Political Storm on the Horizon

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By Hemopereki H. Simon (Tuwharetoa, Te Arawa, Ngati Manawa, Tuhoe, Tainui)

We at Tangata Whenua.com were interested to hear of the arrival to these shores of Prof. James Anaya, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council. So last Friday we sent Maori scholar and flaxroots activist Hemopereki H. Simon to Sky City to see what all the fuss is about and whether this visit by Prof. Anaya will bring any tangible results or change in Maori policy here in the land of the long white cloud.

I guess what most of you are thinking back in the hau kainga is what is a Special Rapporteur and what do they do?

A Special Rapporteur is a person given a mandate by an international organisation, in this case the UN Human Rights Council, to investigate, gather, request, receive and exchange information and recommend solutions about human rights problems.

The next question would naturally follow the first: Who is Prof. Anaya and what is he doing in Aotearoa?

Prof. Anaya is more known internationally for a landmark Awas Tingni v Nicaragua case he brought before Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This was where the Court for the first time upheld that indigenous land rights were a matter of international law.

He is a Professor of Law at the University of Arizona. He was educated at the University of New Mexico, where he received a B.A. He then moved to Harvard University to complete a Juris Doctor. He has held many prestigious posts at many Law schools throughout North America. In 2008 he was appointed to the United Nations Human Rights Council as a Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People. Most recently he has be involved with indigenous rights issues in Peru, Guatemala, Australia, Botswana, and Ecuador.

The context for his visit to Aotearoa is that he is here to follow up on the previous visit of Special Rapporteur, Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen who was invited by the then Labour government at the time of the foreshore and seabed debate.

What happened with the Stavenhagen report?

As Maori we are particularly aware of the Labour Partys attitude towards the foreshore and seabed back in 2005. Therefore to put it plainly the report was ignored by the government with Dr Michael Cullen describing it as the opinion of, one person. The then National Party Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee commented the appropriate place for the report was the rubbish bin. However, Maori Party MPs called the document, a very accurate and balanced depiction of the reality for tangata whenua in this land. A view upheld by a large majority of academics. Furthermore, what Dr Cullen predicted happened, nothing much.

So why was the Stavenhagen report so controversial for mainstream politics?

The problem for mainstream politics in terms of the previous report is that it not only examined human rights issues to do with the foreshore and seabed. In fact it went to the very core of race relations in this country as these types of visit act as an indicator to the overall health of indigenous rights. The Stavenhagen report dared question the entire process for the negotiation of Treaty settlements and the type of redress offered to hapu and Iwi calling it, sporadic and insufficient for the Dispossession of most of their lands and resources by the Crown for the benefit of Pakeha. Comments were also thrown at the way media portray Maori and the general political environment and debate surrounding race relations. Mainstream politics were very quick to discredit the previous report.

What will happen to the Anaya report?

One at this point can only gaze into their personal crystal ball to predict how the political reaction to the visit and subsequent report by Prof. Anaya will be received. However, based on the comments by Prime Minister John Key earlier in the week that he places more store on New Zealanders’ views on our race relations than those of the UN. It will be safe to say that the National government is already putting together a strategy to deal with the criticism these reports bring to those in power. In that case I would not be expecting the PM to be giving this report the same reception he gave to the All Whites in Wellington the other day.

Iwi on the other hand will have their thoughts about the current Maori-Crown relations verified and a breath of fresh air will blow into the political arena in this area. I say this because during the press conference he underlined the need for himself to find that there have been improvements and positive changes to the human rights situation of Maori. If a government does not meet a simple test by an international expert then it is bound to create debate and controversy.

How does he put a report together?

Prof. Anaya came for five days to do a whirlwind tour of the country. In that time he visited Auckland, Wellington, Waitangi, Hamilton, and Whanganui. He meet with Crown Ministers and officials. At Waitangi he had a hui with Nga Puhi who at the time were coming to terms with the governments decision to open Northland up to the mining industry. By his interactions with officials, Ministers, and Iwi he will create a report that will make recommendations to the government about the current state of indigenous peoples in New Zealand.

In addition to this he accepts submissions from indigenous people, groupings, such as hapu and iwi, and organisations on topics that they may think will be relevant to the purpose of his visit and report.

What: is five days really enough time to come to truly understand our problems?

According to Prof. Anaya five days is an adequate amount of time. He openly admits that he would like to have more time but in many cases it is just not possible. However, he focuses on the point that this is a follow-up visit and report and accordingly much research and dialogue has taken place before his arrival. He comments that it is enough to make certain assessments to bring about the ability to evaluate problems. He adds that any visit is a flexible process and that he welcomes submissions from Maori to contribute to the report.

What could this report bring to the political table?

To understand this the following highlights key issues:

  • Auckland SuperCity

Prof. Anaya agreed with the Royal Commission that Maori should have a form of representation similar to what was ignored by Local Government Minister Rodney Hide. Like me he is perplexed as to why this recommendation was not listened too as there is a, strong basis for guaranteed representation.

  • The Treaty Settlement Process

In terms of the settlement process he comments that it, “…is clearly one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples, and that settlements already achieved have provided significant benefits in several cases,”

However Prof. Anaya furthers his comment by stating that, “During my visit I have heard complaints about the treaty settlement process that are similar to those reported by my predecessor. These include complaints about the inherent lack of bargaining power on the part of Maori in the settlement negotiations, the resulting lack of settlement outcomes that provide full and adequate redress to Maori grievances, and policies that restrict the transference of lands back into Maori ownership or control.”

  • Te Reo in Schools

He commented that Te Reo is an important avenue for participation of Maori in the life of this country. I get an impression that this report will comment on the need to make Te Reo a compulsory subject within mainstream education. If this line of thought is written into the report I think it will take the approach of the need for Non-Maori to understand the culture and the position that Maori come from. Te Reo is an easy way to foster this understanding.

  • Tuhoe and the Urewera National Park

Prof. Anaya moved to urge the government to, reconsider this decision in light of the merits of the Tuhoe claim and considerations of restorative justice, and to not foreclose return of these lands to Tuhoe in the futureeven if it is not included in a near-term settlement.

  • Deadlines for Treaty claims

On this topic it highlighted that we are in a see-saw situation where we need a deliberate function to move claims however in having that function there was a need for government not to be too fixed on that date. For if they are too fixed it will inhibit creative and just solutions to the problems that face us.

  • Socio-Economic Concerns

He stood there and stressed, “I cannot help but note the extreme disadvantage in the social and economic conditions of Maori people, which are dramatically manifested in the continued and persistent high levels of incarceration of Maori individuals…. These troubling conditions undoubtedly result from the historical and ongoing denial of the human rights of Maori, which must continue to be addressed as a matter of upmost priority.”

  • Whanau Ora

Prof. Anaya commented that Whanau Ora was a huge step in the right direction. However, from my perspective I could not help but note the programme was only given 1/10 of the funding that was asked for and that it may fall victim to political whimsy like the closing the gaps policy.

  • Foreshore and Seabed Reform

While Prof. Anaya stresses that the process is still ongoing he moved to comment that, government should undertake adequate dialogue with iwi, and that the new law should not have any discriminatory effects and establishes measures to recognise and protect the rights of iwi over the foreshore and seabed.

How does he feel about the progress made since 2005?

He comments that he is Encouraged and Optimistic

What does he think of Maori?

Prof. Anaya commented that Maori were a unique and vibrant culture

What do I think of the visit?

I left the press conference with a sense of true optimism that something positive for Maori is coming.

What should John Key and the National Government do?

Baton up the hatches as the politically powerful tropical storm Anaya is only on the horizon.

  • Prof. Anaya is still accepting submissions you may forward these to Lydie Ventre on lventre@ohchr.org

About our Contributor

Hemopereki H. Simon is a graduate from Waikato. He has just completed his Masters in Resource and Environmental Planning with Massey University where he was a Purehuroa Scholar. He is currently employed by Tuwharetoa hapu, Ngati Tutemohuta, to help facilitate their research into Te Reo revitilisation.

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