Is it the job of iwi to solve Maori problems, or do we all have a stake and a responsibility? And what's the end goal of treaty settlements?
It's one of those perennial talkback-style questions that comes up towards the end of any debate on race relations. Someone often says, "... and anyway, now that iwi have all that settlement money, why aren't they fixing Maori poverty/getting Maori off welfare/stopping all these Maori problems".
It's a common reprise from Q+A viewers and I suspect it's an idea that gets canvassed a lot in letters to the editor around the country. I mean, what's the point of the treaty settlements if not to tackle all these terrible Maori statistics?
The direct answer to that is easy -- it's to right the wrongs of our history. Where something was taken unlawfully, it should be given back or some reparation made. Sure, we want to see large, representative organisations invest such large sums of money wisely. But if the vast majority of an iwi, theoretically, wanted to blow their settlement in a strip joint, that's their business.
Pakeha governments are settling because it's the just and right thing to do, not as a way of extending social welfare. Taxpayers have no more right to judge how iwi money spend their settlements than they do to judge how I might spend any money I get back from the IRD this year. (#wishfulthinking).
Having said that, it's reasonable for New Zealanders to hope that the treaty settlements are handed on and start to turn around Maori social woes, because Maori leaders have long said that the historic loss of resources lies at the root of modern ills. Ultimately, I'd like to think that settlement money bridges the ethnic economic gap because the justice being meted out should be practical and shared.
So it's good news no iwi seem interested in the strip joint option. Indeed, while it gets little publicity, it seems iwi are spending significant sums on the social needs of their whanau and hapu.
Ngai Tahu Chair Mark Solomon has told both Q+A and Marae Investigates recently that since settlement in 1994 his iwi has redistributed getting up to quarter of a billion dollars amongst its members. The focus of the social investment seems to be education, with 981 tertiary scholarships granted in the past financial year. Around 11% of Ngai Tahu folk have a tertiary degree, up three percent since 1994.
The message from his people was that the money should be "a hand up, not a hand out". Now that's typically politic-speak for anything you support doing in terms of welfare. However the distinction here is telling. The money is not to combat immediate poverty, but to fund long-term solutions, such as education.
That's a bold call. Solomon's line is that he doesn't want Ngai Tahu to become the "brown welfare".
If I take up until the 1st of July last year, we had distributed, since settlement, around $227.9 million. If I divide that by the tribal population and then divide that by the years since settlement, it equates to $351 per person. So just giving out a $351 a year is not going to be of huge benefit to the individual whanau. So we have to look at initiatives that give us the best bang for our buck, if I can put it that way, that help to give our people a hand up. We were specifically told at every hui that we held with the people in 1999 we were not allowed to become the brown social welfare.
Which spells out iwi's limitations. Those asking the original question think: 'Iwi are rich, therefore iwi should fix Maori poverty now' without realising no-one outside of the government is that rich.
Still, those question askers will continue, 'but a billion dollars has now been spent on redress [although not quite in 1994 dollar terms, so we haven't even broken the 'fiscal envelope' yet], so where are the results'? Solomon made the point that generations of problems will take generations to overcome. "We cannot cure the social ills of Maori overnight," he said. An obvious but little acknowledged fact of life.
But shouldn't we expect more urgency around addressing those ills? That's certainly the cry when we're talking about Maori child abuse, which in part goes back to Maori poverty and whanau breakdown.
It's got similarities to the debate over Islam and terrorism. A common complaint is that Muslims aren't strong enough in condemning jihadists. In this case, some ask why Maori aren't stronger in condemning the 50% of child abuse perpetrated by Maori.
Of course the condemnation is there on both counts. And I'm sure Solomon and other Maori leaders are seriously concerned about all these "social ills".
But he made a striking point on Q+A:
SHANE Do you believe that is iwi’s role, to become the brown social welfare?
MARK No, I do not. I do not believe that at all. Iwi, Maori, like all other citizens of this country. We are taxpayers, and we have the same right to access to Crown funding for social delivery as every other sector of society.
Solomon firmly pushed responsibility for leadership on any "social ills" back on government -- the government of all New Zealanders.
Those who argue strongly that 'we're all New Zealanders' and oppose 'special treatment for Maori', can't then turn around and say 'it's a Maori problem, Maori have to fix it. That's what settlements were for'. You can't have it both ways. If 'we're all New Zealanders', then it's all our problem. We all have to care and we all have to pay.
On the other hand, as Maori take more political power, so they must take more political responsibility. When it came to partial asset sales, Solomon he wasn't a fan personally, but if the returns were good enough, Ngai Tahu would buy.
SHANE So for Ngai Tahu, it comes back to the return.
MARK Of course it does. We have a fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the Ngai Tahu families to manage the assets well and to get a good return. That’s our responsibility.
Is that good enough, to simply run iwi as another big business? Iwi by definition are about people, not just the bottom line.
I respect Solomon for challenging the assumption that a Maori business should somehow have to care more about Maori people and their social problems than a Pakeha business does about Pakeha people and their problems. Maori taxpayers deserve the same rights as Pakeha taxpayers and it's no good ghettoising Maori woes or solutions. While NGOs, iwi, churches and other organisations can help, but it's the job of our politicians to serve the needs of the people.
That was going to be the point of this post... But as I've been writing, I've also been thinking - aren't iwi more than just business? Solomon in the past has argued along those lines:
“New Zealand needs to come to terms that iwi are probably the government’s best partner. Number one we are never going to leave this country. Everything we earn will stay in this country. Most of the tribes that are out there doing business now, they heavily invest in their own communities, they create industry, they create income, they create employment.”
So Solomon seems to be arguing that iwi are something different, but on the other hand must focus on returns like other businesses. It's quite a tightrope to walk.
I'm left arguing with myself -- undoubtedly it's the government's job to provide for the welfare of its people, but on the other hand iwi should perhaps be looking more urgently at the needs of their people today rather than stressing the soundness of their bottomline for generations to come.
I'll be interested in what you have to say.