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July 21, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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A Twenty-First Century Vision

We’ve all heard the story of the legendary 28th Maori Battalion. In the First World War the members of its predecessor, named the ‘Native Contingent’ and initially held back by officials from frontline service, was transformed from a battlefield labour force to a respected host of young Maori braves by 1918. Again in 1939, when the call went out for men to enlist against Hitler’s brutal expansion, Maoridom’s best and brightest put aside their differences with Pakeha to participate in the making of history. Field-Marshall Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s most revered general, referred to the Battalion as the ‘scalp hunters’ and famously regarded them as the best unit in the British Army during the war’s early stages.

The Mana won by the battalion’s valiant efforts came at a high price however. Lieutenant Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu became the first Maori to receive the Victoria Cross after joining the long list of dead in March 1943. One company lost three-quarters of its number in a single North-African battle. And few commanders survived more than a few months during stages of heavy fighting. But the greatest tragedy was the loss of a generation of Maori leadership. This loss, as I argue in the next page, Maoridom still struggles to regain.

Though this article aims to be about prospects not problems, this issue of Te Ao Marama will no doubt contain discussions of some problems facing Maori today. The causes of which will surely be attributed to a mixture of contemporary and conventional challenges from the various facets of western cultural influence, particularly those of a commercial nature. While a contrary opinion may not find favour amongst the readers, I make it quite clear now that in my belief both the causes and solutions of Maori challenges today lie equally inside and outside of Maoridom. An internationally competitive market contains many more opportunities for Maori than problems, if these could only be realized.

To explain the many social and economic challenges confronting Maori society today the broader issues of an ineffective state education system, the trappings of an over-sized welfare state, and a range of new media influences must be placed alongside internal issues like cultural literacy in a white world, feelings of collective entitlement, and at the fore a lack of strong leadership and clear role-models. This is certainly not to say that all or even many Maori are welfare-churners or lacking in competence, for that is simply untrue. What I wish to demonstrate is that increasing opportunities for the Maori community requires change from all parties. Driving this change within Maoridom will require leadership on a scale currently non-existent.

Certainly we may see Maori achieving at high levels in politics, academia, the public service, and to some extent in small business. What I wish to see within the next generation of Maori leaders however is to pick up the torch and strive to be the best. One need only look to the political work of Martin Luther King or, more recently, Barack Obama to see the profoundly positive impact of effective leadership.

At the turn of the twentieth century Maori leaders like Peter Buck and Apirana Ngata advocated for a ‘strong national sentiment’ within Maoridom, conscious of ‘distinct and separate existence’. As it were, these words of Ngata were also consistent with the strongly nationalistic sentiment of European society at the time. For better or worse, times have changed. There can be doubt that a separate identity can and should be maintained within Maori collective thought. However, nationalistic sentiment is no longer enough to match the competitiveness and ambition that characterizes the success stories of our modern economy and society. With the turn of the twenty-first century now behind us, Maori collective identity must be joined by effective leadership and achievement at all levels, from local to national.

The new generation of Maori leaders needs to show the virtues of individual responsibility, hard work, and economic literacy. We need to see Maori lawyers, businesspeople, artists, and entrepreneurs performing at the top – achieving not because of any ‘positive action’ (a direct attack on the dignity of hardworking Maori people), but by the virtue of their own merits.

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  1. age clark says:

    arrhh kia ora katoa,
    have you heard of a man by the name of James Brown – (not the singer from the u.s… god rest his soul) if not please find him in auckland,a hard man but a fair man.

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