|A WORLD TO WIN, A PLANET TO SAVE|
With 8,500 prisoners among a national population of 4.5 million, New Zealand ranks as one of the highest jailers in the developed world. But as has been repeatedly highlighted in reports by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Māori component is staggering. While those who identify as Māori make up about 15% of the New Zealand population, the corresponding figure behind bars is more than 50%. Among women it is higher still, at 60%. Recent data suggests more than six of every 10 Māori prisoners will be back inside within 48 months. In just about every statistic recording disadvantage – be it unemployment, poverty, health, education or family breakdown – Māori figure disproportionately. Why are Māori so disproportionately locked up? In 1988, racial bias in policing and the courts was identified as a crucial factor by lawyer Moana Jackson, who undertook more than two years of research in compiling a report for the NZ justice department, The Māori and the Criminal Justice System: A new perspective: He Whaipānga Hou. Today, Jackson is completing a follow-up to the 1988 report, this time commissioned by his iwi, Ngāti Kahungunu. “Sadly, not a great deal has changed in 25 years,” says Jackson. He believes New Zealand attitudes on crime and punishment have grown tougher, away from “a political belief, and indeed a public belief, in rehabilitation and reform” that existed in the 80s.
New Zealand enjoys a popular image of indigenous and settler cultures comfortably integrated. The impact of colonisation is, of course, much more complicated. Numerous breaches by the state of the Treaty of Waitangi, the document signed between the British crown and leaders of iwi, or tribes, in 1840, saw swathes of land, in many cases the traditional tūrangawaewae, or “place to stand”, forcibly taken from Māori. Waves of urbanisation amplified the tendency for generations of Māori to grow distanced from their iwi, language and culture. Nowhere are those identity distortions more apparent than in gangs, and the scale of affiliation to the Maori-dominated Mongrel Mob and Black Power gangs. Such groups have thrived in lower socioeconomic parts of New Zealand, and are widely associated with organised criminality.
“Some of these guys, when they come here, they actually have a very distorted view of what it is to be Māori, and those distorted views often justify offending behaviour,” says Neil Campbell, the director of Māori for the Department of Corrections, citing the work by Māori health academic Sir Mason Durie. “A copybook classic distorted view of being Māori might be, ‘we come from a warrior race, we don’t take any shit from anyone, if I want something I take it’,” says Campbell. “Another distortion might be ‘women from our culture sit down, shut up and don’t say anything – and if they do they get a smack in the face. We turn that distortion around. We actually come from a matriarchal culture that isn’t about suppressing women. In fact, women lead all the events. Men do some of the show-pony stuff, but women are coordinating everything.”
It is impossible to separate, says Jackson, the place of Māori in the prison system from the impact of colonisation, and the disputes around the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. “As one kaumatua [elder] said, you can’t look at a young Māori man in Paremoremo prison and divorce him from the history of what has happened to our people.”
At the core of all social problems is the capitalist system. The World Socialist Party (NZ) argues that both Maori and non-Maori working class should have an equal and collective say in decisions affecting the use of valuable economic resources. Only through coming together to change society will it be possible to achieve genuine political, economic and cultural liberation for all peoples. There is no solution via the Maori nationalist Mana Party and its ally, the Internet Party (IP). Mana was formed in 2011 as a split from the right-wing Maori Party, which works closely with the government and it presented itself as “pro-worker,” “anti-neoliberal” and “anti-rich”, taking advantage of widespread hostility toward National and Labour parties. Racial identity politics in reality serves to divide the working class and shackle oppressed Maori workers to the tribal and Maori nationalist leadership. Like the Maori Party, Mana supports the government’s Whanau Ora scheme, which privatised the delivery of some welfare services, in order to benefit Maori trusts. Since 2012, Mana has participated alongside Labour and the right-wing, anti-immigrant NZ First Party in a racist campaign against Chinese investment. Like NZ First, Mana has advocated restrictions on foreigners buying houses and on immigration, which is largely from Asia. Mana supported NZ First leader Winston Peters’ campaign in the March by-election in the Northland electorate. Alongside reforms such as school meals and a higher minimum wage, Mana’s main demand is for the government to “invest in and better support Maori business enterprise.” It calls for “increasing the value of settlements” paid by the government to tribal-run businesses under the Treaty of Waitangi process.
The real alternative for workers who oppose the attacks on democratic rights and living standards is to join the WSP(NZ) to promote the case for genuine socialism and which seeks to unite workers around the world in a struggle against capitalism, in opposition to all capitalist parties and against those supposedly leftist ‘workers’ parties cheerleading the nationalists on.