Ngati Porou have had their say about who can best represent them at the decision making table of Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou. Or have they? In this opinion piece former political reporter Tina Wickliffe analyses voter participation and what needs to be done to get more Naatis engaged.
The diversity of candidates that stood in the 2015 TRONPnui trustee elections could be likened to a hakari – there was something, or someone, to suit everyone’s tastes. From a smorgasbord of 38 candidates ranging from the well seasoned to the underdone, 14 people have been selected for the top table.
Over the next four years these 14 people will oversee the management of assets worth over $200 million and have responsibilities comparable to a mini government. Government, or more specifically Cabinet, is responsible for the allocation of scarce resources acquired through taxation on behalf of the New Zealand public. Similarly the TRONPnui board allocates Ngati Porou dollars, acquired through its Treaty settlements and commercial activities, to economic, social and cultural portfolios on behalf of the wider tribe.
Like Parliament the quality of Ngati Porou representation at the decision making table is dependent on the engagement and participation of voters or tribal membership. Over 18,395 voting packs were sent to registered adult Ngati Porou, but only 4,152 members voted – an increase on the 2011 elections but a low turnout all the same. New TRONPnui CE Herewini Te Koha agrees there’s room for improvement. “We had more Ngati Porou voters turn out to have their say in this election, but we know we can all do much better.”
So who were the four thousand plus Naatis that voted? While electionz, the company contracted to oversee the TRONPnui elections were at the time of this article going to press unable to provide a breakdown, we can look to Maori participation in the general election for clues – just switch out the word Maori for Ngati Porou. Research prepared for the Electoral Commission suggests older Maori with comfortable living standards and a smaller group of younger Maori actively engaged in Te Ao Maori are more likely to vote. Rangatahi – a characteristic of Ngati Porou – and poorer living standards – another characteristic – affect participation. Given the youthful and urban diasporic profile of Ngati Porou, it’s a no brainer that this population must be engaged to ensure future representation on the Runanganui is robust and effective. Unlike mainstream political parties, the Runanganui turns its back on this ‘too hard’ demographic at its own peril.
Evidence suggests Maori voters will only engage and participate if they’re confident their voices will be heard – and their vote will make a difference. For an explanation of why only 22% of registered tribal members participated in this year’s trustee elections, the answers once again appear to mirror the dramatic decline in Maori engagement at a central government level. Electoral Commission research lists cynicism and procedural difficulties amongst the reasons for low engagement and apathy.
Public perception sounds like a political cliche but it’s still a truism – and if a recent ngatiporou.com online poll is to be believed it’ll take more than identity politics to get Naatis ticking boxes. The poll showed that 72% of respondents thought honesty, transparency and integrity were the most important attributes that a TRONPnui trustee should have – only 8% said love for Ngati Porou. A lack of trust in the organisation could therefore be expressed by not registering or voting. In fact, one conclusion is that Maori have greater trust in democracy and voting than they do in the government and elected representatives – a cynicism that could be echoed in the low turnout for the TRONPnui elections.
Then there are procedural difficulties, partly illustrated by the 475 votes that were disallowed. The issue was highlighted by Wellington Taura Here candidate Mei Taare who stood in the hotly contested Rohenga 4 area – Te Onepoto ki Rahuimanuka. Her campaign capitalised on the perception the TRONPnui registration process is burdensome and a deterrent as it requires presentation of a birth certificate and whakapapa verification from a recognised kaumatua. The discontent raised from this simple issue helped mobilise Ngati Porou ki Poneke and catapult Taare onto the Board behind returning trustee Tui Warmenhoven.
Despite the less than overwhelming turnout, the seeds for change have been sown nonetheless with eight newbies voted on to the Board. Their contribution will be an interesting addition to the institutional memory and expertise embodied by the proven stalwarts such as Herewini Parata. As the Runanganui sets its post-settlement course with new leadership at the helm at both the executive and management level, it will need to project an aspirational image Ngati Porou want to be part of. In other words the Runanganui must be relevant to the 70 thousand people it represents. “Our challenge is to make the Runanganui a real and valued part of the lives of our whanau,” says Herewini Te Koha. “And in turn create real opportunities for our whanau to strengthen their connections to home.”
So now the mahi begins for the TRONPnui class of 2015. Whether they can raise the democratic participation of the iwi remains to be seen, but Herewini Te Koha believes the iwi as a whole have cause to look ahead with optimism. “This election was about the future of our iwi. Not just the next four years but the long-term, intergenerational wellbeing of our people. The iwi has spoken through their votes, and now we look forward with confidence to the future.”