Set­tle­ment process un­en­vi­able

South Waikato News - - OPINION -

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.


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