Māori leaders of the year

"Write what you know." I've written a lot about Māori issues this year but I write them from the perspective of someone who lives mostly in Te Aō Pākehā; I'm no tikanga expert, nor a great te reo orator and I've not been immersed in my culture to the exclusion of the non-Māori world ever.

A colleague told me recently that my superpower was "translating Māori stuff for Pākehā" — I'm still not sure whether he meant it as a compliment or an insult (he's hard to read) but, from that perspective, here are my highlights for Māori leadership across my interest areas in 2017.

Damn: The award for political newcomer of the year

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me Kiritapu Allan is future Prime Minister material I'd have … about 25 bucks. And five dollars of that would be from me telling myself. But trust me when I tell you that a lot of seasoned politics observers have been falling over themselves to claim they talent-spotted her first.

A long-shot for political office back when Labour was wallowing in the 20s under Andrew Little, Kiritapu shone on the campaign trail by being smart, funny, and authentic. Mentored by Sir Michael Cullen, who was chair of her campaign, the Labour Party clearly thinks so too. Far more capable than some of the current cabinet ministers, she’s a sure candidate for promotion as soon as a position becomes available.

Loyalty: The award for telling our stories with integrity

The Hui. Recently honoured at the NZTV awards, their approach to telling our stories is characterised by sensitivity and urgency. Their series on Ngā Morehu, the survivors of abuse in State care, played no small part in influencing the new Government to launch a long overdue inquiry into the experiences of children ‘cared for’ by the State. This award is also extended to Mihingarangi Forbes specifically for her entire body of work this year including the ground-breaking Ruapekapeka documentary and for being the first Māori woman ever to co-present Morning Report.

Fear: The huge brain award for political commentary

This year I was invited to be a regular guest on RNZ’s The Panel with Jim Mora. Hands-down my most intimidating co-panellist was 20-mumble-something-year old Morgan Godfery. Morgan is one of our best writers and political commentators. We’re not always in alignment politically but I respect his intellect enormously. His essay about his upbringing in Kawerau is one of the most beautiful and essentially New Zealand pieces of writing I’ve ever read. The nation got to see a lot more of him during the election campaign this year — a trend I hope will continue.  

Love: The award for te reo advocacy in 2017

It won't be a surprise to regular readers that this one goes to Stacey and Scotty Morrison. Something that might be less recognised is their philosophy of aroha towards those wanting to learn te reo. The biggest barrier (besides intolerance) towards learning Māori for many people is the fear of getting it wrong. Their warmth and encouragement both in person and in Scotty’s books acknowledges this and, I think, breaks down some of those barriers for Māori and non-Māori alike.

Honourable mention: Best te reo on Twitter

This one goes to Ian Cormack @kiwitoa — I can't believe Ian's tweets are free. They're an amazing resource for learning te reo, and he often tweets new words and concepts from the digital world. He's completely underutilised with only 593 followers. Go to it!

Humble: The award for getting pissed off for a cause

This is, perhaps ironically, a shared award for Lance O'Sullivan and Marama Fox. The snide remarks from some quarters about Dr Lance's ego following his comments about wanting sole leadership of the Māori Party echoed the 'sit down, bitch, be humble' nature of criticisms against Marama Fox following her party's defeat on election night.

Whatever you might think of his personality, Lance O'Sullivan has put his celebrity to good use, not shying away from controversy in taking on anti-vaxxers, the gambling industry, and a healthcare system that has consistently not delivered well for Māori. Marama Fox's authenticity and eloquence during the election campaign saw issues previously unloved by the non-Māori media gain traction from a Māori perspective.

Until we have a glut of Māori leaders working on social justice issues who get consistent cut-through in the mainstream media (and therefore the general public) for the causes that they advocate for, like these two do, that's a yeah nah from me. Keep doing what you're doing, team.

Pride: The Ahi Kā award for upholding the mana 

Finally, a collective award to the Māori who sit in ‘cultural advisor’ roles in our non-Māori organisations. The responsibilities vary depending on the organisation but generally they provide advice on tikanga and how to engage with Māori communities. These can be lonely roles, as a colleague leaving a Māori workplace once said to me: "I'm going to an environment where I have to talk about being Māori instead of just being Māori." I don't think people realise how isolating these positions can be; so I’ll end my year in review with a thank you to them.

Best wishes to you all, enjoy your summer, please be careful on the roads, vaccinate your kids, thanks for reading, and I hope you re-join us at Newsroom in 2018. 

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