The hikoi to nowhere

Muddy shoes in the Koru lounge at Wellington airport. Tired and happy, thickly accented Maori. That was the end of the hikoi for some.

Those “marchers” didn’t sound or look like “haters and wreckers”, as the Prime Minister characterised the leaders. But they thought they had done a good thing, alongside the Harawiras and Sykes. They were buzzing.

But is this the buzzing of a hive which has been angered and wants to sting and then will die? Or of a great swarm which is going to transform this nation? Is this new vigour or a last gasp?

The hikoi in 1975 was the first step in a 30-year Treaty of Waitangi journey which took us ultimately to Don Brash’s Orewa speech. This week’s hikoi came after that speech, after middle New Zealand put a peg in the ground and said, “No further”. The unstoppable movement met the immovable object.

There is excited talk of a Maori party to give the hikoi movement political form and weight. This time, its leaders say, with MMP, such a party can have real leverage, the balance of power hinged on the Maori electorates.

No matter that many Maori parties have come and gone and only one has been successful, the Ratana movement, which achieved its greatest successes only from inside the Labour party and half a century after its founding — in the 1980s. Twenty thousand on the streets, fortified by powerful warrior ritual, might give it weight, the new party’s builders hope.

Weight in the form of a threat? Might that warrior culture turn on the majority as occupied minorities have round the world, with disruption or even bombs? Possibly, if the fixed ideas about the foreshore and, more broadly, indigenous rights to which the hikoi gave voice are turned into dogma that captivates and captures alienated youth.

In that sense, the hikoi was a warning to middle New Zealand not to try to push Maori too far back down that journey of the past 30 years.

For there was a second weight in the hikoi: wide agreement among Maori about the confiscation of the land rights in the foreshore and seabed. In that sense, the hikoi was a statement of claim and an impressive one.

But was it more than a warning and a statement?

All sorts of people were on the hikoi, for all sorts of reasons. Not least, it was exhilarating, judging by the Koru lounge brigade, one of those intoxicating experiences of solidarity you value for the rest of your life.

But after the rhetoric, what? Keep the pressure on Labour until its government decays and eventually falls, trapped between the hard place of the revolutionaries and the rock of middle New Zealand, whom it must not forsake and whose capacity for change has already been dangerously stretched? Down that path lies a Brash government which says it will confiscate even the historical use rights Labour has offered.

The point, which is lost in the warrior rhetoric, is that middle New Zealand, bewildered, fearful and resentful, has reached the limit of concessions, for this generation at least. In the last week I have heard much more anger than for many years, much of it from liberals who have backed the indigenous rights movement.

The basis has now been laid for abolishing the Maori electorates. No Maori party would get 5 per cent of the party vote. So the voice Tariana Turia will give to the foreshore movement will be stilled if it gets too loud. The hikoi hard line leads to impotence. This is the time for deals, not noise.

So the hikoi is not the first ripple of a flood tide. It is high tide. There will now be a pause in that 30-year journey Dame Whina Cooper set in motion. This week’s hikoi was an eloquent epilogue.

But another generation is coming, a generation with much more Maori culture built in. The next hikoi may be a different affair.