Is Simon Bridges Māori enough?

The Māoriness of new National Party leader Simon Bridges is getting a lot of attention.

Bryce Edwards has written about and collated views on Who gets to decide if Simon Bridges is ‘Maori enough?’

The National Party has elected its first Maori leader, Simon Bridges. And to make it even more significant, deputy leader Paula Bennett is also Maori. The Labour Party has never elected a Maori leader, and that means Bridges is also the first ever Maori leader of a major party. And he might well be New Zealand’s first Maori prime minister.

The media is rightly highlighting this milestone. See for example The Guardian’s article on this by Eleanor Ainge Roy – New Zealand: National party elects Maori leader and deputy to take on Jacindamania.

There are legitimate and complex questions about the significance of this achievement, including how important it is for Maori voters and for advancing Maori interests, and what impact it might have on politics.

Unfortunately, much of the questioning so far has been along the lines of: How Maori is Simon Bridges really? Is he Maori enough? I raised this on TVNZ’s Breakfast today, saying “There’s been a lot of people suggesting he’s not really a ‘proper’ Maori, questioning his Maori-ness and I think that won’t go down well with the public and I think it will backfire because it’s becoming increasingly unacceptable really to question whether someone is Maori or not” – see: Questioning Simon Bridges’ ‘Maoriness’ will ‘backfire’ and he’s the ‘right choice’ to lead National Party, says political commentator.

Most of the questioning of Bridge’s Maori “authenticity” has taken place on social media, especially by some on the political left. Gwynn Compton suggests it’s evidence that “Bridges Derangement Syndrome” is already in full swing. He says Bridges opponents are dogmatically obsessed with finding something to criticise the politician for, and are as bad as those who have criticised Jacinda Ardern, John Key and Helen Clark in a similarly petty way – see: Leaders who bring out the worst in their opposition.

Compton hits back hard against those questioning Bridges’ Maori identity, and is worth quoting at length: “This absurd line of attack seems to draw on two equally as stupid measures: one being what percentage of Māori ancestry they have, and the other being whether they’re either fluent in te reo or able to recite a mihi. What makes these lines of argument absurd, and essentially racist, is that they completely ignore the fact that both Bridges and Bennett’s experience of being urban Maori are largely representative of urban Maori in general over the past century. The migration of Maori from rural New Zealand to urban centres over the past century, combined with backwards policies towards Maori culture for much of that time, saw many Maori separated from their cultural identity.”

An excellent response to Bridges’ ethnicity deniers comes from Ward Kamo, writing in the Herald today: “Unfortunately there is going to be a period where some will attempt to question ‘the Maoriness’ of these leaders. Winston Peters has already run that gauntlet and Bridges better get his running shoes on. Except that Bridges should just not run that race. It’s just insulting for that question to even be raised. As we say in Maori – his whakapapa is his whakapapa and no one can question that. And that’s my point. To be Maori is to have a whakapapa and a right to exercise that if it is your wish. You are not less Maori if you don’t go to the marae, if you don’t speak te reo, if you don’t fit ‘what a Maori is’. Your heritage is your heritage. All the leaders of Maori decent in Parliament have acknowledged their Maori whakapapa and it’s a beautiful thing” – see: Today is a watershed moment for Maori in NZ 

He goes on to quote from a number of media reports and political commentators.

Discussion on all this also at Redditt.

Laura Walters at Stuff: Political representation is becoming more diverse – but so what?

In another step forward for diversity in New Zealand politics, National has appointed its first Māori leader.

The party also has a Māori, female deputy in Paula Bennett.

These appointments add to the diversity in New Zealand politics: the country has a female prime minister, the deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis is Māori, and the Green Party has male and female co-leaders.

Overall, there are 74 men (62 per cent), and 46 women (38 per cent), in Parliament, with 26 Māori MPs (22 per cent), as well as Pasifika (6 per cent), and Asian (5 per cent) MPs.

Many of them are of mixed ethnicity.

‘PRETTY TYPICAL MODERN MĀORI’

Simon Bridges is the National Party’s first Māori leader, and while he says he is a “proud Māori”, it’s not part of his political brand.

Growing up as one of six children in west Auckland, Bridges said there wasn’t a strong emphasis on Māori culture.

His mother is Pākehā and his father a Māori Baptist minister. His grandmother, Naku Joseph, grew up near the Oparure Marae in King Country. He descends from Ngāti Kinohaku, a hapū of Ngāti Maniapoto.

Bridges said being the party’s first Māori leader was a “very humbling privilege”.

“It certainly puts into focus for me my whakapapa… As an adult I’ve thought about it; I’ve been back to my home marae. This just puts the spotlight more on it for New Zealand, and for me personally.”

This heritage hasn’t been part of his brand to date, and he said he didn’t expect that to change.

Both Bridges and Bennett stand for the National Party values of individual responsibility, economic values, and private enterprise. They were proud of their heritage, but did not use it as a platform.

“On the other side of it, I do hope that Māori New Zealanders, particularly young Māori, see something in me that they like, and can identify with, because I am like them.

“I’m a pretty typical modern Māori. I grew up in west Auckland… there as nothing particularly special about my upbringing in terms of the financial side of things.

‘Māori’ is quite diverse.

“Like most, I aspired to do better, so I tried to do that through tertiary education.”

Very successfully.

DIVERSITY PROBABLY MAKES NO DIFFERENCE

While Bridges said every politician brought their background with them, Massey University associate professor of politics Grant Duncan said diversity probably made no difference to the party’s policy direction, or its voter base.

Diversity and equal opportunities were important, but having ethnic or gender minorities at the helm did not make a difference to the average National supporter, or to Māori voters, Duncan said.

Diverse representation in Parliament showed the country was overcoming prejudices, but people could take those “identity politics too far”, he said.

You can have the “right line-up”, with people covering a range of genders and ethnicities. “But now what?

“We forget to say: ‘so what? What are these people actually doing?’.”

Identity politics mattered to people, but there were more substantive things to discuss.

“It’s important to make these observations but not lose sight of the bigger picture: what does the new leader of the opposition actually stand for?”

It will take time for Bridges to paint that bigger picture. Snap reactions are mostly from disgruntled political activists whose natural reaction is to lash out.

31 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  March 1, 2018

    In the PC world, if you ‘feel’ Maori, you are Maori. In the Maori world, if you have a whakapapa you are Maori. However, for many Maori, having a whakapapa isn’t enough.
    These type of Maori – many so pig ignorant they can barely fill out a form – will class Maori
    like Bridges as ‘ Plastic Tikis’ or Brown Pakehas.

    So we have racism and PC living side by side and creating I don’t know what.

    All I know is I’m visiting a kindy this morning, and will be greeted by lovely middleclass European ladies who believe it’s incumbent on them to address me in Maori.

    • robertguyton

       /  March 1, 2018

      “These type of Maori – many so pig ignorant they can barely fill out a form…”
      Pretty nasty, Corky.

      • Corky

         /  March 1, 2018

        ”The wahine costume idea has been binned. “They’re already calling me a plastic Maori,” sighs Tamaki.”

        Hannah Tamaki during an interview.while running for president of the Maori Womens Welfare League.

        Nothing nasty about it, Robert. All real world experience. First hand knowledge. I don’t need professors, lefties or bloggers to tell me different.

        http://www.noted.co.nz/archive/listener-nz-2011/hannah-tamaki-interview/

        • robertguyton

           /  March 2, 2018

          “pig ignorant”, Corky?
          That’s nasty.

      • Richard

         /  March 1, 2018

        But true!

    • Gezza

       /  March 1, 2018

      Kia ora bro.

    • Gezza

       /  March 1, 2018

      So we have racism and PC living side by side and creating I don’t know what.

      Offence, mostly. On both sides. To most of us it doesn’t really matter. Simon & Paula haven’t ever really made a thing of being of Maori descent, & now that he has he’s getting a lot of msm, blog & social media attention for it. Probably smarter than people realise.

      Remains to be seen whether his early appeal for the Maori vote will pull any votes from urban Maori & whether he’ll continue to emphasise that he’s Maori.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  March 1, 2018

        Is HE the one doing the emphasising ?

        He and Paula Bennett have so little Maori blood that they can hardly be called Maori. Part-Maori, yes, but she has a half-Maori grandmother, which means that the grandmother’s children were 1/4 and theirs 1/8.

        • Gezza

           /  March 1, 2018

          Well, yes, it was Simon who brought it up. Blood quantum’s important to some people, especially Maori-bashers, but identication as Maori is usually up to whether those of mixed ancestry identify with their Maori heritage as much as more than their Pakeha lineage. For a lot of them they don’t even get a choice. If they’ve got brown skin & any hint of Maori features they get called Maori whatever they consider themselves.

  2. robertguyton

     /  March 1, 2018

    “Most of the questioning of Bridge’s Maori “authenticity” has taken place on social media, especially by some on the political left. Gwynn Compton suggests it’s evidence that “Bridges Derangement Syndrome” is already in full swing.”

    Complete bullsh*t.

  3. robertguyton

     /  March 1, 2018

    Most criticism of Bridges was coming from the Right, and their blogs – take a look at Kiwiblog and Slater’s blog, if you will. Compton’s whipping up a myth.

    • David

       /  March 1, 2018

      And that is the point isnt it it. The blog commentators on the right would question how Maori anyone is and are consistent but what we have here is the hypocrisy once again on the left where they would be outraged if anyone questioned how Maori someone on their team was.

  4. Didn’t seem to be a point in any-ones posts until Bridges became leader of the Nats.
    Labour have been pushing their pregnant airhead leader.
    Criticizing her is sexist.
    Now
    criticizing Bridges is racist.

    • PartisanZ

       /  March 1, 2018

      Its not as though either Bridges or Bennett made anything of it before, is it?

      I had no idea either of them identified as Maori.

      But look, it’s all cool because commentators on the Right are “consistent” …

  5. NOEL

     /  March 1, 2018

    No one gave a damn of their ethnicity until now. Didn’t take long for it to be used as a catalyst for removing the Maori seats.

    • PartisanZ

       /  March 1, 2018

      I musta missed something … “used as a catalyst for removing the Maori seats.”? Huh?

  6. Zedd

     /  March 1, 2018

    I hear Bridges’ ‘whakapapa’ was being disputed; ‘brown skin’ does not always denote ‘of maori descent’ he maybe pacifika or some other ? 😀

    • Zedd

       /  March 1, 2018

      just look at Mr T.. he supposedly is of German descent, but what racial group is ORANGE-skinned ? 😀 😀

      • Corky

         /  March 1, 2018

        You and Lurchy need to work out who is posting what!

        • Zedd

           /  March 1, 2018

          get a grip corky.. you seem very sensitive about my comments on Mr T; just wondering RU the ‘realmrT’ ? 😀

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  March 1, 2018

        Zedd, when I was a child, it wasn’t that uncommon to see orange people who had used a brand of self-tan that had this effect if the user wasn’t careful 😀 It was really difficult NOT to end up looking like Mr T. Not orange LIKE an orange, but sort of gingery.

        • Zedd

           /  March 2, 2018

          LOL Kitty !
          It looks like he wears more makeup & hairdye than MrsT ! 😀

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  March 2, 2018

            She will undoubtedly wear both, but knows that the idea is to LOOK as if one is wearing neither and just happens to look like that (apart from lipstick and eyeshadow, of course) HE does not appear to realise that the idea is not to look as if one is wearing make-up (is it make-up ? Where would he find it in that colour ?) and hair dye. And WHY does he use that colour ?

            His skin may be that colour* (poor man, if so) but there’s nothing to stop him buying something to cover this. Thin Lizzie, anyone ?

            * too many carrots when he was a child ?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  March 1, 2018

      I have known Mediterranean people with brownish skin.

      Many races have skin that isn’t white. South Americans, those from the Indian continent. The only Sherpa whom I have met had brown skin.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 1, 2018

    Don’t give a damn if Bridges is Maori enough. Only care whether he is good enough.

    • So far, he’s not.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  March 2, 2018

        Neither are you.

        • robertguyton

           /  March 2, 2018

          Alan! Ad hom attack – you should be ashamed of yourself! Nice chap like me, minding his own beeswax.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  March 2, 2018

            Actually it was an ad hominem defence – returning the compliment you originally issued.

  8. robertguyton

     /  March 2, 2018

    Are you Simon Bridges? I don’t recall issuing Alan Wilkinson a compliment.