Beneath the Kahungunu Flag

Nga mihi. It’s a bit late to be saying Happy New Year and all that, but take my best wishes anyway. Well another sparkling Waitangi Day has passed with the synergy sapping ‘Harawira factor’ featuring again. It’s a bit of a shame really, not only because I think Hone has so much to more to offer other than ceaseless protest, but also because he has sidelined a damned good Waitangi Day speech from Pita Sharples who at long last seems to be hitting his straps as a Minister. Sharples talked in part about a new ‘resurgence’ of Maori through participation in the Parliamentary process and enjoyment of power through participation in Government decision making. The fact is though that the system all comes down to votes and if you want power you need to rally your votes and direct them, not standing on the sidelines and dissipating votes — that’s the game. Maori are just tasting some success, and like the NZ rugby league team, if they keep plugging away, understanding the game, and working in cause and effect terms, they’ll come out winners.


For years I made the pilgrimage to Waitangi but in recent times I’ve stayed away from the furnace (Sir Tipene O’Regan once told me that Waitangi is “the Beirut of Maori politics”) and looked for local activities. This year Taape and I were invited to the 80th birthday celebrations of Hariata Baker (nee, Mohi) a distinguished local kuia who is the fulcrum of the Pukepuke Tangiora estate . The old lady insisted we attend — all to do with Taape’s whakapapa, not mine — and we were honoured to do so.


The first stanza of the celebrations was at Blackbarn, hosted by Graham and Andy Lowe and then we convoyed out to Waipuka, Ocean Beach, for the whanau event. The hakari saw crayfish piled high, and I indulged gastronomically. What I had to resist though, both at Blackbarn and the hui whanau, was my favourite tipple, pinot noir. I’m doing the NZ Drug Foundation’s FebFast programme where we forego our particular poison and direct the saved resource to services and projects design to mitigate the harm of alcohol and other recreational substances especially amongst youth. I really have to watch myself with the booze. I seem to be able to consume incredible amounts of good red wine and wake up the next morning fresh as a daisy. The only problem is the gap in my memory sometime after the third bottle and my waking up at home. Apparently this is not a good sign and I accept (reluctantly) that I need to clean up, so FebFast it is.


It’s a damned long way from Napier to Queenstown but when Ian and Elespie Prior call, even though they have both passed to the other side, there is no option but to yield and travel. Taape and I took two of the elder mokopuna, Zharday and Daniela, packed up the big Ford and trucked it: the Interislander; the Kaikoura Coast; cousin Paddy’s at Temuka; Mum and Dad’s grave at Timaru; the Pig Route; the Lindis; and a park-up with the in-laws at Alexandra. These days the island of my birth is like another country. There are few brown faces but the values seem to be similar — family and friendliness. The people seem to live in big houses and play with big toys.

The purpose of the journey was to erect two commemorative pou, one memorialisng Elespie, the other Ian. Elespie was fashioned from Australian Jarrah, apposite considering her whakapapa, and Ian from a 2,000 year old Totara log recovered from the Manawatu. Ranga (Te Rangatira Jack Tuhi) had carved both. I told the story of Elespie in my blog posting “Embracing the Positive” December 2004 and of Ian in “Dangerous Utopias” April 2009 and I won’t revisit them now.

After their parents’ death the Prior girls reaffirmed their matriarchal line, sold the family house in Wade St Wellington, and re-established their turangawaewae on their grandmother’s property in Park Road, Queenstown. It’s a well positioned corner property, near the Botanic Gardens and on the lakefront. The section is wild and unruly beneath pines and gums. The house is a 1930’s bungalow, quintessentially Kiwi bach-like in contrast to the neighbouring million dollar homes. Susie Prior lives at the Tui community in Golden Bay and enjoys what we might describe as an ‘alternative’ life style and travels with it. So with a tepee in the front yard and a gypsy wagon in the driveway of the Queenstown property it didn’t take long to spot the place. The clan gathered, multi-generations of the extended Prior whanau and a group of us, living remnants of Ian’s ‘projects’.

The night before the unveiling of the pou the grand old man Henry Tuia, Ian’s Tokelauan ‘Tonto’, arrived; having put aside the difficulties of his ill health to pay what well may be his final respects to his longtime friend and champion. In situ the pou look fantastic. Within hours of the unveiling they had become a tourist attraction, Korean and Japanese visitors in particular recognising the Pacific Rim tradition of the representation of ‘grandmother and grandfather’ and leaning over the fence to take photographs.


On the way home I swung through the McKenzie Country to Fairlie and out to Aswhick Flats where my grandfather set up home after the O’Reilly family home in mid-Canterbury burned down. Ever the optimist, the old fulla tried to grow spuds on that stony cold (or, alternatively, parched) ground and unsurprisingly failed. I took the whanau to the Fairlie Museum to see if there was a photo of my dad driving the school bus — family legend has it that he was 13 at the time and had to receive a special dispensation to do so. The girls were less than inspired by my nostalgia.

And whilst dealing with nostalgia I went to the Watersiders’ Union launch of a biography of my uncle William Daniel O’Reilly. It has been written by my cousin Pauline O’Reilly Leverton and is called “Commo Bill ‘People’s Poet’”. Commo Bill was a Wellington Watersider during the 1951 Lockout (stood loyal through), ardent socialist, and a man of verse. I never met him, but remember dad talking about his North Island cousin ‘Commo Bill, describing him as a man who would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. These were words of admiration from my dad, who was conservative in his political views but of a similarly generous social disposition.


I see it’s ‘bag a Maori’ season again. There’s been national furore over the upcoming Tukukaimoana Bill reviewing the foreshore and seabed legislation. I’m in the Haraiwra camp over what should be done: put it all in Maori title, make it inalienable, guarantee access for all New Zealanders. I accept that I hold a minority view. Before Xmas I went to the second of two public meetings convened by Chris Tremain and Craig Foss to explain the National Party position — mainly to their own constituents. Chris Finlayson was the presenter. The meeting was well attended too — mainly by an older Pakeha audience as one might expect. The Tory voters present were pretty tetchy about what they seemed to believe were going to be privileges granted to Maori that would not be shared by other New Zealanders. Finlayson was calm, articulate, and logical. He countered saying that on the contrary the Bill was about the opposite, namely ensuring that Maori had access to a right shared by all other New Zealanders and a bedrock doctrine of the National Party, namely property rights.


For me the highlight of the night was the last speaker from the floor, Dawn Baker. Dawn (the kuia Hariata’s daughter) is one of the mana whenua owners of Waipuka (Ocean Beach). Dawn stood and enquired as to where the obvious disquiet about Maori intentions came from. She asked “Has anybody here been to Ocean Beach?” A hall full of hands shot up. “Well” said Dawn, “the road that you travelled along is over our land and we have never nor will ever deny you access. I ask you again, where is the centre of your fear?”


The answer to Dawn’s question came some time later and from an entirely unexpected quarter. A long time creature of our local political fauna, Bill Sutton, previously a Labour MP rang me up almost aggressively demanding a meeting about the Bill. He sent out a similarly unsolicited email about this new local Coastal Coalition he’s trying to crank up.


I replied:


“I feel very uncomfortable about this. After the outrageous Private Member’s Bill by Geoff Braybrooke that robbed the local hapu of their rights and land I’m suspicious as hell of the Labour Party and its underlying agendas. Bill ,where were your concerns and voice around recent criminal justice issues? This doesn’t ring true for me I’m sorry. Denis”


Crikey I must have touched a nerve. I received in return an email diatribe that ended:


“How dare you accuse me of being like Braybrooke, you prick!”


Ok Bill, I’ll just say you’re Brash.


Chris Tremain told me recently that one of the problems he faces with his constituents is that the majority of them have never read the Treaty of Waitangi. A local kaumatua Pakeha, Pat Magill, having endured a two hour lecture from Bill Sutton may have reached a similar conclusion because he suggested that Bill Sutton read Healing our History — The Challenges of the Treaty of Waitangi by Robert & Joanna Consedine.


Like a loud man with a cellphone in an enclosed public space, Bill seems to figure that we all want to be included in his innermost thoughts. He sends a message back to Pat:


“I enjoy reading about our history, but currently I’m too busy making it…”


which in its own way says it all. But hey, wait, the man has more to share.


Bill Sutton goes on to report, to an unwilling audience (at least on my part), about a “successful” meeting he has had with the Mayor of Napier Barbara Arnott including the news that:


“We also wanted to alert her to the huge complications likely to arise for Westshore and Bay View residents, and for the Council itself, as a result of false expectations being created amongst some Maori that if the Bill goes through, they will have Tino Rangatiratanga or Maori Sovereignty over beaches and coastline within the city boundaries”


This is an outrageous assertion. The local hapu have never made any such intimation, and have been willing and generous partners with the citizens of Napier. I said so.


I then joined a long list of people from whom Bill will brook no criticism. His next unsolicited group email told us all that the report of the meeting with the Mayor:


“had the effect, not predicted but not a surprise either, of triggering a public attack on both C.A.N. and me by former Black Power leader Denis O’Reilly. Backed up by others who ought to have known better, but who joined in anyway, Denis fired off emails to everybody from Robert Consedine in Christchurch, the professional Treaty educator, to Craig Foss MP and Chris Tremain MP in Hawke’s Bay.


Denis is a complex man, who has achieved many things in his life, and has a track record of both running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. As the Nats will find out in due course. He’s clearly not backing us now, and my guess is he’s been “bought off” by government (taxpayer) support for some other project he’s promoting. We can expect more of this”.


These latter sentiments might well tell us something about how Bill Sutton utilised power when he had access to it, but no matter. Similarly he might well be locked into a binary ‘party line’ approach to life whereas I’m quite comfortable, for instance, in praising John Key for his methamphetamine policies whilst criticising Judith Collins for her attitudes to policing. If that’s running with hares and hunting with hounds then obviously I’m guilty as charged, but “bought off”, I think not.


The real issue of the moment is this saddening racialised beat-up around what is after all a cop-out piece of proposed legislation. I’ve been trying to get our “P-free HB” signs up around the bay but at $2,000 a month or thereabouts in rent for a billboard site it’s out of our league. But these coastal coalition groups can afford to have the implicitly racist “Kiwi or Iwi” signs up all over the place and have huge and regular newspaper ads in the national dailies. You can tell where the monied interests sit. Bill Sutton, qui se ressemble s’assemble.


Friday (Feb 11) brings our second Maori Motown. Maori Motown provides a live Maori event in a Maori venue and, predominantly, in the Motown musical genre. The event will be alcohol and drug free and will promote a pro-whanau ora agenda. This event provides an alternative within the offerings of the fantastic summer season of entertainment that is a feature of Hawke’s Bay at this time of the year. Unfortunately these events trend to be adult fare and often are entwined with a heavy focus on alcohol. Maori Motown is run on the eve of the Mission Concert. The local community wanted an alternative, inexpensive, family oriented and alcohol free event. The inaugural Maori Motown event was run last year. It was a startling success and attracted 1,400 people. This year we hope to attract 3,000 patrons.

I told you late last year of our intention to run a session with John Wareham from the Eagles Foundation in New York. I’ve worked with John before as recorded in blogs “Self Race Drugs & Justice in New Zealand” March 2005 and the “Darkside” November 2005. He’s a pro.


We settled on the idea of undertaking an event on the site of Turauwha’s 13th Century whare at Otatara maunga and inviting Mongrel Mob and Black Power fathers and sons from throughout the Hawke’s Bay, along with leaders from beyond. Over 60 participants turned up. John had prepared a book of readings containing excerpts from Plato ‘The Cave’, Kipling, Malcolm X, Shakespeare and, in this instance Claudia Orange and Don Brash. He called it Fatherhood, Gangs, Drugs and Choices. We sent the book out in advance. John uses Socratic Method. He seeds what he calls ‘constructive confusion’, challenges stereotypes, and then draws out the thoughts of the participants.


As an example of challenging stereotypes in the last project I did with him he trained up a group of Black Power as debaters to take on a team from Telecom. The proposition was ‘That Pakeha owe Maori a decent living’ and he got the Black Power to take the negative. For this session he brought with him an African American, Richard Habersham. Richard spoke about the fact that despite the deep racism in America Obama could never have been elected as the President without abundant support from Whites as Blacks are only 12% of the American population. Obama needed nearly half of American Whites to vote for him and in fact 43% did.


Richard Habersham


Richard challenged the simplistic and mistaken stereotype that all Pakeha are racist, and that, as Maori gang members we couldn’t ascribe all of our issues simply to a racist state. His key proposition was that it might be helpful for both American Blacks and Maori to acknowledge that:


“while our history of oppression is an important aspect of our history, neither race can flourish when their primary political agenda is extracting more concessions from Whites and Pakeha. The tremendous resiliency of both races might be best celebrated in achievement and excellence in the arts and science, not in garnering the sympathy and the condescension that comes with lower expectations.”


Side-by-side in respective patches but shelving traditional rivalries, we spent more than 15 hours over three days talking family, violence, drugs and gang pasts, and a future we hope will be better for children and grandchildren.


John too pricked, poked and probed entrapping self beliefs about why we are in gangs. He met with some resistance and at times the sessions came close to the wire. Maybe because of this we were able to rise above the local feuds and arrive at what we called ‘The Otatara Accord’


“Having met in wananga at Otatara the leaders of the Mongrel Mob and Black Power who are resident in Hawke’s Bay collectively declare the following intentions:


  • To improve our parenting skills.
  • To support whanau ora.
  • To strive for understanding of each other’s issues as a step towards peace on the streets and in the jails.”


And with that loving aspiration, dear reader friend, I will end this missive.


Arohanui Denis

Tags: Denis O'Reilly  gangs  Maori  

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