Parliament and Politics

September 8, 2017

Today Meka Whaitiri, a member in the Labour Party, warmly greeted us and gave us a tour of the Parliament. She met us in the Māori Affairs Committee Room, which is located in the main Parliament building. The room served a similar function as a Marae, and the interior was similar to a Marae as well; instead of poupou (carvings on wood panels inside the meeting house of a Marae that usually have connections to ancestral lineage), there were portraits of previous Māori politicians. We were greeted in a fashion similar to a pōwhiri (a welcome protocol): exchanging a speech and a song, followed by the hongi. I found the resemblance to a Marae protocol to be significant in regards to not only paying respect to Māori ancestors and culture, but also to empowering Māori people who are involved in politics and represent their iwi (tribe).

The Parliament buildings (the Beehive on the left, and the main building on the right)

During the tour, we were taken to the court room where new laws are passed. The room had the names of countries that New Zealand had fought in war with. Following the tour, we had morning tea with Meka and discussed more about the Parliament. It stood out to me when Meka told us that there are some Māori members of parliament (MPs) who acknowledge their Māori whakapapa (genealogy) only when it is convenient or beneficial. In doing this, the genuine motive to represent Māori interests becomes illegitimate as well as the intention to represent the whakapapa that these MPs now conveniently claim to relate to. I found it disheartening that considering how proportionally little Māori there are in parliament, these Māori MP choose to represent certain sides or issues and turn to their whakapapa almost as a last resort. With whakapapa being a significantly large part of Māori culture, relating to their genealogy when convenient seems to undermine the roots of the culture and heritage they claim to have.

We had visited The Waitangi Tribunal two days before visitign the Parliament. The Waitangi Tribunal (a government entity) looks into past and present breaches from the Crown to the Treaty of Waitangi. The members at the Waitangi Tribunal are mostly all of Māori descent. After putting in immense time and effort of looking into claims, the Tribunal produces a written report that underlines Crown breaches and highlights recommendations regarding the claims. Despite that these reports are only recommendations and are not binding results, the members are extremely dedicated to the work they are doing. They were doing work that, although would not give affected Māori peoples any compensation for the hardship caused by breaches to the Treaty, they believed would make a difference. In comparison to the certain Māori MPs that only use their Māori genealogy to benefit themselves in politics, these Māori members at the Tribunal strongly held onto their whakapapa and used that as motivation.

These visits made me reflect on how Māori sovereignty in politics can become distorted due to how power is allocated to different political and government entities. The interests of MPs often do not benefit the whole, and can lead to malpractice. On the other hand, the system of politics sheds little light onto the Māori peoples (or groups like the Waitangi Tribunal), and this creates an environment where genuine interests are not prioritized.

— Eunice

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