Haere Ra

Claire Trevett looks back on dignified politicians

Few could question the integrity with which Sharples and Turia approached their political lives. They rarely got embroiled in the mundane distractions of politics, the grandstanding and personal snipes, unless it was in defence of themselves. They were the perfect complementary force. Turia was the rock, Sharples was the orator, galvanising and the perfect voice to quell suspicion about the Maori Party among Pakeha.

When it came to the Pakeha media, both took time to explain who they were and what they were doing, over and over again if need be. They were dignified, courteous and calm. Turia’s entertaining habit of breaking into giggles when asked the occasional ridiculous question often said more than words would have.

The reality of politics has had the usual erosive effect. The acrimonious split with Hone Harawira delivered a cut the party has yet to heal from, despite its bravado. It continues to struggle with the perception it has simply become a stooge for National. Its MPs would occasionally adopt siege mentality at times of trial rather than front the issue.

But they stayed relentlessly on message, and that message has stayed consistent throughout. For Turia, that message has been life-long: the case for Maori self-determination. In her maiden speech as a new Labour MP in 1997, she did not bother with the usual platitudes of paying homage to the party she represented, or those who led it. Instead, she spoke of Maori being forced to live in two worlds, “drip-fed, spoon-fed and acted upon like imbeciles”.

She spoke of the havoc colonisation and its aftermath wrought on Maori society and the “state knows best” mentality that kicked in when the ensuing social problems were too glaring to ignore. She called for Maori to be able to fix Maori problems. “Only we can truly restore our dignity and integrity. We know the problem; then let us be our own solution.”

Turia was regarded as a radical at the time. She is no less radical now. She has simply been able to show that radicalism matures into a constructive force. She leaves knowing she made it into a reality through her Whanau Ora programme, which at least sows the seeds of the self-determination she spoke of.

She leaves vindicated, knowing that what she achieved in the Maori Party is probably greater than what she might have achieved by staying with Labour, where there were party lines to toe and political risks to be taken into account.

I agree. ?The Maori Party have achieved much more for Maori as part of a National-led government than they could possibly have achieved from within Labour.

The two darkest parts of their recent careers that stand out for me would be the following

When Tariana said that the Maori Wars were the “Maori Holocaust”. ?I think it shows an ignorance of the scale, destruction and intentional ethnic cleansing that took place at the hands of Nazi Germany. ?It is well established that Maori have been one of the best treated indigenous people in the world. ?It hurt her credibility with Pakeha.

Pita, well, he went in and told everyone to back off, including the police, for the Kahui?murders. ?Best intentions no doubt, but a deference to Maori protocol caused a situation where those responsible for?Christopher Arepa and?Cru?Omeka Kahui’s deaths. ?I know this weighs heavy on him still.

But apart from that, there has been a lot of honour, dare I say it, mana, in their careers.

Will the Maori Party survive their absences? ?The first test will be September 20.


– Claire Trevett, NZ Herald