More often than not when an indigenous person puts their hand up saying, “Hey what about me, remember me?” they are immediately defined and labelled a separatist.

If you take a step back and widen your focus you will see that we are already living in a separatist society. If we weren’t there would be no need for things like Three Waters, The Māori Health Authority and cousin Willy Jackson’s UN Declaration: Māori self-determination proposal. One thing they all have in common is the amount of criticism and extreme views they generate. Another commonality is how much commitment is required to help change a system that has so far been full of failings for our indigenous culture.

If you look at where Luxon and Seymour are taking these political debates, it’s quite clear that we have a separatist system right now that Māori are trying to unbundle. A separatist system is quite simply, a system determined by mainstream not Māori.

I justify establishing a specific health delivery system simply because the present mainstream structure is failing and has been failing us for decades. Why would we want to be part of a separatist health system that kills us seven years sooner than you? I want a process that works and I am not alone in that. We have shown as Māori Health providers that our response to COVID was successful because we are forward-thinking, supporting these very communities we work and live in. Had we not been ahead of the curve during COVID our most vulnerable and isolated would have been left behind as this current institution fails to anticipate our needs and wants.

That is the hub of the whole debate, what gives mainstream the entitlement to believe that you can continue to take my money, spend it for me, fail me then tell me I’m a failure. That is it in a nutshell.

For the naysayers I suggest you do one thing, follow the money because the money don’t lie.

Furthermore, putting the fiscal economic argument and the humanity argument to one side, Māori have the constitutional right and entitlement to self-development and self-management. Not just a right, but the desire to break away from co-dependency on welfarism. We of course all need a safety mechanism for those caught on bad times, but it cannot be an entrapment tool as it is for Māori society at the moment. This is not new, the late, great Sir Apirana Ngata foretold this in the early 1930’s, and here we are, still having the same conversation some 90 years later.

You think about this, what are Māori “taking” from you personally? When you break it down to a personal issue, you have to ask what the gripe is. Why is it okay for foreigners to own assets but you have a problem locking it down for your indigenous people?

There was and still is criticism over how much was spent vaccinating Māori around the country. Pull back the curtain and you will see the money that funded our vaccination programme for Māori was 0.2% of what mainstream got, despite Māori making up 17% of the population. You do the maths, where did the rest of that money go? That’s right, to non-Māori, not to us.

No one is creating a separatist society like some of these politicians are claiming because once you start scratching the surface you will see Māori are existing in one right now. This is about inequity and increasing inequality. It is time we pulled a chair up to the table to help cement the decisions that will create the unequivocal and overdue changes for an inclusive Aotearoa. What is so wrong with that?

What I do know is that unfortunately in my lifetime it is unlikely Māori will get an equal right to participate. We just won’t. The good news is it will happen for my Mokopuna which is fundamentally why we exist, it is why we thrust our Pou in the ground, to make the world a better place for all of our tamariki.

John Tamihere is a former Labour Cabinet Minister and Chief Executive of Whānau Ora and West Auckland urban Māori organisation Te Whānau o Waipareira.