The power of 'teina' in NZ politics

8 Sep 2017


Justice Joe Williams gave a compelling address recently on the Treaty of Waitangi and whānau, hapū and iwi wellbeing.


Among the many tikanga Māori (Māori tradition and lore) subjects he touched on, one resonated especially with me in the context of Aotearoa’s political situation: that well-known (among Māori, at least) concept regarding the relationship between, and the role and function of, tuakana (the senior genealogical line, the elder relative, or the more experienced) and teina (the junior genealogical line, the younger relative, or the least experienced). 


The role of the tuakana is to provide strong, wise, effective leadership, with the general understanding that (all other things being equal) one should pay respect and be obedient to the opinions and guidance of tuakana.


The flipside to this dyad is that one should “stay away from the junior line – they’re likely to be trouble”.  At the same time, however, “sometimes your junior line will be your salvation because the older ones will fail you.” In other words, a teina must “make good on the wrongs of their seniors”.  Simply put, teina exist to keep tuakana honest.


And how true that is of politics.


The ruling National Party has suffered scandal after scandal, committed one corrupt and deceitful act after another.  These range from the perpetuation of the appallingly cruel, oppressive and systemic violence of Minister Bennett’s WINZ system (which has driven at least one woman to suicide, and led to the economic and mental suffering of countless others); Ministers Smith and Bennett’s unbelievably alarming suppression of critical data concerning the absolute vulnerability of our low-lying coastal communities to climate crisis-driven ocean inundation; and the Prime Minister’s lies connected with Todd Barclay’s crimes and his own $32,000 housing allowance fraud.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


Meanwhile, the ‘minority’ Green Party have for years advocated honouring Te Tiriti, eradicating institutionalized discrimination against Maori, implementing Te reo in schools, renters rights, better housing, the need for more equitable distribution of wealth, minimum wage, stopping water bottling, effective freight, clean rivers, climate change…they’re literally the canary in the coal mine, New Zealand’s first line of defence that keeps us all politically safe.  Little wonder ActionStation rated the Greens most highly against its “Peoples Agenda”.


Similarly with our young people now rising up in larger numbers against “the establishment”. 

One thing’s for sure: not only should you respect teina, but you should never underestimate their power as a value-driven force for positive change. 


(Post-script: this article was published as a letter to the Editor in the Northland Age, 14 September 2017)





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