Peace for Ukraine and Russia requires mana restoration as well as lines on maps (and two Cossack songs we invite Vladimir Putin to listen to with us)

Peace for Ukraine and Russia requires mana restoration as well as lines on maps (and two Cossack songs we invite Vladimir Putin to listen to with us)

With Russia and Ukraine on war’s edge some reach for prayers and others for diplomacy.  Mana restoration is also needed, as are history’s lessons.

Vladimir Putin contends that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and that current tensions result from NATO’s expansion eastwards.  Critics argue his authoritarianism is destroying Russian democracy and human rights, and that he is threatening Ukraine to distract attention away from Russia’s economic problems.  They also charge him with reinventing Soviet history to gloss over the darker periods and to reframe it as a heroic time that saw victory in the Great Patriotic War and global leadership in many scientific and technological fields.

During Putin’s first tenure as president from 2000 to 2008 the Russian economy grew for eight straight years, with GDP per capita and real incomes increasing, unemployment and poverty rates more than halved, and Russian self-assessed life satisfaction rising significantly. This reflected high oil and gas export prices, recovery from depression and financial crises and associated with past economic restructuring, foreign investment, and prudent macro-economic and fiscal policies. 

However, in recent years Russia has failed to make much progress economically.  Thirty years after the Soviet Union’s break-up, Russia is still dependant on oil, gas and armaments exports. It has failed to reach the industrial sophistication of major western economies or of China.

Putin has drawn on Soviet era symbolism as if to conjure up a romantic image of past greatness for Russia, and by extension for ordinary Russian citizens.  However, Stalin’s forced collectivisation of Soviet agriculture caused millions of deaths in Ukraine in the 1932-33 Holodomor or “Great Famine”. The Ukrainian government asserts this was genocide targeted especially at Ukrainians. 

During the Great Patriotic War some western Ukrainian nationalists fought with Germany, whilst eastern Ukrainians overwhelmingly supported the Soviet war effort.

Russia and Ukraine share a long and troubled history, with much shared cultural heritage, and with high intermarriage from the Soviet era. 

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus share roots in the Kyivan Rus’.  This was an alliance of East Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples in Eastern and Northern Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. The Kievan Rus’ began to decline during the late 11th century and it was devastated by 13th-century Mongol invasion, with Kyiv destroyed in 1240. Following this, Lithuania controlled much of the Ukraine until Poland took control within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under the Union of Lublin (1569).

During the 16th, 17th and into the 18th century, the Zaporozhian Cossacks were strong enough to challenge the Polish-Lithuanisn Commonwealth, the Russian Tzardom and the Crimean Khanate. 

In 1657–1686 came “The Ruin”, a bloody war involving Russia, Poland, the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire and Cossacks for control of Ukraine. In 1686 Russia and Poland divided the Cossack Hetmanate lands between them. 

After centuries in which Russians and Ukrainians interacted, Ukraine only united as one entity from September 1939 when Hitler and Stalin jointly invaded and then dismembered Poland. Galicia and Volhynia with their Ukrainian populations then became part of Ukraine. 

Vladimir Putin’s aggressive stance towards Ukraine has origins partly in the humiliation he and many other Russians felt in the wake of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact alliance, the Soviet Union’s break-up, and the pain that so many people went through as the Russian economy was restructured.

As a KGB officer in Dresden in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down, Vladimir Putin saw the GDR authorities and the KGB itself powerless in the face of rampant public demonstrations.  That is, he observed first-hand the Eastern Bloc’s humiliation.  The lesson for Putin might well have been to never again surrender control.

Putin claims that after the Iron Curtain collapsed and Germany was reunited the US led NATO’s expansion into formerly Warsaw Pact states in breach of earlier assurances this would not happen.  In a 1990 meeting with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in principle to German unification so long as NATO did not expand to the east. The US Secretary of State James Baker assured Gorbachev on this. Jack Matlock, the last US ambassador to the Soviet Union confirms that Gorbachev was given to understand that if Germany united and stayed in NATO, the borders of NATO would not move eastward.  Others argue that no such explicit commitment was made.

Since the Cold War ended NATO has added 14 more member nations, ten of them former Warsaw Pact countries.  Many Russians across a wide political spectrum argue that this violates at least tacit understandings entered into over the 1989 – 1991 period.

Mikhail Gorbachev has long argued that the U.S. wanted to be the dominant global superpower and did not want competition from a resurgent Russia.  He has been critical of US “triumphalism” towards Russia. He rejected President George H W Bush’s contention that the U.S. had “won” the Cold War, arguing that both sides had cooperated to end the conflict. Subsequently, in 2008 President George W Bush actively pushed for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO – this formed part of the backdrop to conflict between Russia and Georgia in late 2008.

Russia has in its history often been torn between its traditional culture and institutions and western European influences.  Peter the Great looked to Europe for Russia’s modernisation.  Turgenev drew on European liberalism and progressiveness, while Dostoyevsky exemplified conservative, often Russian Orthodox Church-influenced Russian nationalism.

When he became President in 2000, Vladimir Putin wanted Russia to develop deeper ties with western Europe.  He was open to Russia joining NATO if it could do so as an equal partner.  That is, he wanted to uphold Russia’s mana and not allow his country to play a subordinate role internationally.  However, NATO’s continuing expansion eastwards and specific incidents such as the Orange Revolution street protests in Ukraine in 2004 deepened his distrust of NATO, and especially of the US’s role within the alliance.

However, in recent years the US has lost influence and partly disengaged from traditional alliances.  Its confidence has been dented through its Afghanistan withdrawal, and it faces challenge from an assertive China.  Ukraine and NATO do not want war, and given this, Putin’s aggressive stance seems unwarranted.

When it became independent in 1991 Ukraine pledged non-alignment between western Europe and Russia.  This option offers comity and good socio-cultural (and economic) relationships with Russia whilst also allowing Ukraine to become deeply integrated with western European economies and institutions. 

Precedent exists for such relationships.  After the Great Patriotic War ended and the Cold War began Austria and Finland both became neutral between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, while still remaining market economies and social democracies.

Former Ukrainian President Yanukovych opted to keep Ukraine a non-aligned state, and the Ukrainian parliament confirmed this in 2010. However, subsequently Ukraine has swung erratically between closer relations with Russia or with the EU.  After the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014 the Ukrainian parliament renounced Ukraine’s non-aligned status. President Zelensky recently made a renewed call for NATO membership.

Russia has been invaded and occupied through the centuries and this shapes Russian psychology.  This psychology has also been shaped by Russian history since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc from 1989, Germany’s reunification, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

From 1991, the Soviet Union’s breakup and economic reforms undermined Russia’s economy and its social security system.  The tax base collapsed, undermining public services and marginalising top Russian public sector professionals.  Teachers, academics, and scientists found themselves earning less than ill-educated entrepreneurs opening bars, nightclubs and other private sector businesses. 

Beggars appeared on the streets of once-proud cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow.  Putin himself went moonlighting as a cab driver to make ends meet, and he never forgot the humiliation. Russian industrial towns that had once provided stable employment became reminiscent of the American “rust belt”. “Deaths of despair” soared as workers who had lost their pride and dignity turned to alcohol or suicide.

In 1992, hyper-inflation destroyed many people’s life savings and weakened trust in institutions.  Corruption became rife, and well-connected insiders (some of them former government officials) acquired privatised assets, with some shifting huge asset holdings abroad. 

While few would want to return to the old Soviet economy, many felt pride in the Soviet Union’s power, felt humiliated as individuals and as Russians, with much of this blamed on the Soviet Union’s collapse, and by extension on the external powers perceived to benefit from it.

A way forward is for a US-led NATO to treat Russia as an equal European partner and a significant global player.  That is Russia’s mana must be enhanced, noting that it has a far bigger population than any western European country, it is the wealthiest country in Eastern Europe, the biggest nation on earth with the richest natural resource base, and it is a nuclear power.

The US could commit to vetoing Ukrainian membership of NATO, which it has the power to do.  Ukraine could then focus on building deeper relationships with all its neighbours, with an independent foreign policy that poses no threat to any other nation.

There are more radical options that could be explored.  For example, Russia could apply for NATO membership, or NATO could invite Russia to join.  However, any such options would be contentious and negotiations on them would be drawn out. 

The most critical first step is for President Putin to de-escalate. Failure to do so risks drifting into war, without anyone actually wanting a war.

In tense times leaders must avoid triggering events that then get out of hand.  The Cossack song Oh, it is not yet evening is a salutary warning for leaders who might otherwise lose their “impetuous heads.”  

In Russian and Ukrainian Cossack culture the raven is a bird with supernatural powers.  It mediates between life and death, sometimes connecting dying Cossacks with their families. De-escalation is needed, otherwise the raven might become tragically busy.  One of the most powerful Cossack anti-war songs is  Black raven. Best to listen to it through headphones to harvest its full emotional power, and to remind ourselves how terrible war can be.

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Did the Tohunga Suppression Act undermine Māori culture and wellbeing, enabling disharmony and inequity to persist until now?

In an opinion piece We must speak out against racism   the Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon stated that “Measures such as the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act were introduced, undermining Māori culture and wellbeing, and enabling disharmony and inequity to persist until now.”  Does the evidence support this contention?

In pre-European times, tohunga were expert practitioners of rongoā Māori, the traditional Māori healing system encompassing herbal remedies, physical therapies and spiritual healing.  However, European contact and migration brought new diseases and a need for new knowledge to treat them. Some tohunga continued with their traditional practices and wove European health knowledge into them.  However, others did not adapt, and fraudulent “tohunga” emerged who lacked both traditional and European knowledge. As with Pākehā charlatans and “quacks”, they preyed on people’s superstitions and credulity and offered to “cure” all kinds of illnesses, often with disastrous results.

Key advocates for the Tohunga Suppression Act were Te Aute College graduates who were culturally Māori and educated to the best academic standards available in New Zealand at the time. Their teachers were highly educated Pākehā who respected Māori culture and often spoke Māori fluently.

John Thornton was Te Aute College’s headmaster from 1878 to 1912, during which he focused on preparing “Maori boys for the matriculation examination of the New Zealand University…I saw that the time would come when the Maoris would wish to have their own doctors, their own lawyers and their own clergymen.”

Te Aute’s founder, Samuel Williams supported Thornton’s vision for Te Aute students.  Both Williams and Thornton lobbied to have Māori language included at university level in BA degrees.

In 1880 James Pope was appointed Inspector of the 57 native schools then operating.  Pope was a polymath – a teacher, botanist, musician, and a Greek, Latin, French, German, Māori and Hebrew speaker and linguist.  Pope drafted a native school’s code that set high standards for schools. He insisted that Māori must receive at least as good an education as European children.

In 1883 James Pope visited Te Aute and described the standards reached in mathematics and science as “equal to those of any secondary school in the country”.  He strongly supported the College, and was present at the meeting at Te Aute in 1897 which launched the Te Aute College Students’ Association (“the Young Maori Party.”) 

Pope took a great interest in Māori health and was deeply knowledgeable on mātauranga Māori.  He was critical of tohunga capabilities.  He noted that tohunga could help with bruises and wounds, but described their overall approach as “all this folly” and stated that Māori belief in tohunga was no better than Pākehā believing in quacks. 

Pope’s Health for the Maori: A Manual for use in Native Schools published in 1884 was embraced by Te Aute college graduates.  Translated into Māori, Pope’s manual was used by the young Āpirana Ngata, Rēweti Kōhere and others as a basis for their campaigns to improve hygiene and sanitation to enhance Māori health. Decades later, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana gave Pope’s manual an important place in his missionary efforts.

Te Aute educated many talented Māori including Āpirana Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), Māui Pōmare, Edward Ellison, Paraire Tomoana and Rēweti Kōhere. Pōmare became the first Māori doctor when he graduated in 1899, followed by Peter Buck in 1904 and Tūtere Wī Repa in 1908. 

Ellison had grown up on a Taranaki farm where he observed Māori funerals passing the farm gate and attributed many of the deaths to tohungaism. This helped motivate him to a medical career which led to him succeeding Buck as director of the Māori Hygiene Division in the Department of Health.

In 1901 Māui Pōmare was appointed Māori Health Officer.  He had the same powers as district health officers and ranked below only the Public Health Department’s permanent head.  Pōmare understood that living conditions caused much Māori morbidity and mortality.  He tirelessly visited villages inspecting water supply, rubbish disposal and sanitary arrangements.  He was so concerned about the health risks of deserted whare that over three years he is reported to have burnt to the ground around 1,900 of them.

In his reports to Parliament Pōmare was scathing about the mortality tohunga caused through improper procedures.  Seventeen children died in one pā alone as a result of tohunga “treatments”.  Pōmare’s 1904 annual report sought legislation against the practices of tohunga. 

James Carroll (Timi Kara) introduced the Tohunga Suppression Act to Parliament in 1907.  Māori MPs such as Carroll and Ngata were advocating for improved funding for Māori healthcare, and they were likely concerned to distance themselves from tohunga.  Ngata indicated that tohunga would continue to be active unless better healthcare came available for Māori.

In a fine academic piece, Māmari Stephens (2000) noted the wider political, institutional and legislative context for the 1907 Act, the motivations of the key people involved, and the extent to which the Act achieved its objectives.  Nothing in her work suggests that the Act was intended to, or had the effect of, “undermining Māori culture and wellbeing and enabling disharmony and inequity to persist until now.”

The Act targeted any person who “gathers Maoris around him by practising on their superstition…professing supernatural powers…foretelling of future events”.  The Act did not outlaw those tohunga practicing, for example, herbal remedies that do no harm, even if they may not be effective.  No part of the Act targeted Māori culture.

While Parliamentary debates saw references to such Māori leaders as Rua Kenana, there was much more discussion about Pākehā faith healers, charlatans and quacks.

Prosecutions could not be undertaken under the Act without the Native Minister‘s assent. Given that James Carroll was the Native Minister from 1899 to 1912 this provided a safeguard against the legislation being used capriciously or punitively against Māori.

The Tohunga Suppression Act was supported by all Māori MPs and received Royal Assent on 24 September 1907.  It was followed in 1908 by The Quackery Prevention Act, which banned publication of untruthful claims about medicines.

Overall, the Tohunga Suppression Act was applied leniently. It was not used to target tohunga who practised without making outlandish and obviously fraudulent claims. There were around nine well-documented convictions under the Act, often involving patient deaths. The harshest penalty was six months jail for the “White Tohunga” Mary Ann Hill after several deaths had been attributed to her treatment. 

In themselves the Tohunga Suppression Act and the Quackery Prevention Act had modest direct impacts.  Vastly more important for Māori health was improving living standards, better hygiene, housing and nutrition, and of course more doctors and nurses. However, the Acts signalled that health services and products needed to be based on reason, science and evidence, and not on fraudulent and delusive claims that caused harm.

The Tohunga Suppression Act did not undermine Māori culture and wellbeing, nor cause disharmony and inequity.  In fact, much is owed to Māori leaders and their Pākehā compatriots who promoted the Act as a very small part of their lifelong service in advancing the interests of Māori people.

Further reading

The following are further reading:

Dow, Derek 1999: ‘Pruned of Its Dangers’: The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907. Health and History. Vol. 3, No. 1, Maori Health (2001), pp. 41-64.  Published By: Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine, Inc

Lange, R. 1999. May the people live. A History of Maori Health Development 1900- 1920. Auckland University Press, Auckland.

Stephens, Māmari 2000: A Return to the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907. Submitted in fulfilment of the LLB(Hons) requirements at Victoria University in 2000.

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Welcoming the first day of spring, with songs from Bob Dylan, a Russian folk group and Shakespeare

Much folklore surrounds cuckoo birds in many cultures.  They welcome in the first day of spring – which in New Zealand is 1 September.

The cuckoo is a pretty bird is a very old English song, brought to life in a Bob Dylan interpretation:

Bob Dylan The cuckoo is a pretty bird

Cuckoos are mischievous.  They can symbolise untrustworthiness.  A cuckoo lays its egg in another bird’s nest. The cuckoo chick hatches before those of the host bird, and it then ejects the other eggs from the nest so it gets undivided attention from its adoptive parents.

This Russian folksong, with its delicate melody and harmony asks a cuckoo bird where it is flying to:

Russian folk song Where are you flying to cuckoo bird?

The cuckoo bird’s two-note call symbolised infidelity in Shakespeare’s song from Love’s Labour’s Lost, sung by the extraordinary counter-tenor Gábor Birta:

Gábor Birta, countertenor sings Shakespeare’s Spring Song from ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost”

Being Shakespeare’s words, they are beautiful read as well as sung:

Spring song

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he:
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

Spring is not forever, and as counterpoint to the Spring song Love’s Labour’s Lost finishes with the Winter song. When spoken out aloud it makes you shudder with cold.

Winter song

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
“Tu-whit, Tu-whoo!” –
A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
“Tu-whit, Tu-whoo!”—
A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

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Indigenous people, kaitiakitanga and biochar

Indigenous peoples created one of the most effective technologies to counter global warming, and yet the industrialised world still largely ignores it. What has gone wrong with how we understand, value and apply technology?

In the late 19th century, European explorers in the Amazonia found large areas of dark, high fertility soils amidst the region’s highly weathered, thin and acidic soils. These soils were termed terra preta (dark soils). They were likely developed by indigenous people who dumped near their settlements food scraps, manure and sewerage waste, ashes and charcoal.  Over decades these dumps matured into highly productive anthropogenic soil oases within tropical soil deserts.

The biochar-based terra preta soils likely began accidentally, and then through trial and error were improved and extended in area as indigenous people saw the productivity benefits.

Terra preta soils are believed to take around forty or fifty years to form.  They date back over a thousand years. They can be two metres deep.  Terra preta soil appears to regenerate itself at the rate of around one centimeter per year.

These carbon-rich soils foster microbial activity that improves nutrient availability and plant growth.  They typically double crop production compared to adjacent, non-biochar enriched soils, and they do so without exhausting soil fertility.

Indigenous peoples in Ghana and Liberia have also used biochar to turn highly weathered, nutrient-poor tropical soils into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils.  Researchers from universities such as Cornell and the University of Sussex have lived and worked within these communities to learn how they created these “African Dark Earths”.  

Pre-European Māori modified soils with sand and gravel to improve drainage.  Charcoal might have been introduced to hold moisture and to help warm the soil.  Rigg & Bruce (1923) report charcoal in Waimea West soils.  Charcoal associated with Māori settlements has been dated as early as around 700 years ago (Calvelo Pereira et al 2014). 

However, terra preta-type dark soils akin to those in the Amazonia and West Africa were not developed in New Zealand.  This may partly be because Māori had strong cultural objections to using wastes such as manure in gardening.  As part of their “recipe”, terra preta soils require such waste inputs as well as charcoal.

However, biochar is now an integral part of the farming operations of Pārengarenga Incorporation, an iwi-owned enterprise in the Far North.  It transforms waste forest slash into biochar, which is then used for example as a cattle feed animal health supplement, until finally the biochar ends up in the soil as enriched manure.  This has proved profitable through pasture improvements and enhanced animal health lifting productivity.

Only in recent times has the importance of carbon in soil been recognised for its wider climate change mitigation and environmental benefits.  Soils contain more carbon than both terrestrial plants and the atmosphere combined.  However, since agriculture began around 12,000 years ago about 133 billion tonnes of carbon have been lost from soil.  Every tonne of carbon lost from soils adds 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

A top priority in climate change mitigation is reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.  However, to avoid a catastrophic climate change tipping point, negative emissions technologies that sequester carbon in soil are needed.  We must therefore stop mining soil carbon and instead use biochar to restore carbon in soils by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Most soil carbon is labile, that is as biomass decomposes it re-emits carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as part of the fast carbon cycle.  In contrast, pyrolysis that turns biomass into biochar converts fast cycle carbon into slow cycle carbon, which is effectively permanent carbon sequestration.

Biochar is not soil or fertiliser. It is carbon with high porosity, high surface area and Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). Porosity means biochar stores and recycles water, which is beneficial in arid soils. Porosity and CEC helps nutrient retention and recycling, and is associated with enhanced microbial activity and with healthier and more diverse soil microbiome. 

Biochar is a general purpose substance with multi-purpose functionality in diverse applications.  It can remove pollutants and yet retain water.  It can help recycle nutrients and upcycle waste.  It can immobilize at times and catalyse at other times. It can reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions and reduce nitrate pollution in water.  It can be used to purify wastewater.  It can remediate contaminated soils.  It can enhance compost’s effectiveness.

Biochar can enhance the functionality and lifecycle environmental benefits of construction, food packaging and storage materials.  It can be used to make high-tech products such as super-capacitators. It can be used for activated carbon, carbon black, in paints, medicines, and as a decontaminant in biogas production. Above all, biochar can sequester carbon over intergenerational time frames.

As well as its productivity benefits, biochar could become the world’s single most important negative carbon emissions technology, and New Zealand is well-placed to lead on this because of our available biomass.  Given this, how can we explain why biochar has not been developed and applied widely?

Biomass is a very diffuse resource and expensive to transport.  It is difficult to achieve scale economies.  Biochar needs to be produced and applied locally and on a relatively small scale.  “One size does not fit all” with biochar.  To be effective, a biochar production regime must match a specific biomass source and pyrolysis setting to value-add cascades and to the final biochar end use.

Governments respond to concentrated lobbies, not individuals or small communities working in isolation.  Technocrats seek centralised solutions to complex problems that in fact require a decentralised and circular economy response.

Biochar technology would decentralise economic power away from the cities and to the regions. Biochar can be a tool for hundreds of thousands of individuals, communities, cooperatives, farmers, horticulturalists and small holders and it cannot be monopolised by a few large and politically influential companies.

Existing industries defend their financial interests by “buying science”. The science peer review process can entrench specialised disciplinary silos. Many scientists struggle to work across disciplines. Soil scientists and agronomists have delivered great biochar research, however this has not always been well connected to other fields such as climate and atmosphere science, animal health research, material science, and to climate change policy making.

Biochar sits uncomfortably with orthodox economic theory and tools.  It is best suited to the circular economy model. Biochar might be seen as an expenditure on an input when it is really an investment in an enduring productive capital asset.  Rather than depreciate, biochar endures in soil and its functionality can improve over time.  Kelpie Wilson suggests biochar is like an aged cheese where the quality is easy to recognise but the exact recipe and the effects of time have yet to be understood scientifically.  Biochar may be costly to apply initially, however once in the soil it enhances productivity over intergenerational timeframes. 

Biochar can be used for a wide range of economic purposes and then be stored in the soil as a permanent carbon store.  This effectively involves “value-add cascades”.  For example, making biochar produces some process heat and bio-oil that can be used, for example, in industrial processes.  The biochar can then be used for purposes such as removing nutrients from waste streams that would otherwise pollute waterways.  The resulting nutrient-enriched biochar then “value-add cascades” down to its next use in lifting soil productivity through fertilisation and enhanced nutrient recycling.  The final value-add cascade for this biochar is its inter-generational presence as a permanent carbon store in the soil.

A way forward with biochar might be to work with Māori and other partners to apply it in local farms, orchards and forests as part of an inter-generational kaitiakitanga ethos and kaupapa.  This could be customised around the specific soil and productive conditions, the intended final uses, and the value-add cascades that lead up to this.

Grimes et al (2015) reported that Māori placed more priority on environmental protection than non-Māori New Zealanders.  Inalienable Māori land cannot be sold and therefore it cannot be “farmed” for capital gains.  This forces the focus to be on intergenerational sustainable production. 

Whilst the legal ownership structure and the Māori sustainability ethos support biochar initiatives, biochar production regimes are highly differentiated depending on local factors such as soil types, biomass sources and desired value-add cascades and end uses.  Applied research, including pilot projects are therefore needed.

Integrated technical, economic and environmental assessments and pilot projects could be undertaken on different opportunities.  This might involve sectors such as dairy, sheep and beef, wine, kiwifruit, apples and field crops.  It might also focus on particular soil types such as low fertility, arid or poorly drained soils.  Biochar could be trialled as a compost additive and in animal health and bioremediation  applications.  Different biomass sources such as willows, forest residues and biomass waste streams could also be evaluated for their value for biochar.

Biochar initiatives with Māori and other partners would deliver results that can be applied more widely, and work towards global commons and intergenerational benefits.  Because Māori cannot fully capture the benefits of these investments there is a strong case for public funding or co-funding.  This should be invested in research and applied technology in support of Māori leading on their own lands, and in accord with kaitiakitanga and the supporting sustainable development kaupapa.


Calvelo Pereira; R. Camps Arbestain, M. et al 2014:  Detailed carbon chemistry in charcoals from pre-European Māori gardens of New Zealand as a tool for understanding biochar stability in soils. European Journal of Soil Science, January 2014, 65, 83–95.

Grimes, A. et al 2015: Indigenous Belief in a Just World. NZ Māori and other ethnicities compared.  Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

Rigg, T.; Bruce, J. 1923: The Maori Gravel Soil of Waimea West, Nelson, New Zealand. Journal of the Polynesian Society 32: 84 – 93.

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A break from posts on economics and identity politics: a journey from monoculturalism to multiculturalism through folk songs and poetry, ending with the only truly universal genius…

Our whanau started out monocultural, speaking New Zealand English (North Otago dialect), and now we are multi-cultural and multi-lingual.

Let us begin with The Dance Exponents, who originated in Timaru, culturally close to Oamaru, but lacking its heritage buildings.

The Dance Exponents: I’ll say goodbye even though I’m blue

The Otago sea shanty Wellerman was written in our rohe. It went viral on the Chinese TikTok service and is now a taonga that belongs to everyone in any language.

The Otago sea shanty Wellerman sung in Ukrainian

Our Te Reo taonga.  George Henare and Jennifer Ward-Lealand recite Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day in Te Reo and English

Scottish culture is alive in Otago and Southland. The famous Scottish (some would also say Irish) farewell song, The Parting Glass.

A Scottish farewell song, The Parting Glass

A Russian folk song sung around the kitchen table with accordion accompaniment.  It is about a Cossack lying in bed getting scarcely any sleep.  He dreams that his raven horse is misbehaving as he rides it, as if trying to buck him off.  He dreams that wild winds blow his hat off, and his companion then tells him that he will not live forever.

The song then finishes on an uplifting note, drawing on the indomitable Russian spirit that survives anything.

Russian folk song Oh on this evening I saw in my dreams

From the only truly universal genius, Sonnet 30. Courtesy of the New York Shakespeare Exchange, a stunning and poignant performance merging language, city scenes and music.

Sonnet 30 set to music amidst Manhatten settings

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A critique of He Puapua, and an alternative strategy for self-determination at individual and whanau levels

He Puapua proposes constitutional, institutional and public policy changes, notionally to respond to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  However, careful analysis shows that it is a flawed political advocacy document, and if its recommendations were agreed to it would divide New Zealand.

I will explain the flaws in He Puapua, and then outline an alternative strategy to address Māori socio-economic challenges in a way that benefits all New Zealanders.

He Puapua anchors its response to UNDRIP in the 1840 Tiriti o Waitangi (te Tiriti) and the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand: He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni. It envisages progressively bringing New Zealand legislation, policy and initiatives in line with te Tiriti and the 1835 Declaration.  This includes bicultural institutions and bilingual and matauranga Māori-informed state services. 

He Puapua canvasses separate Māori court and justice systems, an Indigenous Rights Commissioner or a Tiriti Commissioner, and making the Waitangi Tribunal’s recommendations binding.

Under He Puapua, Māori would control or co-govern and co-manage natural resources, including freshwater.  It forecasts that: “there will be an enlarged iwi/hapu/whanau estate, supported by significantly increased return of Crown lands and waters, including takutai moana [marine and coastal areas] to Māori ownership (in addition to Treaty of Waitangi settlements).  Māori would “receive royalties for the use of particular natural resources such as water, petroleum and minerals.”

He Puapua proposes that the Public Finance Act 1989 could be amended “to avoid the impact that the return of Crown land has on the Crown’s books.”

Māori would have powers to make bylaws, Māori freehold land would be exempted from the Public Works Act, and options would be explored to put a moratorium on rating of all Māori land.

Under He Puapua, Māori tikanga, matauranga (science, knowledge and belief) and language would play much greater roles in New Zealand.

While He Puapua avoids the term “race”, the asset transfers and new rights it proposes are only for those with Māori blood.  He Puapua is not “racist”, that is it is not hostile to non-Maori “races”.  It is however “racialist” in assuming that race determines human traits, that people can meaningfully be grouped into race categories, and that this can guide constitution, law, human rights, policy and resource allocation.

The UN Declaration aims to extend rights to marginalised or oppressed peoples without damaging other peoples’ rights.  He Paupau aims to create new and expanded rights for members of one racial group while reducing everyone else’s rights, for example by taking amenity land, waterways and coastal space out of the public domain and transferring it to tribal control. 

He Puapua denies that the Treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi transferred sovereignty/kawanatanga to the Crown.  In a footnote (p.28) it states incorrectly that “tino rangatiratanga” means “sovereignty”. In fact, rangatiratanga means self-reliance or self-determination at the individual and whanau levels, not political sovereignty at the nation state level.  He Puapua does not accept that the Treaty/Tiriti is an equal rights document.

He Puapua refers only to “te Tiriti o Waitangi” rather than the English language Treaty of Waitangi.  The two versions are aligned and were agreed to by the Crown and Māori signatories, and differences between the two documents are immaterial.  Were this not the case the Treaty/Tiriti would be meaningless since no one could agree on what they mean and they would therefore be nullities.

He Puapua uses the UNDRIP process to tacitly support a Māori “sovereignty” or “nationalist” movement and its supporting narrative.  This narrative argues that Māori were doing well before colonisation and they never transferred sovereignty to the Crown, and therefore by extension to Parliament.  It contends that Māori social problems today result from colonialism and racism, and the way forward is to recreate Māori tribal structures, language and customs, seek Māori solutions to Māori problems, and achieve constitutional change which weakens democracy and enhances tribal power. 

While the English language Treaty version is clear to all English speakers, the Māori language Tiriti is not, and its meaning can therefore be manipulated for political purposes.  This manipulation has been effective and helps explain why the 1840 starting point for New Zealand’s constitution is referred to in many formal documents, media, some new legislation and in academia as “te Tiriti” rather than the “Treaty of Waitangi”.

The Titiri narrative that is central to He Puapua is becoming unchallengeable in public discourse.  Distinguished New Zealanders such as Don Brash and Michael Bassett who have never been remotely racist in word or deed have been stopped from speaking at public events or publishing in some mainstream media outlets.  The $55M Public Interest Journalism fund is explicitly restricted to journalism that supports the Tiriti narrative.  This extraordinary violation of press freedom and balance is unprecedented since the 1951 waterfront dispute.

He Puapua refers to the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand: He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni as if it were a constitutional document. This document arose partly from fear that France would declare sovereignty over New Zealand.  This concern was triggered by an obscure Frenchman who titled himself “Charles, Baron de Thierry, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand and King of Nuku Hiva” (in the Marquesas Islands). 

James Busby helped draft the Declaration despite having no authority to do so. He did so to out-manoeuvre his rival, Thomas McDonnell, as much as to ward off a perceived French threat.  The Declaration was signed by 34 northern chiefs in October 1835.  By July 1839 only 52 chiefs had signed – compared to the 540 chiefs and the Crown’s representative that signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

New Zealand was bicultural and bilingual in 1840, and He Puapua assumes this continues unchanged today.  However, New Zealand has been a multi-cultural country since the late 19th century, and in 2021 is increasingly multi-lingual.  In He Puapua, our Chinese, Indian, Pacific, Filipino, Middle Eastern, central Asian, Eastern European and Latin American communities and their languages are invisible. 

He Puapua uses the term “Crown” throughout the document.  However, since 1840 New Zealand’s government system and constitution has evolved as explained in The Treaty and New Zealand’s constitutional evolution and in te Tiriti. Representative government began with the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852.  New Zealand ceased to be a British colony in 1907, and the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986 marked the point where Parliament became sovereign and the Crown was reduced to a symbolic and procedural role. 

The term “Crown” conveys mystique and masks the fact that all government expenditure is paid for by New Zealand taxpayers, including Māori, and not funded by a remote monarchy.  To accurately reflect reality, the term “Crown” should be replaced in discourse by “Government”, “Parliament”, “the State” or “taxpayers”.

He Puapua assumes that tribal boundaries reflect stable long-term settlement patterns for discrete hapu and iwi groups.  However, many Māori are urbanised, cosmopolitan and internationalised.  They move to where the opportunities are. Given this, He Puapua envisaging that “the nation will know and appreciate iwi tribal boundaries” does not reflect demographic realities.

One thing most New Zealanders are united on is that it is desirable to minimise or close the socio-economic gaps between Māori and other New Zealanders.  This means effectively addressing high Māori unemployment, low incomes and net worth, homelessness, child poverty, poor health and high crime rates. 

He Puapua is mindful of Māori socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and poverty but it has no answers to them because it has no economic reasoning underpinning its analysis. Te Puapua is about power, tribal elitism, racialism and cultural determinism.  It is not about individuals and whanau doing better in the economy and society and having choices in their lives.

The right strategy to close the socio-economic gaps is needs-based interventions to deliver economic self-determination at the individual and whanau levels.  This strategy would be colour-blind, however Māori would benefit disproportionately due to their overrepresentation in negative socio-economic statistics.  The strategy would align symbolically with the individual and whanau self-determination themes in the Treaty/Tiriti. 

Progressivity in intervention design (that is the poorest get the most support) links to social democratic and “class-based” thinking in Labour circles.  Expanding choice and economic opportunity through market processes is heartland National thinking.  ACT’s David Seymour has signalled support for self-determination for everyone, for example to give choice in education.

What would economic self-determination (or tino rangatiratanga) look like?  It could involve more individual and family choice in the services sought from government and how they are delivered.  This could mean charter or partnership schools, choice in health services, and more Whanau Ora-type devolution.

Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) could be given to all New Zealand children, with government start-up contributions proportional to need.  These accounts could support investment in education, business equity (including entrepreneurial capital), and home ownership. They would build human and equity capital and wealth-creating capability rather than support passive welfare dependency.  They could end child poverty. 

Some social welfare funds could be channelled into these accounts, effectively gearing social policy to support economic development.  Treaty/Tiriti references to individuals and whanau could justify a one-off IDA top-up for poorer Māori children, perhaps at the level of the billions of dollars in Treaty settlements that iwi have captured. Such an IDA intervention on its own could close the socio-economic gap between Māori and other New Zealanders within a generation.

In Europe and America there is growing interest in job guarantee policies that would see the state hire unemployed workers as an employer of last resort.  If well designed this could be a great investment when wider benefits are considered, such as skills development, higher incomes, reduced crime, improved mental health and reduced social welfare expenditure.

Māori sustainable farming for economic rangitiratanga can be more actively encouraged.  Inalienable Māori land cannot be sold for capital gains, which drives land use to the longer-term and reinforces a multi-generation sustainable development approach. Māori land managers are increasingly active in sustainable initiatives such as regenerative agriculture, biochar for carbon storage in soil, and sustainable distributed energy production that are key to achieving net zero emissions.  Such positive initiatives can be actively supported and will deliver wider benefits to New Zealand, including future generations.

Ongoing Waitangi Tribunal litigation is costly, divisive and largely benefits a small number of elitists, lawyers and bureaucrats. He Puapua would be even worse. In contrast, the above economic self-determination initiatives would benefit New Zealanders as a whole, and being progressive would disproportionately benefit Māori.

Taken together these initiatives could make up a socio-economic development strategy that New Zealanders could unite around, and then we would learn how powerful we can be.

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Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the history curriculum, and where to from here

The draft school History Curriculum omits the tumultuous events leading up to the Treaty (Tiriti), what motivated the signatories, and how this shaped today.

As chronicled in Ron Crosby’s book The Forgotten Wars, from 1807 until the early 1840s iwi fought Musket Wars of indescribable brutality that devastated Māori communities and reset tribal boundaries.  These wars arose from long-standing animosities, with war parties seeking utu in response to mana-degrading insults. British traders were complicit in selling muskets that made these wars possible.

The Musket Wars were fought with hallucinatory intensity.  Deaths are estimated between 20,000 to 50,000.   For comparison, the New Zealand Wars saw about 2,300 people killed, and New Zealand lost 16,000 killed in World War One.  It seems crass and unfeeling to compare body counts as if to weigh evils against each other.  For those with pacifist beliefs, violence is always wrong, except in extreme circumstances.  In our only Just War, around 12,000 New Zealanders were killed in World War Two – something had to be done about Hitler.

Musket War devastation and civil disorder made Māori and European observers aware of the need for the rule of law in New Zealand.  Māori actively sought Crown intervention, initially from the New South Wales (NSW) colonial administration.

In 1830 Captain Stewart allowed his ship The Elizabeth to be used by Ngāti Toa to attack Ngāi Tahu, many of whom were killed and eaten. The NSW Governor sought to bring Stewart to justice, however this failed due to lack of jurisdiction in New Zealand.  In 1830 Sydney officials seized the Hokianga-built ship Sir George Murray for sailing without the flag or register required under British navigation laws.  Without New Zealand acquiring colonial status, trade with NSW was imperilled.

In 1831, Ngāpuhi wrote to seek the Crown’s protection from external threats. While Ngāpuhi dominated the early Musket Wars, after 1825 it lost dominance and from the mid-1830s most iwi had muskets and an uneasy balance of power had emerged.  It dawned on warring iwi that the harm inflicted on others would surely invite utu.  This influenced some northern chiefs assenting in 1935 to He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene: the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand. 

James Busby who had arrived in 1833 as British Resident in New Zealand drafted the Declaration, though he had no authority to do so.  The Declaration asserted that sovereign powers were vested in hereditary chiefs.  These chiefs entreated King William IV to “continue to be the parent of their infant State, and that he will become its Protector from all attempts upon its independence.”

In the late 1830s Ngāi Tahu appealed to the NSW Governor to intervene to protect their land rights against Te Rauparaha.  While the Governor had no jurisdiction, British authorities knew they had to intervene to end the lawlessness.  In 1839 William Hobson as Consul was empowered to negotiate with chiefs to seek Crown sovereignty over New Zealand.

The subsequent Treaty/Te Tiriti was an international treaty of cession and was accepted as such by major world powers of the time.  As an international agreement the Treaty was not part of domestic law, however it legitimised creation of a government in New Zealand that could make and enforce laws. 

The Treaty/Te Tiriti is New Zealand’s founding document as a colony of Britain and, together with the 1852 Constitution Act, is the starting but not the end point for New Zealand’s constitutional evolution.  The Constitution Act 1986 marked the stage where Parliament became sovereign and the Crown was reduced to a symbolic and procedural role.

The Treaty/Te Tiriti unequivocally vests sovereignty, that is the power to make laws and to govern, in the Crown, which now means in the democratically-elected Parliament.  It protects property rights over tangible properties owned by individuals and families as well as chiefs.  The Treaty/Te Tiriti has nothing to say about intangible things such as language and culture.  It creates equal rights for Māori as British subjects.

There are differences between the English and Māori Treaty versions, however the content had to be broadly agreed by both parties or the Treaty would be a nullity.

In the English language version the Treaty’s first article asks Māori chiefs to “cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess…”

The language is unequivocal and leaves no scope to erode the Crown’s power to make and enforce laws and fulfil its other constitutional functions. 

The second Treaty article reads: “Her Majesty The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the Proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon…”

Article Two specifically guarantees the rights of families and individuals as well as chiefs and tribes.  Hobson and other British officials were aware that the Scottish clan lairds had used their chiefly powers to dispossess the poor.  The Sutherland clearances peaked over 1814 -1820, and clearances to replace people with sheep were permitted right up to 1855.  The Treaty created rights for individuals and families that moderated chiefly powers.  In a similar spirit, the New Zealand government in the 1890s broke up the big settler land estates to facilitate smaller scale family farm developments.  It failed to take the opportunity to pathway a lot more Māori families into private farm ownership.

By the late 1830s wealthy people in Sydney were speculating on land in New Zealand.  Governor Gipps knew this, and it likely influenced the Article Two Crown pre-emption clause. 

“Exclusive” in Article Two reflects the excludable nature of the properties referred to. “Undisturbed possession” implies non-interference, and assumes Māori agency in making best use of their property. 

Article Three of the English version of the Treaty reads:

“In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.”

Article Three’s “royal protection” refers to domestic laws against crime.  It is also a British Empire defence guarantee – a century later New Zealand was at war with Germany and Japan.  Māori land at Raglan (Whāingaroa) was commandeered for an airfield in World War Two.  Metaphorically, the Crown used its Treaty Article One sovereign rights to deliver on its Treaty Article Three “royal protection” obligations by overriding Article Two property rights.  The problem came post-War when the land, part of which was used for a golf course, was not restored to Māori. After Eva Rickard led an occupation in 1978 the land was returned.

In 1840 Māori were subjects of the Crown, not partners with it.  However, our democracy has evolved so that now voters appoint, reappoint or dismiss their Parliamentary representatives every three years.  In a sense Parliament is therefore subordinate or subject to voters. 

Māori are now partners with the Crown, however so too are other New Zealand interest groups that partner with the Crown for agreed purposes.  The Treaty does not create superior rights for Māori over other New Zealanders.  Only the Article Two pre-emption clause discriminates against Māori, by effectively depressing land sale values.  This clause was justified in the 1840 context to, for example, prevent Māori being cheated in land sales.  The clause is now redundant.

Most Māori signatories acceded to the Māori language version Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Te Tiriti translations into English can be politicised, however Apirana Ngata’s mana gives confidence in the translation he uses in his 1922 explanation of the Treaty (Ngata, 1922). This translation reads:

Article 1:

“The Chiefs assembled including Chiefs not present at the assembly hereby cede absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the Government [“kawanatanga” ] of all of their lands.”

Article 2:

“The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes and to all the people of New Zealand the full possession [“tino rangatiratanga”] of their lands, their homes and all their possessions [“taonga”], but the chiefs assembled and all other chiefs yield to the Queen the right to alienate such lands which the owners desire to dispose of at a price agreed upon between the owners and person or persons appointed by the Queen to purchase on her behalf.”

Article 3:

“In consideration thereof, Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her Royal Protection, and imparts to them all the rights and privileges of British subjects”.

Debate centres on whether “kawanatanga” weakens Crown sovereignty, and the meanings of “tino rangatiratanga” and of “taonga”. 

Over 700 Māori had visited Port Jackson (Sydney) before 1840 and observed what Crown kawanatanga (governorship) meant.  They found that the Crown’s kawanatanga in NSW was absolute, indivisible, consequential, and included power over life and death. 

From the redoubtable Governor William Bligh of “mutiny on the Bounty” fame through to Richard Bourke and George Gipps in the 1830s, Māori observed kawanatanga in practice in NSW.  For example, Governor Gipps hung seven white Australians found guilty of murdering unarmed aborigines in the Mayall massacre in 1838.  Gipps didn’t ask Queen Victoria for permission to execute white British subjects who had murdered indigenous people as her powers were instantiated in him.

In the Te Tiriti text, Māori were guaranteed “tino rangatiratanga” or chieftainship  over their lands, villages, and other properties.  As Ngata wrote: “There was without doubt Māori chieftainship, but it was limited in its scope to its sub-tribe, and even to only a family group. The Māori did not have authority or a government which could make laws to govern the whole of the Māori Race” (Ngata, 1922). 

Dame Tariana Turia confirmed this tino rangatiratanga interpretation in 2002 when she stated that “we are advocating, when we raise the issue of tino rangatiratanga – the exercising of whanau and hapu mana” (Turia 2002). 

Whilst tino rangatiratanga does not challenge Crown sovereignty or kawanatanga and the making of laws, it can imply economic self-determination at the individual, family and hapu level.  That is, Māori can be economically self-reliant, have choices in life, and the confidence, pride and wellbeing that comes from this without challenging the Crown or the Parliamentary sovereignty that has evolved from it.

Such economic self-determination and mana motuhake is achievable without constitutional change.  It is not achievable if constitutional change, future Treaty settlements or Māori-Crown partnerships strengthen tribal elitists at the expense of Māori people as a whole.

The people’s elected representatives through their policy heft, law making powers and executive institutions should support Māori (equably with other New Zealanders) to achieve economic self-determination rather than inventing “principles” that are not in the Treaty/Te Tiriti.

Law is neither self-interpreting nor self-enforcing and depends on social consent and support.  For example, unlike the English language version, Te Tiriti does not specifically mention fisheries.  If Te Tiriti is accepted as authoritative this may raise issues relating to fisheries rights. However, Māori fisheries rights are accepted by New Zealanders, and this settles the matter. 

Likewise, Māori blockades to prevent coronavirus spreading to Northland reflected historical memory of the devastation caused by the1918 flu epidemic that killed 9000 New Zealanders, including 2500 Māori. These blockades were legally marginal, however they supported the Prime Minister’s leadership in rallying the community against coronavirus, and they reminded us that the law is there for the protection of the people. 

“Taonga” in 1840 referred to objects and real property such as whare, tools, personal effects and land, not intangible things.  Hongi Hika defined taonga as “property procured by the spear”.  The 1820 Māori dictionary defined taonga as “property”.  So too did the 1844 William Williams dictionary.  This is significant because many Waitangi Tribunal claims assert that taonga includes, for example, language, culture, knowledge, water, and many other “things” that were not considered taonga in 1840.

A tangible taonga is a rival, excludable good that can be protected through a property right and is tradeable. Intangible taonga such as language, culture or knowledge are non-rival and non-excludable goods.  That is, your Te Reo fluency takes nothing away from someone else’s Te Reo use, and might enhance it.  Knowledge may be hard to create but the marginal costs of disseminating it may be extremely low or nil.

From 1840 the Crown was slow in asserting its mandated authority. Before the Treaty was signed Christianity, settler influencer, changing Māori mindsets and economic forces had signalled the end for cannibalism and slavery.  However, Crown inaction meant slavery persisted in the Chatham Islands into the 1860s.

Whilst Musket War conflict ended in the early 1840s, land right conflicts involving Māori, settlers and the Crown soon began.  In the Wairau incident in 1843, Ngāti Toa warriors killed 26 people, mainly Pakeha.  The Crown decided not to take action against Te Rauparaha since he appeared to be within his legal rights, though his rights enforcement seemed rather extreme. 

Te Rauparaha, responsible for killing so many Māori and Pakeha, died of natural causes as a free man, has a famous haka attributed to him, and an arena and aquatic centre named after him.  Let history judge!

The New Zealand Wars began in 1860 in Taranaki and continued until the conflict with Te Kooti ended in 1872.  Since 1872 New Zealand has had a period of civil peace unusual in the democratic world and never observed at all in any tribalistic or authoritarian society.

However, the New Zealand Wars, how the economy has developed and what skills it has rewarded are associated with injustices and inequalities to be addressed. The Waitangi Tribunal has done some good work in restitution for Crown injustices, especially from the 19th century.  However, land-based Treaty settlements do not address today’s socio-economic challenges, partly because the sources of wealth now are radically different to what they were in 1840. 

Treaty claimants, politicians, judicial activists and the Waitangi Tribunal itself have for decades gone beyond the Treaty/Titiriti texts and made up principles, interpretations and historical narratives that support specific Treaty claims.  Some eminent historians have criticised some Tribunal claim reports and historical analyses as flawed, factually unreliable or fabricated.

The Tribunal processes and associated negotiations have expended political and public sector energies, cost a lot financially, and been divisive.  Many claims submitted to the Tribunal would best be addressed through mainstream policy processes and public sector responses. 

The Tribunal is not now a dispassionate judicial body.  It functions more in an advocacy mode.  It is not required to undertake intervention logic and social cost benefit analysis on its recommendations, nor to consider where the costs sit or what unintended consequences might need to be managed.  Its processes invite overstatement of preferences and lobbying which may benefit those at the table while others bear the cost.

The Tribunal and government processes have also favoured iwi over hapu, families and individuals.  Making iwi the legal owners of Treaty settlements conflicts with the English language Article Two text protecting Māori family and individual rights and with the “all the people” reference in Te Tiriti Article Two. 

The result is that issues that matter for Māori such as education, employment, incomes, housing, net worth, and health and justice are not addressed effectively, and scarce analytical resources are dissipated, often on side issues. 

An egregious example is the Wai 262 claim, submitted in 1991 and extended multiple times over the last thirty years.  It is a sweeping claim over flora and fauna, including genetics, intellectual property rights past, present and future, and the right to protect, enhance and transmit the cultural, medicinal and spiritual knowledge and concepts found in the life cycles of indigenous flora and fauna.  It includes a “right” to environmental well-being dependent upon the nurturing and wise use of indigenous flora and fauna.  It blames the Crown for “failing to preserve kumara varieties brought to Aotearoa by Kupe, thereby rendering them extinct in this country”. 

Wai 262 is self-satirising.  It is known in Wellington circles as the “Jarndyce versus Jarndyce” claim after the court case in Bleak House that financed generations of lawyers long after the parties to the case had died of old age and everyone else had forgotten what the case was about in the first place. 

The claim is outside the Treaty/Te Tiriti’s scope and the Tribunal should not have heard it.  Instead, the issues it raised should have been addressed as policy and operational matters.  This would have delivered more for Māori and other New Zealanders at lower cost, faster, and with fewer unintended consequences such as delays in updating New Zealand’s intellectual property laws.

Māori disadvantage can be a business opportunity for tribal elitists, lawyers, some academics and public servants and religious entrepreneurs. Some elitists narrate an idealised atavistic past to other Māori, while themselves enjoying modernism’s comforts.  Cloaked in “social justice” language, such narratives are driven by self-interest, not the interests of Māori individuals and whanau, let alone other New Zealanders.

However, good things have come from some iwi with visionary leadership and the wisdom to configure their governance and commercial structures to run on modernist not kinship lines.  Some valuable initiatives have emerged, such as Ngai Tahu’s Whai Rawa savings scheme. 

New Zealanders are concerned at the socio-economic gaps between Māori and other citizens.  However, the Tribunal is the wrong body to address these gaps.  By strengthening the tribal elites it may have caused new inequalities.  By encouraging a victim mentality it may have eroded the psychology needed for Māori to do better. 

Race-based approaches have momentum in government, the bureaucracy, the education system and in much of Māoridom.  The challenge for those supporting a more racially-divided New Zealand will be explaining how it can benefit all New Zealanders. 

The challenges for the open society, democratic humanists are to articulate how the socio-economic gaps between Māori and other New Zealanders can be closed, and to understand how Māori culture can play a bigger part in the nation’s life.

Closing the gaps should focus on all New Zealanders from low socio-economic backgrounds rather than on race.  Effective policies to reduce poverty and lift socio-economic prospects will benefit Māori disproportionately.  Policies can build from  mainstream interventions and services that work, and new initiatives can be developed. 

However, closing the socio-economic gaps does not overcome Māori cultural loss and social fragmentation.  As well as poverty’s stress burden Māori have also borne the psychic burdens of prejudice, slights, “jokes”, disrespectful pronunciation, indifference to their unique knowledge and world view, and instrumentalist tokenism. 

The challenge therefore goes beyond socio-economic equity to include language and culture. 

Tikanga can play a more active role in society without being part of statute or common law.  Waiting politely in queues is English tikanga imported into New Zealand.  It is “enforced” as a social norm, not through law.  Likewise, rahui as resource management tikanga is increasingly supported in the community without the need for statutory or common law underpinning.

Tikanga evolved to serve pre-European Māori tribal needs.  Over time some tikanga has become maladaptive and is dispensed with.  However, much tikanga is integral to the Te Ao Māori world and can be adopted more widely.  Tikanga can strengthen kinship and other relationships between people, and will be more influential in for example Oranga Tamariki. Tikanga could also make a big difference in the justice and corrections systems.

Māori make up around half the prison population, and one reason for this is a lack of connections that support positive identity, narratives and social norms.  Photo sequences from babyhood to old age typically track a well-balanced person’s life.  A break when someone disappears from the photographic record often reflects a disrupted life and a loss of connections.

The justice system isolates offenders from their connections.  Tikanga could place more emphasis on mana restoration for victims and restorative justice for offenders that sustains their connections and softens the impact of offender sentencing on dependent whanau.  Victoria University academics and students are doing some valuable thinking on these issues – Gage (2020) is an example.

In the 19th centuryreligious movements emerged to overcome social fragmentation and to create new connections and sources of meaning for Māori.  These movements included mainstream Christianity, Pai Mārire, Ringatu and in the 1920s, Ratana.  In our times, tikanga can help restore connections that have been lost.

We should also consider how new rehabilitative connections and sources of meaning can be formed.  These may be cultural, religious or humanist, they may lead to a marae, church, mosque, to the international “Republic of Science” or “Republic of Letters” – that is to whatever philosophies and identities that can connect people with others and help them make something positive out of their lives.

The reaction to the draft history curriculum and to the He Puapua plan has challenged the zeitgeist that all Māori problems stem from colonialization and the solution lies in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in retribalisation.  No tribalized society has ever succeeded socio-economically in the modern world.  If New Zealand continues down a path that strengthens tribalism and amplifies birth-ascribed racial differences between people there will be few winners and many more losers. 

However, those who support an equal rights-based democracy need to demonstrate how the socio-economic gaps between Māori and other New Zealanders can be closed.  They must also help revitalisation of Māori culture and tikanga, its weaving into society’s fabric, and its integration into our institutions.  Without this being achieved we are likely to spend the next 181 years arguing about what the Treaty/Tiriti meant, and the Wai 262 claim will still be offering sustenance to future generations of lawyers and will remain unresolved.


Crosby, R. 2020: The Forgotten Wars.  Why the Musket Wars matter today. Oratia Books,  Auckland.

Gage, K. 2020: Māori under-representation in the legal profession.  Employment Law Bulletin September 2020.

Ngata, Apirana 1922: The Treaty of Waitangi, an explanation; Te Tiriti o Waitangi, he whakamarama. NZETC: New Zealand Electronic Text Collection.

Turia, Tariana 2002: Trauma and Colonisation.  Speech to the 9th annual Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Waipapa Marae, Auckland University 9 March 2002.

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Time for a full employment strategy linked to large-scale housing development – let’s follow Joe Biden’s lead

New Zealand’s housing shortages reflect regulatory barriers to making land available, and lack of supporting infrastructure for new housing.  Despite high housing demand, supply is inelastic.  As a result, high demand inflates fixed housing stock prices without inducing more supply. 

During 2020 the median New Zealand house price grew by 19.3%, up from growth of 12.3% in 2019.  Lower mortgage interest rates have increased bidding competition and raised house prices even further.  As prices surge buyers need to borrow more.  This amplifies household indebtedness, much of it mediated through foreign-owned banks. As at June 2020 housing mortgage debt was $284B compared to 2020 GDP of $194B.  This debt is of macroeconomic significance.

Covid-19 recovery has seen booming engagement in trades training in areas such as construction.  This coincides with housing shortages that are devastating for many low income and younger people, and which are accelerating child poverty.  These shortages inflate rents as well as housing prices.  $1.7B was allocated to the Accommodation Supplement in 2019 and almost $2.4B in 2020.  A further $2B was allocated to Vote: Housing in 2020 for housing programmes and services. 

New Zealand’s housing crisis creates an opportunity to anchor a full employment strategy on housing and associated infrastructure development, as well as on other job-rich initiatives. To pursue such a strategy we need to understand how macroeconomic policies bear on employment, and how past policy settings are maladaptive to today’s realities.

The economic reforms from 1984 to the early 1990s aimed at macroeconomic stability and microeconomic flexibility.  Reserve Bank inflation targeting and fiscal prudence gave stability, while a floating exchange rate and industry and labour market deregulation delivered flexibility. 

Employment is a “good” in society, that is it determines per capita incomes, living standards and wider wellbeing.  However, macroeconomics has treated employment as a “good” conditional on a balance between employment and inflation. 

The Phillips curve is an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation.  The Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) is “the natural rate of unemployment”.  “The NAIRU” and “natural rate” language implies that low inflation is more important than full employment.  Unemployment is used instrumentally for inflation control, and this masks its devastating social impacts.

The international evidence now is that the Phillips curve and NAIRU are no longer meaningful.  High employment and low inflation co-exist in advanced developed economies.

 “Full employment” means everyone who wants a job has one, minus frictional unemployment as people move between jobs, study, homemaker roles and so forth. 

The official unemployment rate measures those ready to work and actively seeking it. However, it excludes many young people not in education, employment or training, and people facing such barriers to employment as disabilities, lack of childcare or of transport.  Furthermore, many unemployed become discouraged in their job search and give up trying, meaning they are not recorded as unemployed.  Welfare to work settings may need to change to allow such people to join the workforce. 

Full employment without excessive inflation is achievable when output can expand, that is the output gap can be closed without increased inflation.  The output gap is a measure of an economy’s actual output compared to what it could produce.

Inflation occurs when the monetary base expands but output does not.  This can be due to skill shortages, restrictive workplace practices, lack of enabling infrastructure, resources diverted into war (as with the stagflation during the Vietnam War), and regulatory barriers to supply, for example restrictions on land available for housing.

There is overwhelming evidence that the poorest, most marginalised people benefit most from a high employment economy.  High unemployment leads to rising inequality, high employment is linked to equitable wage growth, and low paid workers benefit most from full employment.  For these reasons, in America full employment policies and Federal job guarantees have over the years been supported by such leaders as Martin Luther King, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and by black American economists such as Sadie Alexander, Darrick Hamilton and Sandy Darity. 

A sea change has occurred in American economic thinking favouring more government intervention.  It has been spurred by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other Democrat politicians, by hard reality, and by leading economic thinkers such as Paul Krugman. 

Cecilia Rouse chairs Joe Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers and Jared Bernstein is a member.  Rouse’s work has focused on removing “supply side” barriers to full employment such as regulation and poor education.  Bernstein takes a “demand side” approach, and advocates full employment as a macroeconomic goal.

The argument is that full employment drives higher wages and this spurs productivity growth.  The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports evidence of wage-led productivity growth in American macroeconomic data.  Specifically, at the aggregate level a rise in the wage share of corporate-sector income is associated with a rise in average productivity growth in subsequent years.

A full employment productivity multiplier seems to exist.  In a slack labour market with surplus labour, productivity stagnates.  However, in a tight labour market businesses need to pay more for labour.  As its price rises they have incentives to train and to adopt more labour-augmenting technology that lifts workplace productivity.

Full employment is a key Biden administration policy goal.  It will be delivered through a suite of initiatives such as a $2 trillion infrastructure package.  This includes massive upgrading of electrical, digital, social as well as transport infrastructure.  The initiatives also address climate change, sustainable energy, electric vehicles, R&D, manufacturing technology, and advanced skills for the future.

These bold initiatives will in the short run be funded through government debt which in 2020 reached 100% of GDP – well over twice New Zealand’s. American taxes will rise, however in the long run Biden’s initiatives will pay for themselves.

A full employment strategy for New Zealand could combine monetary policy that favours job growth, and fiscal policy that invests in job-rich areas with high social returns.  Social returns include such psychosocial benefits from full employment as reduced stress, family stability, and giving people more and better choices in life.  Making housing development integral to a full employment strategy would see housing stocks increase, and this would lead to reduced expenditure on accommodation supplements and on emergency housing. 

Government must deliver an enhanced regulatory environment facilitative of new housing developments.  It also needs to be an active investor in housing and infrastructure development. Government-facilitated housing development must be of sufficient scale to make a difference in people’s lives.  This means some property values will fall, potentially triggering homeowner opposition to government’s actions. 

However, rising property values come with a downside for existing owners as well as for those aspiring to home ownership.  Many New Zealanders spend their working lives paying off their home, and then they sell out and buy a cheaper house, with the cash difference funding a comfortable retirement.  However, booming property prices even for modest properties in hitherto low-cost regions erode this option.

Furthermore, many homeowners feel obliged to assist their children or grandchildren into home ownership.  As such they feel the indirect downside of inflated housing prices.

New Zealanders may be overly besotted with home ownership as a wealth store rather than for the functionality it provides.  Some wealthy countries such as Germany have modest home ownership rates but high quality and secure rental accommodation. 

New government-funded housing developments do not have to focus specifically on social housing or entry-level housing for first homeowners. So long as the total housing stock grows in the right locations, the benefits cascade down through socio-economic levels.  That is, those buying new houses free up lower quality housing for those lower on the housing rung. 

Housing developments alone will not deliver full employment, however there are many other job-rich opportunities.  Climate change response requires heavy investment in sustainable, green energy systems, and much of this will be in rural and provincial areas. 

Markets undersupply some socio-economic goods that deliver benefits wider than what can be captured in market transactions.  These benefits may not be privately appropriable, or they may endure longer than private investment horizons.  Examples include amenity assets, ecological restoration, and “human infrastructure” projects such as playgrounds and urban gardens.

Making full employment New Zealand’s paramount economic goal could lift productivity and real incomes without excessive inflation, and help rebalance the economy in growth-enhancing ways.  In addition to regulatory change it would likely require higher debt-funded government expenditure in the short to medium term. 

New Zealand is well-placed to deliver this public expenditure.  Its net core Crown debt is forecast to be 46.9% of GDP by the end of the 2024-25 forecast period.  This compares with the average net debt of prosperous OECD economies sitting at around 80% of GDP.  Rising public debt in New Zealand would be offset by declining private mortgage debt and by dramatically reduced social welfare expenditure.

An invocatory call for a full employment policy at the core of a much more ambitious green climate change transition and socio-economic development strategy might sound naïve or even tipsy euphoric for a small island group with just five million people.  However, it looks eerily like a miniature version of what President Biden is embarking on with gusto, and history tells us to never bet against the United States.


Bernstein, J; Baker, D. 2003: The Benefits of Full Employment.  April 2003 EPI Book.

Bivens, J. 2019: Looking for evidence of wage-led productivity growth. EPI Macroeconomics Newsletter.

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Some thoughts about vaccinations, leadership, universal science and mana motuhake

Māori MPs are giving good leadership to their communities through the coronavirus challenges, however it is reported that some are reluctant to tell Māori they should get vaccinated.  This supposedly reflects longstanding distrust of the Crown.

Pushback against mask wearing and vaccinations in America reflects distrust of government, science and collective action, and has had tragic consequences.  No such large-scale opposition has occurred in New Zealand.  Māori during the 2020 lockdown period stepped up to assist with road checkpoints to stop coronavirus spreading to Northland.

Māori MPs are not “blood and soil” nativists privileging birth-ascribed race and traditional belief over proven science. In 1907 it was Māori MPs and medical and other leaders such as James Carroll, Apirana Ngata, Maui Pomare and Peter Buck who promoted the Tohunga Suppression Act. This banned tohunga from claiming supernatural healing powers or promoting “quackery”, and it cleared the way for widespread adoption of modern medicine.

There is no such thing as “indigenous science” or “western science”. There is closed society cultural or religious belief, and then there is open society science that transcends cultures and is based on critical reasoning, the search for understanding and for truth.

The stunning mRNA vaccine and other advances means that science’s mana continues to gain unstoppable traction in Māori thinking.  The university “Mirror on Society” and related initiatives that deliver special pathways for Māori into medicine have had a big impact.  Part of its intellectual roots lie in Kenneth Arrow’s classic 1963 paper that created the foundation for health economics.  Arrow’s paper tacitly valorised the importance of cultural flows of health-related understanding, flows that growing numbers of Māori doctors and other clinicians have facilitated. 

The concept of mana motuhake has framed the thinking of some key Māori leaders as they grapple with guiding their communities towards vaccination while acknowledging that it is legally an individual’s choice.

Mana motuhake upholds an individual’s autonomy, self-determination and freedom to choose rather than be subject to government edict.  It implies the subsidiarity principle, which is that decisions should be devolved to the most decentralised level competent to make the decision and where the effects lie.  This is typically at the individual level.

Universal science vaccinates mana motuhake from the risk it becomes closed, parochial or tribal, and it turns it into informed and socially responsible libertarianism. 

However, it does not imply individuals should be allowed to neglect or do harm to others.  Vaccination decisions have effects far beyond the individual – coronavirus is communicable, as are the viruses of the mind that lead to conspiracy theories.

The Māori MPs from Labour and the Māori Party, Shane Reti’s fine mind, and Māori doctors and clinicians are part of the open society which trusts in universal science.  In contrast, Hannah Tamaki represents a closed society mentality.  She is legally entitled to refuse the vaccine.  However, as both a political and a religious leader she is not entitled to behave in such a way as to undermine science and guide her sheep-like followers away from vaccination and into darker places.

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Rawiri Waititi has got it right again

Rawiri Waititi is right to support commercial trout farming, and he has economic and cultural history behind him.

In pre-European times freshwater fisheries were important Maori food sources.  A staple species was the upokororo (Prototroctes oxyrhynchus), which early settlers called grayling. They were abundant until around 1870, after which they rapidly declined, becoming extinct by the late 1940s.  Their decline was likely caused by a range of factors, including introduced trout impacting on their habitat.

European settlers escaped a British class system where recreational fishing and hunting were upper class privileges.  Settlers wanted these recreations available to “the common man”.  They used government law and regulation to support their aims.

A series of Animal Protection Acts from 1867 protected game animals and formally recognised acclimatisation societies established to introduce new species as long as they were “innoxious”.  The Salmon and Trout Act was passed in 1867 to “make provision for the preservation and propagation of salmon and trout in this colony”. 

In effect, the colonial administration legislatively mandated trout fisheries that inadvertently degraded Maori freshwater fisheries resources.  Over time the mandate for acclimatisation societies was carried over into the legislative powers granted to the Fish and Game Council under the Conservation Act.

There have been long-standing debates over fish farming, and in 1973 salmon but not trout farming was authorised.  While trout hatcheries to support the recreational trout industry have been in operation for over 130 years, New Zealand is now the only country in the world that specifically bans commercial trout farming. 

There is no scientific or commercial reason to continue banning trout farming.  There is much common interest between the recreational lobby and advocates for trout farming. The Fish and Game Council has been a tireless advocate for water quality and for protecting recreational fisheries for all New Zealanders. Maori have long been a strong voice for water quality and for the sustainability of our productive systems. 

Trout farming is widely practiced in many countries, including the US, Chile, Norway and Denmark.  Denmark has far less river systems and marine area than New Zealand and yet it has an industry worth around NZ$200M a year and employing about 800 people directly. It has been farming trout for over a hundred years.  Sea cage-based farms were developed in the 1950s, with land-based farms developed from the 1970s.

Due to environmental constraints, Denmark has recently capped the numbers of its sea cage-based trout farms and encouraged further development being limited to on-land farms.  These may well use closed land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS).  The RAS system effectively removes pollution and disease risks.

Trout farming produces a higher quality and more consistent product than the recreational catch, and so farming and recreational fisheries are complementary.  In Tasmania world class recreational fisheries co-exist with trout farming.  Farming is largely in sea cages. 

The stance Waititi takes is refreshing because it sees the Maori voice advocating economic initiatives that create new wealth for New Zealanders rather than litigating over existing assets in a zero sum game.  Trout farming could be a demonstrative expression of kaitiatanga which contributes to sustainability of New Zealand’s productive systems. 

Advocating trout farming as something that can benefit New Zealand’s wider economy is a small but meaningful demonstration that, as stated in its constitution, “the Maori Party is for all citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand”.  So all power to Rawiri Waititi on this issue, and all the best for a Maori Party as it focuses on the hard economic issues Maori and other New Zealanders face rather than being distracted by in-group versus out-group identity politics.

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