Māori sovereignty is a constitutional issue between tangata whenua and the crown, rather than a local cultural issue.