Settlement process unenviable
Iwatched the movie Invictus the other day. I had, up until then, resisted watching a movie that, for its finale, selectively represented the controversial World Cup loss of one of our greatest All Black sides to the host South African side in front of their home crowd.
Clint Eastwood directed the film and did an admirable job, despite what one suspects is a limited appreciation of rugby. Matt Damon starred as Springbok captain Francios Pienaar and Morgan Freeman portrayed Nelson Mandela.
I am glad I watched the movie and rugby was almost incidental to its general theme, which was one of reconciliation. The movie captured the vision and forgiving nature of one of history’s most inspirational leaders – Nelson Mandela.
Reconciliation in South Africa came after decades of injustice. Mandela himself had to overcome 27 years of imprisonment to forgive many of his countrymen.
And yet he could forgive. He understood the importance of acknowledging the injustices of the past to provide a platform for moving together as one people.
It was a powerful vision, which required significant navigation to engage all those who had been affected by the insidious reach of apartheid. Apartheid had made a large part of the population inferior by law. Mandela and the South African experience provides hope. The country has continued to grow and emerge from governance upheaval into democracy and ensuring the law is equal for all.
I have been adverse to speak on settlement issues in this column, as I have become aware of the eye-rolling this subject can produce from many people throughout our country. Despite comments such as, ‘‘When will it end?’’ and ‘‘When is enough enough?’’ from the less informed, my iwi, Raukawa, is yet to conclude its land claims.
The settlement process is frustrating, arduous and drains our resources. Leading such a process requires managing the expectations of my iwi members; many of whose lives are now shrouded by poverty and exclusion as a result of the loss of our traditional lands and resources. They must be managed against the political will and expectations of the Crown which determines most facets of the negotiations process.
It is an unenviable task, one where the Raukawa negotiating team must remain aware of the political mood of non-Maori who share our communities and the will of the political masters who ultimately decide what they will return or give in compensation for all that was taken from our people.
It is an interesting process, compensating for past injustices but different measures are frequently applied in righting wrongs. It is a process where, in effect, it is publicly acknowledged that our lands were taken unjustly and we were left impoverished. But despite that, just a fraction in compensation will be returned. And negotiations are held with the appreciation that many in our community resent that compensation. Ironically it is often what fuels the ‘‘privileged’’ tag ridiculously attached to the Maori brand and demands by far right champions, such as Don Brash and Rodney Hide, for ‘‘one law for all’’.
Raukawa understood that politics determined the extent of justice for iwi and, especially, settlement claimants. For a brief time, the present Government’s mood was to increase the number of settlements achieved. Settlements had, generally, languished until previous deputy prime minister and finance minister Dr Michael Cullen took the portfolio.
This hastened progress, it unblocked bureaucracy and funnelled greater resources into settlements. The harsh policy that insisted that only a pittance would be paid to the claimants was loosened – just a little.
As an iwi we understood that this was a good time to settle. The political will meant that there was a chance to get improved ‘‘justice’’ for our claims. We accelerated our negotiations, we worked hard to tick the boxes and jump through the settlement hoops. We informed our community and raised awareness of the importance of this process. We emphasised the value a fair settlement would bring to our impoverished community and region.
But, despite that, the political winds changed. An election year loomed, the Maori Party lost its way, and the spectre of Brash and a reinvigorated Act party emerged dark on the horizon.
Increasingly, the enthusiasm of the Crown died. The willingness to compromise and find solutions morphed into a preference to say no. Offers and agreements, reached in better times, have been changed, rewritten. The principles of justice and reconciliation have again faded.
This is the reality for Raukawa. Politics determines justice for our people. Justice says that there are variable rules that determine compensation and the return of what was taken from our people. So while we tried to respond and reach resolution while the political winds were favourable, we were unsuccessful. So now we must decide whether to wait in the hope political winds will change – and endure the accusations of not focusing on the future – or ignore the broken promises, alter our terms and compromise even further.
For those who look with harsh distain on our efforts to bring some justice to the laments of our ancestors, our grandparents, our parents, I say this. Settlements are yet to surpass $1 billion. Almost all iwi long to settle and have resigned themselves to compensation, just a fraction of what was lost. We do this mindful that the acknowledgement comes at a cost, an expectation that we must then forever get our heads back down and be grateful.
Perhaps one day there will be an acknowledgement of what this ‘‘Maori privilege’’ means, and a real enthusiasm for ‘‘one law for all’’. Or perhaps one day New Zealand will raise an inspirational leader who will work hard to bring fair and real reconciliation so we can embrace a vibrant future for all our children.