We’re not the ones with the trust problem.
There’s a big truth in decolonization discourse that is often overlooked:
Injustice is an every day choice of colonial governments
I’m going to digress to an example here to illustrate what I mean.
The Waitangi Tribunal is the government appointed judiciary on Treaty justice. In 2014, the Crown, through the Waitangi Tribunal, formally acknowledged that Maori never ceded sovereignty. We could go through how they came to that conclusion, but just know that it was 2 years of expert historians presenting in front of the country’s best treaty experts, and further 2 years of rigorous analysis of that information, to arrive to the finding that sovereignty was never ceded.
What does that mean?
That means that Hobson never had the right to claim sovereignty by right of cession (and he certainly did not have right to claim sovereignty over Te Waipounamu, the South Island, by right of discovery).
Now keep with me – if Hobson did not have the right to claim sovereignty by right of cession, then Queen Victoria did not hold legitimate sovereignty over Aotearoa. Which means that she did not hold the rights to establish the government as the administrators of sovereign power in Aotearoa. And here’s the rub of that, which people find so unfathomable, and apparently radical, but is completely 100% evidence based: The New Zealand government (like so many colonial governmets) is illegitimate, and is operating by application of force. They do not hold ultimate power by any just or moral means, they hold power because they have the ability to enact force upon you by the police and by the armed forces if you do not ultimately comply.
So the government acknowledged this through their own judiciary 11 years ago, but because the government has also made the recommendations of the tribunal unenforceable, it does not have to do anything about those findings, and it has chosen, every day for 11 years and running, to not do ANYTHING about that.
It has, instead, again, as many colonial governments do, chosen the route of self interest and protection of ill-gotten power, through the wielding of force.
Now I know it’s fascist-fashionable right now to claim we are living in a police-state because one cannot go to the gym or nightclub, but the truth is, Maori have been existing in a police-state for a long, long time. It is a police-state that has enforced colonial suppression of Maori self-determination. This is a choice that those in power make every single day.
It is vitally important that people grasp this – when you want to discuss Maori distrust in Crown authority, you cannot set the start of the conversation to March 2020, and you cannot begin from the assumption that Crown authority is legitimate in the first place.
1. This means that the government has been running a very effective misinformation campaign for 170 years and is continuing to gaslight Maori about it’s denial of our right to self-determination.
2. There are numerous, numerous studies that illustrate how colonial denial of self-determination results in high mortality rates. These studies have been placed before government numerous times, including through the recent Hauora claims process. It is not a case of Maori dying early because of genetic pre-determination. It is a case of humans dying early because of oppression. If you oppressed Europeans the same way over the same number of generations, they too would die earlier, and would die. The overarching communication is: Maori are disposable in the eyes of the Crown. Maori lives have, for a long time now, been weighed up and valued against continuation of colonial privilege (and will never outweigh it so long as the Crown holds the scales).
Can you see how this logic is playing out today in the COVID response?
Given that this is a well reported scenario, it stands to reason that this was foreseeable from the outset of COVID’s arrival in Aotearoa. And that it was. Our own communities in Matakaoa and Te Whanau a Apanui highlighted this to the Crown and where we have been able to drive our own vaccination strategies, we have done well. That right there is the demonstration that success lies in self-determination.
But this is not something we should have to fight for. It is not something that should depend on the skillsets in your community and the relationships you may be able to work with government. It is not something that should happen in pockets, and nor is it reaching its fullest potential even for those pockets, unless it happens everywhere. One of our dominant COVID response considerations right now, even with our vaccine progress, are those living outside of our region who are unvaccinated and wanting to return back home in the summer months. It’s an unfair and difficult position to be put in, and all of it was avoidable, had our treaty partnership been respected from the outset.
And in all of these cases, the government could prioritise Maori leadership of these matters today, it could prioritise treaty justice today, it could treat the mending of the relationship with urgency if it chose to, but it is not politically convenient for them to do so. And so, instead, we are told this is a Maori problem, not a colonial problem. Maori are being problematized as defiant and uncaring of society, while ignoring the fact that Maori lives have been deprioritized (for the benefit of the state) for generations, ignoring that Maori have been frontline responders since forever both for COVID and natural disasters, ignoring the fact that where Maori have taken the lead, it has borne great results. The unfairness is stinging – Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Urutā and numerous other Maori and Non-Maori health and health research organisations foresaw this, warned of this, and were sidelined by the government, and we are now being pushed into an untenable situation: We were hobbled from the outset, forced to play catch up, and are now being told the rest of the nation will not wait for us to catch up anyway. Yet again, we are being told through policy that we are disposable in the interests of everyone else.
The burden could be significantly alleviated today, by the Crown, but it is choosing not to, because it does not trust anyone else with power even when the sharing of that power is the basis upon which its existence rests (ie the treaty partnership). It is an every day choice that the government makes, and while it is OF COURSE urgent that Maori vaccinate, we cannot overlook the role that this broken relationship and intergenerational neglect and devaluing of Maori life plays in vaccine hesitancy, because every day, the government chooses not to treat Maori mortality and risk with the same urgency that it now demands of us.
The fact that they are easing restrictions while Maori are still broadly under-vaccinated is a continuation of that theme.