Originally published on The Spinoff
Two years ago I packed my bags, said goodbye to Mum, and boarded the plane to Heathrow. Following in the footsteps of millions of New Zealanders before me, I set out on the traditional OE in London. After a decade of mahi focused on Te Tiriti and Māori economic development issues I needed a break from the politics, the arguments, and the constant negativity emanating from Pākehā New Zealand about te ao Māori.
London was a revelation. A city bursting full of diverse cultures, hundreds of languages, and a real openness to learn from its inhabitants. At work, my Māori heritage was an opening of dialogue, not something I had to constantly defend because I inherited my skin colour from my Pākehā father instead of my Māori mother. London is far from perfect, but it understands and respects diversity far better than New Zealand does. I have now been back in Aotearoa for six weeks, and with Waitangi Day approaching I want to take some time over the next few weeks to reflect on the state of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 2018. Where are we, where have we been, and where are we going? Over the past six weeks as I have travelled around the country, reconnecting with friends and family, and meeting new people along the way, two issues have been front and centre of the kōrero – our social infrastructure, and te reo Māori.
After two years away, what struck me most as I was reconnecting with friends and former colleagues was the growing sense of discontent about the place of iwi and their dominant focus on economic growth and performance and the limited focus on improving social outcomes for Māori. There is a constant tension in iwi governance between ensuring that the pūtea thrives for future generations (economic growth) while also providing for the very pressing needs of the current generation (our social, cultural, and environmental needs). While there is reason to celebrate our economic success, this is only part of the story when we talk about Māori development. Māori development requires a balancing and flourishing of all four pou – social, cultural, environmental, and economic. Each requires nurturing. I have seen this struggle on many occasions in my work over the years.
And so while I celebrate the creation of a $100 million investment fund by a number of iwi and land organisations in late 2017, this should only be the start of our investment in Māori development. Over the years I have met countless Māori around the motu who are striving to achieve something other than just economic development for Māori. People hamstrung by bureaucracy, by dictates of economic returns, and by constraints and restrictions. There is a collective of Māori working tirelessly to achieve our social, cultural, and environmental development aspirations for free. They are giving up their spare time and using their own resources, living off the small amounts of funding that occasionally come their way from government or the corporate iwi structures. This lack of investment is shortsighted and ultimately damaging to Māori development. Between He Kai Kei Aku Ringa (the government’s Māori Economic Development Strategy) and Whānau Ora; the government has the tools to support an investment in all four pou, but the economic development concerns of Māori have been prioritised over all others.
Imagine the possibilities if our Māori organisations and the government were to collaborate and establish three other investment funds of $100 million for social, cultural, and environmental investment. $100 million to invest in social infrastructure such as innovative health initiatives. $100 million to invest in cultural infrastructure such as te reo, Te Matatini, and the development of Māori tourism ventures. $100 million to invest in our environmental protection and research on crucial issues such as Kauri dieback. Imagine the research outcomes we could achieve, the PhDs we could fund. The innovation social enterprise start ups we could fund. Imagine the possibilities of investment funds that are not beholden to economic returns, where the entire objective is to advance our social, cultural, and environmental development. Māori aspirations are about much more than economic growth. We need to invest in the whole.
Which brings me to the topic of te reo Māori. From Don Brash in November to Paul Moon in January, te reo has certainly gained a lot of headlines over the past few months. And if the reaction from social media is any indication then te reo Māori is not dying, it is about to enter a massive regeneration phase. The outpouring of stories and articles over the past several days shows not only a language that is being widely-used throughout Aotearoa, but also the growth in numbers of Māori and Pākehā alike who are continuing their language learning journey in 2018.
Personally, my te reo journey is a practice that I have come back to many times in my life, but like many, I have struggled to achieve the consistency required to properly learn a new language. It is my mission for 2018, and I am fortunate to work in an environment where improving my te reo abilities is part of my professional development plan. I could not do my job effectively if I did not understand te reo, and I am holding myself back by not being fluent. It’s an integral part of working with Māori organisations and used daily and it is spoken more often in business than you think. Te reo Māori is not dying. You are just not paying attention.
I have been encouraged by the overwhelming sense of support for learning te reo that is coming from social media this summer, and the positive experience of speaking to Māori who are actively striving to improve both our economic and our social outcomes. I’m more positive than in previous years about the state of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as we enter 2018.