Painting a Covid Picture

So I want to paint a picture for you. I will use a brush of numbers, and a brush of maps, and a brush of storytelling, and we will paint a vignette. But first, a little Covid101.

Vaccinations are the strongest tool to protect yourself, but they are not the only tool, and it’s important we understand that. Being vaccinated does not mean you don’t have to wear a mask. Being vaccinated does not mean to stop social distancing. Being vaccinated does not mean complete freedom of movement.

There are such things as “breakthrough infections”. Amongst healthy populations they are very rare. But there are things that make them more likely to happen. Those things include:

  • Living in a crowded situation with a covid positive case (because of the constant exposure in closed quarters as opposed to brief contact outdoors or elsewhere).
  • Having low immunity to start with. This means that while the vaccine has BOOSTED your immunity, it will not be at the same level of a double vaccinated person with standard. immunity levels. This includes whanau who have had treatment for things like an organ transplant, or chemotherapy that has lowered their immunity, or whanau who might have been born with a condition that makes their immunity low.

Secondly, the vaccine helps your body to fight the virus so you will more likely get better. But also, there are some health conditions that, even with double vaccinations, you may still get very sick.

For all of these situations, and reasons, it’s important that as many people get vaccinated as possible. The best protection for those that can’t vaccinate (like children under 12) and for those with weak immunity, is that everyone around them is vaccinated and forms a protective bubble around them. As I write this, about 20% of the current outbreak are under 12 – that’s well over 1000 children. Mainly tamariki Maori. The other thing that’s incredibly important to do is work through an isolation plan for your whānau/household, and try really hard to reduce exposure to those that are not vaccinated, or immune compromised, or have health conditions.

May be an image of text that says 'Cases by age group Total Age group cases Percentage Cases who of all Percentage have been hospitalisec of all cases hospitalised cases 0to9 1153 18% 10to19 20 1114 17% 20 to 29 5% 10 1378 21% 30 to 39 3% 68 1135 17% 40 to 49 19% 771 65 12% 50 to 59 18% 68 601 9% 60 to 69 19% 76 251 4% 70+ 21% 29 127 2% 8% Unknown 2 29 0% Total 8% 0 6532 100% 0% 365 100%'
Source: Ministry of Health

Some of those health conditions are:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung diseases including regular bronchiolitis, asthma, cystic fibrosis
  • Heart conditions including heart disease, coronary artery disease, and high blood pressure
  • Diabetes type 1 and 2
  • Smoking
  • Addiction
  • Dementia
  • Obesity

Ok so – early summary:

  • Vaccinations are the strongest protection
  • Vaccinations ALONE don’t keep us safe
  • You are still high risk from crowded housing and low immunity
  • You are also high risk of severe covid if you have certain health conditions.

But enough with numbers and tables…. let’s consider a scenario to play out what these facts mean for an average household in the East Cape.

Riripeti is a 35 year old mother, her whānau call her Riri. She has a 5 year old, a 14 year old and a 15 year old. The 5 year old had bronchiolitis when they were 2 and has mild asthma. Her partner works in forestry. They live in the whanau homestead here, somewhere between Wharekahika and Potaka… it’s a modest but well kept homestead, built in the 50s. One bathroom one toilet, 3 bedrooms. Their 17 year old nephew lives with them, sleeps on the couch. They are all double vaxxed.

Riri is also asthmatic.

14 year old contracts covid at school and brings it home. They can’t isolate away from her because they only have the one bathroom, and of course Riri wants to take care of her 14 yr old baby, so the whole family has to isolate. Her partner is hesitant to stay home because there were just 500 job losses in the forestry industry and he doesn’t want to lose his job – he’s stressed at having to isolate. The 14 year old, because they are vaccinated and young and healthy, has a rough time but recovers after 10 days and gets the all clear to stop isolating at 14 days, but then Riri tests positive, and because she is asthmatic, she deteriorates fast. At 10am she was able to talk. At 10.30am she is struggling to breathe and they call 111. The ambulance takes 20minutes to get to her and 3 hours to get her to town alone and she is barely alive at that point (in fact it’s a miracle she makes it there). The entire household clock resets to 14 days again, even though she is transferred out.

The damage from the time it took to get Riri to hospital means she needs ICU but there are only 2 beds, both full in Gisborne hospital but there is a spare one, free, for 7 days in another district. The hospital barely manage to keep her alive long enough to transfer her again to fight for her life in another district, alone. The family are notified of the transfer after it happened because the staff are too busy to call and the decision to save her life is too urgent.

The father and the 5 year old now test positive and you have a covid positive parent looking after a very sick covid positive child, and of course the clock resets itself again for the remaining household members. the 5 year old also needs ICU. There are only 15 staffed child ICU units in the country, all in Auckland.

Here are the fathers choices:

  1. Allow his 5 year child to be transferred to Auckland by herself for ICU treatment (if it’s available)
  2. Allow his 5 year old child to be transferred to Hawkes Bay ICU where there is one available, not sure about how long for though.
  3. Keep his child at home with him where, if she also deteriorates, she will probably not make it to hospital in time, and will not be able to access ICU.

The father thankfully recovers because he is also healthy and vaccinated, the 17 year old nephew catches it last which resets them for another 14 days but he also recovers because he is vaccinated. By now that one house has had to isolate for 70 days. Nobody in, nobody out.

Over that time, who is delivering their kai? Who is delivering their medicine? Their watertank runs out…. who is arranging a refill? Who is feeding or moving their animals? Who is taking care of income? Physically they are fine, but the 17 year old is now suffering depression, and the father has lost his job and is also severely depressed, and the 11 year old daughter is now carrying the whānau – and they can’t reach anyone to find out about Riri.

Their living situation is not an uncommon living situation, or health profile, where we are in the East Cape. Now take this situation and multiply it by hundreds. Consider what this means for single parents. Consider what this means for grandparents looking after multiple mokopuna under 12.

Maybe it’s not asthma, maybe it’s diabetes, or obesity, or heart disease, or maybe they beat cancer a few years back with help of drugs which worked, but lowered their immunity. All of these things mean that although you are MUCH safer than if you had no vaccination, you still don’t have 95% protection. If you are in close living quarters, you can halve that protection again.

That is for vaccinated.

The lowest protections and worst outcomes of all sit around whanau who are unvaccinated, and lower immunity, and underlying health conditions, and are living in crowded situations, and we still have too many unvaccinated in Ngāti Porou

We have very high rates of asthma, of diabetes, of heart disease. We have people who have had or are on immune suppressing treatment. We have over-crowding. If you look at these maps, you can see – in all of the covid risk factors, places like Tairawhiti and Tai Tokerau, even with vaccinations, are still very high risk (source: MOH).


I could keep putting maps up for all of the risk factors – cancer, addiction, kidney disease and you would see the same, consistently that eastern tip is dark.

Now to add to these health factors, consider the following maps which focus on housing deprivation (overcrowding, damp homes, and homes without all amenities); and travel distance to a hospital:

Can you see now why the picture I painted above is not just a story of one, but many whānau where I live? I say this because I need us all to understand that we have to do everything we can, even with vaccination, to keep our whānau safe. It really will take all of us as a community to protect each other, with masks, with distancing, and with courage to make strong calls about things like holidays, about gatherings, about visiting. We are going to have to dig deep to avoid the deeply tragic scenario above playing out again, and again.

I know, already that there will be those that will come here for summer anyway. They are already here. Our campervan parks are already full. Hotels might not have vaccine mandates but they are asking people for their vaccine passport when they take bookings anyway. Consequently, unvaccinated tourists are flocking to campgrounds in rurally isolated regions. One tourist from New Plymouth was laughing at my cousin last week who was fishing and wearing a mask. When my cousin asked him what brought him here to the East Cape he replied “nobody else would take us”.

We are doing everything we can as a community to prepare. We are working hard to vaccinate. We are putting together home isolation plans. It will take a lot of community volunteer hours just to keep our community safe, even with vaccinations (but especially for those that are not). We cannot afford to wrap our limited health resources around visitors as well, at the expense of our own people.

So I need to know from you…

If you are here camping on our beach, 5 hours away from any health service, and you carry an infection you picked up from the petrol station you stopped at 2 days ago, and spread it in my community….

1. Are you expecting all of the volunteer community hours going into supporting our own community to isolate at home, to then wrap around you??? Who then looks after our whanau here? Are you expecting us to volunteer to look after you when you walked away from a fully resourced health service whereever you normally live??

2. Who is going to transport you to hospital and to which hospital? The one with only 2 icu beds? Our whānau will be more likely to decline fast bc of the diabetes, rheumatic fever, heart disease and poor housing. You’ve just spread it in our community, but you get the ICU bed?

3. If you are willing to return home, HOW will we get you home without leaving a wake of infections in your path?

Every year, our population swells to 3 or more times its normal size, from tourists. That terrifies me when I consider how hard it is for us to plan to just look after our own whānau, and how hard we are working to stop them from getting infected too. I don’t think any of those people travelling here think that they individually are a risk. They don’t seem to realise that from where we are standing, anxiously watching them drive past us, they are just one of hundreds of others we have seen that week, and that for us, that risk is cumulative. That for us, that risk is severe. Or maybe they do, and they don’t care, because for them, we are just somewhere to use for an escape. I hope not… I hope you care. I hope you care enough, to wait just one more summer.

Noho haumaru, noho ora ra.

Rangatiratanga in the Age of Misinformation

As the vaccination efforts for our people progress, and access to vaccines for those who want them improves – the discussions are shifting, on all sides of the vaccination debate – and to be honest, I think they probably need to.

In some ways, those shifts are problematic. Certainly we are seeing the debate become increasingly dangerous and heated. The government’s shift to the language of “personal responsibility” is troubling and understandably many feel that this is merely the government seeking to recuse themselves of accountability for a vaccine sequence that placed the majority of the Maori population in Group 4, initiated at the national level with mainstream messaging, was infrastructurally designed to privilege mainstream health providers, and so unsurprisingly delivered first and foremost to mainstream populations.

Before you come at me with the “Maori have always had access and the messaging has always been there for Maori” (as indeed the language of personal responsibility implies) – no we have not, and we still do not. There are still pockets of the country where people have to travel extraordinary distances, past clinics who don’t vaccinate, in order to access these services. There are still services who are struggling to get through the complex vaccine accreditation system in order to be able to do this work, and many DHBs are clunky, ineffective machines for being able to adapt to support these services. Maori messaging about vaccinations (including ours) have made inroads but have also, at a national level, come too late and are uni-directional. They generally don’t allow for conversations or one-to-one questions. Too often whanau are told “go and ask your GP” but for isolated communities, you might not have a GP available for weeks at a time, and then they’re only available when you are at work – and the boss will hardly give you a day off just to go and talk with a GP when there’s nothing wrong with you. This is also assuming that you have $35 spare to talk with a GP. Maori specific risk was not highlighted from the beginning, because Maori specific statistics were not provided from the beginning. We relied upon the likes of Dr Rawiri Taonui to carry out a lot of that analysis (which he has done so voluntarily and diligently since the first lockdown in 2020). Maori MPs have rarely fronted the pressers. Maori medical professionals have been either sidelined or their expertise ignored. I could go on but there are a myriad of ways in which the specific risk to Maori populations has not been met with adequate policies.

So in the face of that kind of inequity, languaging of personal responsibility is deeply problematic. It seeks to set a context for where some will, actually, be left behind. It assumes that those who still have questions, or have been exposed to either poorly held conversations (ie good information but presented in a way that is blaming, shaming or condemning) or misinformation (wrong information but without bad intentions) or indeed disinformation (deliberately wrong information) – are all in the same boat, and that all that could have been done to support their journey, has been done.

This is simply not the case, and it’s being demonstrated as such in many places around the country.

What we have seen in our small clinics that we have run is that when whanau are able to come in, without pressure of being vaccinated, but can ask a Maori health professional directly about the facts, that they will often carry on to get vaccinated. This week, in Taneatua, Marama Stewart held an inspiration “Cool to Kōrero” session which brought in Māori doctors to have free, accessible one on one sessions with whānau to ask their questions in a private setting – and it was incredibly effective.

The sequencing of the vaccine rollout means that our people have been exposed to misinformation and disinformation for much longer, and in a context (pre-vaccine access) that contributes to their vaccine uptake decisions. Now reconsider what “personal responsibility” means. We have to do a lot of work now to combat misinformation – and we are getting very little support while we are at it. In nations overseas, misinformation education is embedded in the curriculum from a very young age. In Aotearoa – we have to pretty much find our own way through this mess, and it’s dividing communities.

There are many implications for that, in addition to the whanau who are at increased health risk from being influenced by misinformation. It means Maori have to work twice as hard, and be twice as visible, to combat the issue. That means Maori who are working to protect their communities from covid, and those who are also combatting misinformation or even basic sovereignty that doesn’t align with the misinformation movement – are being subjected to threats, harassment, abuse, and acts of violence. It also means relationships within Maori communities are being increasingly strained, and in some cases, snapped. Right now across the motu heartwrenching discussions are taking place within hapu, iwi, marae, and whanau about how to navigate spaces safely with unvaccinated and vaccinated relations. Whakapapa is everything. The thought that it could be placed at risk by infection upon the marae is untenable. The thought that it could be impacted by turning whanau away who have chosen not to vaccinate, is also untenable. We must protect our communities, yes, but we must also, in all of this, strive to protect our relationships.

In addition to this quandry, we have the very urgent planning right now for covid in the community. We need to provide for our whanau who are going to get very sick. The realities we have been seeing on the news in other countries, will soon be in our own communities, and if our whanau are very sick in their homes, and cannot access a hospital, then we will need to care for them – vaccinated or unvaccinated. In fact, what the science and experience is showing us, those who will need support the most, when the hospitals can take no more, will be those who are unvaccinated and potentially, feeling the least like they can now reach out for help.

We can’t have that happen. We need to work hard on some tools that can help us to protect our relationships and our sense of community so that we can truly protect our actual communities – I consider all of these to be critical tools for rangatiratanga.

FORGIVENESS

I don’t have all the answers, and in fact all of us are learning as we go, getting frustrated with each  other, needing to step back and then step back into our relationships again. Much of it is new ground for us all to navigate so I guess the first thing I want to say is… we really need to exercise our forgiveness muscle. Not just of each other, but of ourselves too. This isn’t something we have had to deal with in our lifetimes – it was never, ever going to be an easy journey. No matter where your opinion lies, the stakes are huge, and that’s why people feel so strongly. Without getting into the relative morals of whether it’s justifiable to hold an unvaccinated, unmasked protest in a pandemic, or whether it’s ok to call people who do that (as a response to colonial trauma) stupid or uncaring – we need to be ready to forgive ourselves for the things we might say, and forgive each other for the things we say, in what is essentially a long, drawn out, and increasingly heated argument.

GRACE

If you want someone to really consider what you are saying, and have a change of heart, you need to try and create the context for them to do that. It’s ok to have different opinions of course – but when people feel attacked or threatened, they are much more likely to simply entrench their position, and identify you as an enemy. All of our whanau need space to be able to reconsider how they feel about something, and this happens a lot more when you allow them the space to do that.  This doesn’t mean you have to accept acts that are harmful, in fact its right to point out the harm of someone’s actions. But we need to try and be mindful of how we do that, and mindful of whether we are making it more, or less likely for that person to feel like there is a pathway back for them from the position they have taken. We must accept that those who decide to get vaccinated, and want others to, are not necessarily our enemy who endorses the state, but are just doing what they think is the best thing to keep the people they love, alive. Similarly, those who do not want to be vaccinated may well be operating from a space of genuine concern for their own wellbeing, and genuine concern for the wellbeing of the community and the erosion of community rights. If we can at least accept that it’s not simply a case of us being each others enemies, but rather different ideas of what love and concern for ourselves and our community look like, we are on much better footing.

SELF DETERMINATION (binaries are fake)

Arguably forgiveness and grace could both sit under this theme as characteristics of rangatiratanga anyway, but there is another distinct aspect of rangatiratanga that I want to address: that of self-determination.

Increasingly, this discussion is becoming polarized, and turned into a binary argument.

If you are pro-vaxx, you must be pro-government

If you are anti-vaxx, you must be anti-community

If you are pro-mandate, you must be anti-choice

If you are not pro-choice, you must be anti-human rights

In fact none of these are necessarily true and we have to be very wary of black and white arguments that suggest “if you are A then you must also be B”.

This is an excellent articulation around mandates that demonstrates that those who support mandates are not necessarily in opposition to human rights, quite the opposite they are merely concerned about the rights of those who cannot choose to be vaccinated, and are seeking trust in services.

It is very, very easy to erase important aspects of someone’s argument and reduce it down to a simple wrong-right position, to suit your agenda. White supremacist movements have relied upon this tactic for a long time to recruit others onto their cause, and it’s working very effectively here in Aotearoa. Rangatiratanga calls upon us to recognize our own distinct pathway through a situation. Yes we oppose a colonial government whose very existence violates the Treaty upon which its very existence rests…. but rangatiratanga does not mean taking the opposite position of the government for the sake of it. That, perversely, still leaves our fate in the hands of government.

Rangatiratanga calls us to strategically assess each situation as it arises, and, utilizing our own experts and leaders that we have prepared for just these situations, consider our allies and responses accordingly, to meet our best interests. Particularly when we choose our allies, we must be strategic, for not everyone else who opposes government is our ally. There is a concept called entryism, where people of one movement adhere themselves to another movement, enter it, and then seek to use that movement for their own agenda – and again, white supremacists are excellent at this. They will enter a movement, create a binary opposition (“they are evil/corrupt, we are pure and good”), and seek to establish a situation that suggests either we are with them, or against them – and it is splitting communities and families apart. A clear red flag for this is the “divide and rule” line. Yes it is true that a people divided are easier to rule, however disagreement does not need to mean division, and it is very common now to hear people saying “you’re allowing them to divide us” when what is actually happening is a matter of disagreement. If we can try to exercise some grace in the conversation, and put the rhetoric of both government and other groups to the side, then we will be much more equipped to determine the course of action for ourselves, regardless of whether the government agrees with us or not.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

While it’s easy to say “we have to make our own decisions based on our own best interests” – in the information age, it is very, very easy to be deliberately confused about what is in our best interests. Manipulative recruitment is an art that has been refined and sophisticated over time, and it has been supercharged by the internet. We are OFTEN hearing terms like “do your research” and “check the science” but the crucial research skills of critical analysis are sorely lacking. Now I’m the first to admit, science and academia are racist, elitist, colonial machines that have a lot of decolonization work within themselves to do (and it’s also true that they can produce an abundance of important, valid work as well). At the same time, our ancestors have always scrutinized, and analyzed, narratives to seek our own pathway and take our own independent positions. This brings us back to the fact that the skills of critical analysis to combat misinformation and disinformation are sorely under-resourced in Aotearoa. While our education system plays catch up, we can also develop our own, and I implore educators to do so.


Here are a few bilingual tools for critically analyzing information, created by myself alongside our local collective of Te Reo Māori and storytelling collective, Ngā Marae Kāinga o Matakāoa. They are not foolproof – but they are a simple surface level set of tools that can help us to interrogate and filter out potential misinformation. Everyone can use these tools, regardless of their political leaning, to help critically analyse information in front of them. The tool is called RATA, an acronym:

Māori: Rongonui, Arotau, Tika, Aromatawai
English: Reputable, Accurate, Timely, Accountable

In assessing the information in front of you, it’s important to ask questions like:
– Do I know who is even writing this article?
– Are they qualified to make the statements they are making?
– Does this work build upon and align to what the vast majority of research in this area says, and if it doesn’t then does it explain why it is so different in its findings?
– If it is experimental research, is it the most recent research available, or has it been cherrypicked from old research (that is no longer relevant). *nb this does not apply to deliberately historical research.
– If the person writing this article is spreading false information, is there any accountability for them? Do they belong to an organisation, or alliance, that guarantees a standard of practice/information?

Artwork by Wahapeka Ngātai-Melbourne, translations by Pōhatu Poutu.

Te Reo Māori full size downloads:

English version fullsize downloads:

These tools should ideally be used together, and can also be combined with other critical analysis skills like argument fallacies:
(Infographic developed by Artists For Education)

These are all very helpful skills to exercise when we are engaging in information being put in front of us – hopefully, with this mix of the very practical tools of analysing information, applied with grace, and forgiveness for ourselves and each other, we can navigate our pathway in a way that is truly self-determining. More importantly – I really hope, that in some way, these tools can also help us to recover some of the kotahitanga that we need to make it through this together.

Planning for Delta at Community Level

Discussions for whānau, hapū, marae, and kura

Covid is on the way. Our vaccination rates aren’t yet what they need to be, and while quite a few communities (like ours) are pulling out all stops to do what we can to raise the vaccination rates, in the meantime, there are some urgent discussions and plans that we need to carry out, at a community level.

WARNING: These are taumaha (heavy) discussions. They are not pleasant, and for some they might be fearful, but they are important, and for many others, they are discussions that bring some level of comfort because they enable us to prepare.

I’ve been getting a lot of requests from different sectors asking me what we should be considering, and it appears there is little guidance out there. Just to remind people: I’M NOT A COVID EXPERT. But I am a researcher, and have a valued network of qualified, independent experts who I trust. We are holding some of these discussions at a community level right now, and so I’m going to share with you what some of these discussions look like.

I’m going to mention the word vaccinate often. That’s because the absolute best prevention measure is to vaccinate. The proof of that is quite simple: it’s in the percentage of positive cases that are unvaccinated:

https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/19-10-2021/the-spinoff-covid-tracker/

The most heartbreaking of those lines, for me, is the Under 12 line who did not have a choice whether to vaccinate or not. Every time somebody says it’s about personal choice, I think about them.

These considerations are in three sections: Whānau planning; Hapū planning; and Kura planning
WHĀNAU PLANNING

  1. Vaccinate.
  2. If you have children in your household that are too young to vaccinate, or whanau who are not able to vaccinate for medical reasons, then consider how you need to protect them. You might want to consider letting people around you know that you have people in your household who do not have the choice to vaccinate, and because the best way to protect them is to ensure everyone AROUND them is vaccinated, then you are only accepting vaccinated visitors.
Feel free to download and print for your whare

3. Plan for covid care. If you have unvaccinated whānau in your household, or in the rare instance of a “breakthrough” infection, it is likely you will have to isolate at home. You should have a plan ready that can be actioned as soon as one of you tests positive. You should be ready to isolate immediately, ideally have the positive person isolate from the rest of the household, the rest of the household will need to be tested. If you are lucky enough to have not had it transmitted inside your household, then you can prevent it by having ONE person only tend to the covid patient’s needs.

You might want to consider the following:

  • What kind of care does a covid patient require?
    • consider addiction needs, appropriate dietary needs, hydration needs, countertop medicine that can help to relieve some of the symptoms like fever
  • Do you have a space where they can safely isolate at home away from the rest of the household?
  • What childcare arrangements will you need to make if you are a primary parent and fall ill with covid?
  • Do we have reliable access to clean drinking water?
  • Is your home/the isolation space well ventilated, dry, warm?
    • Ventilation is important – it is better to have a ventilated room with blankets and warm clothes than an unventilated room.
    • Try to keep your surroundings to a standard that would help anyone get better from the flu (ie minimise condensation, damp and mould).
    • Consider investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter. These can be expensive…. if you are on a benefit then you might want to consider talking with your doctor about a referral for your case manager. Especially if you have unvaccinated children or are on a health and disability benefit. Consider contacting a benefit advisory/advocacy service like BAIS who can advocate on your behalf or advise you on accessing these.
    • If you cannot source a purifer for whatever reason, then keeping the room ventilated with fresh air can also be achieved by having a window open, with a fan facing the window.
  • Do you have reliable access to a support person if you urgently need something purchased and delivered?
  • Consider investing in an oximeter – they can help you to measure oxygen levels and pulse rate to monitor your patient (in some cases you may be able to access one through your DHB. If you are on a benefit then speak to your case manager about purchasing one as a health requirement).
  • Here is a link to the NZ resuscitation council guidelines on covid and resuscitation.
  • Do you have an advance care plan organized so people are clear about your wishes for health care, resuscitation and other decisions if you are unable to communicate? Here is a link to the Health Quality & Safety Commission NZ guide for advance care planning.
  • Here is a link to the live document developed by @jenene (Jenene Crossan) which outlines helpful equipment to have at home while healing from covid. (NB it is NOT medical advice it is a list of equipment that covid patients have self-reported as helpful/necessary while they were recovering . PLEASE check with a clinical specialist)

4. If a member of your whānau/household is:
– A minitā/tohunga
– A pou kōrero/pou karanga
– Undertaker
– In a role to do with caring for tūpāpaku or supporting grieving whānau
How might you support them for the increased level of work that may be ahead of them? People in these positions often have a “N-yes” challenge (they wind up saying yes even when they want to say no). Can you nominate someone to monitor the demands on their time and energy, and step in when necessary? Do they need a checklist of covid-safety requirements to keep themselves safe in carrying out their duties? What are the safety precautions they need to take when coming home from their mahi, in order to keep the household safe? Can anyone else be trained to share the load?

Here is another wonderful resource to help you consider what you need to do as a whānau to be prepared:

May be a cartoon

HAPŪ PLANNING

  1. Vaccinate
  2. Vaccinations and quality information are vital tools in combatting covid at a community level, but the best strategy is a “whole of cake” strategy…. the safest community is a community that is well informed, well vaccinated, and well masked. None of these tools are as effective as all of these tools together. (Note contact tracing may be getting phased out as the positive case numbers get out of hand, but it’s still a good idea to ask people locally if they have been to a location or region of interest).
  3. How will you deal with the pouri of mass loss in your community? What are the provisions available to you to deal with whānau in distress, or indeed numerous whānau in distress, or an entire community in distress over a sustained period? Do you have access to quality kaiawhina in this area? What role could pure, karakia, waiata, māramataka, kōrero pūrākau play in the healing of the mamae ahead?
  4. What are your plans for your marae? Will you stay closed? Will you have conditions for how to operate when open?

    Rapid antigen and saliva tests are popular covid suppression tools overseas with some restaurants having rapid antigen test rest areas outside of venues and restaurants and customers arriving 20mins early to get tested before they can go inside. Many households overseas have now normalised testing and test themselves at home a couple of times a week. Rapid antigen tests are now approved for use in Aotearoa. Is a rapid antigen test area something your marae may want to consider? (note: Rapid Antigen Tests help with suppression, they are not 100% effective because they do not pick up low levels of the virus. While they are convenient and accessible, they should be used in combination with masks, distancing and other rules like telling people to stay home if they are sick).
Germany Makes Rapid Virus Tests a Key to Everyday Freedoms - The New York  Times

3. Urupā and tangihanga planning.
Pray for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
– Do you have a plan for high mortality rates?
Here are the MoH guidelines for dealing with tūpāpāku and funeral services
– How might you support social distancing at tangihanga?
– Do you have supplies of masks and contact tracing resources?
– What is your urupā capacity? How might you be able to cope with an increased mortality rate?
– How can you manaaki/tiaki your pou kōrero, pou karanga, and others involved in the care of tūpākaku and whānau pani?
– How will you handle hākari? Should hākari meals be offered in takeaway containers? Should hākari be cancelled? If you have hākari on your marae, what are the ventilation and covid requirements?

4. Communications strategy
Good public health information is a crucial factor in community health. How will you communicate vital information out to your hapū? Via social media? Do you have someone who can print information out and leave in letterboxes/Po boxes for whānau who are not on social media?

Who are your trusted sources of information?
Here are some excellent links for relevant, reliable covid advice:
Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Urutā – The National Māori Pandemic Group has excellent resources and advice on a wide range of covid issues, made relevant to Māori.
Protect Our Whakapapa – Simple, powerful, on point resources for whānau to protect our whakapapa from covid.
Dr Rawiri Taonui consistently and tirelessly analyses covid for Te Ao Māori
Dr Morgan Edwards has an easy-to-follow, comprehensive instagram page with quality covid information

As schools spend millions on air purifiers, experts warn of overblown  claims and harm to children | PBS NewsHour
Ventilation in classrooms is crucial

KURA PLANNING

  1. Vaccinate
  2. The government has mandated vaccination for all school staff (teaching and non-teaching). While that reduces the risk, it does not eliminate it. Every kaiako and staff member at our kura is vaccinated, but we are keeping our taonga home because we do not know if all of the households of other students (especially U12) are vaccinated. While we know that young children often recover well, those have have required hospitalisation, have suffered long covid or severe covid have been children with underlying health problems, in particular underlying respiratory healthy problems. Overarchingly in Aotearoa, that will be Māori and Pasifika children. Here is a very good general article by the incomparable Dr Jin Russell who outlines a gold standard plan for safely reopening
  • What provisions will the kura have for parents who need to keep their children home for safety reasons, until they are vaccinated?
  • How will the kura protect young children from unvaccinated parents who may be dropping off or picking up children?
  • Soon the Pfizer vaccine might be available for 5-11yr olds. Should the kura be considering (if it hasn’t already) kura vaccine clinics so the vaccine is readily available to students and their whānau? Do the whānau need a wānanga on vaccines first, with some trusted information sources?
  • How will you, as a kura, work to protect our pēpi under 5?
    *Important info for parents of under 5: For newborns best protection comes by mother being vaccinated in pregnancy, breastmilk tops up protection and the natural sugars in milk help baby to develop a strong immune system through gut bacteria. Vaccination in pregnancy protects mother during pregnancy and postpartum when she is at high risk from COVID-19. For older infants, mother’s being vaccinated while breastfeeding is likely to have some benefits to reduce risk of transmission and some antibody transfer, but only temporarily (some studies suggest 4 weeks). For toddlers, their own immune system is more developed than infants and are currently less likely to get sick from COVID. For all babies, their best protection comes from everyone around them being vaccinated and staying away when sick.

    Other studies on vaccinations for pregnant and lactating Māmās:
    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2780202
    https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.03.06.21252603v1
  • Will classrooms be well ventilated? Here is an excellent article on the importance of ventilation for classrooms. Here is another link to a study carried out by Otago University that outlines the importance of ventilation, HEPA air filters, and CO2 monitors for classrooms.
  • What education resources are available for your kura on covid, vaccines, and misinformation?

As more resources or important considerations come to hand, I will add them up here. Again, these aren’t easy discussions, but they are important. It is equally important that you hold these kōrero with aroha, couched in karakia, and to consider the important processes of pure and tuku in order to release the weight of the discussion afterwards.

Indeed, reading this blog may leave you feeling taumaha. I invite you to tuku. Turn off the device, sit quietly for a moment with the weight of what you have read. Acknowledge it. Commit to taking an action (it might be discussion with your GP, it might be creating a resource, it might be a phonecall to learn about services, it might be doing more research, it might be calling a hui) in relation to it. Bless the weight, and release it to the universe, while retaining your commitment to action. Remember, we have come through this before as a people, and while it’s important to prepare, it’s also important, and possible, to both prepare while holding hope and faith. Offer a brief karakia to emerge back into Te Ao Marama.

Unuhia, unuhia, unuhia
Unuhia ki te uru tapu nui
Kia wātea, kia māmā, te ngākau, te tinana, te wairua i te ara takatā
Koia rā e Rongo, whakairia ake ki runga, kia tina, tina.
Hui e, taiki e.

The Freedoms We Lose

GoodTherapy | Schizophrenia Correlated with Increased Risk of Dying Early

Whereever you live in Aotearoa – covid is on its way, and it’s time to plan – which will undoubtedly result in a loss of freedom of some sort.

Our government has abandoned the elimination strategy, and while we are still determined to get as many of our people protected through vaccines, we will likely not catch up in time to avoid severe impacts, and are focusing on being prepared for its arrival now. It’s a scary prospect for Tairawhiti district, with a population of 50,000, only 6 ICU beds, 2 ventilators, and even though in Matakaoa there is very strong vaccine uptake… elsewhere in the region, we have some of the lowest uptake in the country.

an excellent insight into what ICU beds and the skills around them mean. It’s in an Australian context but the same is true for us in Aotearoa. xxx

It means our ICU could be overwhelmed very easily, and the flow on effects from that don’t just rest with covid cases – serious injuries, heart attacks, pregnancy emergencies, all rely upon ICU beds and the specialist skills that go with them.

Here, in our household, all eligible adults are vaccinated. We’ve encouraged the community and all those who want to return home to get vaccinated too…. but it’s still a worry. My children are too young to vaccinate, and one has a chronic respiratory condition that has placed her in hospital just with the regular flu in the past.

So what does preparation for its arrival look like? Well I’ll go through what that looks like for us but before I do I want to point out – there have been a LOT of discussions about personal freedoms. People feel that their freedoms are being taken away by the government, and believe that it is their basic human right to choose whether they vaccinate or not. And they are right, to an extent. As others have pointed out – human rights come with limitations, and those limitations generally kick in when your personal decisions impact on other people’s rights to wellbeing, or even right to life. For instance you have the human right to adequate housing, that does not give you the right to kick me out of my home and take it for yourself.

Now I completely accept that even with the vaccine, there is a chance that I could catch covid and pass it on to my children anyway. I also accept, however, the overwhelming evidence that I am significantly LESS likely to catch covid and pass it on, if I am vaccinated. For my babies, if it means even just one percent less risk – I will take it. Every degree of risk matters. Every single one of you who have chosen to be vaccinated not just for yourselves but for your community… I am so thankful for the risk that you have reduced for our most vulnerable.

So that brings us to our whanau plan. Now we must look at everything else we can do to reduce risk for our babies, and what that means, is that we will be giving up a whole lot of freedoms.

  • We are pulling them out of their kura. It’s a heartbreaking decision because they love their kura, but there is no way for us to know whether their classmates are in a household with other unvaccinated adults. There is no way to know if their classmate’s households are covid conscious about who visits, or the households they visit, or how they move through the community. I can’t possibly expect the kura to plan or control for these risks either. So we are going to homeschool them while we get our heads around how best to keep them safe.
  • Our girls will lose the company of their friends, they will lose some of the social learning that comes from being a part of the kura community, they will lose the opportunity to learn and grow with their Koka, and Matua of their community – an opportunity I have dreamed of for my children since I was little, myself, and a big part of the reason we moved home. They will lose access to the incredible matauranga they had access to at that kura, through those wonderful Koka and Matua.
  • Attending community gatherings, be it at marae or elsewhere, will also be off for our household, for all of the reasons above, and it’s upsetting all over again, for all of the reasons above.
  • We are restricting visitors to our home. We don’t accept unvaccinated visitors anymore. Yes it’s everyone’s choice whether they vaccinate or not, but it’s also our choice to protect our home from every degree of risk that comes with your choice. There are those we dearly love who have chosen not to vaccinate. Even in disagreeing, they are still our whanau and we still love them, but we will not risk our children’s wellbeing for that love. Even for children visiting, that is only for those who come from fully vaccinated households whom we are confident are covid-conscious, and I can tell you… that list is depressingly small.
  • I’m no longer accepting invites to speak or meet outside of our region, and even within our region, I will opt for zooms or outdoor venues. It will limit my income – I depend on travel for some of my contracts, so those contracts will have to be relinquished.
  • Whanau holidays are off, for now. We have maybe 3 households that we would be comfortable staying with (and we would be getting tested before we overnight with anyone, in addition to being regularly swabbed/tested anyway) but to be honest we will be limiting travel for the most part, altogether.

As we watch the vaccination levels rise, and we watch covid case levels (hopefully) drop, and we observe the science around covid, we will re-assess our decisions around the protections we are taking as a whanau, but for now, as this ngangara draws near, we are making all the plans we can to keep our children safe. Not because we trust the government, not because we blindly trust science or media either, but because I have rigorously assessed the studies myself, for my whanau, to understand the best way to keep my children safe, and because I have friends who I love dearly, who have passed from covid, and other loved ones who are living with it raging all around them.

It could be so much worse, and I’m keenly aware of our own privilege in the decisions we have made – we are fortunate that we can sacrifice these freedoms and still have some sort of income – others are not as fortunate. I have friends who have family that are immuno-compromised, and because of the lack of restrictions and low vaccination rates around them, they are pretty much imprisoned in their home. I have other friends who have immuno-compromised family, and young children, and are frontline workers without any other job prospects, and so they live in fear every day. I have other friends who did not have these choices, and contracted covid, and are no longer with us.

So you see – the freedoms being declared as rights by those who choose to not vaccinate, impacts on the freedoms available to the rest of us, and for our children as well. We are all considering our freedoms here. I, personally, take some hope in history telling us that vaccine acceptance eventually sets in as fear passes… that happened with many other vaccines that were, at first, feared and rejected.

Until then, we will continue to plan. If you are looking to plan around your safety as well – here are some handy tips. Kia kaha. Noho haumaru koutou, otira tatou katoa.

No photo description available.

Te Tiriti and Vaxx Rates

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).

Source: Stage One Report of the Hauora Claim

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.

Defence of Colonial Racism

In a tired and tiring act of privilege protection, a number of Auckland University academics published a collective letter to the editor of The Listener today. I can’t say I’m grateful for it, one is never grateful for racism, but out of the weekly (if not daily) attacks from the righteous white right, this one can at least serve as bold evidence for the endurance of white supremacy within academia and science.

I have spent a decent amount of my employed hours illustrating the role of colonialism and racism in science in order to grow a more just and robust approach to science, and in that work I encounter my fair share of gaslighting. It’s not uncommon that those I work with either believe that colonialism in science is a thing of the past, if it ever existed at all. Many believe that scientific racism cannot exist in the “hard science” of laboratories and observations. Most believe that if racism is present in science it is an aberration.

But this letter, in all of its unsolicited glory, is a true testament to how racism is harboured and fostered within New Zealand academia (as a part of a global system that also harbours and fosters racism) – it is so normalised that people can hold senior academic positions whilst holding and promoting harmful discriminatory views towards marginalised groups.

It’s a very handy example for us to illustrate the work that remains to be done within universities if it ever aspires to deserve the title of the critic and conscience of society, and the work remaining within science and academia if it ever hopes to earn the trust of marginalised communities. It’s also a helpful collection of the very weak arguments that feature in academic racism. More often than not, scientists are afraid to give voice to such positions, because of potential career implications (for, you know…. being racist). Policies of consequence for racism are necessary and just – but in the absence of anti-racism education it means that people merely suppress rather than dispel racist ideas.

So anyway, let’s have a look at this letter for the resource that it is. Without a doubt this will be an educational resource for generations to showcase the absurdity of racism, so let’s get that ball rolling.

The first thing to note is that all of these authors are white, writing about the Māori school curriculum. It’s important because positionality and critical reflection matters. None of these authors have been or will be primarily impacted by the intergenerational dispossession or denigration of Mātauranga Māori. None of them have been beneficiaries of, or will be beneficiaries of the Māori school curriculum. This of course has never halted the likes of Elizabeth Rata from attacking Māori knowledge and education systems before, and Māori scholars such as Leonie Pihama and Jenny Lee have deftly deconstructed her attacks on Māori for many years now. It’s also important because Elizabeth Rata’s use of her ex-spousal surname and her career of writing about Māori (albeit in attack mode) can sometimes mislead people into thinking she is Māori and overestimate the validity of her reckons. She is not Māori, she is pākehā, and writes for racist pākehā think tanks.

“Disturbing misunderstandings of science”
So after raising concerns about the NCEA changes to the Māori school curriculum, the authors cite the proposed changes, which address issues of eurocentrism and scientific domination, as evidence of “disturbing misunderstandings of science” throughout science funding and policy that encourage mistrust in science as a discipline. The statement that “science is universal, not necessarily western european” wilfully and conveniently ignores that there are well-acknowledged limits to any notion of universality. This is a cheap attempt to corral science under colonialism. Scientific methods and philosophy are anything but universal. The authors know this because in spite of trying to apply the universal ideal, they still acknowledge that there are variations in approaches and prescribed validity.

Science is also not confined to method and philosophy. Like all other social institutions, science has its own power structure and it has developed power hierarchies over time precisely because of its involvement in the global colonial project. When I refer to knowledge systems I mean research, education, academia, scientific practice and publications, the evaluation and funding of science, the access to science and the legitimacy of science and its relationship to policy and government. It is a complex structure, the history of which is rooted in a period called The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment period, as the foundation of modern intellectual theory, was overseen by scientists and philosophers who were investors and clients of the slave trade and Imperial dispossession of Indigenous territories the world over, and their work supported those practices. Enlightenment period “research” topics and hypotheses included how to whip an African most effectively, that Indigenous brains were smaller than European brains (making them less intelligent), and that Africans were only slightly more evolved than monkeys. Many of these philosophers and scientists are still upheld and taught in scientific theory today. The power structures that have privileged Europeans economically over time, are the same power structures that have privileged European knowledge systems over time, and just as the economic power and privilege of these events endure today, so too does the privilege and power within the science sector still endure today. The authors cite Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Greece, and “medieval Islam” as one-time contributors to science, which was then developed by Europe, USA, and a “strong presence” by Asia.

I’m gonna give that it’s own paragraph so we can consider that again, and keep in mind this is written by people who TEACH scientists.

The authors suggest that Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Greece and “medieval Islam” contributed to this singular science tradition, and it was THEN developed by Europe, the USA, and sometimes Asia.


The authors have also, presumably wilfully, ignored the role Eurocentric science has played in dispossessing those same peoples of their cultural artefacts because of the racist position, based on racist science, that they were not advanced enough to care for their own artefacts. A racist presumption that still endures in arguments against their repatriation today.

“Science itself does not colonize. It has been used to aid colonisation”
Well it’s hardly a revelation that it takes people to colonise. This is rather akin to the National Rifle Association mantra “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.

If it makes it easier for you to understand, Liz, Kendall & Co:
Science itself is not being regulated. The people who carry it out are.

The next apparent attempt to defend the intrinsic good of science comes in the form of:

“Science is helping us battle worldwide crises such as covid, global warming, carbon pollution, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation”
No Lizendall, GOOD SCIENCE has helped us battle worldwide crises. Crap science has hindered our efforts in those places. Crap science has denied climate change. Crap science has sought to justify further extraction from the environment. Crap scientists have contributed to COVID denial and vaccine hesitation.

Good science in all of the above cases supports science that is (at a minimum) inclusive of, relevant to and accessible to the local context. In Aotearoa, that local context is unavoidably Māori.

And inspite of the authors’ incredibly patronising attitude towards Indigenous knowledge, it’s actually Indigenous science and practice that is the reason behind 80% of the world’s biodiversity being in Indigenous territories, and Indigenous managed forests outperforming all others in carbon sequestration. Indigenous communities have the longest standing record in biodiversity management, and after those thousands of years of success, in just a few short centuries of European domination we are facing an existential crisis.

So in fact, it’s more accurate to say that Indigenous science systems far outstrip Eurocentric science systems in combatting environmental degradation (which is also a major contributor to the formation of pandemics and inhibits successful COVID responses). Which brings us to the next gem…

“The future of our world and species cannot afford mistrust of science”

Look, Lizendallobarthoglas, if you really want to deal with mistrust in science then here are two great ways to do that:

  1. Deal with white supremacy in science. People don’t trust science because it’s been dominated by elitist tossers for centuries. Ahem.



  2. And secondly – deal with the right wing white supremacists that dominate science deniers. You know like Trump who slashed science funding (along with health and environmental funding) and ran his campaign on disinformation tactics, like his mates Johnson and Bolsonaro. Overarchingly overseas it has been white supremacist leaders who have denied science and fostered populations of science deniers under their watch. Similarly it’s pākehā-led lobby groups that are leading the resistance to evidence based policy on the environment and health.

But I think we all know by now this isn’t actually about science.

That becomes startlingly clear in the following paragraph, which really is the pinnacle of this Mt Cleese masterpiece….

“Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.”

Kendarthohbethelas


So…. in 1500BC, while ancient Europeans were still dipping their toes in the duck pond of the Mediterranean, and some 3000 years before they even knew of our existence, Māori ancestors were somehow navigating, mapping, and observing the largest water body on earth…. without science.

They somehow managed to develop their own medical disciplines, their own aquacultural and horticultural technological innovations, their own calendrical systems and incredibly sophisticated celestial tracking systems…. without science.

Angela Davis says it best

The most basic premise of knowledge systems is that knowledge is produced by science. To acknowledge knowledge requires you to acknowledge the science that created it.

Because we’ve by now abandoned all reason, we finally have a contextual home for the final statement that respecting Mātauranga Māori is “patronising”: That home being the land of Dr Seuss.

Actual footage of a Kendall Clements lecture

Unless, of course, we accept the aforementioned suggestion that this isn’t actually a defence of science in the first place.

The authors, in their desperation to protect their own privilege, comfort and relevance have ultimately defeated themselves, and exposed their letter for what it is, not actually a defence of science at all, but a defence of colonial racism.

This post will also be forwarded to Auckland University. If you would also like to write to Auckland University about this letter, here are some UoA leadership addresses for you:
Provost: v.linton@auckland.ac.nz
VC: vice-chancellor@auckland.ac.nz
PVC Māori: tk.hoskins@auckland.ac.nz
PVC Pacific: d.salesa@auckland.ac.nz

Don’t just do it for racism, do it for good science.

And please feel free to download and share this gif along with those addresses:

Addendum: I have heard it whispered that one of the authors (not Rata) “has Māori ancestry” and if that is true I certainly stand corrected that that person is most definitely an example of the impacts of intergenerational dispossession of Mātauranga Māori.

The Callous Rhetoric of the NZ Right, and the Risk it Poses to Māori.

Judith Collins, Paul Goldsmith, Simeon Brown and David Seymour have all recently utilised racist political tactics that have contributed towards an increasingly unsafe space for Māori.

In the past 2 years, Aotearoa has had to face up to an ugly truth about its race relations. An ugly, violent truth. While the default of many was to declare that “this isn’t us”, many others, Māori in particular, understood that as a nation-state borne out of brutal colonial dispossession, maintained with the threat of state violence over our heads, over our children’s heads, over our whanau heads…. this has always been us.

Marama Davidson: If I'm going to be labelled radical, I'm fine with that |  The Spinoff

With the presence of Marama Davidson as the co-leader of the Greens in a cooperation agreement with Labour, and the renewed presence of the Māori Party in the cross benches, there has been a significant level of pressure upon the Labour Party from all sides to respond to racial issues and advance the interests of Māori. And while there remains a lot of work still to do (particularly in relation to justice, corrections, and Oranga Tamariki), there have been some remarkable developments in the past year -of note: Māori wards; a separate Māori health authority; a boost in funding for Te Reo Māori, Māori housing and Māori media; and the implementation of the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (an initiative started by Minister Mahuta in the previous term and continued into this term, resulting in the He Puapua Report).

New Zealand: Book pulled after author criticises Maori tattoo - BBC News

None of these steps should be misconstrued as privilege or favour. They are necessary steps to address the ongoing harm that results from Māori living in a colonial system. Nor will they be enough to address the harm that has been delivered over so many successive generations across every spectrum of our lived experience. There is not one aspect of our lives that has escaped the harm of colonialism, and we cannot fix, in one or even two terms, what has been put in place over 180 years.

Nevertheless, what we are seeing is that with every step closer towards Tiriti justice, Aotearoa becomes increasingly unsafe for Māori as white supremacists conflate equity with anti-whiteness and Māori privilege. Most notably, the online space has become considerably unsafe. A 2018 study by JustSpeak found that Maori accounted for 33% of all online harassment in Aotearoa. This spikes every time we progress towards Tiriti justice, and in particular internet security experts have noted that there has been an increase in harassment, threats and risk towards Māori over the past year.

This has tested the mechanisms designed to provide online protection, such as the The Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA) and Netsafe, who are legislated to give effect to the HDCA. What we have seen is that the current regulatory regime falls short of protecting Māori from digital harassment, particularly online campaigns geared to bring about violent hate crime against Māori.

By the time the petition was launched to Lee Williams’ employer, he had amassed 440 clips of racist vitriol on his channel which targeted Muslim, Chinese and whānau Māori. Many of these clips had been reported to Youtube and NetSafe, but were unsuccessful in having them taken down. Consequently, these marginalised groups were left subjected to defamation, ridicule, threats, derision and a growing level of risk as Williams called upon “ordinary New Zealanders” to rise up against what he framed as an invasion, takeover and the stripping of nationalist (white) rights. The targetting of Māori increased significantly from May 2 with little to no response from relevant authorities and a mixed response from social media platforms.

Whereas white supremacist groups in the 80s would have remained isolated and manageable, internet technology have allowed them to scale up, connect to other groups internationally, provide mutual support and incite each other into acts of violence.

Netsafe, and New Zealand Police, were unable to halt the content which functions as a system of online radicalization, and the social media platforms simply were not inclined enact accountability – and so when it was clear that Lee Williams was also making videos from his workplace in his uniform, we appealed to his employers to enact accountability, and nearly 7,500 New Zealanders have so far agreed.

Consequence is an interesting concept that also does not escape racial determination. For those who are accustomed to race-based entitlement, consequence feels like injustice.

Deplatforming Lee Williams will, of course, not solve the problem in and of itself, but it has shone a light on the growing risk against Māori, coupled with clear gaps in Police, Netsafe, NZ Secret Service, and multiple other agencies’ abilities to avoid that risk. Māori are over-represented as victims of online harassment. Māori are also over represented in crimes that are linked to race, and in 2018 the Ministry of Justice reported that 20% of all offending was linked to discrimination, 75% of sexually violent offending was also linked to discrimination.

Māori in particular are at increased risk of a hate crime and digital harassment in spite of New Zealand government’s protective mechanisms, and the reasons for that are manifold, here are a few:

1. Racism against Māori is normalized and systemized.

If you look up the history of race based hate crime in Aotearoa, you will find that the first crime considered under that category occurred in 1905 – the murder of Joe Kum Yung by Lionel Terry. Not the murder of Te Maro or the many other Maori killed by Cook and his crew, not the massacres of innocents at Rangiaowhia or Rangiriri, or the many, many other Māori who were slaughtered wholesale by colonial invaders in pursuit of land. This is not minimize the gravity of anti-Asian racism, or any form of xenophobic racism, but to highlight that race based hate crimes against Māori are legitimized as collateral in the colonial process (a fact that stems from the Doctrine of Discovery).

The “ism” in racism relates to the systemising of a practice. When we talk about colonialism we are referring to the way in which colonial ideas exist in systems that create harm. When we talk about sexism we are discussing how sexist ideas exist in systems that create harm. When we talk about racism we are talking about how racist ideas exist within systems that create harm. Racism exists in individuals but it is powered by social systems. Social systems are built from social policies, and so systemic (and institutionalised) racism exists because of racist social policies. Government is responsible for policy in Aotearoa and it has been shaping racist policy and legislation in Aotearoa since its creation in 1852. Because of this, racism against Māori is soaked into the social fabric of Aotearoa at an individual and systemic level.

2. Māori have been procedurally underrepresented in the development of the Christchurch Call, Harmful Digital Communications Act, the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, the impending 2021 Counter Terrorism Act,  the impending Counter-Terrorism Act, and other legislation like the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Amendment Bill (which updates the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 to allow for urgent prevention and mitigation of harms caused by objectionable publications). Māori are further underrepresented within the critical decision-making roles of organisations tasked to administer and enforce this legislation like NetSafe, Internet NZ, the Classification Office, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and NZSIS. Consequently there is a poor level of appreciation for how the acts impact upon Māori, in addition to racism being largely understood within a xenophobic framing rather than colonial racism which is distinct in its intent, impact and embedding within the state system.

3. Colonial racism against Māori is underpinned by economic interests and buttressed by an international colonial white supremacist infrastructure.

New Zealand’s economy is built off the back of abused Māori rights. Stolen Māori land and water has underwritten the farming sector, the horticulture and viticulture sector, the energy sector, the tourism sector, fisheries, forestry – simply put, returning what has been stolen would have catastrophic consequences for New Zealand’s very colonial economy. This is also the case in other colonized nations, many of whom are only too happy to collude with neo-imperial forces such as the US military to police apparent invasive crimes elsewhere whilst ignoring their own. Internationally renowned scholars and economists have acknowledged that the world’s global economy is built from two major injustices – black enslavement and Indigenous dispossession. Full restorative justice would cause global economic instability and an unprecedented shift in global power structures. Power protects itself, and so the white supremacist colonial machine works not only domestically, but also internationally to protect its political and economic interests. For an insight into how this works I thoroughly recommend the following documentary. In fact…. this really is an important documentary for understanding the nature of interconnected white supremacist organisations and conservative political parties.

4. Racism against Māori pays politically as well as economically.

Colonizers are haunted by a fear of themselves. By this I mean the Great Replacement Theory that white supremacist content creators (both in parliament and online) invoke is a projection of what they have done. The greatest replacement project carried out was that of European Imperialism and this is an internal demon that many colonial descendants simply cannot chase off, and are loathe to be reminded of. This is a fear and aversion that politicians realise they can reliably tap into for votes, and they tap that fear by suggesting that Māori are being accorded extra privileges, that other non-white groups are “taking over”, and that all of this will happen in a way that abuses non-white rights.

From left to right: Modi, Johnson, Trump, Bolsonaro.

It is this final point that is critical for us to understand and address. Around the world, in the UK under Johnson, in the USA under Trump, in Brazil under Bolsonaro, in India under Modi we have seen that where conservative racists are given a platform, racism is emboldened and increases throughout the nation, resulting in more racist hate crimes and more racist harassment. White supremacists have been tapping this fear and undermining democratic processes around the world, and marginalized communities have been paying the price. What we saw last year in the Black Lives Matter marches were populations that have had enough. They’ve had enough because they have tried, time and time again, to use the official channels to address rights abuses and all of the protective mechanisms amount to nothing – not because they are unnecessary, but because even when these protections are championed by progressive politicians they come up against white supremacist elements within government who attack those protections and support as being anti-white. In this way, marginalised communities are walked by their governments into race-based hate crimes like the Charleston massacre, committed by Dylan Roof who was radicalized by online content.

Aotearoa is no different and while the government has made some notable attempts to curb online hate, we are still not safe (especially, as we’ve already discussed, Māori) – and the truth of the matter is that, under this form of government, we will continue to be used as political fodder and that will result in us continuing to be subjected to racist threats, racist systems and racist violence.

PULLING IT OUT AT THE ROOTS

While different parties present varying levels of threat to Māori wellbeing, what we have seen over, and over again, is a pattern of political behaviour where conservatives tap into the aforementioned fear in voter bases, and centrist parties then lean to the right in their policies and speak in order to retain their votes. Racist political rhetoric (both domestic and internationally) has been the backdrop for the Foreshore and Seabed Act, for the Urewera Raids, and now we are seeing another peak in racist rhetoric as the backdrop to the attempts to block important rights progressions such as Māori Wards, the establishment of the Māori Health Authority, and the implementation of The Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This has arguably been the most powerfully popular Labour government Aotearoa has seen, in no small part due to its success at avoiding the COVID death rates seen overseas and it is keenly aware that it must hold on to the votes that were leant to it from traditionally conservative voters (which was indicated in Prime Minister Ardern’s 2020 victory speech).

The chips are again down, and the predictable mode of throwing Māori under the bus is again at play, with numerous National and ACT MPs seeking to pull their votes back with the tried and true method of invoking fear and distrust. The only difference from previous years is that social media now has the power to supercharge the negative rhetoric and create online communities of support for racist groups who would have been much more isolated in previous years.

We can comfortably predict that it will place internal pressure upon the Labour Party to both curb pro-Maori policy, and may well also limit the protection of Maori in this increasingly hostile environment.

The worst part is, this will continue to be the pattern, for this and every electoral term. We will continue to swing back and forth from Labour to National, and with each political cycle our rights, and Treaty justice, will continue to be a political football, with real Maori lives at stake. Judith Collins, Simeon Brown, Paul Goldsmith, all understand very well that they are throwing Māori under the bus to appeal to racist colonial fears. They understand that their rhetoric is picked up outside of parliament, and emboldens racists, in fact that is their hope – that the racists will be emboldened to swing more people to vote for the right. Māori lives are not just collateral in this equation, they are the fodder.

Within this adversarial political system, Labour will always be pressured to appeal to racist conservative voters in order to retain power (which can only ever be temporary before the pendulum swings back again). Nor is this only about Labour and National – the adversarial nature of politics means every party, and I mean EVERY party, will continue to make calculated sacrifices in order to appeal to voters. Ultimately, this arrangement will continue to place our human rights at risk, and will continue to prolong and thwart the journey towards Treaty justice, social justice and climate justice.

Around the world, callous, conservative right wing political ideologies have resulted in the very worst, most tragic COVID death rates.

While the rights of Māori faced by white supremacist threats sits at the forefront of this conversation, it is not only our lives and human rights at risk. Conservative and far right forces prioritise profits over everything – countries under far-right conservative governments such as the UK, USA (under Trump), Hungary, India and Brazil have all suffered devastatingly high COVID mortality rates. They deprioritize vital initiatives to curb climate change and prefer hyper militarization over conflict de-escalation. While the rise of the right is a global phenomena, we in Aotearoa have a unique and powerful tool in Te Tiriti o Waitangi to curb its most harmful impacts at a local level – but it cannot be achieved under the current political system. A national task force that specifically focusses upon white supremacist threats against Māori is a good start, but this must also be accompanied with reviews of the HDCA, NetSafe, and InternetNZ, bringing NZ hate speech laws into alignment with UN standards on hate speech, and report on the contribution of parliamentary speaking rules to online and real life racist harassment, amongst other measures.

Ultimately, though, much more fundamental shifts need to take place to secure safety for Māori on our own lands and online. Under the current parliamentary system, racism in parliament will continue to proliferate, it will continue to result in harm towards Māori, it will continue to stymie our progress towards Tiriti justice, and the best hope for a nation that values human rights and protects its most at-risk communities is to progress, swiftly, to a new political system that centers Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Colonial Economics and the Political Protection of Privilege

Last week, somewhere in the vast, windswept halls of Judith Collins’ consciousness, a penny dropped. It was a lonely penny, arguably a half-penny. It occurred, suddenly, to Judith, that Māori are interested in self-determination, and are in discussions with government about that.

Naturally, Judith flew to the press flush with indignance at this frightful revelation.

Judith threatening us with a good time.

In a remarkable demonstration of disregard for Treaty history ignorance, she stated: 

“First, is this what the Māori chiefs and [Governor William] Hobson imagined in 1840 when they agreed: we are now one people?”


(well yes, it is in fact exactly what Māori intended when they agreed to let pākeha stay, and that much has been decided upon by the Crown appointed judiciary on the matter, the Waitangi Tribunal).

“And second, is this the way New Zealanders today, in 2021, want to move forward as a society? Do we want separation of governance along ethnic lines?”

(yes please)

The fact of the matter is that Te Tiriti DID affirm tino rangatiratanga meaning ultimate authority to Māori, whilst allowing for some measure of governance by Pākeha, and that this governance was envisioned to control troublesome settlers, especially those prone to taking and selling land that was simply not theirs. That ultimate sovereignty was never ceded is no longer even in question from The Crown judiciary on the matter and has not been since 2014.

It is also a fact that a governor is not equal to a sovereign, and that Te Tiriti allowed for the Queen (through her representative) to govern, that they were very specific in their wording, and if they wanted to express ultimate sovereignty for the Queen, they would have done so – they didn’t. Ultimate power, in the language of the document that was signed, was accorded to Māori.

So like it or not, the standards by which Tangata Tiriti presence was agreed to was one that took place under the ultimate authority of Māori. The model of shared power that is causing Judith so much pain is, in fact, a generous allocation on our behalf (and is still not Tiriti justice).

Over time, that original intent, signed as the conditions upon which we would agree to share this land as home, has not been respected or honoured. In fact, the system that was intended to control troublesome settlers bent on land theft, was handed over to troublesome settlers bent on land theft, and thereby empowered the system of pākeha privilege and Māori dispossession under which the nation still exists.

Moana Jackson says it better than anyone. Ever.

This was not, however, for the sake of political power itself. It is a system that has been set up to provide economic privilege and that is why it is so difficult to unpick. Those with economic privilege are able to influence power in order to maintain and protect it, and they have done just that for multiple generations through controlling the parameters of justice and accountability of the state. It is far less a matter of ignorance, moreso a matter of self-interest.

This protection of economic privilege is why numerous important declarations on human rights, environmental rights, Indigenous rights, and migrant rights are not ever afforded the systemic muscle to hold government or corporations truly accountable.

Nevertheless, as the great US abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said: the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. For as long as there has been this system of injustice, there have been those who have fought it, across multiple fronts, using what tools we have had at our disposal. Building our cases, breaking down barriers, then passing the torch on to a new generation to continue the struggle. It has taken us a long time to reach a point in the discussion where we can even start to set our sights on true Tiriti justice, and of course there are those who will still oppose that – there has been opposition every step of the way thus far. There has always been those who frame justice for anyone else other than themselves, a personal injustice.

Before I say anything more about this apparent “injustice” of a system that provides Tiriti shaped (ie Tangata Whenua AND Tangata Tiriti) models of governance and delivery, I want to reflect a little bit more on the systems of economy and political power that have brought us to this space, so we can see clearly exactly what it is that Judith is striving to protect.

The entire global economy is based upon extraction from Indigenous lands, and non-white bodies. Systems of colonial extraction from Indigenous lands are still running today, facilitated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and the free trade agreements and structural adjustment programs put in place by them. These international financial institutions resulted from the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, and was incepted and shaped largely by Britain and the USA. The Bretton Woods Conference also took the failed League of Nations and progressed it as the United Nations. The result was an international financial regime and political system that protects and privileges the rights and interests of colonizing states.

Over time, as Indigenous rights have been fought for and won, and colonial injustice exposed, colonizing states and their international organizations have become very sophisticated at cloaking their imperialism. For instance, the exploitation of non-white bodies did not stop with abolition of slavery, it just morphed into incarcerated labour, indentured labour, and various forms of modern slavery like sweatshops in Asia, or Pacific fruit workers in Aotearoa, or fireworks/fabric factories in India. As we sit in the relative comfort and safety of our own homes, ordering online without due care for the origin stories of our goods, we engage a kind of socialised psychopathy to permit our comfort at the expense of others. There are oppressed hands all over the goods that we have ordered with a comfortable click, from extraction to manufacturing, packaging and transport – and largely these are not white hands. We all, all of us (myself included) live off a system that is dependent upon the brutal oppression of bodies of colour. 

The “buy back” of slaves through the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 embedded wealth within a generation which has created a multigenerational system of privilege, and this includes British Prime Ministers and other MPs who still live today off the privilege from the sale of their family’s slaves, a price that was being paid off by the British public, including the descendants of those slaves, as recently as 2005. Many wealthy families in Britain and Europe can trace portions of their wealth back to the slave trade or colonial oppression and brutal dispossession in one way or another. Companies like Lloyds Bank, McDonalds, Microsoft and other commonly known companies are tied into histories of slavery, and/or more contemporary cases of incarcerated labour.

Philanthropic sector and State/International Aid.

Many of these companies, and wealthy families, also offer funds for various social causes. Given the central role that extraction and exploitation of Non-White bodies and lands plays in the global economy, international banking systems, and the creation and transfer of wealth for over 600 years it is reasonable to conclude that the philanthropic sector is ridden with money that has originated off, and then been accumulated off the back of Imperial oppression. So how much of that goes back to Indigenous communities or communities of colour? Well in 2018 less that 1% of the funds from the top ten funders in the USA reached Indigenous communities, and less than 8% went to communities of colour. This issue has been made even worse by funding being poured into industries that cause direct harm to Indigenous peoples. The oil, gas and plastics sector for instance received billions of dollars of covid relief funding to supplement an industry that was failing prior to covid anyway due to mass divestment. These are industries that are well known to cause disproportionate harm to Indigenous communities and communities of colour. That’s funding that could have better gone towards struggling communities who are made COVID vulnerable by the very same colonial system that created the economic power structure that creates the need for, and resource behind, philanthropic and aid sectors in the first place.

International financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF have created conditions for their loans (which are more often than not required because of need created out of colonization) that inhibit environmental protections, human rights protections and trade justice – thereby maintaining the oppressive power dynamic set in train over 600 years ago.

The NGO Industrial Complex

The Global South is infested with NGOs that are actually based in the global north and acquire significant funding through the aforementioned economic networks to carry out work in the Global South, but not before huge portions of that money goes back into the organization in administration, infrastructure, management and even governance fees. In addition to this primary issue of funds diversion, there is also the fact that because it is not rooted in the global south to begin with, the “solutions” often sideline the communities they are meant to relieve, and unsurprisingly fail to help them. There are multiple reported instances where NGOs have avoided contributing to final solutions because that would negate their reason for being.

Aotearoa

Aotearoa is no different to the rest of the world. We also have philanthropic groups like the Todd Foundation, one of New Zealand’s largest fracking companies, whose wealth is accumulated through Indigenous oppression, dispossession and climate abuse through continued fossil fuel extraction. Our national economy, like the global economy, is run off the back of stolen Māori land. If you were to simply return the land that was taken from us it would destabilise the NZ economy, just as Indigenous justice, worldwide, would gut the global economy. There are NGOs who are more invested in tinkering with, and describing the problems of Aotearoa (and building media profiles for themselves along the way) than taking bold action to solve it.

And then there are the industries surrounding our grief and trauma. Pākeha run women’s refuges that draw significant funds to care for the end-product of the colonial patriarchy. Privatised prisons. The incarcerated labour economy (and its sibling of hyper-incarceration) of state prisons. Pākeha social service providers that will deal with problems primarily rooted in colonial violence (but have no capacity to acknowledge or respond to that fact). Pākeha researchers of issues that primarily impact non-Pakeha. Pakeha treaty training providers. Board games about colonization. Movies that romanticize colonization and milk our trauma for dollars that fill Pākeha bank accounts.

There is a huge amount of wealth transfer that is still being carried out today, off the back of colonial harm. In some cases – this practice needs to end immediately. In others, there is, at the minimum, a requirement that they understand the gravity of drawing an income from a system which already privileges them, and accordingly immerse themselves in anti-racist, anti-colonial education and training in order to not do even further damage to the communities they are being resourced to assist.

Colonial wealth has been accumulated off the back of Indigenous dispossession, the world over. In Aotearoa, pākeha wealth has been accumulated off the back of Māori dispossession. This accumulation of pākeha wealth and Māori need has enabled the education, social ascent, and political influence of pākeha that has resulted in a political system that protects its own privilege. THAT is what we are seeing when Judith Collins yelps in pain at the mere thought of sharing power on this land. It is the pain of colonial privilege beholding justice.

If we are indeed moving towards a space of increased Māori authority right across the economic and political structures of Aotearoa – then it is a long overdue step towards justice, and there will be plenty more steps to take after that.

The Top 5 Colonial Conspiracy Theories

For all of the focus on misinformation and disinformation campaigns in the past year, there is a startling gap in the conversation that I have tried, numerous times, to fill. I’m very grateful for the feedback and uptake on last year’s article “The Rise of Māori MAGA”… but looking around at the way that people continue to erase the colonial context of misinformation, even when they themselves exist within a colonial context, speaks to just how deep down the colonial rabbithole many New Zealanders, even those who claim to be aligned with truth and integrity, really are.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am just as concerned about misinformation as the next person and its implications for public health, Māori health, and the health of our taiao is a huge worry for me. But if you think that conspiracy theories started with 1080 and 5G, think again. Māori have been subjected to disinformation campaigns since the day the Endeavour showed up on an Imperial expansion mission dressed up as a science expedition and started killing us then reporting it as an unfortunate misunderstanding (another snippet of disinformation that not only persists but is supported by the NZ government). The list of misinformation that colonial descendants have ignored, continue to ignore, and ask us to ignore is LONG – and while no doubt many of you reading this will think yourself above conspiracy theories, the fact is that most of you are playing along with at least one of the following list, right now.

So let’s go – for brevity’s sake, I’ve just grabbed what I consider to be the top 5 colonial conspiracy theories.

  1. “The Warrior Race”

It bears saying, from the outset, that anyone who can survive the multigenerational genocidal intent of European imperialism can only be described as having a fighting spirit – but the myth of the “Warrior Race” is something quite different, and bears little attention to the culpability of colonizers.

Moana Jackson outlining the origins of the “Warrior Race” myth in his now famous “Once Were Gardeners” lecture.

The notion of Indigenous people being savage warriors is not exclusive to the Aotearoa/Maori experience. Walter Raleigh famously reported back to Queen Elizabeth the first that it was a “savage and primitive race” which prevented him from bringing riches back to her from the non-existent “El Dorado” (because telling the truth, that he couldn’t find it, would mean his death). The myth of Native peoples being savage warriors both legitimized “explorer” requests for military resources as well as providing the rationale for colonization in the first place as a noble act of civilizing the globe. We’ll get further into that soon. The application of the warrior race myth to Māori is probably one of the most extreme cases, however. It is a particular fascination that relegates us to being edgy, primal curiosities whose value sits roughly equivalent to a barbaric gladiator. Hence colonial haka-fetish.

Curt Achberger on Instagram: “Our 3rd #statue is Tumatauenga the #maori God  of war! Enjoy. #exfig #3d” | God of war, Warrior drawing, Maori art

The warrior-myth was perpetrated by the colonial government to justify continued military invasions of Māori communities which were later termed the “Land Wars” but are more accurately termed as “Land Theft Wars”. Truth is, all cultures are deeply complex and multifaceted, but racist colonizers reduce native groupings into caricatures that suit their fantasies and legitimize their Imperial agenda. For Hawai’i this resulted in the fetishizing of hula, for Aotearoa it has resulted in the fetishizing of haka. The warrior-myth has become so ingrained in Aotearoa psyche that many Māori also believe it of ourselves, and in a classic trauma cycle, begin to manifest the very behaviour that we are taught belongs to us as a measure of being “authentically Māori”.

SO, in this framework, Māori are fighters, rugby players, manual labourers, bouncers, and thugs. Not scientists, horticulturalists, diplomats or designers.

This idea, once entered into a system of media, research and policy that shapes public perception and legislative responses, results in Māori being framed as poor, violent parents, incapable of even self-preservation without state oversight. It results in lower scholastic expectations and lower employment potential. It results in being many times more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, having our children removed and everything that comes with that (such as state sexual abuse, physical and psychological harm).

This is not a historical practice – the concept of Māori as a warrior race persists in current media, social discourse, policy and scientific research. Māori, of course, are well aware of our own scientific, horticultural, oratorial, artistic traditions. We are aware of the amazing birthing and child rearing traditions.

Māori grandfather with grandchildren
Takurua Tamarau with his mokopuna Leo, Alfred and Lorna Tamarau in Rūātoki. Source: https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/26329/maori-grandfather-with-grandchildren

We are aware of the deep importance of hospitality, and communal awareness, and love for our land and waters – and so we have watched this particular colonial misinformation play out while the Crown disproportionately overlooks the pākeha and Crown record of child abuse and theft for over 250 years, with no concern whatsoever by our Treaty partners about its harm and lack of integrity.

Moriori - Wikipedia
Moriori whanau c1910 Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moriori#/media/File:Chatham_Islands_photo,_1910,_Canterbury_Museum,_2016-01-27.jpg

2. Moriori

One of the most common (and persisting) colonial conspiracy theories is that “Maori arrived and killed all of the Moriori”. This of course, is news to the Moriori who are still very much present and quite tired of being told they are extinct. In the words of Moriori legal scholar and leader Maui Solomon, the mythmaking about Moriori was deliberate and slanderous.

“According to that story, Moriori arrived  on mainland Aotearoa before Māori but were pushed out to the Chathams by later and more dominant Māori migrants arriving from Polynesia. To add a touch of colour, the mythmakers also described Moriori as red-headed and of Melanesian “stock”. Many still believe that myth today, despite many efforts by Moriori writers and Pākehā writers, too — such as Henry Skinner (writing in the 1920s) and Michael King — to set the record straight. But the myth was a powerful political weapon to justify European colonisation of New Zealand and so it stuck fast in the consciousness of Pākehā New Zealanders.”

Maui Solomon

Of course Māori, and most especially Moriori, are well aware that this extermination theory was a myth. That didn’t stop it being taught in schools up until very recently, and that doesn’t stop every day New Zealanders still throwing this piece of disinformation at Māori every chance they get in order to mitigate their own colonial guilt.

3. Colonization civilized Māori

Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1389142/British-royalty-dined-human-flesh-dont-worry-300-years-ago.html

Another common retort from those seeking to justify colonization is that, were it not for colonization, Māori would still be eating, fighting and killing each other. A few points bear mentioning here:

  1. Cannibalism was certainly still present in Europe throughout our colonial experience, including today. The global colonial project was not a charitable act to raise the consciousness of the savage world and save it from its savage self. European monarchs were partaking of human flesh and bones even as the imperial project spread out across the world.
  2. Just like everywhere else it went, colonial interference made inter-Maori conflict WORSE. Trite comments about Maori selling skulls and buying guns to kill each other off are as common and shallow as those who like to raise that there were African slave traders. In both cases, they miss the point that these practices were systematized by Western exploitation and incentivisation. Colonizer arguments commonly erase the significance of western interference – how they exploited and deliberately exacerbated inter-iwi political tensions. How they promised to spare communities from colonial invasion and extermination if they assisted in other means or provided what was requested. How the forcibly introduced systems created new levels of poverty, destitution and desperation.
  3. The colonial project itself has been brutal beyond any measure of comparison to pre-contact Maori. This fact has often been challenged by the apparent instructions of Lord Normanby that Lieutenant Hobson seek the “intelligent consent” of our ancestors to authoritarian rule by the British. The way this story is often framed is that the New Zealand Land Company was the evil commercial land-grabber, and the Crown were generously intervening to halt unbridled land loss. What is spoken of less often is that British parliamentarians had also purchased, and were selling land also through the New Zealand Land Company, and were very clear that Britain had to colonize Aotearoa in order to protect those interests.

How To Colonize: The Interest Of The Country, And The Duty Of The  Government (1842): Mangles, Ross Donnelly: 9781166149253: Amazon.com: Books
  1. Check out British MP for Guildford, Ross Mangles, who wrote the astonishingly titled “How To Colonize: The Interest of the Country and the Duty of Government”. Mangles was, by the way, a co-director of the New Zealand Land Company whilst also a British MP. Before the ink was wet on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Maori loss of life and land accelerated. Within 50 years the Maori population dropped to less than 40% of its original size. No precolonial act was anywhere near as destructive to Maori as colonization has been. Nor was this process civilized. It included brutal murders of women, children, babies and elders. It includes two centuries of child theft and sexual assault so severe that it has permanently scarred family lines. Colonization, as a process, is about the most uncivilized behaviour this planet has seen and it continues to surround us today in the form of wealth, poverty, mortality rates, incarceration, state child theft, and continued territorial theft. Those of us on the sharp end of this experience understand that it is anything but civilized, but that does not stop others from raising it time, and time again.
  2. 4. Māori Privilege

I’m not joking when I say that barely a week goes by when I don’t see or hear some comment along the lines of “Maori are all on a gravy train” “why should Maori get special treatment” “Maori have always got their hand out”.

I’m just going to cut straight to the point: The New Zealand economy is built off the back of stolen Māori land.

New Zealand would, quite simply, NOT HAVE an economy if it were not for the millions of acres confiscated through the colonial project by nefarious means, which were then transferred across to European colonial imports to farm – which became the economic foundation of the nation. Much of that land has never been returned (once it is sold privately it is not able to be returned to Māori regardless of how unjust its theft was). From fisheries to conservation tourism – the amount of economic privilege enjoyed by everyday New Zealanders that stems from Māori dispossession is near innumerable.

I say that because there is no way the “settlement” funds transferred by the Crown comes anywhere near meeting the true, intergenerational and ongoing costs of the wealth that has been (and continues to be) transferred OUT of Māori hands. There is no way settlement payouts should be misconstrued as restitution – From 1999 to 2004, only 0.1 per cent of all government spending was for Treaty settlements. This amounted to less than 2 per cent of the real value of Māori land loss in spite of the fact that the government continued to generate enormous income from what it had taken. The government has spent nearly $1.2billion bailing out ONE COMPANY (South Canterbury Finance). Add the $1billion dollar government bailout of Air New Zealand a few years ago and you have already topped all of the government payments to every settlement for all iwi put together ($2.2billion).

Now add to that the fact that as taxpayers, Māori who have been dispossessed and oppressed are also paying the bill as compensation for their own oppression at the hands of the Crown. Some of these funds paid are not just for land theft, but for the aforementioned atrocities of rape, child theft, murder – and we are, as taxpayers, paying ourselves back on behalf of the Crown for those atrocities. Maori privilege? GTFOH.

  • 5. The Government is legitimate

Yep saved the best for last. Of all the ways in which Te Tiriti o Waitangi was violated in the years after its signing, the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, passed in Britain, in which it absolved itself of its Treaty responsibilities WITHOUT agreement from Māori co-signatories, was without a doubt the most destructive. The New Zealand Constitution Act which set up NZ parliament had absolutely no just grounds to do so. The document signed by over 500 of the 530 signatures was Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which allowed for a governor and the protective capacity of the British Crown – but ultimate authority remained with Maori. The New Zealand government’s OWN treaty judiciary has looked at this issue and concluded that Maori never ceded sovereignty.

Let’s go over that again.

The New Zealand government has itself concluded that Maori never ceded sovereignty.

That means that the New Zealand government was acting outside of the law when it set itself up.

And even though it’s been acknowledged by the government, it’s never ever been acted upon. It is carrying on, in a delusional state, making laws as if it is legal, governing Māori as if it is legitimate, spending public funds as if it has a legal mandate to do so. It does not, and this is the largest, most impactful disinformation campaign that Maori have been faced with for 168 years now.

And every step of the way it has been upheld by the media and legitimized by colonial science (and still is). Small wonder then that Māori have such little faith in these systems – our very survival has depended upon us challenging them.

It is, in fact, a cheek for any one of those sectors to expect Māori to trust them considering their role in unfairly vilifying Māori while obscuring or ignoring Crown villainy. The Crown itself still does not trust Māori to determine our own future, to the point where it continues to wield its own illegitimate authority over us, nor does it trust us with direct access to information in a crisis (like COVID). When Helen Clarke’s Labour government carried out the largest landgrab of modern times (a move she recently said she has no regrets over and would do again) – they did so off the back of a vicious misinformation campaign that suggested Māori would lock everyday New Zealanders away from the beaches. It was a completely nonsensical premise that had no basis in fact as Māori had previously held the shoreline without doing anything of the kind up to that point (while plenty of pākeha beachfront properties and businesses fenced off access), but nevertheless the Foreshore and Seabed debate was rife with the suggestion (both from government AND in media, and from the general public) that Māori could not be trusted to allow New Zealanders to access the beach. Think about that next time you want to discuss Māori having trust issues.

So every time I hear people snidely insult QAnon believers, or conspiracy theorists, I can’t help but hear the colonial self-interest in their tone. It’s only one form of misinformation that most colonial commentators are concerned with right now, and their failure to broaden the conversation to include the ongoing mis and disinformation of colonial governments undermines their own commitment to truth, and integrity.  When I look at you wanting to discuss misinformation, standing on colonized ground, and ignoring the colonial context – you just look, to me, like you’re down a rabbithole of your own.