Closing the gaps? : the politics of Māori affairs policy : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
In searching for ways to decolonise, indigenous peoples have promoted indigenous models of self-determination. Governments, in response, have attempted to protect state legitimacy through the depoliticisation of indigenous claims. An analysis of 'Closing the Gaps', a policy strategy introduced by the Labour-Alliance government in June 2000, illustrates that this has certainly been the case in Aotearoa New Zealand. The policy strategy provides an entry point into exploring the conceptual tensions contained within government policy for Māori, the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand. Based on an analysis of government documents and interview data, the thesis focuses on three main initiatives incorporated under the 'Closing the Gaps' umbrella. Each initiative highlights a number of bureaucratic, political and conceptual factors that explain why the strategy failed to match political rhetoric. The thesis argues that, in its eagerness to demonstrate a 'commitment' to Māori, the Labour-Alliance government neglected to distinguish between two different sociopolitical projects. The first, 'social inclusion' for all disadvantaged peoples, was framed by a broader 'social development' approach whose ultimate goal was 'national cohesion'. Emphases on 'community empowerment' and 'active citizenship' thus assumed that Māori needs could be met within the universal citizenship rights of the 'nation-state'. In contrast, the second project was concerned with an acknowledgment of the rights of Māori to self-determination as indigenous peoples and signatories of Aotearoa New Zealand's 'founding' document, the Treaty of Waitangi. Māori self-determination is a multidimensional phenomenon, but includes proposals for political and constitutional reform that are in direct tension with the ideas at the basis of 'social inclusion'. This is because they propose a form of strategic 'exclusion' from the mainstream and from state-framed notions of citizenship that regard 'nation' and 'state' as irrevocably tied. This tension was not altogether clear, however, because both projects shared the language of 'self-determination' and 'partnership'. In exploring alternative policy directions, the thesis augments a local literature, which has been critical of government policy for Māori. In addition, it makes a contribution to wider debates concerning the potential of liberal-democratic states to contend with the multinational diversity that indigenous peoples in settler societies represent.