Helen Clark abused Māori, so don’t expect us to line up behind her now

It has been my privilege whilst in Tauranga to work with people and organisations in addressing the scourge of domestic violence in our communities here. In the course of that work, one of the things I have learnt is that often those who abuse their families minimise their abuse. They assert that “it wasn’t that bad,” and often challenge the recollection of victims, saying “that’s not how it happened,” and often feel their victims are persecuting them or seeking revenge.

There’s some political parallels today. Marama Fox, the co-leader of the Māori Party, appeared on Checkpoint and said that the Māori Party did not support Helen Clark’s bid to be the next UN Secretary General. The outrage and excuses in response to that interview from the Labour Party (both leader and Māori MPs) on Morning Report and the response on Twitter and Facebook all bore an uncomfortable resemblance to that of abusers I’ve worked with: the Māori Party are just after revenge, the Foreshore and Seabed Act “wasn’t that bad” and the Māori Party version was “not how it happened.”

Right at this point, some of those who have been running this commentary might be thinking, “how dare he compare us to violent abusers!” Just so you know, abusers do that too. Most people who commit abuses don’t like being compared to other abusers.

I don’t normally write so bluntly, but today I will do so: the historical confiscation of my ancestors’ land was an abuse that has negative effects today. The people who did so abused my ancestors. The Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 was a modern act of confiscation and an act of abuse and has ongoing negative effects today. The people who wrote and voted for that piece of legislation have abused my whānau, hapū and iwi. That nefarious act of the Parliament of 2004 is comparable to the nefarious acts of the Parliaments of the 1860s.

I marched on 5 May 2004. I carried my eldest daughter on my shoulders alongside my wife in amongst the largest protest in my living memory. I stood on Parliament grounds with my brothers and sisters as we were accused by Helen Clark of being “haters and wreckers.” I stood there with my brothers and sisters whilst Helen Clark went to have her photo taken with Shrek the sheep. That evening, I vigiled alongside Christians as the legislation was passed through Parliament. I, like all the others on that march, am a witness to the confiscation of our land that was led by Helen Clark.

We see you, Helen Clark. And I realised as I wrote this that I am still angry with you.

In case you are not sure what all the fuss was about, in 1997 Māori in the Marlborough Sounds applied to the Māori Land Court for determination as to whether their foreshore and seabed was Māori customary land. Before that court could rule, the High Court ruled that all that land was in Crown ownership. But at the Court of Appeal, this was overturned and referred back to the Māori Land Court. The Labour led government lost the plot and created the Foreshore and Seabed Act which vested all the foreshore and seabed in Crown ownership and restricted Māori rights to test their ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the Māori Land Court. Simply put, the Crown instituted the largest land grab in the last 160 years and removed the rights to go to the courts on the basis of our ethnicity.

Dame Tariana Turia, then in the Labour Party, walked. She understood the injustice, and she couldn’t be bought, so she walked and formed the Māori Party with Dr Pita Sharples. The other Māori MPs in the Labour Party chose their party over their people. When you hear Nanaia Mahuta or Dover Samuels making excuses today, don’t forget that they chose to support confiscation in 2004. Helen never forgave Tariana. The Labour Party has never forgiven the Māori Party. I have never voted for another Labour Party Māori MP.

This was only exacerbated in 2006 when Helen Clark refused to back the then draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People under the guise that it had failed to be developed in consensus. That translates as the Labour-led government of the time wasn’t getting what it wanted, which was the removal of any text affirming the self-determination of indigenous peoples.

Since all of this, in opposition, Andrew Little has sort of apologised for the Seabed and Foreshore Act. He certainly seems to think it was bad that it happened to the Labour Party. I’m not convinced he quite got that Māori want an apology for the theft of our land and the insult to our character in protesting, not for a poor process. Helen Clark has never apologised.

This is not just one issue that the Māori Party and other Māori like myself should or can just put behind us in favour of the national good. Like domestic abuse, the Foreshore and Seabed Act speaks to the character of the person. Helen Clark abused her relationship with Māori, with indigenous peoples, to serve her own purposes. She has not demonstrated any remorse or any commitment to the self-determination of indigenous peoples worldwide.

Of course I would be proud were she to gain that position. Having a New Zealander would be amazing, a real testament to all of her hard work and political nous. But don’t blow the bugle and expect me to fall into line along with every other Māori in the country. Helen Clark’s record with Māori is written in black and white in the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 and every interview she did on the topic. She abused that relationship. She led a government that damaged our Māori communities. She has a few apologies to make and some work to do before we can start talking about being a family again.

16 thoughts on “Helen Clark abused Māori, so don’t expect us to line up behind her now

  1. Thanks Graham. I heard Marama Fox on Checkpoint yesterday and totally agreed with her. I think Helen became a kind of deity and was allowed to get away with some bad calls, particularly in her third term.

    1. It’s good to see more commentators now taking a sober look at that period. Maiki Sherman’s opinion piece on Newshub is great.

    2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dwayne. I don’t have as strong a view on her leadership as you do, and I personally think there is plenty to cheer in the Clark years, but the indigenous politics of the period were troubling.

  2. Ko awau tētahi e tino whaakae ki tāhau I tuhi nei e hika. Truer words would not be spoken!

    Mauri ora!

  3. Maori were denied the courts to settle these claims? But as I and others said at the time,”nobody owns the land beyond the highwater mark anyway.”

    In regards to the Tuhoe raids: It was never said that there was no evidence against the so-called terrorists. Just that the evidence could not be used because it was gained illegally. What a bunch of clowns the police were. Three people were convicted of firearms offences. I’m a little unsure of the criticism of Helen Clark about domestic abuse.

    1. Kia ora, thanks for taking the time to comment. Obviously the Crown would disagree with the position that no-one owns water beyond the highwater mark; they’ve made sure to stamp their ownership on it. In doing so, they returned to form with the largest confiscation of resources, hands down. It could have been done another way, which is to talk with their Treaty partner. I am relatively hopeful we will see this partnership approach occur in the long term over freshwater.

      The Tuhoe raids and the subsequent apology are less about the few arrested and more about the heavy-handed violent actions of the Crown in Ruatoki, a community already suspicious because of a long history of raupatu. If there was ever a modern grievance this was it; a flawed, racist Police operation that persecuted innocent Māori men, women and children in their homes.

      The domestic violence analogy is intended to shock a little, to give a sense of the emotion that is still generated by our history of colonisation; the reactions to the imagery in many ways demonstrate the discomfort in facing our history and its impacts.

  4. Kia ora. Great whakaaro. I’m ambivalent about Helen Clark and the F & S. At the time I was angry but 12-13 years on I’m focused on other things. So I don’t really care whether she gets the UNSG job or not.

    I’m also not angry anymore at the Maori Party for choosing to go into government with National. But nor will they have my vote ever again either. In 2005 they said they would follow the will of the people as to whether they would support Labour. Then they restricted whose voices they would hear on this to Maori Party members only. Not non-party members like myself who had voted for them. Kei te pai tena. That’s fine. But I haven’t voted for them since and I don’t intend to ever again.


    1. Kia ora Noah, thanks for the time you have taken to comment. I understand the sense of betrayal when the Māori Party; I have never accepted the ‘at the table’ reasoning. I’ve voted for Te Ururoa since then, but more for his work as an electorate MP, and never a party vote for Māori. Politics is a minefield whenever we try to apply our principles (and how inconsistent we can be in that application).

    1. Thanks Bob. I have never been comfortable with their connection with National. However, they did negotiate to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2008, and were successful in repealing some aspects, though they didn’t overturn the Crown’s assertion of complete ownership.

  5. As already outlined in various posts, Helen Clarkes failures to honour treaty obligations with tangata whenua of Aotearoa NewZealand. The backlash from Maori is then, to be expected, kei sera sera

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