In mid-February I travelled to Tauranga to attend Te Hekenga – The National Māori Business Networks and Māori Enterprises Conference. It was an uplifting experience. For two days we heard stories from successful Māori business men and women who have built companies from the ground up, creating jobs while at the same time infusing their work with our values. It was a reminder of how far we have come. And of how far we still have to go to realise our aspirations.
In November I wrote about the institutional racism prevalent in New Zealand that has resulted in a Māori unemployment rate 2.8 times higher than that of Pākehā. The most recent data from Statistics NZ indicates that the gap has closed marginally in the previous quarter, but Māori unemployment is still no better today than it was a decade ago. Employment data for the December 2017 Quarter, released on February 7 show that 9% of Māori who are actively looking for work are unemployed. By way of comparison, only 3.5% of Pākehā are unemployed.
What does this mean on the ground? An unemployment rate of 3.5% for Māori would result in an additional 19,000 Māori in work. 19,000 people earning the minimum wage of $15.75 per hour would have a combined annual income of $622 million. The unemployment benefit covers less than half that amount, and draws resources away from other social issues. That is the damage institutional racism is causing to Māori each year. It is an imbalance we can trace back for at least 30 years.
One of the main points of discussion at the Te Hekenga Conference was how we can lower the Māori unemployment rate and get more of our people into meaningful employment. There was a strong theme from speakers around supporting Māori into work, into roles which allows them to connect with their culture, and into roles that provide a pathway upwards into higher skilled and higher paid roles. For Māori business, it means taking an active role in being job creators and working to develop the skills of those they employ. For iwi and other Māori-owned organisations, the challenge was laid down to engage more with high growth, technology-focused, and SME companies that have the potential to create jobs and grow the Māori economy; to partner and collaborate with entrepreneurs and business owners in their region to support and grow their businesses.
We have come a long way on the strength of our primary sector expertise. The challenge facing Māori organisations in the new century is adapting to technological change and ensuring that we are supporting those Māori-owned companies who are growing into the future.
Kāore te kūmara e kōrero ana mo tōna ake reka. The kumara does not speak about its own sweetness. Why not? Why do we continue to insist on humility in our efforts when too many Māori are being left behind by a colonial structure that does not support, let alone celebrate, Māori achievement? When every milestone is marked with a setback. Where a man from Ngāti Maniapoto can rise to the leadership of the National Party only to be criticised for not being a “proper” Māori.
We need to celebrate our success, and let our successful leaders in culture, in business, in sport, and in politics shine the light into our future. We have some amazing stories to tell – those of you who watched the Gate to the Globe series on TVNZ1 over the past few months have seen what Māori companies can do on the world stage. Let us celebrate that two Māori lead the National Party, another is deputy prime minister, a fourth the deputy leader of the Labour Party. Even if we disagree with their politics we should be encouraged that they have succeeded in the most colonial of all institutions in New Zealand. The more we tell our stories, celebrate our success, and take Māori to the world, the greater the chance of success in meeting our aspirations over the coming generations. There is a place for humility in our work, but humility should never mean silence. Not when so many Māori remain out of work, held back by generations of under-investment in our people, and institutional racism that denies us the same opportunities that it provides to Pākehā.