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Are you sandstone or greenstone?

30 Jan 2017
By Karl Wixon
01CWNZS NZS 3489 v2

In June last year I wrote a New Zealand Story Blog on ‘Māori contributions to the world’ and referred to the modern Māori story being one of “a shift from grievance to growth providing a source of inspiration for many and a model to emulate”. 

It is not often you quote yourself, but I am always cautioning people to be wary of believing their own rhetoric, so taking a moment to interrogate your own words can be quite useful. 

From grievance to growth 

So, as can be expected within the wide spectrum of Māoridom, not everyone agreed with what I said. 

Firstly, not all Māori will agree or concede they have been in grievance mode, which is tika / correct. Whether you have felt the grief of loss, depends on how connected to your whakapapa (genealogical connection to people and place) and history you are. Let’s put this another way, if you came home and someone had stolen your TV but you didn’t use it or realise it was even there or had been stolen, you probably won’t feel aggrieved, however, if you watch your TV religiously every day and really valued it and were about to miss your favourite series, you would probably feel aggrieved and be ringing the police about it – even though you know they probably won’t catch the culprit or get it back. So, for those Māori who know and feel close and connected to their whakapapa and history, and have a strong sense of tika (what is correct / just / true), it is almost impossible not to feel aggrieved by the multi-generational loss of land, culture and resources at the hands of others, and similarly untenable to sit back and do nothing about it. 

I will forever remember the words of our kaumatua (elder statesman) Sir Tipene O’Regan, at the time of our Ngāi Tahu Treaty settlement in 1998, who used a pepeha (tribal saying) to describe this phenomena, ‘he mahi kai takata, he mahi kai hoaka’. It likens the ongoing effort of the people seeking justice to the use of Hoaka (sandstone) and water in grinding, shaping and polishing Pounamu (greenstone). Pounamu is the harder stone, but through perseverance and effort over time, the softer sandstone can shape it. He was however also describing how the Treaty settlement process ‘ate’ the people – that they too were being eroded by the process, like the greenstone is devoured by the sandstone. The ultimate outcome of the relationship between Hoaka and Pounamu is however a thing of beauty making the effort worth it. 

If you have been through the settlement process, and come out the other side with some form of apology and compensation, it is liberating to shed the cloak of grief and focus on the future instead of the past. That is where the transition to growth is occurring, not for everyone, and not for all Iwi (tribes) who are at varying stages of the settlement process, but it is the prevailing trend and it is happening with great creativity, innovation and pace. 

Source of inspiration 

It is the innovative way Māori have been transforming all spheres of our tribal lives and economies that is “providing a source of inspiration for many and a model to emulate”. 

Whether it is our approach to education reform, health services transformation, use of collectively owned land for housing, innovation in fisheries, legislative reform, public – private partnerships, joint Resource Management, technology, arts and design, sport, and any other sphere of collective endeavour, we are making great progress. 

Despite our own frustrations at what we might see as a long way to go, and progress being slow, when you step offshore into other indigenous contexts, and look back at what we are doing and achieving, you discover we are often ahead and have a lot to offer others who are on a similar journey, and often do. 

I have witnessed the truth of this first hand recently through contract work I am undertaking in Northern Manitoba, Canada, using design thinking and experience in Māori development to provide a fresh external perspective and approach to economic development in a region where 74.5% of the population self-identify as indigenous and 50% live on First Nations Reserves – where unemployment rates are often 70%+. Their history of colonisation is similar to ours but more protracted and the impacts more severe, and their long-term reliance on large key anchor industries and companies means they do not have the breadth of enterprise and economy we take for granted. 

As I dig deeper and wider into their economic, political, and tribal structures, I continue to encounter stories and dynamics very similar to our Māori colonial ‘Commonwealth’ experience, but frequently discover we are a step ahead, maybe a generation, in what we are doing, and what we have learned, and therefore what we have to offer. I have discovered that whilst a lot of goodwill between Industry and First Nations exists, it is sometimes constrained by a less flexible regulatory environment and procedural barriers which are less conducive to innovation and facilitating progress. 

They share with us a beautiful vast landscape, low population density and warm people, in stark contrast to the coldness of the place (-35c while I was there, -47c with wind chill). As you would imagine in such a cold vast place, the people show a kind of stoic resilience that gives you the sense they will weather whatever economic storms are thrown their way, but what is needed is a creative spark to ignite a few new fires. 

We have much to offer in that regard and should. We bring a fresh perspective from what is viewed as a progressive innovative nation in regard to indigenous recognition, partnerships and enterprise. 

So to Māoridom, whilst we roll up our sleeves for the next ‘dust-up’ on a burning issue, or prepare to voice our frustration at yet another breach of the Treaty – take a moment to reflect on where we have been, the progress we have made, the opportunities in front of us, the friends and allies around us, and stand tall with pride. 

Don’t let the grief, sense of injustice, or process, devour you – be the Hoaka, not the Pounamu. 

Tutu te puehu – but don’t stop stirring up the dust, because that is how we make progress, always seeking new or different and better - do so with aroha / love for those on the other side, because at least in NZ most of those involved on both sides of our ‘dust-ups’ have a level of good will and mutual respect that is not the global norm – take a look on CNN or Al Jazeera today if you don’t believe me. 

To our friends on the other side of the ‘dust ups’, you don’t need to defend yourself. Take the time to listen, engage and learn, let the dust fly, because you know it will eventually settle. When all is said and done we will hongi, shake hands, have a drink together, and get on with working together for the good of all, and like Hoaka and Pounamu – we will end up creating something beautiful. 

My good friend Trevor Moeke often refers to the lessons of his upbringing on the East Coast, one of those lessons on long dirt and gravel roads being that there are two kinds of people in this world, those that make dust, and those that eat it. So, let’s all make dust. 

We are all in this together, and we can show the way, not just for Māori or New Zealand, but for the world. 

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari taku toa he toa takitini. My strength is not that of one, my strength is that of many.