Winston Peters: finding his inner 'Tangata Whenua': the most comprehensive biography of Winston Peters ever written is just being released. In this extract from his explosive new book Winston, Ian Wishart goes in search of the New Zealand First leader's Philosophical 'turangawaewae'.
"Winston [had] only a scattered understanding of Maori issues at best. He had, instinctively, opposed the amendment to the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal Act allowing Maori claims prior to 1984, supported Muldoon in opposition to the Bastion Point settlement, and privately regarded the Treaty itself as a chimera that distracted Maori from focusing on more immediate concerns. One detected an unease within Winston over all things Maori.
"Others within Parliament were less charitable, suggesting that he was embarrassed by his Maori background and had attempted to pass himself off as a swarthy Italian in his university days. This discomfort was exemplified by his inability to speak the language and thus feel relaxed on the marae."
It's not clear whether Laws has ever lived in Ponsonby but he did do a talkback show for a station based there once. The question is, was it true? Was Winston out of touch with Maori as the latte set imply, or was there a deeper resonance that his foes were blind to?
The truth is important, because the claims have repeatedly been bandied around by critics of Winston Peters.
One who practically chokes on his flat white when he hears the words of Michael Laws is former NZ First MP Ron Mark, now the mayor of Carterton in the Wairarapa. (2)
"That has to be the most stupid comment! I have watched Winston, he is absolutely mindblowing. The guy is like a damned encyclopaedia. He remembers so much detail and times and dates and names. I have been with him in Invercargill, and Wanganui, and Whakatane, and the far north, and he's met someone who is Maori and he has asked them their name and tested where they are from, then he's connected the dots and told them who this relative was and who that relative was, and 'your dad must have known this person', and I just sit there with my mouth open, absolutely gobsmacked. How the hell do you know so much about Maori people?
"And when you go to Ratana, what, Ratana doesn't think Winston knows much about Maori people? Give me a life, good heavens, give me a second life because I could use it! I'd spend all that time teaching Michael Laws. Go and talk to Api Mahuika, leader of Ngati Porou, about what Winston did up there for them."
The educated, enlightened and conservative Maori, says Ron Mark--now a lead negotiator for Ngati Kahungungu in the Wairarapa region treaty settlements--"agree with Winston actually, and they are all well-informed enough to know that he has done more for Maori quietly, without fuss or fanfare, than most Maori under the age of 40 will ever know.
"Whether it's the claims up in Northland, or getting Hikurangi handed back to Ngati Porou, there are a range of issues. Simple things like allocating funding for the Maori Women's Welfare League, which still goes on today, funding for the national Kapa Haka, which had never happened until Winston got there, funding for the Maori Wardens. In his own quiet way, without blowing his own trumpet, at the end of the day Winston is Maori. And just like all Maori, we all have varying political views and varying philosophies--some of it depends on which tribe you come from or which part of the country you come from.
"His family has philosophies that they live by and it is pretty much reflected in everything he's done, but he is still Maori and don't you ever forget it. He understands more than any, the impacts of deprivation and confiscation that occurred in the i84os-7os and still goes on to this very bloody day."
Further proof, however, that Michael Laws' urban liberal critique of Peters lacked any nuanced depth can also be found in the history books. Would someone "embarrassed" by their Maori heritage have stepped forward to conspicuously captain the Auckland Maori rugby side?
Then there's the story of Dame Whina (3) Cooper. Few people know it, but it was Winston Peters' work on a Maori land claim for his Ngati Wai iwi that inspired Cooper to lead her now famous hikoi from the far north to Wellington in 1975, known to history now as "the Land March".
The Labour government of Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling had proposed turning coastal areas into public reserves. The Ngati Wai, who'd enjoyed their ancestral coastland for centuries, turned to their new Russell McVeagh legal beagle, Winston Peters, who mounted a legal challenge that forced the government to back down. Dame Whina Cooper joined the effort and was so taken with it she decided to march on parliament, as retiring Labour MP Shane Jones noted in his valedictory speech: (4)
"It is a rite of passage to be a Maori politician in the north and to have a burst of that activism. In 1975 Winston Peters was leader of the Ngati Wai Land Retention Committee with Dame Whina Cooper," noted Jones.
It was this event, says Peters, that pushed him into politics: (5)
"I never thought about becoming a politician until 1974 when the then Labour Government decided they were going to--through the Tourism Ministry and in concert with the Whangarei County Council--designate a whole lot of rural coastal land for public utility purposes, for reserves and parks and what have you--in short, just taking it all off us.
"So myself and another young lawyer decided we were going to take these guys on. We acted for hundreds and hundreds of Maori, and even a number of European owners, we took the council on and after 16 years we won nearly everywhere."
Again, regardless of one's personal views about the Peters phenomenon, is it really credible to suggest he had only "a scattered understanding of Maori issues", or that he was "embarrassed" to be seen as Maori? Is it credible to suggest he did not understand marae protocol, despite his work for his iwi?
"E te taonga o te motu, takoto mai I runga I te atamira oo matua tupuna," Peters eulogised in Parliament on learning of her death in 1994; "Oh treasure of the land, lie upon the platform of your ancestors." (6)
"I got to know Whina in the 1970s. She had been brought from Auckland too meet the Ngati Wai land retention committee, for which I acted as legal counsel. It is not really true to say that Whina started the land protest movement; rather it should be said that she was seen by younger Maori in Auckland as having the credibility and the respectability that European people deemed necessary if they were to negotiate with Maori on cultural matters.
"The protest movement had already started, but Whina's backing gave it impetus at a national level at a critical time, and thus the land march was born. In fact, a number of us remember the very night that she said, in response to hearing about the problem at Pataua: 'I know what I will do. I will lead a march to Parliament'. And she did. The land march was designed to halt the alienation of Maori land, and the catch-cry was, 'no more land to be taken'."
In fact, as others have noted, Dame Whina's view of the Treaty was fairly similar to Winston Peters', as she explained at the opening of the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990, urging people to remember: "that the Treaty was signed so that we could all live as one nation in Aotearoa." (7)
One nation. It's a wonder no one has thought of using that as a political slogan.;)
"The greatness of Whina Cooper lay in her perception of what life ought to be and what it ought to hold for all humanity," remarked Peters, "regardless of gender or race. She yearned to see a state of peace and harmony between Maori and European in New Zealand, and she expected people to work to create that climate." Nonetheless, the politician agreed, Whina also expected people to respect New Zealand's Maori culture and heritage because this is the only country in the world where it is found. "Hence her symbolic gesture of driving the pouwhenua into the ground while saying, 'This is our land'."
As her biographer Michael King noted, Whina Cooper's message didn't go down so well with modern Maori activists:
"No Maori leader has attracted more public praise from Pakeha (European) people and more public criticism from sectors of Maoridom than Whina."
In its obituary on Dame Whina's death in 1994, Britain's Independent newspaper wrote: (8)
"Many young Maoris, impatient for results, favoured more aggressive action and established a makeshift camp on the steps of Parliament in defiance of her orders. Their resulting arrest aggravated differences between the conservative approach of Cooper, who devoted her life to creating harmony between the races and finding peaceful solutions to differences, and the more militant forces of Maoridom." The reason for this divergence between Dame Whina's conservatism on the one hand, and the modern Maori renaissance on the other, was a massive re-think on the part of the latter about what the Treaty of Waitangi actually meant, and this goes to the very heart of the treaty debate and race relations in New Zealand. It also goes to the very heart of understanding Winston Peters' and New Zealand First's views on treaty issues, and will allow readers to see in context why urban liberals like Michael Laws did not fully understand the big picture themselves.
Dame Whina was born in 1895, and her perception of the Treaty of Waitangi was very much coloured by Maori and European understanding at the time which, essentially, was this:
The treaty was a compact between two peoples to unite as one under a common sovereign--the Queen of England--and build a new nation together. The treaty guaranteed Maori communal property rights over the lands and territories each iwi possessed, but provided a mechanism for tribes to sell land to the Crown if they wished. This clause was inserted to head off private land speculators who'd been doing deals for vast tracts of land at peppercorn rates prior to the treaty.
In effect, the agreement cancelled existing land purchases subject to their ratification by the Crown, to ensure Maori were not being cheated, and required Maori in turn to only deal with the Crown in regard to future land sales.
As noted, the treaty recognised and preserved the traditional Maori practice of communal ownership and control of land.
This worked well for the first few years after the treaty, but for one inconvenient truth. The treaty had guaranteed Maori all the rights and privileges of British citizens, and this included the right to hold title to their own piece of land--not communal title but individual freehold, just as we enjoy today.
Enterprising Maori realised that their communal model of tribal land ownership was preventing them from carving off pieces of land and having their own sections that they could develop and sell. In essence, many iwi came to the realisation that communal land ownership, like grass skirts and kiwi feather cloaks, was not as profitable or useful to them as freehold European titles, warm European clothes or solid timber housing.
Pressure began to build from within Maoridom for the government to grant Maori the right to carve up their land and have European title to it. The government, conscious of its promises under the treaty to protect the old system, didn't wish to see the remaining tracts of tribal land broken up into lifestyle blocks.
The chiefs, however, saw the restriction as unfair. Their Pakeha brothers could buy and sell land as they liked, but iwi could not:
"This is about the land. It is, in accordance with my opinion that it should be divided that each man should have a certain number of acres, that he may be able to sell his portion to the Europeans without creating confusion," chief Matenga of Tarawera told the massive national hui at Kohimarama in i860. (9)
Wiremu Tamihana agreed: "Let me state my grievance. It is this. Our lands are not secured to us by Crown Grant. Every man is not allowed to get a Crown Grant to his land."
When the government relented and put in place a procedure allowing Maori to break up tribal land and individualise it, the move created a flashpoint that led to the Taranaki land wars.
In the aftermath, massive land confiscations for the rebellion, which even inadvertently swept up some of the non-rebellious iwi, caused problems leading to the treaty settlements process we know and love today. (10)
However, the other key point to emerge was that the majority of Maori in the 1860s and beyond continued to view the treaty as a unifier, not a divider. They continued to swear utter allegiance to the Crown as the only sovereign of New Zealand.
Now the land wars had also been about the Maori King movement. The King movement decided that Maori mana would be enhanced if New Zealand were to have two rulers--a British sovereign to rule over the European settlers, and a Maori sovereign to unite and govern Maoridom. This was the emergence of what we now see as the modern Maori activist movement, or tino rangatiratanga--self government.
Although it was soundly defeated by an alliance of Government forces and friendly Maori iwi, the seed that germinated within the King movement had been planted, and with the right conditions (government breaches in regard to land, education and health) it would sprout in fertile ground over the century that followed.
Which is a shame, because here is how most chiefs saw the Maori sovereignty movement back in 1860:
"I am grieved about this new thing. I mean this new name--the Maori King. Its tendency is to cause division and ill feeling between the Maories and the Europeans. Its tendency is to lower both Pakehas and Maories. I say let this movement be suppressed ... and let the Pakehas and the Maories live together as brethren. Let the Queen be Queen for both England and New Zealand, It was not without good ground that the title of Queen of England and of New Zealand was assumed."
The person who uttered those words was no mug--it was Tamihana Te Rauparaha, high chief of Ngatitoa.11
"I say, let our views be clear. Let it not be supposed the Pakehas wish to enslave (oppress) the Maories. It is not so. The Pakeha wishes to raise the Maori. I am therefore very much grieved on account of this movement. Our old Maori customs are at the bottom of it, and it has been set up to attract our younger brothers. What has changed our clothing, and caused the dog-skin mat to be laid aside? This new name will lead to our debasement; therefore, I say, let it be suppressed.
"Let this King be put down. We are becoming divided amongst ourselves by means of this King. It therefore appears to me we shall be of this opinion, Chiefs of the Conference, that we must support the Governor, and that we should avail ourselves of advantages offered to us and thus share in; the superiority of the Pakehas.
"Let us abandon Maori customs. Look at the superior condition of the Pakeha! This is not slavery. Let this title of King be put down. Even though the King's flag has been hoisted at our place Otaki it shall be cast down, it shall never be allowed to stand. It is calculated to produce ill-will and division, and if the Maori is separated from the Pakeha, he (the Maori) will find himself wrong. The Queen's shall be our only flag. We will hold our lands under the protection of the Queen."
All of which brings us back to Dame Whina Cooper and Winston Peters' understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi. Like their illustrious forebears, both knew the Treaty guaranteed Maori property rights, but was never about joint sovereignty; 'treaty partners' did not mean co-rulers in a land divided according to race.
Unfortunately, however, that's exactly how the Maori renaissance movement of the 1970s and 80s was pitching it. In universities and news media opinion columns, the idea gradually took hold that the Treaty had guaranteed Maori 'tino rangatiratanga' as a self governing people, and that Pakeha New Zealanders were merely 'manuhiri', or 'guests' whose continued right to live in Aotearoa was entirely at the mercy of Maori whim.
This, as you have now seen, bore no resemblance to what the rangatira who actually signed the Treaty had understood or wanted, but a century down the track, on the back of the cultural revolution of the sixties, that seed planted by the renegade king movement back in the 1860s suddenly sprang into bloom.
Amongst the intelligentsia, many saw their struggle against the establishment in semi-Marxist terms, 'my enemy's enemy must therefore be my friend', and it became fashionable to support virtually any cause that threatened the status quo, under the banner of 'inclusivity'. Maori sovereignty was one of those issues quickly adopted by urban liberals, leading to lashings of what Peters would later call "sickly white liberal guilt"--a condition where one is supposedly so ashamed at the actions of one's Pakeha forebears that one throws one's entire lot in with the Maori renaissance to atone for the ancestral guilt. The Grey Lynn version of Stockholm Syndrome, if you like.
The doctrine of 'Tolerance' decreed that all anti-establishment viewpoints were valid without question, but establishment views were not to be tolerated.
Winston Peters, Dame Whina Cooper and others were smart enough to differentiate between genuine treaty land grievances, and the wider aims of Maori sovereignty, which they did not regard as authentic. Urban liberals, however, never understood the nuances because they'd grown up only hearing the modern interpretations of the Treaty, not the real version.
In describing Peters as having a "scattered understanding" of treaty issues, Michael Laws was only advocating what many liberal New Zealanders still genuinely but mistakenly believe.
Little did Peters know in 1975 when, as a young lawyer, he nailed home his Ngati Wai tribe's land rights in the face of a government land grab--and little did Dame Whina know as she piggybacked on Winston's efforts and established the 1975 land march--that they were uncorking a genie that Winston would spend the next few decades trying to put back in the bottle.
(1.) "The Demon Profession" by Michael Laws, HarperCollins 1998, p84
(2.) Ron Mark interview with author
(3.) Pronounced Finna, not Feena
(4.) Shane Jones, Hansard, 21 May 2014, http://www.parliament. nz/en-nz/pb/debates/debates/5 0HansD_20140521_00000020/ valedictory-statements
(5.) Peters interview with Mark Sainsbury, RadioLive, 29 June 2014
(6.) Hansard, Obituary, 29 March 1994
(7.) http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/ dame-whina-cooper
(8.) "Obituary: Dame Whina Cooper", Independent, 28 March 1994, http://www. independent.co.uk/news/people/obituarydame-whina-cooper-1432167.html
(9.) Speeches from the Kohimarama hui of 1860 can be found in "The Great Divide" by Ian Wishart, Howling At The Moon Publishing, 2012. These ones are on p196
(10.) Ironically, the Waitangi Tribunal would later rewrite history and say the government had never asked iwi whether they wanted individual freehold title, and therefore that the Crown had breached the treaty by creating such titles without iwi consent.
(11.) The Great Divide, p190
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|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2014|
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