A couple of months before the election, a plant told me who to vote for. Not literally of course, because that would be ridiculous. And possibly illegal under the electoral act.
I was in a beautiful place called Tikapa interviewing an inspiring man named Graham Atkins who has a mission to save rare indigenous plant species. This plant, the kōwhai ngutu kākā, has a stunning flower with a seed that tastes like a sweet pea. It used to be very common growing around pā and we ate it as a snack. Now it only grows on cliffs because deer and wild cattle devour it. And soon it will be extinct. And this beautiful little flower “spoke” to me.
Anyway, I was very surprised to have this revelation. I’d been thinking about the election in terms of the usual lefty social policy settings, mainly around how to reduce inequality and how to feed our tamariki – revelations from Hone Harawira and the late, great Parekura Horomia.
It hadn’t occurred to me at all to think about the environment when it came to voting. Nor it seems had it occurred to that many of our people.
It probably hasn’t helped that the environmental message had been tied up by the Green Party.
From Lucy Lawless scaling oil refineries through to their obsession of how to travel greenly from their suburban villas into their office jobs in the city, the Greens largely seemed to be talking to a small group of their own friends at a dinner party.
Yes, they had some great policies around inequality but it seemed a bit too preachy coming from well-meaning affluent Pākehā.
Yes they had a great Māori co-leader in Metiria Turei.
But, unfortunately, they didn’t resonate with Māori needs and aspirations. The “3 Ms” of Manukau East, Mangere and Manurewa – Labour vote-fodder country – gave the Greens their lowest party votes. So the poor who the Greens wanted to speak for didn’t hear them.
They also put Marama Davidson, who actually hails from these communities, too far down the list prioritising other kaupapa ahead of our needs.
There is also conflict because the solutions to inequality are complex. Being Ngāti Porou, I love sitting at the table. Apirana Ngata was the table-sitting master. But I also understand the danger of compromising too much.
Yes we protested strongly against deep-sea drilling, but then looked at our tamariki going to school with no lunch and had to prioritise.
And are the solutions to poverty short-term as in Government-provided kai? Or long term as in whānau having more capacity and resilience to provide for themselves? Of course it’s both.
The Māori vote seems to be fairly desperate each election. We understandably turn to whoever seems to offer some solutions we can connect with, whether it’s New Zealand First, then the Māori Party and now back to Labour. The Green’s don’t seem to be part of that mix.
National is promising to “review” (read “kill”) the Resource Management Act, which for all its imperfections was revolutionary in its incorporation of Te Tiriti. The Māori Party essentially wants to empower iwi as kaitiaki – a great theory, but iwi strategies are not always good for the environment.
We could soon lose much more than our next meal. Environmental degradation affects the poorest first. Whether its water quality or cold housing or increasing energy costs or even useless public transport, the poor feel it the most severely. And let’s be honest, Māori constitute the poorest and therefore most vulnerable parts of this country.
And this is important stuff. Part of the solution to inequality comes from inside ourselves. The whenua is an integral part of our identity. If we let it disappear, then an important part of us goes too. And for all the Green’s lack of cut-through they still have a really important message for our people, and hopefully the leadership to make the changes they need in the future.
Anyway, the ngutu kākā didn’t tell me specifically which party to vote for. I suspect plants are fairly agnostic when it comes to actual party politics. But it gave me a reminder of what’s important in politics – toitū te whenua, toitū te tangata hoki.
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