Te Tiriti, racialism, tribalism and democracy in New Zealand

No country is without its problems, and New Zealand’s colonial history saw conflict and injustice, land alienation and language loss.  However, European settlement brought the rule of law, and the end of slavery, cannibalism, and intertribal wars.  It brought technological advances and international trade.  It gave access to the scientific method and modern medicine.  It brought British institutions, and the English language which opened access to knowledge in almost every major field.

Compared to other countries New Zealand is a successful democracy with good living standards, social security, trustworthy institutions, and high social cohesion.

However, the newly emerging narrative is that New Zealand needs radical reform on race-based lines to give effect to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  These reforms are foreshadowed in the 2019 He Puapua document and are being rapidly implemented, notably in resource management, local government, education, science and health.

All radical reforms need a supporting narrative.  The reformists argue that the pre-European Māori world was based on whakapapa and on hapu and iwi mana whenua relationships.  While there was conflict, people generally lived in harmony with each other and with the natural environment.  Māori had their own mātauranga learning and “ways of knowing” systems.  Tikanga constituted a system akin to common law and social norms, and much of it is still relevant today.  Many good things in Māori culture were harmed by colonialism. 

Te Tiriti is a rights-based document.  The reformists argue that it gave the Crown only limited powers to govern Pakeha immigrants, and sovereignty was never ceded.  This argument sits uneasily with the expectation that Te Tiriti requires the Crown to actively deliver outcomes rather than simply uphold rights.  Active outcome delivery requires a strong government with powerful legislative and executive capabilities.

Rather than being a necessary step in New Zealand’s development as a Parliamentary democracy, reformists argue that Te Tiriti as written in 1840 was a de facto constitution.  It is also a living document to be interpreted in accord with changing times.

Te Tiriti, argue the reformists, guaranteed protection of culture, language, Māori knowledge and intellectual property, as well as of land and physical objects and possessions.  In fact, in 1840 ‘taonga’ meant real, physical property, not intangible or cultural “properties”.

The reformist narrative sees Te Tiriti as the basis of an equal partnership between Māori and Pakeha, or between Māori and a Crown largely made up of Pakeha.  This requires changes to our democratic system, to natural resource ownership, and to how core government services are delivered, for example through more “co-governance”.

Rather than being an historical document, Te Tiriti is a sacred doctrinal text with a spirit that “still speaks today”.  The spirit of this living document seeks atonement for past, present and future Tiriti breaches. 

Routinely, claims are made about putative Tiriti “obligations” that are not stated in the document and could not have been in the signatories’ minds.  Grievances are unbounded since the Waitangi Tribunal has minimal limits to the enquiries it can enter into.  This precludes closure and invites both ongoing litigation and “scope creep”. 

The Tribunal functions as much in an advocacy as in a dispassionate judicial mode.   It does not appear to undertake social cost benefit analysis, or to consider what unintended consequences might need to be managed.   Furthermore, tendentious Tribunal “findings” supported by weak evidence are often cited as authoritative and are drawn on for future claims.

The reformist narrative is too focused on Te Tiriti, (an international treaty) and it ignores the development of domestic government and institutions in New Zealand.  It falsely treats Te Tiriti as an equal partnership between Māori and the Crown.  In 1840 Māori could not be both Crown subjects and equal partners. 

What is meant by “the Crown?”  The term “Government” is associated with voters, politicians and Budgets that allocate taxpayer funds in a reasonably transparent way.  The “Crown” is a murkier term that obscures how Treaty settlements are funded – from taxes Māori and all other New Zealanders pay!

The reformists deny that Māori agreed to Crown governance of New Zealand.  They make racial identity a key issue and yet neither Te Tiriti nor the Treaty in English mentions race.  Furthermore, New Zealand ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1972 and its Bill of Rights Act also bans racial discrimination.  New Zealand cannot support a rules-based international order credibly while denying its international legal obligations under CERD.

Science rejects race as a basis for public policy.  However, race-related differences in susceptibility to some medical conditions have to be addressed.  While there may be no clinical logic, some people prefer to consult clinicians of the same race or ethnicity.  The supportive pathways for Māori and Pacific students to enter medical school at Otago and Auckland appear successful in ensuring that the medical profession’s makeup reflects better New Zealand’s multi-cultural society.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and democracy

The Treaty/Tiriti establishes Crown governance and the rule of law, protects property rights, and confers equal rights on all New Zealanders.  As an international agreement Te Tiriti had no force until it was reflected in domestic legislation.  This required the enactment of the NZ Constitution Act 1852 and the establishment of a Parliament.  Colonial institutions were set up based initially on British models.

The Treaty/Tiriti was the starting and not the end point for New Zealand’s constitutional development.  The1986 NZ Constitution Act confirmed the democratically-elected Parliament’s authority and made clear that the Crown has only a symbolic and procedural role.

Anne Salmond’s essay Time to Unteach ‘Race’ shows that Te Tiriti applies to all New Zealanders.  Te Tiriti is a blueprint for how people from different backgrounds can live together and respect each other.  Salmond’s earlier work  Iwi vs Kiwi: Beyond the Binary   gives deep insights into Te Tiriti as a relational, colour-blind, equal rights and inclusive document for all New Zealanders. 

In 1840 Māori society was formally hierarchal and yet inclusive in practice.  Birth order mattered, and the first-born of the most senior family in an iwi was the ariki or highest-ranked chief.  However, it was rangatira that signed Te Tiriti.  Rangatira were not top-down autocrats so much as “weavers” who drew together different views into a coherent hapu or iwi viewpoint. 

When we read Te Tiriti closely, we note that race is invisible.  We see that Te Tiriti is concerned with all New Zealanders, and that it is respectful, inclusive and equitable in spirit.  For example, in Tiriti Article Two Queen Victoria promises ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ of their properties not just to the rangatira and hapū, but to ‘nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani’, that is ‘all the inhabitants of New Zealand.’  To honour Te Tiriti means to empower rather than disenfranchise ordinary New Zealanders.

In contrast, co-governance arrangements entered into between tribal leaders and the Crown that exclude most other Māori and non-Māori effectively repudiate Te Tiriti.

Te Tiriti was an international treaty that led to the development of New Zealand’s domestic system of government.  However, when this international treaty was repurposed to deal with domestic grievances the process began of classifying people into bureaucratically convenient categories – race.

The 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act defined ‘Māori’ as ‘a person of the Māori race of New Zealand’.  That is, identity became racial.  While the 1975 Act addressed historical grievances, the 1985 Amendment Act recognised tribal groups as the beneficiaries from Treaty settlements.  This cut across Te Tiriti’s inclusiveness of individuals and hapu and shifted power from them to tribal structures which otherwise may have withered away and been replaced by more modern institutional forms.  As the power and money shifted, tribal leaders emerged with significant economic and political influence.

Section 9 of the State-owned Enterprises Act 1986 included the clause “Nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”.  However, Parliament did not define the principles and the Court of Appeal addressed them in its 1987 ‘Lands’ judgement.’

The 1987 Court of Appeal judges drew on partnership law principles to hold that the Crown and Māori needed to act towards each other with good faith, fairly, reasonably and honourably when dealing with Treaty claims.  Constitutional partnership or co-governance never featured in the case since the Treaty/Tiriti clearly vests governance in the Crown. 

However, the Court characterized the Treaty as a relationship between “iwi” and “the Crown”.  In effect, it both racialized and tribalized Te Tiriti.  Subsequently, the Tribunal and government processes have favoured iwi over hapu, families and individuals.   Making iwi the legal owners of Treaty settlements conflicts with Te Tiriti text protecting Māori hapu and individual rights for “all the people of New Zealand.” 

The partnership argument, though fallacious, became a powerful rhetoric to support such claims as Te Tiriti justifying separate Māori local government wards, separate Māori educational and health institutions, and co-governed environmental and resource management.

The 1987 ‘Lands’ judgment uses race-based language rather than indigenous, non-racial framings such as whakapapa.  The rangatira and Crown signatories to Te Tiriti in 1840 sought to bring people together.  The 1987 judgement drew people apart into distinct “races”.  It falsely validated race as a meaningful concept.  It ignored the complexity of interwoven whakapapa arising from intermarriage.  

Whakapapa weaves different descent lines together so people understand their background and how they connect with others.  The differences when woven together are generative and not divisive and the whole becomes stronger than its component parts.  In contrast, separating people from each other along racial lines is always divisive and makes the whole weaker.  Māori whose stated identity excludes their non-Māori whakapapa are breaching tikanga and violating Te Tiriti. 

Democracy means ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’.  It means every vote is equal, that free and fair elections are held, and that those elected are accountable to voters.  It means that taxpayers and ratepayers are entitled to have their interests represented – “no taxation without representation.” 

A democracy implies diversity in society, and standard rights and obligations at the citizenship level.  Switzerland and Singapore are examples of successful countries that are multi-cultural and multi-lingual and have a unified sense of nationhood and what citizenship means.

Democracy is the foundation for New Zealand’s government and state system.  It is widely supported rhetorically, in social conventions and norms, and in the way communities and NGOs operate.  The governing Labour Party Constitution states that “all political authority comes from the people by democratic means including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot.”  The principle of equal voting rights is enshrined in the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. 

Democracy requires free speech and critical media scrutiny in an open society.  However, the Public Interest Journalism Fund criteria effectively restricts funding to media outlets that promote reformist views on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Even such distinguished people as Don Brash, Elizabeth Rata and Michael Bassett are effectively “cancelled” by a mainstream media that has been effectively “bought” by the government.  This means alternative views are given little if any space in the mainstream media.

Māori are well represented in Parliament.  Local government legislation will give Māori higher representation than other New Zealanders in the local government sector. 

Local government reform

Anthony Willy has sardonically critiqued race-based approaches in New Zealand local government.

Local Government New Zealand recently opined that for community boards, local boards and such like “the default membership should be such that 50% are elected by residents on the Māori roll and 50% by residents on the general roll”.  Around half of those eligible to vote on the Māori roll (about 16% of the population) do so, with nearly as many opting to be on the general electoral roll.  This means around 8% of the population could have 50% of the membership of community and local boards and such like.

The current Government has changed the law to ban referenda on whether separate racially-based Māori wards should be established.  Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is now proposing moves to make it mandatory for councils to consider introducing Māori wards.  This forces local representatives to publicly discuss and decide on whether to introduce the wards, making them effectively the default option.  This is clever politics since those who actively oppose the wards can be dismissed as “racists”.

The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill proposed to give Māori electors representation at a rate roughly twice their numbers in the Rotorua district.  Based on officials’ legal advice, the Attorney General David Parker concluded that this detracted from the key constitutional principle of equal representation in a democracy and the Bill did not proceed.

However, subsequently the government has weakened its compliance with the Bill of Rights, and this has made possible initiatives such as the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu) Act.  This creates permanent Ngāi Tahu representation on Environment Canterbury (ECAN).  According to its advocates this is part of “the evolution of our treaty partnership and representation of Māori, of iwi at the local government level”.  Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene argued that​ Ngāi Tahu were entitled to the seats “under the promise of the Treaty”.

This legislation ends voting equality for electing representatives to the Canterbury Regional Council.   Ngāi Tahu members living in Canterbury region will be represented twice – both by the person they vote for, and the two more representatives the iwi appoints.  Furthermore, the Ngāi Tahu representatives are not accountable to the electorate. 

Water Services Entities Bill

The Water Services Entities Bill (the “Three Waters reforms”) has set a new low for government processes, public sector integrity, and absence of media scrutiny.  Kaipara mayor Dr Jason Smith has stated that: “Having worked in the engine room for the Three Waters reforms, it’s clear to me they are a Trojan Horse for ending democratic rights.”

The Auditor-General’s submission on the Bill indicated serious concerns about accountability, governance and independent assurance.  A Franks Ogilvie legal opinion noted that the government’s claims of retention of local water asset ownership were “false, misleading and deceptive” as “councils are expressly denied the rights of possession, control, derivation of benefits, and disposition that are the defining attributes of ownership”.   Gary Judd QC reviewed the legal opinion and said that: “When all the lying statements are put together…the government’s effrontery is breath-taking.”  Strong words from a sober-minded QC!

Under the Water Services Entities Bill, co-governance exists at a strategic level with iwi having 50% of the voting power.  Below this level iwi have dominant control.  This is through Te Mana o te Wai statements that can be issued at will by iwi or hapu for any specific body of water within “their” territory.  Iwi and hapu can make statements as often as they like, with their latest statement annulling the previous one.  The Water Services Entities are obliged to give effect to these statements.  The around 84 per cent of the population who are non-Māori will have no meaningful input into these statements.  Māori who lack iwi-specific mana whenua rights may also be excluded.  The result will be that New Zealand’s freshwater resources will be controlled by a few tribal leaders whose powers are birth-ascribed not meritocratic and who voters cannot elect or hold accountable.  

Iwi are very aware that freshwater is the lifeblood of the economy and society and are likely to move fast to exploit their new powers.  Ngāi Tahu has already made an application to the High Court for control of all fresh water within its tribal boundary.

Tipa Mahuta, Nanaia’s sister has been appointed to chair the Māori Advisory Group of Taumata Arowai, the new water regulator which will directly regulate the water services entities.  Though presumably a competent appointment this does raise a perceived risk of nepotism given the kinship structure of tribal societies.  However, it can be argued that non-Māori society is infused with networks of privilege, partiality, and malfeasance. 

The Water Services Entities boards will need “collectively to have knowledge of, and experience and expertise in relation to… mana whenua, mātauranga, tikanga, and te ao Māori”.  Since the zeitgeist holds that only Māori understand mātauranga and tikanga it can be assumed Māori will dominate the boards.

Three Waters transfers billions of dollars in assets that generations of taxpayers and ratepayers have paid for to iwi control.  New Zealand’s supine business press has failed to explore the wider implications of this.  Such failure is linked to government influence over the media through the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

The Three Waters reforms give unelected Māori tribes control of New Zealand’s freshwater resources.  In some cases, this control will be vested in tribes which have no connection with the districts requiring the freshwater services.  For example, due to historical tribal enmities involving Ngāi Tahu, Marlborough freshwater assets will be allocated to East Coast tribes!

Shift from universal science to cultural belief systems and ways of knowing

Cultural knowledge (or rather belief) is developed within a group and helps define it.  A group’s beliefs strengthen its identity since those beliefs are not shared by others. They are therefore closed society belief systems and “ways of knowing” that should not be challenged by outsiders. 

In contrast open society knowledge is always being challenged through internationally agreed methodologies that are shared across cultures and therefore universally understood.  Universal science research must always aim to extend knowledge, and this means discrediting false beliefs.

In both the education and science sectors universal science, often termed “western science”, is challenged by more subjective belief systems such as mātauranga Māori.  There is advocacy for mātauranga Māori and Māori “ways of knowing” being given equal standing with universal science. 

Cultural beliefs are often very valuable even if they are not scientifically validated.  For example, belief in free speech has nothing to do with science however it is the difference between North and South Korea and Russia and Ukraine. 

Mātauranga Māori experts such as Mason Durie and Georgina Stewart argue correctly that mātauranga Māori and universal science are different though complementary.  Their thinking is that of an open not a closed society. 

However, the reformist narrative takes a more closed approach to traditional knowledge systems and “ways of knowing”.  This is influencing the education and science systems and the emergent Māori “data sovereignty” movement. 

Proposals in a recent government Green Paper for a Treaty of Waitangi-led science and research system raise the possibility of major funding shifts away from universal science towards mātauranga Māori, without making clear what value will be created.

The 2021 Te Pūtahitangi advocacy document states that “Article 3 of Te Tiriti means Māori must have access to resources to support levelling across the science system.”  It effectively argues for mātauranga Māori research, knowledge and “ways of knowing” to be funded at the same levels as the rest of New Zealand’s science, plus additional funding to compensate for alleged under-funding in the past that supposedly breached Te Tiriti Article 3.  There is no basis in Te Tiriti for such claims.

Māori data sovereignty advocates claim that Māori data should support “tribal sovereignty and the realization of Māori and iwi aspirations” and be Māori-controlled.  Key concerns are protection of data from perceived misuse by “other parties”. 

The argument is also that knowledge from tupuna is sacred or tapu.  The Te Pūtahitangi document highlights fear that knowledge shared risks losing “sacredness” and “fertility.”  “Knowledge that is profane has lost its life, its tapu.”  It states that mātauranga must always retain the mauri of tangata whenua, and indeed of the whenua itself. 

Much data should be protected for privacy or other reasons.  However, severely restricting access to data and the knowledge it feeds into is self-defeating.  The single most important driver of productivity growth is the rapid uptake and application of new knowledge where the marginal costs to each new user of that knowledge are sharply diminishing.  This is especially beneficial when there is non-rivalry and low appropriability.  That is, my “consumption” of new knowledge does not reduce your use of it, and the nature of the knowledge means it is difficult to privatise it so that others can be excluded permanently from it.

Underlying concerns about “loss” of data or knowledge may reflect fear of losing control and being powerless.  However, for young Māori the best way to be empowered may be to become scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs and thrive through leveraging open data.  That’s where the real power lies, not through rear-guard actions trying to hoard, privatise or suppress data!

Decolonisation, retribalisation and tikanga

The reformist narrative advocates “decolonisation”, retribalisation and the revival of tikanga.  However, the institutions and cultural behaviours that emerge in a tribal environment are unlikely to be suited to the modern world.  What colonial institutions do we get rid of and what do we replace them with?  Can we imagine a Māori version of the Reserve Bank or the Commerce Commission?  Is it intended to replace the progressive tax system with muru?

Retribalisation makes iwi (rather than hapu, whanau or individuals) the fundamental Māori organizational unit for cultural, political and collective ownership purposes.  Iwi effectively become the Crown’s partner and co-governor.  This is reflected in the Water Services Entities (“Three Waters reforms”) and in co-governance of hitherto public lands such as Taranaki Maunga and the Ureweras. 

The Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu) Act is tribally-based.  He Puapua expectations are that by 2040 “the nation will know and appreciate iwi tribal boundaries.”  Such a return to place-based tribalism does not reflect demographic or sociological reality, nor is it predictive of how the He Puapua authors will themselves behave come 2040…

Retribalization that confers specific mana whenua rights on particular iwi is fraught with technical difficulties.  The Musket Wars in the decades leading up to the Waitangi Treaty severely disrupted iwi mana whenua relationships.  Many Māori trace their ancestry to multiple iwi.  What percentage of bloodline ancestry “earns” mana whenua rights?  Do iwi members claiming a mana whenua right need to physically live within the rohe?  How will disputes between iwi over mana whenua rights be resolved?

Tikanga evolved to serve pre-European Māori needs.   Much was dispensed with through European influence, however some tikanga is integral to Te Ao Māori and can be adopted more widely.   Some pre-European tikanga such as the role of whakapapa and the importance of acknowledging everyone’s mana may see widespread revival.  Tikanga can strengthen relationships between people.  It may make a difference in the justice and corrections systems; however the evidence is still patchy and some successes that might occur may not always be scaleable.

Environmental issues and co-governance

Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders have had similar attitudes to environmental protection at comparable economic development stages.  The first New Zealanders were hunter-gatherers who slaughtered flightless bird species to survive.  Large forest areas were burnt to create space for horticulture and only later did a sustainability ethos emerge.  European settlers mirrored this transition from exploitation to sustainable resource management.

In recent times Māori business interests have resisted a marine sanctuary around the Kermadec islands and have challenged proposals to reduce exotic (pine) forest retentions in the ETS.  Their arguments are commercially logical; however they don’t suggest that iwi are likely to be better environmental stewards than for example DoC.  It is noted that the He Puapua document envisages iwi charging levies on water, petroleum and minerals from national parks, that is putting financial interests ahead of environmental protection.

Furthermore, some iwi will be less committed to universal science and more dependent on traditional belief systems such as mātauranga Māori in environmental management.

In December 2021 DoC received a report from its independent Options Development Group (ODG) that proposed a partnership with tangata whenua in managing the conservation estate. 

Māori provide valuable input into natural environment issues, however others in the community also have strong interest and expertise.   The ODG assumes a tangata whenua partnership, rather than Māori being DoC partners alongside for example environmental groups, tramping and mountaineering clubs, international tourists, scientific research organisations and of course local non-Māori.

The ODG report states that “the knowledge systems of kawa, tikanga and mātauranga evolved from and sustained the natural environment for hundreds of years prior to the signing of Te Tiriti in 1840.”  However, over this time New Zealand’s natural environment went backwards, as documented in evidence of species extinction and shrinkage of forest cover due to human impacts. 

The ODG seems to be advocating transferring national parks out of DoC management to be co-managed by Crown and iwi representatives.  Models suggested include governance entities comprised of solely tangata whenua representatives, or of tangata whenua and Crown representatives.  Options also include the “return” of land to tangata whenua for conservation purposes (including outside of Te Tiriti settlements). 

Te Urewera was disestablished as a national park in 2014, as a result of the Ngai Tuhoe Treaty settlement, and is now administered by the Te Urewera Board, which comprises joint Tuhoe and Crown membership.  The partnership Tuhoe entered into with DoC seems troubled.  Parts of Te Urewera Great Walk were closed for months following safety concerns as huts, bridges and boardwalks had deteriorated. Repairs have since been completed. 

There is some iwi support for conservation land being used to harvest bird and other species of cultural value, in conflict with the purpose of conserving them and enhancing biodiversity.  The iwi’s opposition to 1080 makes some pest control impractical given budget constraints.

Māori do cite their relationships with lands of “deep spiritual or cultural significance”, however non-Māori also draw spiritual sustenance from natural environments important to them at a deep level. 

Health policy

Chaired by Tipa Mahuta, the Te Aka Whai Ora Māori Health Authority aims to apply a Te Tiriti lens to delivering health services to Māori.  The alternative is to allocate health resources on the basis of need rather than race, ethnicity, religion or other such variables. 

There is strong international evidence that socio-economic factors are major determinants of health outcomes.  This evidence should lead to a needs-based, horizontal equity approach.  However, politicians have opted for a race-based approach that includes a Māori Health Authority and the enabling legislation the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill.  Bryce Wilkinson’s recent comment on the health reforms highlights weaknesses in the Bill.

Common assertions justifying a separate Māori Health Authority include that “systemic racism” and “white privilege” are major contributors to Māori health problems and that “decolonizing” the health system will improve Māori health and longevity.  Dr Lawrie Knight has discredited the key assertions made to justify the Pae Ora Healthy Futures Bill

Concluding comments and way forward

The racialisation and tribalisation reforms will damage New Zealand’s economy and its democracy and lead to a more divided society.  Most people will lose, and the winners will largely be a few well-positioned tribal leaders from whanau with strong political connections.

However, while promoted by a small minority the reformists might well succeed in implementing their objectives.  This is because just a few people with a concentrated self-interest can capture disproportionate rewards.  The costs they impose on the majority are spread thinly and may be difficult to attribute to specific interventions. 

The reformists use comforting language such as “co-governance”, “sharing power”, “partnerships” at a time when the prevailing zeitgeist is of a democratic western world that has lost its confidence.  They also engage in “magical thinking”, such as that changing New Zealand’s name to “Aotearoa” will somehow deliver tangible benefits. 

The reformists propose race-favoured initiatives (that are racist by definition) and then dismiss criticism as “racist”.  This tactic is intellectually shallow and morally bankrupt.  It is also highly effective.

New Zealanders have proven since at least the 1980s that they are a fair-minded people committed to costly action to remedy past wrongs that blight the present. This fair mindedness is being exploited by a small, well organised, ideologically driven group to overcome opposition to what is a profoundly anti-democratic, unprogressive and illiberal agenda.  It is an extremely cynical strategy.

An insidious outcome from racialization and tribalization in New Zealand is that people are born with different rights depending on parental race.  This is incompatible with equal opportunity and a fair society, and inevitably pits people against each other on racial lines.  No country has ever thrived when citizenship rights have been race-determined. 

Tribalization is a stage of development that all peoples go through.  It is kinship and relationship-based.  However, relationships do not scale and therefore marginal costs do not diminish as dramatically as with more modernistic economic development stages, and so productivity gains are poor. 

Bahrami-Rad et al (2022) show a strong negative relationship between kinship intensity and economic development and prosperity.  “Kinship intensity” is a measure of how deeply individuals are enmeshed in tribal and other kin networks.  Kinship intensity strongly correlates with lower levels of impersonal trust, innovation and democratic governance and higher levels of nepotism and corruption.

There is no example of a kin-based tribal society succeeding economically and socially in the modern world. 

We must end the racialism and tribalism of New Zealand society and restore full democracy.  To underpin democracy, we must invest in an education system that focuses on rich disciplinary and content knowledge, and enhanced literacy (including digital) and numeracy.  We need to promote open society mindsets and universal science that, in transcending cultures, connects us to the wider world and draws the best from it.  This requires leadership that creates opportunities for all New Zealanders not just those born with privileged tribal genealogy.  As Mason Durie wrote:

“Good leaders join networks so that their followers can have greater opportunities. Bad leaders develop walls so that outsiders cannot get in and insiders cannot get out.”

As well as leadership, New Zealand needs “weavers” who can draw threads together to support everyone’s rangatiratanga, that is their self-determination.  Anne Salmond is a weaver, as are Mason Durie, Shane Reti and Elizabeth Rata.  Chris Trotter offers engaging comments from a left-leaning perspective.  David Seymour has made the connection between liberal economics and tino rangatiratanga.  Increasingly, eminent economists such as Bryce Wilkinson are adding rigor to the debate.

A big challenge faced is how to support Māori cultural resurgence while ensuring that tamariki are not misdirected away from universal science and Enlightenment reasoning into racialism, tribalism and outdated customs and beliefs.

What helps impel the tribalism and racialism in He Puapua is the socio-economic gaps between many Māori and non-Māori.  However, these gaps cannot be addressed through tribalism and “co-governance”.  They require needs-based policies to achieve horizontal equity.  This is where the focus should be to deliver better outcomes for all New Zealanders, in fidelity with the commitments made in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


Bahrami-Rad et al 2022: Bahrami-Rad, Duman and Beauchamp, Jonathan and Henrich, Joseph and Schulz, Jonathan, Kin-based institutions and economic development (August 25, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Te Pūtahitanga 2021: ‘A Tiriti-led Science Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand.

About Peter Winsley

I’ve worked in policy and economics-related fields in New Zealand for many years. With qualifications and publications in economics, management and literature, I take a multidisciplinary perspective to how people’s lives can be enhanced. I love nature, literature, music, tramping, boating and my family.
This entry was posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Cultural issues, Economics, History, Learning, education and pedagogy, Maori, Politics, Russia, Science and innovation, Ukraine. Bookmark the permalink.

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