I have just finished listening to Julian Wilcox, head of news and current affairs for Māori Television, being interviewed on Radio Waatea about the storm that has rumbled away in the last fortnight after Native Affairs investigated the mismanagement of funds by Te Pātaka Ōhanga directors and management (who are also, of course, the Trustees of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust).
Julian had to defend himself, his decisions, Native Affairs and Māori Television from a whole variety of accusations:
- they are making a mountain out of a molehill, as it’s a paltry $10,000 (though I have yet to see where that figure is substantiated);
- they’re sensationalising rather than reporting the issue;
- they’re trampling on the mana of an important kuia;
- they’re undermining Māori development by undermining Māori organisations;
- this style of reporting is part of the “Pākehā-fication of the Māori media” (attributed to Derek Fox).
Julian can and does defend himself and his team very well, so there’s no need for me to re-hash his arguments, listen to the interview. However, I am so flabbergasted by the last two points, I felt I just had write something if only to collect my thoughts in black and white.
Essentially, the interview by Dale Husband, Derek Fox’s quote and even Minister Pita Sharples’ own obtuse comments that the Kōhanga Reo movement shouldn’t be made to feel “whakamā by the actions of a few” are polite criticisms of Māori Television holding the Kōhanga Reo movement to account in public.
Native Affairs is being criticised for having broken ranks. The underlying narrative is that it’s us against the Pākehā who are always looking for an opportunity to pull us down, and Native Affairs have given them the ammunition they need to fire off a few bullets, at one of our elder stateswomen, no less. Furthermore, it’s insinuated, if Native Affairs itself is now firing off a few rounds at Māori organisations, then we have the evidence for Pākehā-fication.
Julian was really angry at the term. It’s a dirty, nasty stab right at the heart of our identity politics as Māori. Shame on Derek Fox for using the term. But it’s also very clever, because it sends the Māori it’s directed at into a defensive existential crisis, a need to justify. Which directs the light away from the issue for which we need accountability. And it is done because a cynical group of leaders in Māoridom who control the resources and the relationships with the Crown want us to believe that protecting our own leaders from Pākehā scrutiny is a value that trumps being accountable to our own people. Most of the leaders I am critical of are now older, they are sick of the fight, and they have been offered warm seats and full bank accounts.
The naysayers will disagree, and explain that accountability is fine as long as it is done in line with tikanga Māori, and go further to say that Native Affairs forgot that. Ahhh, the magic of tikanga; the rongoa for all our woes. So how does that work? Hui at marae, everyone has a say, kuia and kaumātua are there to provide guidance and ultimately a judgement, everyone is happy with the outcome, or at least accepts it, we move forward after a cup of tea, our relationships with each other restored. That’s what most of the people who are interested at my kōhanga reo wanted to happen, and still want to happen. I have seen it work in some instances and I have seen it fail. It works where everyone wishes the relationships that have been affected to be restored; a genuine desire and goodwill. It fails when it is seen as an opportunity to dodge with no consequence. That pretty much describes the hui we had at Tamapahore Marae with the Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust about Titoki being fired and rumours of financial irregularities.
Our comfortable leaders do not want to be accountable. What our comfortable leaders want – in particular, those sitting in Parliament, in the ivory towers of the Iwi Leaders’ Forum, in our major industries like fishing and forestry, in government ministries, and in the flash head offices of otherwise impoverished Māori organisations like Te Kōhanga Reo – is to be left alone to their comfort. They want us to trust that their decisions are the right decisions, because they say so. They deify themselves as Māori titans whose long service to a kaupapa makes them tapu, never to be questioned. They cleverly talk tino rangatiratanga with Māori in poverty, at the marae, at the local level, whilst they lunch with the very Pākehā power players who would rob us of our last vestiges of autonomy.
Native Affairs and Māori Television made our cynical and comfortable leaders feel uncomfortable. These leaders use the words tikanga Māori to describe any process that allows them to stay powerful, to stay dominant, and to hide from the vey people they are supposed to serve. They want the accountability in public forum to stop, not to protect Māori development, but to protect their personal empires.