How Moana Maniapoto’s APRA speech proves Don Brash wrong

This week was a good one for my young whānau. We spent it at a kura reo (language course), run by and for the various hapū of my partner and children’s marae. We spent the days extending our Te Reo, composing mōteatea and pātere (forms of waiata) and whakataukī (proverbial sayings). As well as collecting pipi, and wrangling many, many children at the local papa rēhia (playground).

The marae was noisy, busy and happy the whole week. There was a real sense of arriving at a destination for these whānau, or at least being back on track. Fulfilling the dreams of many tīpuna who had been punished for speaking their own language, by bringing Te Reo back into the marae. Reclaiming and revitalising a culture and language that were long suppressed, and bringing life to land that was stolen, forcibly removed or sold under duress – is no mean feat. It takes decades.

One evening, after my kids were asleep, and while far too many were not, I took advantage of the wireless connection at the local motor camp. Far enough from all the haututūs, I loaded up the APRA Silver Scrolls live stream on my computer. This night has become an annual event in my living room. I was so happy when I remembered that Moana Maniapoto was being inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame that night. Rawe!

My mother in law and I sat absolutely mesmerised throughout her heart-felt and thoroughly straight shooting speech.  Less than a minute in I wished I had stayed at the marae to watch this after all. All those kids ruckusing around on their mattresses needed to hear her acceptance speech.

It is an affirmation that being Māori is fantastic and a rousing call to action for everyone. Kids need both those things. And after reading and listening to a lot of media over the past week, I realise almost all New Zealanders do.

After her speech, and in between the other awards, I flicked back and forth between various news sources. I noticed my social media feeds (so news-y) were heaving with Don Brash and separatism – goodie, oh how I had missed him. I read a few articles; academic, personal blogs, Māori TV and the Spinoff about Hobsons Pledge and got the picture. Brash’s racism, ignorance and attitude momentarily indented a little corner of my over inflated bubble – but it didn’t pop it. You’re just not that sharp sorry, Don.

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Moana Maniapoto, Don Brash

All week, I had been floating on a cloud of hope and vision held high by the steadfast fortitude of the many dedicated Māori who include me in their lives, share with and teach me.  People who are committed to their language, their (and our shared) histories, and not the least of all, their children’s futures.

The contrast between Moana’s speech and all the rubbish about ‘one law for all’ and the appropriation of the phrase ‘he iwi tahi tātou’ couldn’t have been more stark that night. Moana has worked tirelessly in her 30 year career to advance opportunities for Māori. She sees politics and her music as inseparable. And thank goodness for that. Still, since the 90s she feels that very little has changed.

When she grew up, her people didn’t hear their own reo on the radio. Recalling this bought her to tears. Because, apparently it didn’t  ‘fit the format’ – to this day there is no quota for music in Te Reo, it still doesn’t fit the format.

Music in sung Te Reo rarely gets played on mainstream radio, even when the likes of Park Jae-Sang’s Korean language ‘Gangnam Style’ single swept the country and globe. So we know it isn’t really about the language.

It’s about the culture, the people and the politics of power and greed. And if we’re being honest, the Pāhekā fear of te Ao Māori. It is about the largely unchallenged and accepted dominance of Pākehā culture in this country. Whiteness is the format, and this is what Brash really means when he says we can all be one.

Now, I’m sorry to go back to Brash for a bit. But only so we can see the connect, or more, the disconnect between his thinking and Moana’s.

He is Pāhekā, and I am Pāhekā, and as such I have a responsibility to say that I utterly disagree. To stress that he is completely misguided. To show he does not understand Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that he does not get mana motuhake, and that his followers do real damage every time they wave the separatist flag (they are the ones raising it, not Māori) and cry foul at supposed special race based treatment. Does he not understand cultural structures, and that New Zealand is entirely guided by British, Western and Pāhekā frameworks?!

For years there was scant representation of things Māori at the APRA awards – (this was the structural real race based privilege, Don) until Moana and some friends asked Mike Chunn if APRA would create a Maioha award for Te Reo Māori music content. It has been in existence since 2003.  Now, I’m sure Brash can’t stand this, race based treatment! How dare they!

It is glaringly obvious that Brash denies history and doesn’t understand equality verse equity. So perhaps this image will help. Because at the top of the list of what the Hobson’s Pledgers believe is:

  • All New Zealanders should be equal before the law, irrespective of when they or their ancestors arrived in New Zealand.

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When one group (English/Pāhekā) not only take the vast majority of resources from another group (Māori) but actively strip a culture of its centrifugal force, its language, the playing field is completely unfair. Thus, the Maioha award is necessary all these decades after colonisation began. It is needed because Te Reo music does not get fair play. And because Te Reo is not understood by most New Zulanders. If these songs were in the mix with the other entries, they would have much less of a chance. And we would all hear less waiata Māori.

When one culture has been oppressed for over 150 years by another, the descendants of the oppressors are obligated to right the wrongs, and this is APRAs contribution. This is equity in action.

Now, on the note of most Pāhekā not bothering to learn Te Reo, ka aroha, you missed a lot during the Silver Scrolls.

The Māori world is one of eloquent speakers. What can be expressed in Te Reo is not necessarily translatable into English. Connections are made, acknowledgements are given and the love is spread at the start of speeches in Te Reo. Rarely is all this said again in English.

Rob Ruha’s acceptance speech for his second Maioha award was no exception. He spent at least the first 2/3 of talking about others, and made special note of Moana.  During his tribute, he said:

“E tika ana te whakahonore i a koe i tēnei pō, i te whakahōnoretanga i a koe, e ta, kua wini katoa mātou”.  “It is right that you are honored tonight, and in your honouring, my friend, we all win.” I urge you to watch his whole speech, click on the Te Reo above.

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Beautiful eh. And so true.

After their parents and grandparents were stripped of their rights to a Māori identity in the eyes of the law,  her peers struggled to see themselves reflected in the world around them, to see that their lives mattered. “music and the arts are not just a window to the world, but a mirror to our own”. She uplifts all Māori – and Te Reo really was the winner on the night. She has done her generation proud and has changed the course for those who follow her.

I support a Māori music commission in order to see Te Reo really hit the airwaves and stages with full force. So that more bands like Alien Weaponry have a fair shot at success. It is about putting things right, celebrating Māori, Te Reo, and ourselves in this country. So go take that race based idea Don, put it in your pipe and smoke it.

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