The term “Maori” came into common usage around the middle of the nineteenth century when it was applied to the indigenous people of New Zealand. It is generic and refers to all Maori whether of Ngati Kahungunu descent or not.

The Local Government Act, 2002 (LGA) refers to “Maori” while the Resource Management Act, 1991 (RMA) uses the terms “Maori,” “iwi authorities,”  “hapu” and “tangata whenua.” Inconsistencies in legislation and interpretation create conflict whether intentional or not. Lawyers make skillions out of this phenomenon.

In Napier, Maori from other iwi tend to outnumber the local tangata whenua. When tangata whenua here marry the better-looking Maori from other iwi, the issue becomes more complicated and in former times could lead to tribal warfare. If we marry the not so good-looking ones, other iwi are eternally grateful and bestow upon us numerous gifts and koha.

The LGA tends to rely on the democratic stuff, so potentially there could be occasions where the aspirations of Maori as interpreted through a democratic process, over-ride the aspirations of tangata whenua. This was the main reason why the Maori Committee at Hawke’s Bay Regional Council didn’t support dedicated Maori seats on the council some years ago. It would be a bit strange having someone from Tainui or Ngati Porou getting appointed to council down here through the democratic process, and making decisions on what’s best for Maori of Kahungunu descent. Meanwhile we have councillors determining what’s best for Maori when their decision-making encompasses such things.

The Maori Committees on councils are advisory only, so their advice or recommendations can be taken heed of by the elected councillors … or it can be totally disregarded or adopted in part. Some tangata whenua regard the advisory committees as mostly ineffectual in promoting their aspirations and have chosen other avenues to achieve what they want. Due to lack of recognition and provision for the Treaty of Waitangi and the partnership it envisaged at local government level, many tangata whenua view council processes with suspicion.

There is an inconsistency that inhibits the true expression of Ngati Kahungunutanga, in that the Treaty partnership is acknowledged by the Crown and central government that writes the legislation, yet local government interprets and implements the same legislation without enabling the Treaty partnership to flourish. Devolution of authority should carry with it the responsibility for prior agreements from which that authority originated. Other councils throughout New Zealand have seen the light, but some of ours still have a way to go. To be fair there has been a change of attitude lately with HBRC giving greater acknowledgment to the social structures and mana of Ngati Kahungunu.

The 12 Maori representatives on the Maori Committee at HBRC are selected by the four Taiwhenua within the region, with Wairoa, Ahuriri (Napier), Heretaunga and Tamatea nominating three representatives each. The Taiwhenua structure is a hangover from the 1980’s Labour administration, which first tried to meet the calls of many Maori for greater autonomy, but ran into opposition from the Roger Douglas brigade and the emerging agenda which wanted to fast-track the transfer of resources and services to private enterprise.

Napier City Council Maori Consultative Committee has five Maori reps appointed by the Maori community. The Hastings District Council Joint Maori Committee has six Maori reps appointed by Council, plus six councillors. Prior to appointment, suggestions were sought from various kaumatua, the iwi authority and Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga on who might be suitable for such a committee. Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa District Councils have Maori Consultative Committees as well, although I understand that the Wairoa committee is in recess pending policy review.                       (http://www.wairoadc.govt.nz/council/meetings/ )

For Ngati Kahungunu whanau, our perception of an ideal world would include a system where each hapu has a representative. At present, it is debatable whether they would have the necessary time or resources to engage with local government, central government ministries or their regional reps, or the numerous consultants that get contracted by councils and developers to research and promote a specific issue. Councils are well-resourced to promote their own agendas, and if they run out of loot they borrow more or put the rates up. Many tangata whenua in the Kahungunu rohe are not resourced, and won’t be until redress occurs as a result of Treaty settlement and enabling legislation.

In the meantime, additional advocacy usually involves doing the mahi outside of regular work hours on a voluntary basis, or engaging someone with the appropriate skills, contacts and capacity. At other times, representation is dependent on who is there on the day to vote in their particular candidate, who has the most relations when the votes are counted, or who has the time to attend meetings or to follow up on the issue at hand. Tenacity may have something to do with it too.

Promoting a particular idea or desired outcome through a statutory planning process can take years. The Regional Resource Management Plan is a case in point. Originally proposed last century after first having gone through two years of preliminary consultation, it finally became operative in August 2006. Over such an extended timeframe there were several amendments to the RMA; the electorate had determined some councillors should stay and some should go; key council staff had moved onward and upward, or sideways and were now contracting back to council at rates that far exceeded their previous council salaries; and iwi, hapu, and Taiwhenua organisations had altered management or Board structures. Priorities had also shifted with changes in Parliament and environmental policy direction. What Ngati Kahungunu has to deal with is a continually changing dynamic and focus within government in regard to our tikanga interests.

In addition to local advocacy within the Bay, we also regularly contribute to other issues at the national level. Sometimes this takes place at fora like the Treaty Tribes Coalition, the Federation of Maori Authorities (FOMA) and Te Ohu Kai Moana. Government Ministries also ask for input into policy reviews or development. What we try to achieve is a level of consistency throughout our rohe, which is not easy to do with the variations between how the three regional and nine territorial authorities within the Ngati Kahungunu rohe interpret the RMA.

Going forward, Maori could be better represented in local council affairs if councils helped drive the aspirations of tangata whenua more, and included an ethical component in their decision-making processes. What often comes to the table at meetings between councils and Maori reps are well-prepared documents driving council initiated projects or agendas. Greater benefits would accrue for all if Maori were engaged at an earlier stage and helped inform initial drafts of documents. Then tangata whenua could benefit from an inclusive process and we would find a lot more commonalities, which would be reflected in the outcomes.

There is a prevailing view amongst tangata whenua that insufficient weighting is given to Maori concerns and aspirations during decision-making processes. The current model of representation may need refining so that councils can interact more directly with the holders of mana whenua. Decision-making at the council table requires consideration of a council-drafted “policy on significance.” There is a tendency for councils to focus on economics and growth, and comment has been made elsewhere that they are seen more as development agencies than local government. Often what is significant to Maori and many others is not taken into account because the adopted policy on significance does not require it. For Maori, social and cultural parameters are more important than somebody making money out of our taonga.

For example, sustainability is one of the current buzzwords, but it is nothing new to us. Te Ao Maori and hapu aspirations have been about sustainable use of resources for the last thousand years. We just call it kaitiakitanga.

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