Professor Elizabeth Rata
Tribalism and democracy are incompatible. We can’t have both. If we wish to keep New Zealand as a liberal democratic nation then, as we derive our citizen rights from the nation-state, so we have a duty to ensure that the nation-state which awards those rights, remains democratic and able to do so.
The He Puapua Report proposes revolutionary change for New Zealand. The question of how we have arrived at a crossroads where New Zealanders will have to choose between an ethno-nationalist state — which He Puapua leads to — or a democratic-nationalist one has its origins in three events.
The case for ‘co-governance’ between the government and iwi is justified according to cultural recognition and social justice beliefs. However that is to make a fundamental error, one that ignores the dangers of including ethnicity into the political arrangements of a democratic nation.
The New Zealand Labour Party has embraced the politics of diversity wholeheartly and with little self-criticism since the 1970s. This presentation explains the ‘cultural turn of the Left’ and its unintended and damaging consequences.
In January 2013 I was asked by the secretariat of the Government Constitutional Advisory Panel to take part in audio and video taped interviews. The invitation was probably issued on the basis that I have written extensively about Treaty issues and that I am a member of the Independent Constitutional Review Panel that has its presence on this NZCPR website. I wish to share these interviews with NZCPR readers and raise troubling issues that emerged for me while doing the interviews.
In recent years iwi have been extremely successful in pursuing their demands for public resources and political power. The intriguing question is how to explain such total success given that many New Zealanders, both Maori and non-Maori, are increasingly concerned about the run-away juggernaut of iwi ambitions.
There is deep disquiet throughout the country about iwi claims for water rights. However by focussing on the resource itself; previously the foreshore and seabed, this time water, next time airwaves, geothermal energy, and so on, we are in danger of overlooking the source of the issue, of overlooking why such claims can be made in the first place. To find the fundamental flaw in the tribes’ case for the ownership of public resources such as water we need look not only at what is to be owned but at who is claiming ownership.
Control over the interpretation and symbolism of the Treaty of Waitangi was one of the most effective of the brokerage mechanisms used by the emergent neotribal elite. It enabled a strategic march through the institutions of a democratic society by nondemocratic neotraditionalist forces.
In the last five years there has been a shift in the strategies used by iwi in their quest for property rights and constitutional recognition. The shift is from a Treaty of Waitangi justification to a more comprehensive indigenous group rights argument. The group rights argument is used to claim customary rights, and in an extension, to claim that those customary rights are property rights guaranteed under English Common Law.
I describe ethnic fundamentalism or culturalism as a ‘secular religion’ because this particular way of understanding what ethnicity means shares a number of important features with religion. First, it is a set of beliefs about human nature. Second, those beliefs are unchallenged and unchallengeable. Third, ethnic fundamentalism rejects doubt and has a difficult relationship with reason (despite Benedict’s recent speech).