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Political Roundup by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Ranginui Walker was farewelled last week by thousands of mourners at Auckland’s Orakei Marae. He occupied many roles during his celebrated life, including academic, writer, educator and activist. Bryce Edwards rounds up some of the best reflections on the life of a remarkable man.

As you might expect, biographer and friend Paul Spoonley gives the best overview of Ranginui Walker’s life and career – see his must-read Ranginui Walker 1932-2016. Spoonley summarises Walker’s impact: “He has helped revise what we understand to have happened through a process of European colonialism. He has explained the nature of ongoing injustice. And he has argued for a very different future.” Neither, notes Spoonley, was he “shy about voicing his concerns and criticism of Maori organisations or leaders.”

Spoonley says Walker was influenced “by radical authors such as Freire, Illich and Gramsci.” Certainly Gramsci’s notion of the “organic intellectual” – explicitly speaking for the interests of the oppressed and seeking to challenge and change the established order – was an approach that characterised Walker’s life.

For a good potted biography see Mana magazine’s He maimai aroha: Dr. Ranginui Walker.

Personal tributes

The tributes have flowed for Walker since his death last Monday. Moana Maniapoto’s Ranginui Walker — no beating about the bush with him is a fascinating perspective on a man who, she says, could seem abrupt but only because of his “preference for cutting to the chase — and never beating around the bush.”

Maniopoto witnessed firsthand Walker’s leadership of the Auckland District Maori Council: “Back then, the Auckland District Maori Council was the hotbed of political discourse — and way more critical than any of the other councils…It wasn’t plain sailing — and I’m not talking about the battle with Pakeha. I’m talking about those council meetings. While there was usually agreement on an issue, there could be fiery disagreements on the tactics.”

According to Maniopoto, Walker “wore the label ‘Maori radical’ as jauntily as he wore his trademark hats. It wasn’t just Pakeha who tossed around the term “Maori radical”, either. After all, Ranginui made many Maori squirm. It’s uncomfortable when one of our own rocks the boat.” At the same time she, she notes, “although many Pakeha saw him as a radical, in Maori settings, he was sometimes viewed as the moderate or even the conservative voice. It depended on the occasion and what other voices were being heard.”

New Zealand Maori Council co-chairperson Maanu Paul said Walker’s “ability to interpret the Maori and non-Maori worlds was his great skill” describing him as “the first race relations conciliator for New Zealand without having occupied the official title” – see Josh Fagan and Elton Smallman’s Academic and commentator Ranginui Walker dies, aged 83. Maanu Paul also emphasised the crucial role Walker played in transforming the Auckland District Maori Council and bringing together urban Maori after the urban migrations of the 1950s and 1960s.

The work of journalists Annabelle Lee and Mihingarangi Forbes has recently led to controversy and debate around the role of Maori journalists in reporting on Maori organisations – especially because of their reporting for Maori TV’s Native Affairs. In Dr Ranginui Walker: Devoted to the truth. Lee and Forbes acknowledge the encouragement and support they received from Walker privately and publicly when he wrote to the New Zealand Herald supporting their work.  

When they eventually left Maori TV, Ranginui Walker wrote to them saying: “Native Affairs is the modern day marae where a person should be blown about by the wind and shone on by the sun. Then we will know the truth.”

Lee says she would often consult Walker for his perspective on the story of the day and she wonders “who this next bunch of journos will be able to call on to do the same?” Lee (‏@huihoppa) also tweeted from Walker’s tangi, to say “The National govt @Johnkeypm and @chrisfinlayson snub Dr Ranginui Walkers’ tangi no one sent to honour the former Waitangi Tribunal member”.

Anne Salmond says Walker was Devoted to his people, and to truth. She recalls the 1970s at Auckland University as “stirring times”: “Patu Hohepa and Ranginui were working closely together – “Patman and Rangi – the Caped Crusaders”, as the students called them” speaking out on issues affecting Maori and laying the groundwork for activism with their analysis, leadership and teaching.

Picking up on Walker’s note to Lee and Forbes, Salmond said “Ranginui believed this about universities as well – that they should be marae, places where truth emerges from inquiry and the cut and thrust of debate, where people stand to be blown about by the wind and shone on by the sun.” 

Salmond continues: “The job of a scholar, like that of a journalist, is to find their way to the heart of the matter – past self-serving interests and misleading appearances. At times, being a scholar takes courage as well as insight. Ranginui had both. He was brave as well as lucid. If something was supported by the evidence, and needed to be said, he would say it, even if he was vilified for it… Ranginui was fearless, intensely rational, passionate and incisive… what he and Patu and others achieved with the power of the pen and the mind, it seems like a miracle.”

In Tom Fitzsimons’ Obituary: Ranginui Walker, powerful advocate for Maori, 1932-2016 he looks at Walkers politicisation and recounts his tale of coming face to face with “frightening and intimidating” young activists: “Me, I was a conservative, part of the system … and they were talking liberation, brown power, Black Power rhetoric from the United States … To me, it was a learning experience.”

Tim Selwyn’s Obituary: Ranginui Walker 1932-2016 gets off to an ominous start: “Ranginui is a national treasure, respected kaumatua, rangatira, scholar, one of the few who refused to take a knighthood when the National government brought them back in, a gentleman, a hit with the ladies, all round top guy in everyones reckoning. But I never really liked him. And he didn’t really like me.”

Nevertheless, Selwyn’s obituary manages to be one of the most thoughtful and admiring accounts of all. Selwyn writes “I never got to experience the warm and generous side of him that others have relayed. I found him to be a forceful and charismatic personality who didn’t suffer fools. A very sharp mind, a quick wit. At times ascerbic. A direct, Pakeha, way of presentation. Huge ego. Tough. He didn’t just want to spout he wanted to do something about it. He was a man of thought, a man of action.” He describes Walker as “always controversial. Admirably so. Inspirationally so… Saying upsetting things to smug audiences… was simply what he did.”

Selwyn asks: “Is it any wonder his sense of grievance was so palpable given the proximity to the eye witnesses to history”: “He grew up in the Waiaua valley east of Opotiki in the time of the first Labour government. That Opape block was designated an inalienable reservation at the time of his childhood, that safeguard was soon to be lost as the process of colonization continued. He was old enough to have seen and heard the last survivors from the NZ government’s invasion and punitive occupation of the Whakatohea homeland of 1865.”

In contrast, Morgan Godfery emphasises Walker’s gentle, kind and generous nature in Radical and inspirational, gentle and generous – an obituary for Ranginui Walker. He describes Walker as “Humble without ever becoming deferential, egalitarian without ignoring difference, and inspiring without turning to flattery”, and says for a generation of Pakeha Walker was “the primary translator of Maori politics and protest.” He notes Walker was not content to be “confined to spokesperson on “Maori” issues. In his columns and media appearances he would often voice support for workers’ rights and international human rights.”

Godfery argues Walker saw his academic work as “applied politics” approaching “theory not only as a way to make sense of the world but as a method for changing it.”

Struggle without End

Recently, The Spinoff compiled The greatest New Zealand works of non-fiction ever – the Team Brown remix, and ranked Walker’s book, “Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou: Struggle Without End” at four, out of all Maori publications. Leonie Hayden and Morgan Godfery compiled the list and noted that the book is “more than accumulation of historical facts, it’s also a stunning work of cultural and political criticism.” 

At #35 on the list, they put “Ranginui Walker’s column in the Listener (1980s)”, alongside Syd Jackson’s Metro columns. The judges said Walker and Jackson “translated the struggle for Maori rights into language Pakeha audiences might understand”. They also note: “Unfortunately Jackson and Walker were both the first and the last as there are now no regular Maori columnists in the mainstream media.

In 2004 Janet McAllister reviewed Walker’s revised Struggle without End. McAllister says Walker thought he was done with the book at the end of 2003 but then, in his words, “in the New Year Don Brash opens his mouth in his Orewa speech”. McAllister reports “The anthropological doctor was “so pissed off” with the economic one that he reopened the book.” Walker said of Brash “I have no time for privileged people who take advantage of their privileged position to attack the weakest people in our society.” 

Walker also believed Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act showed the “colonial mindset” was alive and well.” You can read his Listener column at the time, which opens “I have been here a thousand years. You arrived only yesterday” – see: “Dear Crown – An Open Letter to Helen, Bill, Richard, Peter, Jeanette and Jim”. Interestingly the letter finishes: “PS: Winston has been exempted from this missive because he and I belong to the Mataatua waka.”

McAllister says Struggle without End largely “explains and dissects potentially explosive subjects in a non-confrontational, clinical style” but Walker “just can’t keep his combative side down.”

Ranginui Walker’s own words

We get a recent glimpse of Walker’s “combative side” in Jevan Goulter’s short video tribute, in which Walker states “The Government confiscated 173,000 acres of our land. And the prick who did it was Governor Grey. The hit man of British imperialism” – see: Remembering Dr Ranginui Walker.

The footage was from the Morgan Foundation’s recent Talk Treaty Project and you can see more from Ranginui Walker in Why do Maori keep wanting to talk about public power and sovereignty?

Smaller snippets from Walker can be found here: What the Treaty says about public powerThe biggest challenges facing urban MaoriPositive steps towards restoring Maori sovereignty and How would you spend a million dollars to benefit Maori.

After the publication of Paul Spoonley’s biography of Walker, Kim Hill interviewed Walker – you can listen to the 45 minute here: Ranginui Walker: eyes of a warrior.

Jeremy Olds has Ranginui Walker’s final Fairfax interview conducted in November last year. In a wide-ranging interview Walker spoke of the Importance of a good work ethic, his motivations and his optimism for Maori and New Zealand as a whole.

Walker says as an academic he believed he ought to be “the critic and conscience of society. I embraced that role and tried to educate Pakeha through the Listener columns I wrote. That was an eye-opener – for Maori as well. That is the job of an intellectual – to try and change society and public perceptions… And that’s one of the great satisfying things about my life – that I didn’t have to go into politics to try and change the world.”

Controversial views

Reporting Ranginui Walker’s death, TVNZ chose to highlight his critique of New Zealand’s immigration policy, showing a clip of Walker saying “Close the immigration door completely… I object to people from all those countries coming here… If that trend continues, we will ruin New Zealand. We will make it just like any other part of the world” – see: Ranginui Walker hits out at the volume of immigrants coming into NZ.

In Puawai Cairns and Paora Tibble’s Tribute to Emeritus Professor Ranginui Joseph Isaac Walker published on Te Papa’s blog they say “Ranginui Walker, with his dual Lebanese and Maori ancestry, also had an intrinsic understanding of the complexity and unease for Maori who live with dual and plural identities.”

In fact, The Listener’s obituary for Walker, ‘I have great optimism’, reminds us that “Walker championed intermarriage, which he regarded as “the browning of New Zealand”, even shocking a 1970s audience of school principals by saying the race relations war was partly being solved in the nation’s bedrooms.”

He repeated that sentiment again in 2010 saying “The lizards of our colonial past are being laid to rest in the bedrooms of the nation” – see Walker’s Listener column, State of the nation.  He continued: “That is certainly the case in my family, which is not exceptional. Our children, who could have assimilated into the social mainstream, opted to identify as Maori of their own volition. They brought into our life an Irish son-in-law, a Thai daughter-in-law, one Maori daughter-in-law and nine mokopuna. All nine of our mokopuna identify as Maori. Five of the adult mokopuna have Pakeha partners. We love them all. My Pakeha sister-in-law has three Maori daughters-in-law, one Pakeha son-in-law and one European son-in-law. The offspring of the unions in our whanau are the new New Zealanders, the browning of the country by a new generation who see no future in the oppositional discourse towards Maori that pervades our media.”

Less than a year ago, Walker published an article on the AUT Briefings Papers website, which is surely one of his final publications – see: The Conversation. He views the current state of politics rather positively. For example, he talks about John Key forming a coalition with the Maori Party: “That is the closest the nation has come to honouring the compact the Crown made with rangatira 174 years ago.” 

And he makes the important point that recently “a barely noticed social transformation has occurred, the emergence of a Maori middle class trained in arts, science, medicine and law… and the Maori middle class is reflected in the political spectrum. Winston Peters, Tariana Turia and Metiria Turia are leaders of New Zealand First, the Maori Party and the Greens. The Key Government has three Maori Ministers in Cabinet, Paula Bennett, Hekia Parata and Simon Bridges.”

Finally, for a few caricatures of Walker over recent years, see my blog post, Cartoons of Ranginui Walker, 1932-2016.




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