“All vine and no kūmara” - Office for Māori Crown Relations criticised

Ata mārie!

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in the news

Crown-Māori Partnership Minister Kelvin Davis will oversee a new Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, the government confirmed on Tuesday, capping off an 11 month-long work programme.  

The Office, the first of its kind in New Zealand, combines several other government offices, units, and teams and will sit within the Ministry of Justice.

But some Māori leaders are questioning whether an office within the Ministry of Justice is the best set-up with a former CE of Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK), the Ministry of Māori Development, questioning whether Te Arawhiti will simply duplicate existing functions.     

“There is obviously the potential for TPK and Te Arawhiti to have overlapping interests,” said former TPK CE and Te Mana o Ngāti Rangitihi Trust chairman Leith Comer.

By convention, TPK is “the principal advisor on Crown-Māori relationships”, working with other government departments and Ministers to ensure policy development and delivery is tika (correct).  But Te Arawhiti will become the lead agency for Crown-Māori relationships, either duplicating or usurping TPK.  

“The responsible Ministers and CEs will have to be in constant communications to ensure that where there are overlapping issues one agency/Minister takes the lead supported by the other. Things often fall through the cracks and do not get done where there is a lack of clarity on who is responsible”.

Comer, who is welcoming Te Arawhiti despite the potential for overlap with TPK, says the Office should focus on honouring the Crown’s obligations to iwi as part of historic Treaty settlements.

“I think Te Arawhiti should focus on ensuring the Crown-Māori relations that emerge as part of Treaty settlements are honoured.  Too often important matters are agreed in Deeds of Settlement and not followed through. There is a lot of important work that needs to be done in this space,” said Comer.  

Te Arawhiti is combining the year-old Crown/Māori Relations Unit with the Office of Treaty Settlements (OTS) and the Settlement Commitments Unit, meaning one of the new agency’s strengths is Treaty settlements.   

But rather than outsourcing the Crown-Māori relationship to a consolidated government office former Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox is calling on the government to establish a “rangatira to rangatira” relationship instead.

“[Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta] should be brokering and delivering policy for this, working with independent Māori organisations to guide government through rangatira to rangatira relationships,” said Fox.

 “This new office is a farce and gives the illusion of a relationship or the effort to be forming one. To appease who? Māori?”

“The first thing [the government] could do to immediately make a huge impact on ministries and departments is to require all staff to korero Māori that would have the biggest impact on relationships than any other tool or design. The Māori Language is the window to the Māori world”.

Fox is also questioning whether the Office will pursue a “Tiriti-based” relationship, and if not it’s “all vine and no kumara”.

Although Te Arawhiti’s various component offices, units, and teams deal with the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty – like the Office of Treaty Settlements, the agency responsible for settling historic Treaty settlement claims – none deal exclusively with defining and implementing a Tiriti-based relationship. That is, a relationship where the Crown exercises its kāwanatanga in a manner that upholds iwi and hapū rangatiratanga.

But Davis acknowledges Te Arawhiti is still a work in progress, telling media the Office “will help facilitate the next step in the Treaty relationship – moving beyond the settlement of Treaty grievances into what it means to work together in partnerships”.

Constitutional issues – i.e. a Tiriti-based relationship – will also form part of the Office’s mandate.

 “In addition to finishing Treaty Settlements and Marine and Coastal Area applications, the new agency, based on the new scope of the Māori Crown portfolio, will provide strategic leadership across the public sector… including the constitutional and institutional arrangements supporting partnerships between the Crown and Māori”.

It is currently unclear how the Office will build capacity to do so.

Te Arawhiti is expected to begin its work immediately.

in the house

Submissions to the Māori Affairs Select Committee on the Ngāti Rangi Claims Settlement Bill close on Friday (21 September). The Bill includes $17m in commercial redress – a combination of cash, assets and some commercial rights – and recognition that the Whangaehu River, flowing from its headwater in a Ruapehu crater lake to an outlet near Whanganui, is a living entity. The Bill also gives Ngāti Rangi the power to appoint iwi representatives to various conservation boards and local government management groups.

The Select Committee is also recommending the Coroners (Access to Body of Dead Person) Amendment Bill pass without amendment. The Bill implements recommendations from last term’s Māori Affairs Select Committee (i.e. from the 51st Parliament) to improve cultural considerations in the coronial system. The Bill is, in large part, the legacy of former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, the MP responsible for initiating the Select Committee’s inquiry into whānau access to and management of tūpāpaku (the body of a dead person).

in the media

  • Whaea Hine Puru, the daughter of founding Māori Women’s Welfare League President Dame Whina Cooper, is calling on the incumbent president, Auckland lawyer Prue Kapua, to stand down. “Prue Kapua is unfit to speak or lead any group of Māori women. She refuses to stop a steadfast assault on members of the League. Kapua… must be removed or step down before any further abuse of Māori women occurs,” said Puru. The call for Kapua to stand down comes after the expulsion of two well-respected leaders and a threat to expel another seven.

  • The new Māori climate commissioner says Māori need to play a prominent role in ensuring New Zealand meets its emissions reductions targets under the Paris Agreement. Former MP Donna Awatere Huata was appointed to set up a Māori Climate Commission by the Māori Carbon Foundation, which is trying to enlist Māori land-owners to join an ambitious tree planting and carbon farming scheme.

  • The Anglican Church is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first printed edition of Te Paipera Tapu – the Māori language Bible. The country’s first Church service took place on Christmas Day in 1814 with the Reverend Samuel Marsden using Luke 2:10 as his introduction. “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy”. By the end of the 19th century many Māori had taken to Christianity, adopting European doctrines as well as developing their own. Some “Māori” denominations remain strong today, including the Rātana Church.

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