For many reasons today I was thinking about a hui I was at some time ago with some researchers who had come to ask our community if they could do some work with us. We were discussing intellectual property and my Aunt said something that has stuck with me over the years since:
“Stop trying to be Maori, I don’t need you to be Maori – I’ve got that covered. I need you to be a good treaty partner”.
Now, I’m blessed to know quite a few wonderful Tangata Tiriti, some of them have been so for decades in fact. A number of qualities occurred to me today about what I expect to see in a good Tangata Tiriti. Let me say before we go any further – this is not an exhaustive list, it doesn’t shortcut the work Tangata Tiriti have to do to figure out their responsibilities. I’ve been asked a few times “What do Maori want” – its a rude and reductive question, and not one that I recommend anyone ask… because WE are not the problem and what we WANT is not the point. The real question to be asked is – what does justice demand of us? And what follows are just a few things that justice requires of Tangata Tiriti.
- Be tau (at peace) with your position. You need to be able to speak frankly about the process of colonization that created the space for you to be here in Aotearoa. Not ridden with guilt, and not trying to explain it or evade it, but ready to respond to the legacy of that story. Be aware of your own privilege that has descended down to you by virtue of that process. Even in describing your own class, gender, ability or sexuality based oppression, you should know how the legacy of colonization influences your experience of that oppression.
- Respect boundaries. So much space has been taken from us, so primarily you need to respect our boundaries where we lay them down. Don’t argue with us when we insist on our own spaces. Don’t make it about your hurt feelings, or your need for inclusion. Don’t paint it as divisive. If you are mourning the space we have just reclaimed for ourselves, be comforted by the fact that pretty much the entire rest of the world is either yours, or shared with you. We require safe spaces to speak, just us. That will also require you to self identify and self vacate at times. Be proactive. Read the room. Remove yourself out of consideration for the space we need to safely continue a conversation.
- Be prepared to make sacrifice. If you understand the story of privilege that has shaped Aotearoa you will understand there has been a mass transfer of power. Justice cannot be restored without addressing the power imbalance.
If you are only interested in discussing the past but not responding to it, then you are of no use to the process of restoring justice, and I do have to question whether you are really adverse to racism and the benefits you enjoy from it.
This will mean learning the art of saying no. No to sitting on panels on Indigenous issues. No to occupying roles and positions where you are paid to impart (and judge) Indigenous knowledge. No to opportunities where systemic failings allow you to accept funding to lead Indigenous projects.
- There will be many spaces where your voice will be valued. Speaking to your fellow pākeha about being good Tangata Tiriti. Discussing what it means to be pākeha. Dispelling fear of decolonization. There is a perverse situation right now where pakeha do not want to do the work on themselves, but they DO want to do the work of telling Maori how to be Maori. Because the system supports this kind of behaviour, you wind up with Maori supplementing the workload, and spending way too much time teaching pakeha about their Tiriti responsibilities, rather than working with our own (which we’d much rather do). There is an important space for Tangata Tiriti right now, and it’s not teaching Maori – it’s working with each other on how to reckon with the historical injustice of their establishment, and what to DO about that, now.
- Stand with us for our language rights, for our health rights, for the rights of our children and women and stop perceiving Indigenous rights abuses as an Indigenous problem, rather than a colonial inevitability.
- Benchmark the discomfort of your decolonization experience against that of our colonization experience, every time you want to ask us to wait. Read here for a brief insight into what Māori have undergone, and undergo, awaiting justice.
- Understand that learning our content and knowing our experience are two different things. For this reason we do want you to learn, and lead, your own karakia and waiata… But that does not equate to permission to explain our own culture to us. Remember, boundaries. Learning the reo is not your get out of Treaty free card.
- Don’t expect us to know everything about Te Ao Māori or have our own identity journey sorted out for you. Colonization has made, and is still making a mess of our identity, and our relationships, and that is difficult enough without having to explain ourselves to you. Especially when you have yet to do the hard work on your own identity as pakeha.
- Nothing is automatically a 2 way street. I, for instance, can talk frankly about what a good Tangata Tiriti looks like. Tangata Tiriti cannot tell me what being a “good” Tangata Whenua is. This requires you to learn well beyond Treaty/Tiriti articles, or provisions, or principles. Privilege. Power. Bias. Racism. Learn how these operate in the context of Tiriti justice and you will get a better idea of how to navigate relationships as a Tangata Tiriti beyond the very flawed “anti-racism means treating everyone the same” fallacy.
- Don’t expect backpats or thankyous. You may get them (in fact you probably will – it’s another product of our colonial experience that pakeha are thanked and recognized for doing Tiriti justice work much more than Māori), but it’s important you realise that justice work is as much for yourself as it is for anyone else. It’s self-improvement, and improvement of your children’s future. You’re not doing me favours that you aren’t also doing yourself.
Ten seems like a good space to stop.
TANGATA TIRITI – if you ever feel tempted to ask that question, please instead come to this page and reset your journey with yourself.
CUZZIES – you get that dumbass question, just flick them this link. Merry whatever.