Citizen urges Canterbury Regional Council to abandon odious Ngai Tahu Representation Bill

The Acting Chief Executive, Canterbury Regional Council

Dear Mr McConway Re: CRC Ngai Tahu Representation Bill

I write to express my opposition to this Bill as notified in the ODT on 31 October 2018.    The Bill’s objects, as advised, appear to render the intent of the Bill unnecessary, discriminatory and hence in breach of Human Rights legislation.

  1. The over-riding intent of the Bill is “to ensure ongoing mana whenua representation on the Council”. The clear implication is that such representation is necessary. On what grounds?     Are residents of Ngai Tahu descent so different from everyone else  that they alone need assured, non-elected representation?     The Council appears unaware of some realities of Ngai Tahu’s history as an iwi, notably their near-annihilation in the late 1830’s by a combination of invasion by Ngati Toa (with massacres at the Kaikoura, Kaiapoi and Onawe pa) and diseases introduced from Australia to which Maori had no natural resistance.     As a result, those who today claim Ngai Tahu descent are also and usually substantially of non-Maori ethnicity. When, in January 1840, a group of Ngai Tahu chiefs gathered in Sydney to consider a treaty proposal from Governor Gipps and eventually entered into an agreement to sell much of the South Island to whaler Johnny Jones and his associate William Wentworth, those present included chiefs Tuhawaiki, Karetai, Taiaroa, Kaikoareare, Tukawa, Tohowaiki  and Topi Patuki.     Today’s Ngai Tahu leadership have names like Skerret, Anglem, Solomon, Ellison or O’Regan, while the current Ngai Tahu nominees to the Canterbury Regional Council are Iaean Cranwell and Elizabeth Cunningham.  The very difference between Ngai Tahu names of 1840 and today  reflects a reality expressed to me some 40 years ago by a leading member of the Otakou rununga: “We are very white Maori down this end of the country.”The purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to grant special representation to a select group of residents who are essentially no different ethnically from anyone else solely on the grounds that they also have some undefined measure of Ngai Tahu descent.   This clearly discriminates against all who cannot claim Ngai Tahu descent and thus would appear to be in breach of Human Rights legislation.
  2. A commonly advanced rationale in support of special governance entitlements for Ngai Tahu is that the iwi has a history of presence in the South Island and an attachment to the land that far pre-dates that of all other residents. A short read of Wikipedia’s history of Ngai Tahu will soon dispel this myth. Ngai Tahu were originally a North Island iwi who established themselves in Canterbury  after Tasman sighted the South Island and only a few decades before Cook’s exploration led to the arrival of Europeans in southern New Zealand.     If Ngai Tahu have a special ancestral attachment that pre-dates all others’ to any part of New Zealand, that will be to the central North Island, not to Canterbury.    A moment’s reflection on the Winter temperatures of much of inland Canterbury will produce the inevitable conclusion that the first humans to live there permanently and establish some form of ownership were not Ngai Tahu; indeed, a census of around 1880 showed that over 80% of the residents in the McKenzie Basin were Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots.    Few others could stand the Winter cold!     Ngai Tahu have no attachment to the province of Canterbury that is different or more long-standing than many others’, and there are no historical grounds  for assuring Ngai Tahu a permanent unelected presence on the Regional Council and consequent “position of influence” which your Chairman concedes, in the Timaru Courier, they will enjoy.
  3. The only other rationale that might be advanced for granting Ngai Tahu separate, non-elected entitlement to membership of the CRC would be their exclusion from the normal process of standing for and voting in the triennial elections. No such exclusion exists. Additionally, the make-up of the current parliament shows that people of Maori descent are more than able to stand for and be elected to public office, indeed to rise to leadership of political parties.
  4. The proposed Bill offers no assured non-elected representation to any ethnic group other than Ngai Tahu; as such, it discriminates on grounds of racial and tribal preference against all other residents in Canterbury – even against Maori who are not of Ngai Tahu descent.
  5. Ngai Tahu are present by appointment in the current appointed/elected council. This should, however, be seen as a provisional and extra-ordinary circumstance. The sacking of a Regional Council and its replacement by non-elected appointees is not the normal state of affairs in a democracy such as New Zealand.     An essential requirement of any democracy is that all who govern, be it in central or local government, be elected by and accountable to those whom they govern.     It seems bizarre that, at the very time that the country is preparing to commemorate the end of a World War in which our troops fought in defence of our democracy, the Canterbury Regional Council proposes abandoning the very principle upon which democracy is founded.     In the context of a return to democratic governance, the inclusion of any non-elected councillors on the Canterbury Regional Council would be bad enough.    This Bill is particularly odious in that it proposes the non-elected appointment of people exclusive not just to one ethnic group but to one tribe.     The clan wars of Scotland, the tribal massacres of Africa, the violence of Northern Ireland all arose from the same essential cause – a group of people, exclusive to one religion, race or tribe, gain power or influence and use it to advantage their own people at the expense of everyone else.     That is the scenario that democracy is designed to prevent and that is the scenario that this Bill will engender.
  6. The democratic process provides an opportunity for individuals to contest an election. With the election over, however, there is an expectation that the person elected will represent all his/her constituents regardless of whom they voted for. That too is an essential feature of our form of democracy.    Your chairman, Steve Lowndes, via his comments reported in the Courier of 8 November, acknowledges that Ngai Tahu appointees have an entirely different ethic and will have a focus on ensuring that “the values and concerns of mana whenua are given full expression in the council’s decision making”.     How long will it be before other groups demand a similar right to have their appointees on the council ensuring that their values and concerns are also given full expression in the council’s decision making, and how long can democracy survive once exclusive groups gain the right to advance their own values and causes ahead of all others?

The Regional Council would be doing the people of Canterbury a great service by abandoning this Bill.

Yours sincerely

John Bell

8 November 2018