Definition of Tribe now a Question of Economics
Dr Elizabeth Rata is an educational sociologist and senior lecturer at the Auckland CoBege of Education.
Any allocation of settlements needs to involve ... thos ebiculturalists who enabled the settlements to occur.
The controversy over the meaning of 'iwi" and who should beneflt from Treaty of Waitangi settlements has failed to address deeper issues. There are two other approaches to unlocking the meaning of this complex word "iwi" that have not appeared in the controversy so far. The first concerns the identity of those claiming the authority to define the meaning of the word. The second is a new way of thinlking about the relationship between contemporary and traditional Maori, which may have considerable implications for all treaty settlements. Only potential beneficiaries, the contemporary tribes and detribalised Maori, have been identifled as interested parties. However, there is a third group involved, despite their absence from the debate. These are Pakeha biculturalists who, since the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act, have enabled the recognition of the authority of "iwi" through the inclusion of the contemporary tribe into the institutions of government. The authority of the contemporary tribe to exist as a legal, and therefore, economic organisation, within the national and intemational financial system arises from this official recognition and inclusion, which stems directly from the intentions and actions of Pakeha biculturalists.
Any claim to define the word "iwi" must take their intentions into account. After all, a claim to authority is only as good as the recognition of it. Unrecognised authority is meaningless. Until the bicultural movement in New Zealand, a period I place between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s, the concept of tribe had become an anachronism within the wider national setting. How, then, has the contemporary tribe captured the definition of iwi and the accompanying economic benefits? The answer lies in its claim to be the legitimate inheritor of the traditional Maori communal society (inheritance conferring the eligibility to acquire the resources of that society), to speak "as representatives of the past, and as the authority for the present and the future. Yet is the contemporary tribe the same social organisation as the traditional tribe in its fundamental defining features? I argue that two essential defining characteristics are missing from the contemporary organisation despite the appearance of continuity provided by real things such as lands, waters, taonga, genealogical links, knowledge and customs. Firstly, the traditional tribe was a communal social organisation, albeit hierarchical. In contrast, the contemporary tribe is characterised by a class structure which divides those with control over material resources from two other groups: tribal workers and the' detribalised and dispossessed Maori. Already this first group is emerging as a relatively privileged tribal middle class. Secondly, while the lands, waters and knowledge are the same real things as in the past, the meaning of these things is fundamentally different. Land, waters and knowledge used as capital for the production of commodities and the creation of wealth is not the economy of a traditional communal society. Such an economy changes the relations between people and destroys a society based upon communal access to resources.
It is assumed by retribalised and detribalised Maori, and by the wider community, that a historical continuity exists between the contemporary tribe and the traditional society. However, I argue that these new characteristics capitalised resources, commodity production and class emergence break that continuity. The contemporary tribe is a new social organisation, and as such, has no greater claim to authority over the term 'iwi" than do detribalised Maori, nor any greater claim to the benefits of treaty settlements. It is possible to question the claim by the "new" tribes to the ownership of other forms of traditional resources such as intellectual property rights. Any allocation of treaty settlements needs to involve both the beneficiaries (retribalised and detribalised Maori) and those biculturalists who enabled the settlements to occur. Their actions in recognising the claims of Maori to historical justice are the result of their Westem cultural tradition of liberal democracy. That tradition is as relevant, to the present controversy as the claim by Maori groups for recognition, and the identity and authority that follow their recognition.