With With an American mother and Kenyan father, former US President Barack Obama, understood only too well the destructive influence of tribalism. He warned:

“Ethnic-based tribal politics has to stop. It is rooted in the bankrupt idea that the goal of politics or business is to funnel as much of the pie as possible to one’s family, tribe, or circle with little regard for the public good. It stifles innovation and fractures the fabric of the society. Instead of opening businesses and engaging in commerce, people come to rely on patronage and payback as a means of advancing. Instead of unifying the country to move forward on solving problems, it divides neighbour from neighbour.”

And that’s the problem with tribalism in New Zealand. It not only divides the country along racial lines, but this race-based class system has become a trap that is holding back tens of thousands of Maori families. They have been persuaded by the iwi elite – who make huge profits from the system – that colonisation is to blame for their hardship and that Maori sovereignty will be their salvation. Tribal leaders assure them that if they were given ultimate power and control, everyone’s lives would be so much better. While most people realise such claims are absurd, to those trapped in a  destructive cycle of failure and conditioned to believe the racist proposition that Maori are the victims of white settlement, it is a lie worth supporting.

Yet in spite of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding being funnelled into tribal hands to address Maori disadvantage, the money rarely reaches those in need, instead largely ending up with those privileged few who sit at the top of the pyramid.

Last year’s Annual Report of Ngai Tahu, the $1.5 billion tribal corporation that is registered as a charity so it pays no tax, revealed that upwards of 200 employees receive salaries of over $100,000 a year. The top earner pocketed between $750,000 and $799,000. A further $8.6 million in compensation was paid out to directors and senior management – $1 million more than last year.

The grim reality is that in this post-Treaty settlement period, vulnerable families are seen as a lucrative money-making opportunity. Iwi providers peddle the deception that only Maori can provide solutions to Maori disadvantage, in the hope of securing Government contracts that remain in place for as long as families remain mired in the cycle of deprivation.

And that’s the tragedy of tribalism – vulnerable Maori families have become pawns in a complex revenue stream that relies on the number of people experiencing adversity increasing.

These families are not only being used as a cash cow to secure government contracts, but the former Maori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia appears intent on using them to help her resurrect the fortunes of the political party that she founded.

Launched in 2004 with Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples as co-leaders, the Maori Party had the backing of the tribal elite. It stood candidates in all seven Maori seats at the 2005 election, winning four. In 2008, the Party gained five MPs, and went into coalition with the new National government. But over the following years the Party’s fortunes waned and in 2017, they lost their Parliamentary representation altogether.

While Tariana Turia established the Maori Party on the back of a fight for Maori control of the foreshore and seabed, her campaign to revive the Party is now centred on a new rallying call – standing up for Whanau Ora, the race-based social services provider that she established in 2010. Criticising the Government’s handling of the programme and discrediting the Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare – who holds the Maori seat of Tamaki Makaurau – are key objectives.

When Tamaki Makaurau was first established in Auckland in 2002, John Tamihere standing for the Labour Party won an overwhelming majority. However, after a string of controversies he lost the seat to the Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples in 2005, who held it until his retirement in 2014. The seat was then won by Labour’s Peeni Henare, who increased his majority in 2017.

There is now growing speculation that John Tamihere, a Whanau Ora commissioning agent, will contest the seat for the Maori Party. Gaining the seat will be critical if the Party is to return to Parliament since it is unlikely to reach the 5 percent party vote threshold.

Dame Tariana Turia escalated her campaign last month by lodging an urgent claim with the Waitangi Tribunal, condemning the Government’s handling of Whanau Ora and declaring no confidence in Minister Henare.

While access to health and welfare in New Zealand is normally based individual need, under Whanau Ora, the programme at the centre of this battle for the Auckland Maori seat, the funding flows to a tribal group – the whanau. The scheme requires designated ‘integrated providers’ to manage all of the whanau’s needs for social services, leaving decisions on access to healthcare and welfare in the hands of tribal leaders.

The scheme was controversial from the start.

In 2012, a Mongrel Mob member was convicted for supplying drugs that he had bought with a $20,000 grant from Whanau Ora.

Winston Peters, who was extremely critical of the programme before he became part of the government, described Whanau Ora as a “bro-ocracy”, a “touchy-feely slush fund”, and “a circus with no accountability”.

He uncovered a raft of spending scandals including a $60,000 grant to a Rugby Club to research ‘whanau connectedness’, a $3,000 grant to a hairdresser to hold two family hui, and funding granted to an immigrant with a history of family violence, child neglect and drug abuse to help with his residency application.

During the time that Tariana Turia was the Minister a quarter of all of the applicants who received Whanau Ora funding were from her own electorate – in spite of only 8 percent of the Maori population being resident there.

The Auditor General finally carried out an investigation into the scheme in 2015. Their audit found that of the $137 million dollars that had been allocated to the programme, $42 million – almost a third – had been spent on administration. The report concluded that the goals and objectives of many of the Whanau Ora programmes were so vague that it was almost impossible to ascertain whether the funding was being well spent or not.

After returning from a Tribal Self Governance conference in the US in 2016, the Chairwoman of the Whanau Ora North Island Commissioning Agency Merepeka Raukawa-Tait explained, “Today more than 65 percent of the 566 federally recognised tribes are operating under Compacts of Self-Governance with the United States Government. Under self-governance tribes are delivering and improving health and social services, and co-managing natural resources.”

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait wants Whanau Ora funding to encompass “the whole fabric of whanau life, including health, housing, education, justice and social services”.

That appears to be the grand vision for Whanau Ora: New Zealand taxpayers funding the empowerment of tribal life. 

This was further explained in an article that John Tamihere’s daughter, Kiri Tamihere-Waititi, a clinical psychologist and Whanau Ora contractor, had written in 2018 describing a Whanau Ora conference: “Whanau Ora is aspirational. It is giving back permission to dream again, to follow those dreams with a plan of action. It is not driven by contracts like ministries expect. It is not based on a DHB strategy or an Oranga Tamariki strategy. It is based on whanau strategy and whanau aspiration determined by whanau. It is about whanau leading their journey and drawing from providers what they need to reach their aspirations. On their terms — not the Crown’s. Whanau Ora has no time for bureaucracy and gate-keeping. It cares only for whanau accessing the support they are entitled to…”

This unbridled entitlement mentality is undoubtedly a factor in the disillusionment over Labour’s handling of Whanua Ora. Once elected, they took a cautious approach, initiating a review instead of immediately pouring in the cash being demanded by vested interests.

Kiri Tamihere-Waititi explained that at the Whanau Ora conference, “Dame Tariana demanded a call to arms. To fight for Whanau Ora…  I can tell you, at that minute, I felt a rush of fire going through me. And I was ready at that point to take up arms — literally, with my muskets and all…”

The fighting talk continued at a Whanau Ora meeting held last year, with Tariana Turia’s inflammatory rhetoric including: “Are you prepared to die for the cause?”

Tariana Turia is also working with other iwi leaders to force the Government into devolving the care and protection of vulnerable Maori children to tribal agencies. She wants Whanau Ora to pick up the contracts.

To discredit the Ministry for Children, extremist tactics have been used including politicising an attempted uplift by social workers and Police of a newborn Maori baby that was deemed by the Family Court to be at risk of abuse. Their criticisms escalated into a disgraceful full-scale attack on the Ministry, accusing social workers of racism, and describing Maori babies taken into care as New Zealand’s “stolen generation.”

But a former Canadian Chief Justice Brian Giesbrecht has warned against passing the responsibility for dealing with child abuse and neglect in Maori families onto race-based agencies. He explained that this strategy has been widely used in his country with disastrous results and he strongly believes that children must not be categorised by race, but that the best interest of the child should be the only consideration.

Brian is this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator with an article that includes a further warning for  New Zealand. He explains that in his country, race-based advocacy has led to the dreadful concept of “cultural continuity” – a new requirement that was introduced by the Trudeau Government just before last year’s General Election, which will alienate indigenous children from their right to be kept safe from harm:

“Most significantly, it will become much more difficult – perhaps impossible in many situations – for any agency to apprehend native children from dysfunctional homes and place them in protective foster care. All such cases will now be subject to a test of ‘cultural continuity’, a new criterion not applicable to children elsewhere in the country. The cumulative effect of these new requirements will be to completely estrange native children from the norms, expectations and regulatory oversight that exist for all other children in Canada. We will soon have two entirely separate child welfare systems: one for native kids, and one for everyone else.”

In concluding his analysis Brian says, “we must start by emphasizing the importance of sobriety, parental responsibility and family stability among all citizens.”

He’s right. Children are being abused children in New Zealand because adults are taking advantage of their vulnerability. It’s an issue of personal responsibility and self-control.

And that’s at the heart of New Zealand’s child abuse problem – by shielding family members from having to take personal responsibility for their actions, tribalism is endangering children.

The very last thing the Government should be doing is devolving the care and protection of vulnerable children to tribal authorities. It is a recipe for disaster.

As the political controversies being created by Tariana Turia’s attempt to resurrect the Maori Party continue to swirl around, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that government agencies do not remove children from families unless they are at serious risk of being abused. There is no racial witch hunt. Removing children is driven by the desire to keep them safe from harm – and, if there are concerns about the safety of the child being placed in the care of the wider family, then a safe-haven must be found elsewhere.

Race should play no part in child protection – nor in any other legislation for that matter.

Only when race is removed from our statutes, so every Kiwi child is afforded equal protection in law, will New Zealand children no longer be able to be used as political pawns by the tribal elite.

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