Hone Pani Tāmati Wāka Nene Harawira was never very far from controversy when he was the MP for Te Tai Tokerau, first for the Māori Party and then for the Mana Movement, which he leads. He lost the seat to Labour’s Kelvin Davis in the 2014 general election, but he’ll be fighting to take it back in 2017. Here he talks to Dale about his early years, and the activism that continues to drive his political life.
Hone, we’re going down some familiar turf here because we had an interview of this type many, many years ago. But things change. I guess we’ve got a little older, and we can reflect on what we’ve been able to achieve and some of the challenges ahead. Can we start with you describing your whānau, please?
I had a lovely whānau, actually. My dad was a very gentle soul. My mum was pretty much the boss of the household, but she was a very caring mum, too. Made sure we always had good, clean clothes. Always had kai. And she was always supportive of us at school.
I remember we used to have quite a few parties over home — my dad, and some of his old soldier mates and friends. My dad was very musical. Whatever he could get his hands on, he could play. So we had a piano, we had guitars, banjos, ukuleles, all sorts of musical instruments at home. And people just used to roll around. They’d drink all night. No fights. I don’t ever recall any fights at their parties when we were kids. And lots of Italian songs, I guess picked up during the war. Those were the early days. Really nice days out West Auckland.
I was the third of what turned out to be nine children. The sixth one was born before the oldest one was six, as you did back in those days. Child after child after child. One in the bed, one in the bassinet, one in the dresser drawer — that kind of stuff.
I also remember my dad — he wired our whole house up so that every room had a speaker in it that he could control from his bedroom, so that he could wind the music up a bit in the morning to get everyone out of bed. It was a lovely way to live, to have the start of your day every morning with some music.
And even though we lived in what was officially the city, there were still a lot of paddocks and stuff back in those days. Mum brought her farm ways down to Auckland. She kept chickens. We even had a pig. None of our neighbours had pigs and chickens like we did.
We did all the normal things. Everybody went to school. Everybody played rugby and netball back in those days. An enjoyable childhood.
Ka pai, Hone. Of course, everybody knows your mum, Titewhai, and we’ve spoken of her before, but we very rarely mention your dad. I don’t even know his name.
John Puriri Harawira. The Puriri whānau is my dad’s mother’s family from up north, from Kaikohe way. My dad’s father is from Te Kao — Kahi Takimoana Harawira. He served in World War I as a soldier and World War II as the first padre to the 28th Maori Battalion. Mum was from Whakapara, just north of Whangārei. Ngāti Hau.
Well, we know that the Harawira whānau got politicised. You get the feeling that Mum was part of who helped to politicise you. She’s been very outspoken, very forthright, very assertive. Very challenging in many ways. When did you feel like you were becoming conscious of Māori issues, Māori challenges?
Mum gave us Māori names, but none of our Māori mates had Māori names. They were all Greg, Jill, Mark, John, Mary, Sandra — those sort of names. And here’s Kahi Takimoana, Hinewhare Turikatuku Ruiha, Hone Pani Tāmati Wāka Nene, and Tari Tapua. That was a political statement in itself. I found out later that my Māori mates had Māori names, but it was their middle name, and their parents made them all use their Pākehā names.
I remember asking Mum about that once: “Mum, how come all my mates have got Pākehā names but I’ve got a Māori name?” She said to me: “Son, it’s because they’re not quite sure who they are yet.” It was a lovely way of saying it. But I’ll always remember that. I must’ve been only about nine or 10.
About the same time I was wandering around Rosebank Primary with a big smile on my face, wondering why nobody else in the whole school seemed to be as happy as I was that Muhammad Ali had just knocked out Sonny Liston.
You ended up at Tipene. How did that come to be? What’s the whānau connection to Tipene?
Well, none actually. My dad went to Te Aute. His brother went to Te Aute. My grandfather went to Te Aute. My mum went to Queen Vic. But Te Aute was such a long way away, so Dad sent us to St Stephen’s which was just down the road. My older brother Kahi went first and I came next — that’s how that happened.
Who influenced you there, both students and teachers?
The thing I noticed most about St Stephen’s was an almost unconscious awareness that we were leaders — that more than any other school we were pretty good. That doesn’t mean we were that good, but under Joe Lewis it just seemed like our unwritten motto was “excellence is normal”.
We were expected to do well in rugby. We were expected to do well in kapa haka. We were expected to do well academically. We were doing far, far better than most other schools in the country. In fact, in my first year, St Stephen’s had the most highly qualified staff in the country.
Hone, it was about that time that Ngā Tamatoa surfaced. And you were a young Tipene student who got affected by the politics of that time through Ngā Tamatoa. Can you share with us some of that time and kōrero?
Well, from the time I was a kid, Mum was involved in all sorts of things, like working at tolls with Naida Glavish where, if they could tell you were Māori, they’d all say “kia ora”. She was also involved in the Auckland District Māori Council in their heyday.
And when Ngā Tamatoa came along, she was involved in that, too, right from the very early days — in the courts, fighting for the reo, the Treaty of Waitangi, standing up for Māori rights, supporting the Polynesian Panthers during the Dawn Raids. It probably seemed odd to others that our mum was involved in things like that, but it didn’t seem odd to us because she was just our mum.
So that sort of thing was part and parcel of our upbringing. One thing I do recall. I didn’t really know that much about Ngā Tamatoa, except what I read in the newspaper — and that was all bad. And I remember getting ready to go back to school and Mum said: “Hang on. We’ve just got to call in at a meeting.” Aarrgh. I didn’t want to go to a meeting. Anyway, we called in to this place, down Ash St in Avondale, and boom! I could tell who everybody in the room was. Holy shit, this was Ngā Tamatoa! That was quite a freaky experience. I didn’t say anything, just listened. But everything they said was true.
When I got back to school, I didn’t make a big fuss about it because nobody supported Ngā Tamatoa at St Stephen’s. And I remember one of our teachers slagging off Ngā Tamatoa. A Pākehā chap he was. I stood up in class and said: “Excuse me. What do you know about Ngā Tamatoa?” He started to bluster. I said: “You don’t know anything at all do you? You don’t know any of them personally. You don’t know their politics. You’re just spouting what you read in the newspaper. And everything you’re saying is bullshit.”
I got into trouble over that but, from then on, I thought, nah, you can’t just slag people off when you don’t know what you’re talking about. I found out later that some of the boys thought I was a bit radical. I didn’t feel particularly radical but I suppose that just came from being a son of Titewhai Harawira and hanging out with the Māori Council and Ngā Tamatoa and others during those early years.
I want to move across to Hilda, because she’s had a massive influence on the politics of your life — and, of course, the love of your life. And university days. I don’t want to linger too long on it, because a lot has happened since then, but many people still recall the engineering students, and the haka that they did mocking taha Māori. You took offence and a whole group of you did as well. And then we had the infamous skirmish (the “Haka Party Incident” in 1979) outside the engineering block. Tell us more about that.
Hilda has always been strong. She was strong when she was at Hillary College, as well. Head girl. Dux. Athlete of the year, and everything else. She was their princess. Her politics were strong, too, and she carried that into her university studies and at the Māori club. She was the one who was constantly trying to push the Māori club to support Māori language in schools. Te reo was a big take back in those days and not a lot of Māori speakers were that supportive because they were embarrassed by protest.
But Hilda was very strong in that. And she was part of trying to oppose what the engineering students were doing. Every year, as part of their graduation stunts, the engineering students would get pissed as, put on these grass skirts, write all these obscene slogans on themselves, and go out and do a mock Ka Mate. And abuse people all day, as a capping show. This had been going on for years.
Anyway, come 1979 and Hilda came back home and she was really upset. She’s very rarely upset about anything. She said the Māori club exec had been to ask the engineering students not to do it again, and been told to piss off. And the Māori club decided they wouldn’t do anything because they were scared that if they caused trouble, they mightn’t get their marae. Hilda was really upset about that.
So, when she told me what had happened, I went round to talk to some friends from Ponsonby, Ōtara and Māngere. The next morning at 7am, everyone turned up at my place, and we went up to the university with a plan to ask them to stop. Things didn’t go quite to plan. But in the end we stopped them. And we all got arrested but we didn’t care. We’d put an end to decades of ugly racism.
It became a national talking point. “Gang rampage at University” was the headline. But we toured the country and took our case to the people, and by the time we got to court, Māoridom was right behind us. In fact we ended up with a royal line-up of defence witnesses. We had Dame Elizabeth Murchie (president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League), Sir Graham Latimer (chairman of the New Zealand Māori Council), Eruera Stirling (senior kaumātua in Auckland at the time) and Sir Kingi Ihaka (senior Māori Anglican clergy).
Three of us got off because we didn’t give any statements.The eight who did get convicted ended up doing community service down at Mataatua marae out in Māngere, so they were happy with that. Ended up all good.
But yeah, those were the sorts of things that were part and parcel of that time.
Bastion Point, of course. It wasn’t just a one-dayer or a weekend, it went on and on and on and on. Met many people. Learned many different political viewpoints. You got to see who was strong. You met really good Pākehā, like David Williams and Tim Shadbolt, heaps of staunch Māori activists, and all the Boothill crew. We had Aboriginals come over, Native Americans, First Nations, Hawaiians. Everyone came to the Point. It was an awesome environment and the best political studies class in the whole world.
And then there was Waitangi and the years of protest up there.
Our time came off the back of action that had been taken in the United States by the Black Panthers and the American Indian movement. So we were able to draw on international parallels and learn from them, and build from them.
We had people like Will ‘Ilolahia, the charismatic leader of the Polynesian Panthers, and Syd Jackson of Ngā Tamatoa, of course. Syd was a powerful speaker — very clear, very positive, never flustered, never beaten. Rangi Walker, who was able to write clearly about the struggle, and challenge Māori students to seek answers at the edge of learning, rather than down through the mainstream.
The 1981 Springbok Tour was another action that I was involved in, and as one of the leaders of the Patu Squad, one of the things I’m most proud of. We were opposed to apartheid in South Africa and racism here in Aotearoa, and we drew heavily on our Polynesian connections to form the core of the Patu Squad.
It was a time in the world when things were changing and we were part of that change. It was our time. And we were bulletproof, physically and mentally. We were convinced that we were right — even when we weren’t. We didn’t think that we could be stopped by anyone. Not the police. Not anybody else. That’s how we felt. Like we were on “a mission from God”.
I’m curious to know who your most important figures are, both from New Zealand and overseas. You touched on Muhammad Ali. You’ve also mentioned Syd, but I wonder if you might lay down some more names that you think deserve mention as Māori freedom fighters.
There weren’t a lot of people to look up to here in Aotearoa, beyond Ngā Tamatoa, the Panthers and people I’d met at Bastion Point and up Waitangi, and I knew them all already.
So we looked overseas. Nelson Mandela, of course. He was one my heroes.
And Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers in the States. One book I really liked was Seize the Time: The Story of The Black Panthers written by Bobby Seale.
The American Indian Movement — I was lucky to meet a lot of that leadership over the years as well. Guys like Russell Means, Dennis Banks, the Bellecourt brothers, Oren Lyons. We learned heaps from them.
And Muhammad Ali. Big, black, good looking, articulate and able to handle himself. He was a superstar. And somebody that he was close to at the time as well: Malcolm X. He was strong, articulate and had some very clear ideas, too.
Back home, Syd Jackson, of course. My mum. And, of course, my wife, Hilda. We’ve been together forever, Hilda and I, and I’m inspired by her every single day. Her strength. Her commitment. Her love for others. She’s an awesome role model and a tower of strength.
The Rev Māori Marsden, who was a guru for a lot of us. He knew heaps and his command of the Māori language and the English language was top class.
I’m proud of having worked with all kinds of people. Not just from around Aotearoa, and the Pacific, but indigenous activists from all round the world — Hawai‘i, Tahiti, the Americas, Canada, Australia, Asia, Africa, even up in Europe.
I’m also lucky that I come from a family of activists. I know a lot of my friends in the movement struggled because they were activists alone in their whānau. And they would often go home to their marae or to whānau hui, and cop shit from the rest of their whānau. I never ever had that problem.
And then, of course, I had Hilda. She’s always been politically, and in nearly every other way, stronger than me. So I’ve always had that strength beside me. I’ve been blessed that way, in terms of being able to do many things, knowing that my family was always behind the things that I was doing.
Hone, you’ve moved from that strong protest persona, and had a tilt at working from the inside out. Let’s start with parliament rather than protest. Is this the way forward for us?
You know, I got into parliament directly as the result of protest — by leading the foreshore and seabed march from Te Rerenga Wairua to Wellington. By the time I got home after that march, three things were clear. One, there was going to be a Māori Party. Two, I would be the Māori Party candidate for Te Tai Tokerau. And three, I was going to take the seat. And I knew that within a couple of months of the hikoi. And that march and my role in it, ranks right up there in terms of the top political activities I’ve been involved in.
I remember a cop, Wally Haumaha, coming up to shake my hand when I got to Wellington, and when I asked what that was for, he said: “Mate – 1,000 kilometres, 50,000 people, and not one arrest. You ought to be really proud of yourself.”
That was my launching pad into parliament. Would I change any of that? Nah. That was the time. Tariana and Pita were the chosen leaders of the party and that was cool with me.
But when people talk about protest or parliament, well, my politics weren’t determined by the Māori Party so much as by my history of political activism. And my speeches reflect that. I’m intensely proud of the fact that my activism drove my thinking in parliament.
I learned to be strong when I was an activist on the streets. Especially in the early days when you’re not just being opposed by Pākehā — and every Pākehā was against us back then — but by heaps of your own people as well.
Activism forces you to learn skills, to learn strength, to learn not to take shit from anyone, to stand up for yourself, to not take “no” for an answer. You learn to do the things that you want to do and not what other people want you to do. Māori activism taught me the principles that I carried into parliament, not the Māori Party.
So sometimes I got offside with my party, and often with parliament. But I didn’t shy away from any of it.
Actually, it started on my very first day in parliament when I broke protocol by standing up in the house to welcome everyone in Māori. I got the fridge treatment from my party colleagues, but started a tradition where every new parliament was opened with a mihi.
When I called the Australian PM John Howard (in 2007) “a racist bastard who was imposing policies on a people who can’t fight back”, a shitstorm of congratulations and criticism erupted all around me. But I didn’t care because I knew I was right. And I knew the media attention would force people to think about an issue that they weren’t previously interested in.
And, when I got the chance a couple of months later to go to Australia as part of a parliamentary delegation, I cut loose and flew up to Alice Springs because I knew that by going, I could garner more media attention on the Northern Territory Intervention Plan that Aboriginal people were opposed to. And, sure enough, I got heaps of media while I was up there. And the Aboriginals were chuffed because nobody was listening to them. So my bringing the media spotlight into their world was something they really appreciated.
When Kevin Rudd decided to apologise to Indigenous Australians (in 2008), I thought: “Shit, I’m going. I’m marching with my Aboriginal brothers and sisters.” So I flew over. But no other MP from New Zealand went. I walked into the Australian Parliament and told them I was a New Zealand MP and they let me go up to the gallery with all these rugby league guys — Mat Bowen, David Peachey, Anthony Mundine and others. And I saw all the kuia downstairs. And they were in tears when Kevin Rudd was reading out the apology. I was really proud to be there.
When I spoke out about the Māori Party getting too close to National, I got scorched by the party leadership and congratulations from the party membership.
The sad thing for me, when I was with the Māori Party, was that I quickly learned not to ask the party leadership if I could say things or do certain things. Why? Because I learned early that, if I asked, they would say: “No, you can’t.” And I knew I was going to do it anyway. So I stopped asking. In the end I chose my own counsel, and the counsel of my wife and those activists close to me.
So is parliament the way forward for us? The way it’s structured and the way it’s run has no real value.
But I was hugely proud to be the Tai Tokerau MP because it enabled me to get around the north, to help hundreds of people, and to use the media to highlight important issues in the north, and everywhere else.
And I learned to always think of a bigger electorate — Māori people in Tai Tokerau and across the country, our Pasifika cousins here and at home, indigenous people across the world, and of course the growing numbers of poor in our own country, who are now more Pākehā than they are Polynesian.
We’ve left a chunk of our people out of our discussion. Pākehā. We’re hoping for a better New Zealand in the future. We seem to be, at times, moving towards a better Aotearoa. What role do Pākehā have here? Are there Pākehā freedom fighters for our causes or must we push the Pākehā into the sea?
[Laughs] No, I’m not into pushing the Pākehā into the sea at all — even the bad ones. I have value for everybody who calls this place home. Be they Pasifika, Pākehā, Indian, Ethiopian, Croatian. If they’re blessed enough to have come to this land after us, they are truly lucky.
Māori, however, have a primary role in how this country should be driven and should be led. And that Māori presence is vital. That is what gives this country a sense of difference and pride.
I’m not saying all Māori are fabulous and that all Pākehā are bad because that ain’t true. There’s some arsehole Pākehā in this world, but there’s a few Māori, too, who have the same love of money and disdain for Māori, and they’re arseholes as well.
I’m closer to some Pākehā than I am to a lot of Māori. John Minto is the classic example. He’s one tough Pākehā. And I mean tough. For a scrawny little white boy, he’s a very, very brave character. I’ve seen him get smacked around and turn up the next day to do the business. I have respect for people like that. Me and Sue Bradford get offside often. But I have respect for her, and because she’s a fighter for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed.
So, yeah, I’m not one of those who wants to push them all into the sea. Some of them are arseholes, but I’d like to think that most of them are just a little misguided.