Taming the Wickedness of the Maori Land Problem

There is something happening on our whenua that we are ignoring and it needs serious attention.

Conventional measures to addressing the wickedness of the Maori land problem have fallen to directing a strong focus on the legislative, administration, and structural issues. We know how destructive the carving up of our land into a share and owner system has had on us, and legislative correction has tried to address that, by every now and again having a go at tweaking and tutu-ing with it. We know that the administrative duties required on trustees are onerous. We know fragmentation, succession and multiple land ownership is a problem. We know lots of our land blocks have very little money and lack skills and expertise to take them forward. We know this, and some measurements have gone into place to address and reverse this. However, the problem is a lot more ‘wicked’ than this.

A wicked problem is one that cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion. It is

a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of the incomplete, contradictory, changing requirement that are often difficult to recognise.

Maori land is a wicked problem because there are so many threads that need to be untangled simultaneously from so many ends to free it. But its also wicked for another reason and I want to propose a new thread to the problem that I perceive has pretty much been ignored.

Recently, through my research, I’ve had the privilege of being able to talk to many people about our land problem, whanau, kuia, koroua, pakeha, men, woman, trustees, owners, beneficiaries, administrators, land experts, lawyers, business leaders etc. My research was inspired by the whanau drama and raru (you all know what I’m talking about!) I see out there that often hold us back from the visions we want for our land. Going through the transcriptions of my interviews, there has been a number of times I’ve had to stop because of the heaviness of the stories and the language they use.

On one end of the extreme spectrum, I have heard stories of physical violence, where fights have broken out and of people who come to meetings with a deep-seated hatred for each other. On the other end there is hoha and nuisance behaviour, which might seem trivial, but they are still restrictive and destructive and stop things from moving forward. People feel like they have to be careful of the ‘negative arrows being shot in their backs’, need to ‘wear a bullet-proof vest’ at hui, and be wary of getting ‘ripped to shreds’. Other issues include excessive entitlement, fraud, theft, dominating personalities and a basic lack of respect for each other.Very strong negative imagery being used and coming through to describe Maori whanau and their relationships with each other.

I want to draw attention to Paulo Freire, who speaks on oppression and behaviors that go with it,  in his famous and transformational book Pedagogy of the Oppressed he says;

“the oppressed, having internalised the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom”

additionally he states,

“But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors or sub-oppressors”

We are not living the intended relationship with ourselves and the land that our tipuna passed down to us.  Land has become a battlefield, a fight and a struggle. But this fight and struggle is not against the system, we have turned the fight against ourselves. We don’t need colonial powers to dis-enfranchise us from our whenua, because colonisation has done such a great job, that we are now doing it to ourselves. No amount of legislation tweaking or capital investment can tame the wickedness of the Maori land problem. The first thing we need to do, is to stop being wicked to one another.

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