Racism and White People

One of the easiest traps for us to fall into when examining how racism operates, is the trap that racism = white people.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, because if you understand white supremacy as the dominant form of racism around the planet (by virtue of the European imperialism of the past few centuries) then it can sometimes lead to the mistaken belief that all white people are racist, by virtue of being white. The assumption in that belief is that racism is a character trait – and in falling for that, we miss the point that racism is a social force, a system that surrounds all of us.

The idea that personal characteristics are genetically determined alongside skin colour is the basis of racist hierarchies, and taking the position that all white people are racist because they’re white only reinforces the idea of racial hierarchies, rather than dismantling it.

So rather than seeing all white people as racist because they are white, we need to understand that the racist system operates through people with white skin in very specific ways. When the way you look, speak, act and perceive the world around you is normalised and validated by the society you live in, you are more likely to have blindspots towards your own racist ideas and actions. Your journey to becoming anti-racist will be very specific.

If you look, speak, act, and perceive the world around you in a way that is NOT European, then your anti-racist journey is different again, and that is not to say that you do not have one to take, but it will be different.

Racism is a social force that surrounds us, and that nobody (myself included) escapes. The worst thing you can do is try to give yourself a pass, or ignore its presence and impact on your world – it thrives in the dark, and if you are not white, but only ever focus on white people as vessels of racism, then you will miss the very important point that racist ideologies operate through non-white people every day.

Importantly, if you believe that white people can only ever be racist, because they are white, this logic also suggests that there is NO POINT to white people undertaking anti-racist education because they can never be anti-racist while being white. You are, in effect, condemning us all to permanent racism and ruling out the hopes of an anti-racist future.

Similarly, for white people reading this, it’s important to not perceive the caution non-white people may have towards you as being about your genetic composition. It shouldn’t be, and it might be, but that is not the important point.

The important point is that white supremacy, as a social force, generally guides white people away from critical self-reflection, and consequently white people are less likely to have done the hard work on themselves to understand, and counter, how white supremacy flows through them. White supremacist programming surrounds us from the moment we are born, and in this country – that is not countered by equal access to anti-racist education, or anti-racist media – in fact quite the opposite, attempts to make anti-racist education and media available are generally attacked and strictly regulated- so why would anyone automatically assume that you have, as a white person, undertaken anti-racist de-programming? It is in fact a much more rational, logical conclusion that the average white person in front of me has not done that work than to assume that they have.

Furthermore, if you have done inner work on becoming anti-racist – then you will not respond to rational non-white caution by hotly declaring “not all white people”. The irony is, that while it may not be every single white person, it is most certainly the white person that feels compelled to declare that.

So how would I know that you have done that work? Here are a few of the indicators, for me:

  • You will know how to decenter yourself
  • You won’t feel the need to present yourself as the white-hat protagonist
  • You will comfortably perceive the situation as a consequence of the system we live in rather than the fault of the people in front of you
  • You will be aware that this same system creates far worse consequences than white discomfort, and its these consequences which you are more committed to addressing
  • You are ok with antiracist language (including terms like whiteness, colonialism, racism)
  • You don’t feel entitled to immediate trust
  • You will be comfortable in letting your anti-racist actions, your humility, and your demonstrated willingness to learn better and do better, be the basis of trust-making rather than simply asserting yourself.

So no, white people are not automatically racist by virtue of being white – but rather, all people live in a racist system, and that operates through white people in specific ways, and through non-white people in specific ways, and the sooner we move away from focusing on racism as a character flaw rather than a social force, the closer we will all be to an anti-racist future.

What David Seymour Teaches Us

A few days ago, David Seymour made a comment that was chilling for a number of reasons.  

Seymour has long stated his intention to abolish the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, alongside the Ministry for Māori Development, the Ministry for Women, the Ministry for Ethnic Communities and the Human Rights Commission – and in an interview when asked further about getting rid of the Minisry of Pacific Peoples, he stated that he fantasized about “sending a guy called Guy Fawkes in there and it would be all over”.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge the harm this speech ALREADY visits upon Pasifika peoples. David Seymour has no other plan to look after the interests of those who are often forced here by economic colonialism, including colonialism BY the New Zealand government, only to arrive here to a system that visits racist harm against them every day – because he doesn’t care. He simply wants the ministry removed. Moreover, his preferred method of removal is by bombing. If you know the history (and enduring reality) of bombs in the Pacific, then you should appreciate how deeply offensive and hurtful these words already are.

When pressed on the matter, Seymour stated that it was “just a joke” and tried to direct attention elsewhere. In fact, it’s vitally important we do exactly the opposite of that. We need to dwell on, and examine what David Seymour said, because it provides us with a number of important lessons.

The first lesson for us is the lesson of harmful humour. Bigoted bullies will often try to dismiss their harm by saying “it’s a joke”. Calling it a joke does not make it any less white-supremacist. What it does, is point to the fact that in David Seymour’s mind, violence against Pacific peoples is so normalised, that he can make a joke out of it. Now that is chilling enough in and of itself, from any person – but he’s not any person is he. He is a politician, a leader of a political party, with a significant platform and the means and opportunities to advance that normalized violence into policy and legislation. 

What’s worse, is that David Seymour has a demonstrated capacity to abuse his power and break rules to get what he wants. We saw this when he took it upon himself to leak the code designed to provide vaccine equity for Māori and Pasifika. This is so important – he did not LOBBY against it, as politicians have the ability to do. He did not use his political status to work within the system. He took matters into his own hands, and BROKE the code by leaking it online. While we are used to seeing politicians saying and lobbying for harmful, racist policies and laws, this was in a different realm altogether. When someone is willing to step outside of the system and abuse their power to visit population-level harm against particular groups – we need to be very, very concerned about what they will do when they have even more power.

Here we have two very chilling demonstrations of David Seymour’s lack of regard for marginalized groups. It doesn’t stop there, though. Remember, he has also advocated to shut down the Human Rights Commission, as well as the Ministries for Māori Development, Women, and Ethnic Communities. Again, he has not provided any plan for how these interests will be protected, he simply wants them gone, presumably because they are in his way.

So let’s summarize: Here, we have a senior politician who has normalized violence against Māori and Pasifika, and has a demonstrated capacity to abuse power and break rules to place Māori and Pasifika at direct risk, and has an expressed intent to eliminate the NZ human rights watchdog and Ministries there to support Māori, Pasifika, Ethnic Communities and Women. I really don’t know how much more proof people need that he is advancing a misogynist, white supremacist agenda, when it’s clear who he wants out of the scene.

But the final, important lesson for us here is, ironically, David Seymour’s whakapapa. Because this senior politician IS a mokopuna Māori, and in that, we have a valuable lesson on how white supremacy is a SYSTEM that can operate through anyone, and in fact, that is its long term aim. As numerous scholars of racism and colonialism have contested – the end-goal of white supremacy is that it is self-perpetuating, and requires minimal effort BY white supremacists to uphold their privelege and power. To meet these ends, they need non-white people to believe the hate, to partake in the hate, and to operationalise the hate towards non-white people. If David Seymour, as a mokopuna Māori, can exhibit white supremacist genocidal intent towards Māori and Pasifika, then all of us (Māori, pākehā, tauiwi too) need to explore how white supremacy flows through us, and that is probably the most valuable lesson for us all to take from this.

Landback and Political Reform – The Base Standards of Tiriti Justice

One of the important points I always try to impress upon people, is that racism is an economic project. It has always been, from the very beginning, about extraction of labour, resources, and land from non-white people. The idea that one group has a right to claim domination over another – based upon supremacy of genes, skin colour, ethnicity or similar characteristics – was not a mere intellectual exercise, it existed to justify the taking of land, resources and people. It was this same racist premise of the right to dominate that underpins the establishment of colonial governments, which was necessary in order to protect their ill-gotten privilege and maintain their ownership of what was stolen. In 1944-45, these same governments then established the Bretton-Woods system (today consisting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Finance Corporation (IFC); Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); The World Bank; and the The World Trade Organization (WTO)), and they have done their job very effectively – with a few exceptions, wealth has largely been retained exclusively by European nations, and those they have colonized – and within the colonized nations, it is largely retained by European settlers.

Ethnic wealth disparity in USA

Ethnic wealth disparity in Aotearoa

It’s these economic underpinnings of racism, combined with the fact that most nations are now run through a form of “market democracy” dominated by economic interests, which makes racism very difficult to effectively unpick – the nations and ethnicities who stand to materially lose the most from an anti-racist future, are the nations that hold the bulk of power to effect that change. If you want to learn more about how corporations exploit market democracy to purchase power and influence, I’d recommend this paper by Daniel Nyberg on CPA (Corporate Political Activity) as a form of political corruption.

In Aotearoa – what this means is that the government who established itself as a means to grabbing power over land and resources – has managed to protect its privilege by writing the laws and legislation about how we will be governed, how we will interact with the global economy, how land will be managed, developed, and transferred.

It is these laws over the land, over the resources and minerals held in the belly of that land, the laws over the waters that nourish our land, and the waters that surround our land, and the seabed beneath those waters – which prop up the New Zealand economy, and therefore also prop up those who benefit the most from the New Zealand economy. It’s been argued by many that the laws and legislation which continue to oppress Māori in the justice, welfare, health and education sector also function to “contain” us so that the colonial exploitation of our lands and waters can continue with minimal interference.

The landtheft that looks like this:

Is directly related to this:

Which is, in turn related to Māori dominating the statistics in housing-related illness. This of course means that “fixing Māori health” (or indeed most other issues relating to Māori) must also necessarily include economic justice, and political justice, particularly over Māori land. Tiriti justice cannot happen in silos, it must take place from the very top, and must be across all-of-government.

Which is a problem, because we are in effect waiting for the fox to voluntarily give the henhouse back.

The implications of a political-economic system built upon colonial racism are multiple, (and they all require action):

1Market democracy and corporate interests will continue to rule supreme over planetary and Indigenous rightsWe need to re-envision a new approach to politics that centers Te Tiriti and doesn’t see-saw advancements every 4-8 years because of a change in party.
2Colonial empathy runs out at (or well before) material sacrifice or political reform and it will do everything in its power to evade a full reckoning with its own malfeasance (huge timewaster)Prioritise anti-racist/Indigenous critical analysis training so that we can identify and shut down colonial rhetorical tools used to evade these bottomlines
3Colonial racism against Indigenous peoples is the last form of racism to be addressedBe uncompromising on the standards of economic justice – landback, reparation, economic reform, restorative investment – make these the BASE standards of anti-racist progress and highlight every instance where these standards are failed
4Colonial governments, with their in-built blinders towards white supremacy (and certainly their own white supremacy) are ineffective at protecting Indigenous defenders from white supremacist violenceAs much as we like to tell governments and white people that racism is theirs to solve, we cannot leave it up to them. They are not inclined to see it, or cannot see it, or even when they do see it, have normalised it and are thus not inclined to do anything about it. We have to get involved
5Colonial racism will rely upon its global colonial allies/system to prop itself upContinue to challenge transnational institutions and whatever righteousness they believe they have, through Indigenous and other global alliances

If you have not yet read Matike Mai Aotearoa: HERE. Download it and read it today.

When we take all of this into consideration its quite unsurprising that the “Stop Co-governance” roadshow was initiated by a property dispute between an old, white male evangelist who decided he would use his considerable privilege to reframe Tiriti justice progress as a “Māori takeover”. When you are used to extreme privilege, you see, anything less than that feels like oppression.

Here’s the irony though – while we are hearing time and time again (even from our own government) that “co-governance is nothing to be afraid of”, the same government is also refusing to acknowledge that the current proposals of “co-governance” fall well short of Tiriti justice, and also lacks the courage and temerity to step into the overdue discussion of a Tiriti-centered constitution for Aotearoa.

Noam Chomsky once said:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”

And that is exactly what is being done in the realm of political reform in Aotearoa.

The debate of “To co-govern or not co-govern” is eclipsing the point that co-governance is not necessarily a Tiriti standard. This has already been deliberated over by the Crown appointed judicial body on the matter, after hearing years of evidence from all angles, including qualified experts (not social media opinion-erts). The conclusion was: Māori never ceded sovereignty. They agreed, in 1840, to allow for a governor to maintain control over settlers – this did not extend to land-rights, it did not extend to ultimate political authority, even shared, or even with guaranteed Māori influence within that ultimate authority.

From Te Paparahi o Te Raki Stage 2 Report pg: xxxiv
Source: https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/WT/reports/reportSummary.html?reportId=wt_DOC_192668456

What was envisioned in the signing was that Māori would retain ultimate authority over our lands, waters, people and treasured matters (including our cultural expressions and language). If you read Matike Mai Aotearoa, it’s also recognised that there will need to be some areas where we convene with the Crown to navigate shared interests – but that is a far cry from the models of “co-governance” currently being promoted by the Crown.

Colonial oppressors have responded to Indigenous rights advancements in two ways:

  1. They have ramped up threats, harassment and fear based propoganda towards Indigenous rights defenders, which has crossed over into real-life harassment and violence (relying upon the racist bias of government systems to allow them to do so with impunity)
  2. They have become more sophisticated at co-opting our terms and concepts for their own ends, limiting the parameters of the debate, making justice appear unreasonable and derailing our pathway towards an anti-racist, just Aotearoa

While many have pinned their hopes on the date of 2040 for political reform – I fear we don’t have that much time up our sleeve. Here and overseas we are seeing supremacist violence gather speed and support in both online and offline spaces. We are unravelling as a society, at a critical time in our history when we most need to come together for the future of our planet and humankind.

It’s imperative that we educate ourselves broadly on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and reject the racist and completely false fear-based rhetoric surrounding Tiriti justice – both from the likes of Batchelor and from our own government. It’s imperative that we familiarise ourselves with Matike Mai Aotearoa and embrace the promise that political reform will bring our nation – not in 2040, not in 2030, but now.

Guest Blog – How to Spot a Nazi

By Arama Rata

Last month, a dozen white boys saluted Hitler while marching the streets of Melbourne. A week later, a highly-organised, well-financed group, who believe themselves a holy nation within a nation and plan to install their leader as the head of a new religious order, gathered in their hundreds in the middle of Auckland. The term ‘Nazi’ or ‘Fascist’ was used by mainstream media in relation to only one of these groups. With Far Right extremism on the rise, Arama Rata draws on the work anti-fascist intellectuals to dispel common misconceptions, and provide tools to identify and fight fascism.

In recent decades, colloquial usage of the terms ‘Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ has become common and imprecise. Anyone considered bossy or even obstinate could have these labels hurled at them. Indeed, as online vitriol escalated in the mid-1990s, ‘Godwin’s Law’ was created to describe how as online arguments persist – whether it is feminism at issue, school parking etiquette, or My Little Pony canon – the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler approaches certainty.

At the same time, openly fascist movements operating today may avoid recognition as such, because those using the term fascist precisely often work from definitions focused on the specific ideology and aesthetic of movements that arose in Italy and Germany in the interwar period, when the term fascism was first coined. According to such definitions, fascism and Nazism are synonymous with anti-Semitism, white supremacy, nationalism and authoritarianism, and with symbols such as the black sun, rising sun, and swastika. Without minimising the abhorrence of these ideologies and symbols, this limited conception of fascism misses the point entirely when it comes to identifying the forces that give rise to fascism, and its larger objectives.

Why do fascist movements arise?
The rise of fascism is often attributed to hateful Far Right ideologies that spread through social networks, without due consideration given to the political-economic factors that produce fascism. George Jackson astutely identified the core attributes of fascism as its ‘capitalist orientation’ and reactionary agenda. During times of economic crises, people lose faith in the economic system and seek the radical redistribution of wealth and power. Socialists seek the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, and push for the collective ownership of property and resources. Fascists, on the other hand, seek to re-entrench exploitative, capitalist social relations, but with themselves at the top, through more violent forms of class repression.

The class composition of fascist movements, along with their populist, ‘anti-elite’ rhetoric can conceal the pro-capital agenda of fascism. Fascism serves the interests of capital, in that it is a Far Right reactionary movement against the socialist alternative, that re-entrenches capitalist social relations. Yet membership of fascist movements tends to comprise, for the most part, lower-middle class people (such as small business owners), as well as the ‘unclassed’ (e.g. long-term unemployed people, and those living in extreme poverty). The lower-middle class are attracted to fascist movements as the small privileges offered to them under capitalism begin to slip away, and they seek the re-entrenchment of their relative privileges. The unclassed, on the other hand, suffer the worst impacts of economic recession. As their interests are not served by ruling elites, they are attracted to the ‘anti-Government’ and ‘anti-elite’ agenda of Far Right movements. Their relative deprivation means they are also easily incentivised and enlisted to the front lines of fascist movements by those with more resources.

A core feature of fascism is para-state violence, which can take forms such as insurrections, pogroms, militias, and vigilantism. Contemporary Far Right violence will tend toward different forms depending on whether the ruling regime is viewed as advancing their Far Right agenda. Far Right violence will be predominantly ‘system-loyal’ (e.g. citizen-deputies) when they perceive their agenda can be advanced through state institutions, but will be predominantly insurrectionary (e.g. the January 6th storming of the US Capitol) when they perceive their agenda will not be advanced through state institutions.

Who is this para-state violence directed at? Despite ideologies that implicate shadowy elites in the downfall of society, Nazis and fascists tend to ‘punch down’. In addition to occasional insurrectionary violence, they scapegoat groups who are already the most marginalised and exploited. In this way fascist ideologies will flexibly adapt to a given context. In Nazi Germany, among those targeted were communists, Trans, Queer people, Jewish and Gypsie peoples. In the global north today, migrant, Muslim, Jewish, Indigenous, and Queer and Trans communities are among those targeted.

Nothing to see here
We may like the version of history that reassures us fascism arose in Europe and was defeated in WWII by the allies. In truth, however, as Hitler himself noted in Mein Kampf, the white-supremacist imperial project of Nazi Germany was directly ‘inspired’ by the racist statecraft and genocidal expansion of the US into native territories . Nazism was the violence of colonialism ‘coming home to roost’, as Aimé Césaire made clear. There was no need to establish new fascistic movements in the US, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand in the interwar period because, as J Sakai noted, “white settler-colonialism and fascism occupy the same ecological niche.”

How to spot a Nazi
To summarise, key identifying features of fascism (including Nazism) are that they:
● arise when capitalism is in crisis (e.g. during economic recession)
● are pro-capitalist (anti-worker, anti-socialist)
● are anti-elite (anti-bourgeois, anti-transnational capitalist class)
● tend to comprise the lower-middle class (or petite bourgeoisie, including small business owners) and the unclassed (or lumpenproletariat, e.g. long-term unemployed)
● ‘punch down’, seeking to re-entrench social hierarchies (along the lines, for example, of race, religion, nationality or migration status, gender, sexuality, ability, etc)
● engage in, or prepare for the use of para-state violence

Having a precise definition helps us understand and use the terms ‘Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ correctly. Focusing on fascism’s core features (i.e. that it is a pro-capitalist, anti-elite, reactionary movement that seeks to re-entrench social hierarchies through the use of para-state violence) avoids fixation on arbitrary features of its historical presentations. This helps us avoid using the term inappropriately when it doesn’t apply (e.g. to groups such as the Mongrel Mob whose symbology included the swastika from their founding as a youth gang ). It also helps us assess groups whose ideologies and symbology differ from those of Hitler and Mussolini, but who meet many or all of the criteria of fascism. For example, Destiny Church and Hindutva nationalists in New Zealand should be assessed against these criteria to determine whether these terms reasonably apply. As J Sakai highlights, the common misconception that only white racists can be fascists means that fascist forms based on “cooked up religious ideology” might walk right by, undetected.

Indigenous, Fascist
In recent decades, the class composition of Māori society has undergone significant changes. The working class has contracted with the emergence of a Māori middle class, and with many ‘unskilled’ jobs either being moved offshore, or being filled by temporary migrants who themselves are racialised and exploited. Changes in the way Māori self-identify have also occured, with the group label ‘Māori’ becoming more popular over time. These factors contribute to the diverse class politics evident in Māori society, as in all nations.

The presence of Far Right and fascist ideologies within Māori society is not, however, coincidental. Some of the policies and political rhetoric most harmful to racialised groups in recent decades has been pushed by Māori politicians such as Winston Peters, Paula Bennett, and David Seymour (to say nothing of the Destiny Church’s political wing, Vision NZ). Political parties may rely on their Māori members to push such agendas, on the assumption they will receive less criticism from anti-racists. Similarly, fascist groups often recruit members of communities they are hostile to, and put those individuals forward as spokespersons as ‘evidence’ of the fascist group’s inclusivity.

Finally, nationalism is concommittent with fascism. While the national liberation movements of colonised peoples do not typically take fascist forms, as J Sakai notes, “all nationalist movements have inherently both liberating and repressive possibilities.” Fascists may coopt the language of national liberation movements to recruit from among the oppressed. Anti-racist and Indigenous sovereignty movements must therefore vigilantly and strongly oppose Indigenous fascists.

Resisting fascism
If fascism is not opposed, it will continue to intensify as the economic recession deepens. Fascists’ anti-democratic agenda to further marginalise already exploited communities, coupled with their propensity for violence means they pose an unacceptable risk to society. So how can these movements be resisted?

Firstly, we must refuse to be drawn into debates on their terms. The Far Right do not enter into debate in good faith. Their ideologies uphold social hierarchies: they seek to re-entrench divisions between an oppressor class and the oppressed. When an oppressed group asserts their rights, the Far Right responds to those demands as an encroachment on their own ‘rights’ – in this way the Far Right presumes the ‘right’ to oppress others.

Far Right appeals to ‘rights’ and ‘free speech’ are insincere. They have no genuine interest in social justice, and these terms are deployed only to advance their anti-democratic agenda. By presenting conflict between oppressors and the oppressed as simply an issue of competing ‘interests’, debates with the Far Right only serve to normalise their ideologies, and to distract us from the point at which our focus must remain: on identifying and challenging unequal, exploitative power relationships.

Effective strategies to oppose fascism are those that: disrupt fascists’ attempts to recruit; that show solidarity and support for targetted communities; and that rehabilitate former members of fascist groups. Tactics to oppose fascism include: creating educational resources that identify fascist actors and organisations (such as those produced by Understanding NZ Far Right) ; no-platforming fascist speakers (often through social media campaigns and appeals to venue owners); doxing (i.e. publicly identifying individuals involved in fascist groups); disrupting financial operations (e.g. appealing to banks to close fascists’ accounts, or having their charity status revoked on the grounds of discrimination); and rehabilitating former members of fascist groups by providing social support.

Finally, to eliminate fascism, we must end the conditions that give rise to fascism. As noted earlier, the foundations of fascism in New Zealand include racial capitalism and settler-colonialism. These structures created antagonistic, unequal power relations that intensify during economic recessions. Broad-based coalitions to end these structures are required, and in the interim, there is urgent need for progressive social reform (including livable incomes for all; debt relief; social housing; and free healthcare that includes mental health, violence prevention, and addiction services).

As J Sakai observed, Nazism arose as, “a movement for failed men… failed not because of themselves, but because bourgeois society had failed them in a dishonorable way.” Humiliated, dislocated classes, “feel they have nowhere to turn to restore their status… except towards fascism.” To resist rising fascism we must provide for the needs of the people. For those desperate to escape poor prospects, becoming a Nazi must be the least attractive of a range of social and political options.

Arama Rata (Ngāruahine, Taranaki, Ngāti Maniapoto) is an independent researcher. Her current projects include WERO (Working to End Racial Oppression), and RIRI (Research to Interrupt Racism and (In)equity). She is steering committee member of Te Kuaka.

This is an edited version of a piece first published in the WERO blog.

The Vatican’s Repudiation is Not Enough

CONTENT WARNING: This blogpiece deals with sexual and physical assault of children.

In case you missed it, the Vatican thought it did a thing on Thursday. After an embarrassing confrontation with its own legacy in Canada, followed by a bungled interview that demonstrated the Pope clearly had no idea about the Doctrine of Discovery and its enduring role in rights abuses, and an admission that the Pope was “not briefed” for that interview, they evidently went away and did some homework, and then came back with a formal repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

The response to this move is mixed. To be fair, many Indigenous Peoples were asking the Pope to repudiate the Doctrine. Still, it falls well short of what the Vatican could and should do, however, for a couple of reasons.

First of those reasons, is that the Vatican were the ones that codified the racist harm in the first place. Repudiation is a moral rejection, but it does not hold the systemic force that a rescindment does. The set of papal laws, (most notably Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex, Inter Caetera, Eximiae Devotionis and Dudum siquidem) that constitute the Doctrine of Discovery as an international legal concept have never been conclusively rescinded, and the system they shaped continues to bear dark outcomes for Non-European, Non-Christian folks around the world to this day. What is required is systemic change, and that comes in the form of rescindment and reparation (we will talk more on the reparation soon). As Doctrine of Discovery scholar Steve Newcombe point out, the papal bulls must be ceremonially and formally revoked in order to systemically undercut the very basis of the arguments of domination which remain to be used against us to this day.

While repudiating such a repugnant set of laws is certainly something any reasonable person or institution can and should do – that’s also not really what the Vatican did.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the Vatican’s statement:

  1. In fidelity to the mandate received from Christ, the Catholic Church strives to promote universal fraternity and respect for the dignity of every human being.
  2. For this reason, in the course of history the Popes have condemned acts of violence, oppression, social injustice and slavery, including those committed against indigenous peoples. There have also been numerous examples of bishops, priests, women and men religious and lay faithful who gave their lives in defense of the dignity of those peoples.
  3. At the same time, respect for the facts of history demands an acknowledgement of the human weakness and failings of Christ’s disciples in every generation. Many Christians have committed evil acts against indigenous peoples for which recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions.

As you can see, there is NO clear accountability here for the role the Vatican have played in this issue. There is, in paragraph 1 an assertion of what they strive to do, in paragraph 2 an assertion of all the good things the Popes and Catholic folks have done for Indigenous peoples (gee thanks?), and in paragraph 3 an acknowledgement that “many Christians” have committed evil acts.

The evasion of accountability isn’t really surprising, after all they’ve evaded it for 500 years or so, it’s just slightly more audacious that they’re still evading it even within their repudiation. Nobody is arguing that Christians haven’t committed evil acts before, we are all aware of that. There’s committing an evil act, and then there’s drafting laws which set in train mass human rights abuses around the world for hundreds of years including genocide, and leading to the planet becoming uninhabitable. It’s not the same, obviously, but we are barely a third of the way through the document, and already it’s not clear exactly what the Pope wants us to forgive him for, because according to them, this is all the fault of colonial governments and apparently equitable to what many other Christians do. For the highest Catholic authority, they’re pretty crud at confession.

It doesn’t stop there though – the statement then, in paragraph 6 goes all in on the “wasn’t me” vibe:

The “doctrine of discovery” is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith. At the same time, the Church acknowledges that these papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples. The Church is also aware that the contents of these documents were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities. It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon.

Hooooo poi. Ok let’s start with the obvious. The papal bulls WERE DELIVERED BY THE POPE. The “political question” posed by King Afonso, answered by Pope Nicholas V was “Can I go and invade North-West Africa and enslave and kill people, and take their lands and everything they own?” and Pope Nicholas’ answer to that “political question” was “YES, YOU CAN”.

The expression of the Pope IS the expression of the Catholic faith, and the expression of Pope Nicholas V in Dum Diversas was that it was acceptable to:

to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ…and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropriate realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, possessions and goods of this kind to you and your use and your successors the Kings of Portugal.

He then doubled down on it with Romanus Pontifex, extending that entitlement out to all monarchs of Europe, and then numerous Popes, with numerous subsequent edicts, communiques and laws, supported and upheld that entitlement. So I’m not clear on what the “manipulation” is that the current Pope is referring to here because all of those things are a neat checklist of exactly what was done.

The statement by the Vatican tries to separate itself from “colonial powers” as if the Church was not, itself, a colonial power. The strongest clue is in the full name: The Doctrine of Christian Discovery. The conversion of Indigenous peoples to Christianity has always been a functional process of colonization. The domination of Indigenous concepts of sacredness by European concepts of sacredness is a powerful tool of oppression that preys upon the inherent, devout spirituality of Indigenous peoples. Spiritual domination provided the basis for the stripping of our native sacredness, as a precursor to stripping us of our humanity, and human rights – and that has always been at the heart of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. If you look to the proclamations of discovery, read out by the invading forces, often accompanied by representatives of the Church, these proclamations all reference the role of the church, such as El Requieremiento which compelled native inhabitants to “submit to the yoke of the Cross and the Crown”.

Of course, no Catholic defence is complete without a reference to the old chestnut of Sublimis Deus, which makes an entry in paragraph 8:

Numerous and repeated statements by the Church and the Popes uphold the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, in the 1537 Bull Sublimis Deus, Pope Paul III wrote, “We define and declare [ … ] that [, .. ] the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the Christian faith; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect”.

I’ve already written to the matter of Sublimis Deus, the long and short of which is that Sublimis Deus never forbade Indigenous oppression, and never forbade the colonial project, it only forbade those acts *as tools of conversion*. Ironically, it was also effectively annulled a year later by Non Indecens Videtur – literally “Let it not be seen as indecent” – meaning that the violent craft of colonization is permissable in the eyes of the Lord – why? Because the most important task is that of conversion. Most certainly (of course) colonial governments are accountable here, but that does not in any way erase the culpability of the Church as well, and it’s bemusing to watch the Cross blame the Crown, while governments also continually frame the Doctrine of Discovery as a “Christian” matter – they are both culpable in this story. The Church developed the laws which granted entitlement to the various Crown governments to establish themselves on native lands, and to exert dominance over Indigenous peoples. Those papal laws were the foundational blocks upon which colonial structures were built. It is imperative that the Church formally and ceremonially rescind those laws.

In 2012 the United Nations issued recommendations for all member states to formally repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and 11 years later, not one member state has responded to that recommendation. Possibly the greatest value I can see in what the Holy See has done, is that it has started a ball rolling which will hopefully be picked up by other UN member states, who most certainly can and should repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and where appropriate (ie for colonial member states) also rescind laws, legislation and policy based upon the Doctrine of Discovery.

But let’s not stop there – because 500 years of genocide and dispossession does not just warrant a statement of contrition. The Vatican did not just draw native converts from this project – it also acquired mass wealth through the application of the Doctrine of Discovery, which it retains today. The Catholic Church is one of the world’s largest landowners, with over 144 million acres of land. According to NASDAQ, it manages $64billion in assets, owns $764million in equity, and keeps gold reserves worth over $20million with the U.S. Federal Reserve, in addition to the massive amounts of precious metals that can be found in Catholic artifacts and buildings around the world. According to a 2018 investigation, the Catholic Church in Australia alone is worth around $30billion. Any reckoning that the Church purports to have over its history with the Doctrine of Discovery must come with financial restitution.

While the Canadian government has paid out a “settlement” figure of some $2billion this could easily be matched by the Catholic church in both Canada and the USA, and would still not “settle” the matter, especially given recent investigations that have exposed the catholic church’s role in siphoning away some $30million in trust funds paid to Indigenous families for stolen land – money that was siphoned to pay for the brutal assimilative residential schooling of their stolen children. Here in Aotearoa the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in State and Faith-based case is methodically exposing the horrors of generations exposed to the sick practices of church leaders, places like the Marylands Residential School of Ōtautahi, run by the catholic order the Hospitaller Brothers of St John of God, where 21 of the 23 Catholic brothers who worked there faced sexual and physical abuse allegations, including forcing Māori children to carry out cultural performances before sexually abusing them. The victims of that abuse have in many cases gone on to live extremely troubled lives. It has led to suicide, poverty, and lives of crime and further institutionalisation. Meanwhile – the New Zealand Catholic church owns  $169m in property and $40m in financial assets – and in their recent statement of intent in response to the inquiry was that they committed to “Work towards consistency in redress responses between Catholic Church entities”.

The harbouring of abusers by the church, and the concealment of their abuse, is such a longstanding practice around the world, that one could argue the church, too, has set the standard for denial of human rights of Indigenous victims of physical and sexual abuse, a standard that has carried through to colonial legal, economic and political systems shaped by the very notion of “In God We Trust”.

Insofar as the imperial expansion facilitated by the papal bulls also set the standard for corporate imperial misconduct from the industrial period onwards, resulting in climate change there is most definitely a case to be argued that the Church should contribute to the loss and damage fund agreed upon by COP27. And this, dear reader, is the most likely reason that the Vatican is reluctant to step into its responsibility in the first place, because the pathway to Indigenous justice has always been, and continues to be confounded by the fact that Indigenous dispossession underwrites the global economy.

That does not change the truth, which we must speak clearly and repeatedly, for our future descendants and all to hear- the Vatican must RESCIND the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.

Transphobia is Settler-Colonialism

First of all, a bow to my irawhiti/trans-whānau – you who have called us together, you who have braved so much, and continue to brave so much, to you and to all who showed up in Tamaki today, to send another fascist packing from our shores – he mihi. The voices of gender diversity who hold the line today, like Shaneel Lal:

And the legacy of those who have held this line before, like the inimitable Georgina Beyer:

And of course, going back even further to the strength and leadership of trans-activist Carmen Rupe:

Although I’ve long held the trans-rights movement in complete awe – I have never had to struggle with not-feeling-right in my body, I have never had to deal with the incessant messaging that I don’t belong anywhere, that I am inherently wrong, broken, or deviant. I can’t even pretend what it’s like for irawhiti whānau who face multiple layers of oppression. For that same reason, though, it’s important that I do stand in support of my irawhiti, trans-gender, and broader rainbow whānau in whatever ways I can, and even though today was a victory for trans-rights, it was also plain to see why solidarity with the trans-rights movement will still be important tomorrow, and every day until trans-rights are fully recognised:

This tweet illustrates why it’s so important to show up when you can.

The stand made today was powerful, first and foremost for the rights of trans-whānau on our whenua, and secondly, to call down the thinly veiled white-supremacy of these events. and while we have sent this particular fascista home – trans-oppression continues here in her absence, in various guises – and continues to require our attention. She may be gone, but the folks she attracted, and those who are referred to in the tweet above, they remain.

I’ve seen some people try to insist that trans-rights are an import, and an affront to our rights as New Zealanders, and even as Māori – so let’s start there. Obviously, looking back at the likes of Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgender Minister of Parliament, and Carmen Rupe, who, in 1966 (three years before the Stonewall Riots), was standing for trans-rights in a courthouse in Wellington, it’s clear that Aotearoa has our own, proud history of trans-rights leadership that holds weight even on the world stage.

And in their day too, they were treated as if they did not belong, and were un-natural. As I’ve mentioned numerous times now, our own whakapapa, and the whakapapa of this whenua, and the moana around us, includes non-gendered ancestors and relations. The most senior levels of our ancestry are non-gendered.

The Māori world is one of whakapapa. Whakapapa, as a genealogy, connects us to sky, to the seas, to the land and all creature and natural phenomena within these spaces, including our many intersex, non-gendered and trans-gendered relations. The repository of whakapapa are our wharenui – and if you look to them, around the motu, they are replete with references to plant and creature species in an acknowledgement that they are our relations within the broad expanse of whakapapa. The vast majority of our plant species are hermaphrodite. Numerous creatures like the mata (pink maomao) change gender as they age. Native species such as our pūpūrangi (native kauri snail) don’t even need binary genders to reproduce. They all have a place in our wharenui, because they all have a place in our whakapapa. Gender diversity, gender fluidity are a part of the māori (natural) world.

So to say that gender diversity is un-natural, and to suggest that nature exists within a gender-binary is factually wrong from a western and Indigenous scientific perspective.

Now we have dismissed the suggestion that nature occurs in gender binaries, let us look to Te Ao Tangata – the human context. The suggestion that it is unnatural for humans to shift gender is also flawed, colonial and patently false. Within Te Ao Māori there are numerous cases around our motu of ancestors who shifted form, and shifted gender. Anyone who suggests that gender binaries are innate and universal, is further ignoring generations of social science findings that culture shapes gender. The very idea of what it is to be “masculine” or “feminine” is a cultural construct. Around the world, Indigenous cultures express being male, or female, differently. The behaviour ascribed to being male in one culture is how people might expect females to behave in another. We also know that right across Te Moananui a Kiwa, multiple gender expressions existed as a part of pre-colonial culture and were not only accepted and normal, but in many cases also revered.

The fires of colonization robbed us of so much. Thirty years ago, our understanding of Atua Wahine was minimal, it had been robbed through a process of cultural genocide, written by old white misogynist anthropologists who refused to see, or accept, the sanctity of wahine and their role in the Māori pantheon. A process which convinced us that Rangi and Papa only had seven male children. Through decades of work by the likes of Aroha Yates-Smith, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Leonie Pihama, Jessica Hutchings, and Ngahuia Murphy we have slowly but surely reclaimed the gems that have been held close and safe by hapu, and retained in carvings, in waiata, in karakia, to restore our understanding of the tapu of wāhine. This journey alone teaches us that decolonization is an ongoing cycle of revelation, and revolution.

In another form of ethnic-cleansing, colonialism also erased our histories of gender-diversity, replacing it with the Christian cis-hetero norms that are toxic in so many ways. In the recently released “Ki te Whaiao, ki te Ao Marama” Report by the Human Rights Commission, it was noted how both Māori and Pasifika experience bigotry as a from of colonial oppression, and voiced their vision for a future Aotearoa:

”Some participants noted the importance of education being intersectional. They spoke about living in a future society which embraced different cultural understandings of gender, and male and female roles, without the fear of being judged or discriminated against, which led to people being “double marginalised in society”.

One participant commented:

“The Western understanding of gender is only one way of understanding what gender can be. But if you look to the Pacific, and of course in te ao Māori as well where historically gender has been a very differently understood concept, much more fluid. There is a lot of mana in that, learning about those kinds of histories. Fa’afafine is one example of many in the Pacific that we can draw from to say there are so many other ways of expressing gender. This idea of “either or”, you know either male or female, as introduced through colonisation is very unhelpful. I’d like to see where histories like that are taught to see we have this bigger whakapapa with the rest of the Pacific. Our ideas of gender and our ideas of sexuality are not confined to just within Te Ao Māori, but we have cousins within the Pacific region.”

Some participants believed the concept of colonial masculine and feminine roles were often enforced in conservative New Zealand:

“If I think back to primary school, because I grew up partly in the South Island, there was lots of heavy conservatism there. From a young age those ideals of masculinity, particularly colonial masculinity in terms of what a man should do, and what a man should be, and equally so what a woman should be.”

As much as TERFs might try to deny it, their racist dimensions are evident in the support they receive from neo-nazi groups, white supremacist media organisations and other far-right conspiracist groups. Their conspiracy theories operate upon the same themes of manufactured threats to women and children, scaremongering around a “takeover” and a general idea of a degrading society. They use the same tactics, spread through the same channels and networks, because it is the same phenomena. If you attend the “Stop Co-governance” roadshow events, or listen to a Destiny Church sermon. you’ll hear many of the same themes.

It’s not by chance that the rise of the far-right is coinciding with the rise of TERFs. It’s not by chance that nazi groups feel comfortable enough to brazenly display themselves at TERF rallies. Nor is it by chance that a Christian evangelist is attempting a national Anti-Māori roadshow at the same time as a colonielle attempted her own 2-stop tour. Fundamentally, these are manifestations of the same issue – white, colonial opposition to human rights progress.

Whereas diverse genders have a home and a history here, on and from this whenua and in this region of the globe – transphobia does not. It was brought here on a boat, along with white supremacy, and is rallying now, alongside its sibling of white supremacy, for its survival.

Today, those who showed up to oppose these forces demonstrated that transphobia and white supremacy are losing, and for as long as we continue to stand in solidarity against transphobia and colonial hate – it will have no place in our future. Because Trans rights are human rights, Indigenous rights are human rights, and transphobic settler colonialism is dying.

Kia Mataara Pt3 – Addressing the Risks to Mana Motuhake

Welcome to part 3 of my Waitangi 2023 series which considers the current risks to our Mana Motuhake movement. In Part one, I reflected upon the uptick in performative gestures and part-measures by the Crown, and our own permissiveness that allows it. Part two reflected upon the shift in white supremacy, how it co-opts the language of struggle, and how its reach is now super-charged by the internet.

For part 3, I will be focussing on our solutions – because all of these issues can, at times, seem insurmountable, but we are not without tools, strengths and strategies.

  1. WĀNANGA – we need to learn about white supremacy – it’s full history from the Doctrine of Discovery’s inception right through to today, and in particular the shifts that the white supremacist movement have undertaken through the various generations. The conventional means of fighting white supremacy aren’t enough anymore – we need to learn about online tactics, and how to counter them. This report is a very informative analysis on online white supremacy. Once you learn about how the Doctrine of Discovery embedded white supremacy within our political and economic systems in order to protect privilege it will become much clearer why the current political system is not equipped to deal with white extremism.

Recommended viewing: Web of Chaos, Fire and Fury
Recommended reading: Maranga Mai report on the impact of colonisation, racism and white supremacy on tangata whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand.

White Crusade: How to Prevent Right-Wing Extremists from Exploiting the Internet

  • OBSERVE – Keep a close eye on what is happening in the USA/Canada far right movements – as I mentioned in part 2 the far right movement has globalised in a much more effective way than social justice movements have, and the far right in New Zealand is bankrolled by and influenced by the US/Canada. Counterspin is financed by Steve Bannon. The Freedom Convoy was directly drawn from the Canadian Freedom Convoy. The Wellington protests drew from the US Washington Riots. The NZ Proud Boys are connected to the USA Proud Boys. The National Rifle Association sends their representatives all around the world to influence gun laws. As we saw in Fire and Fury, the far right likes to use Aotearoa-New Zealand as a kind of social-experiment site, but its also true that observing the far right in the US/Canada can provide us with early warning signs of what might be attempted here.  Recommended viewing: Fire and Fury, How to Sell a Massacre

Recommended reading: The Disinformation Project reports. Keep up to date with them, it’s pretty much a weather report for social disruption (and we’re in a climate crisis there too). The Debunking Handbook provides the current science for how to “debunk” (ie disprove) misinformation. White Crusade: How to Prevent Right-Wing Extremists from Exploiting the Internet is another important and informative security report out of the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

  • LOCALISE – Centralised approaches leave massive gaps at the community level, and these gaps are capitalised upon by online movements who are extremely sophisticated at providing an illusion of belonging. The only thing they can’t compete with is when your sense of belonging relates to a group that can knock on the door and have real-life interactions with you. We have grassroots work to do to embed the mana motuhake movement at the community level through resources, workshops, and a community of support.

    Recommended reading:
    Matike Mai Aotearoa sets out a vision for a JUST Aotearoa that secures Mana Motuhake.
  • STRATEGISE – Social media is still being largely treated as a casual pastime, digital noticeboard or annoying distraction rather than the most powerful current means of social control. In addition to wananga on the Doctrine of Discovery, we need to upskill ourselves in social media and the warning signs of incoming misinformation trends. If you have community Facebook pages (for your marae, for your township, for your hapū or rugby team or kapa haka roopu), engage the page administrators in a kōrero about keeping it a safe space, and what good moderation looks like. You might not agree about how to approach it at first but be open to the conversation growing over time, and be patient. If you can have open communication channels with the admins of your local online communities, then it’s far easier to minimise harm and reduce the chance of that group being infiltrated by external forces/ideas. Offer workshops or open discussions with parents about social media management for them and their kids. A lot of parents are interested in online safety for their kids but are not sure how to go about it. This is also particularly pertinent learning for the mental health workforce and for whanau supporting someone with mental health challenges, as mental health challenges can correlate to social isolation, which makes for attractive radicalisation targets. We also need to strategise, at a local level, how to support each other in the event of online bullying, we need to develop online tikanga at a community and whanau level, and share these tikanga within our whanau.

Recommended Reading: How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back by Nina Jankowicz (yes it’s about misogynist attacks but there is a LOT of good information about social media attacks, and how to protect yourself and your loved ones from them).

  • SOCIALISE – This is in my opinion our strongest tool – *ACTUAL* community. The people you go to work with, the people you cook alongside with in the wharekai, the people you play rugby with or go to the RSA with. Every day we validate truth offline – it might be around the staff table during our breaks as we discuss what we saw online or on the news last night, or it might be on the marae atea as a topical whai kōrero, or in the changing rooms after a game, or it might be from your community radio station. But it’s from people you know, and with whom you share a sense of identity and community. If we utilise these spaces to intentionally build our sense of community, and utilise these relationships to engage in discussions about our health, or our taiao, or other issues, we close the information vacuums that misinformation needs in order to operate, and we take the air out of the online misinformation sails which are necessary for the Endeavour of far right recruitment. What we have found with this approach, is that the new information needs to be made relevant to the local context. It’s a hard sell to make one of us in Rangitukia care about the plight of polar bears and melting polar caps…. But we know very well what the Waiapu looks like in flood, and that is the climate change conversation we need to have. Similarly we need to ground discussions about vaccines, about masks, about water rights and co-governance in contexts that are LOCALLY relevant in order to get local engagement, and to take a collective local position that is based upon real relationships and real factors, not misinformation and online manipulation.

I hope this all helps – if you look at these solutions, the approaches are the antithesis of imperialism – as power networks, they are devolutionary, redistributive, and decentralised, and that is exactly what is needed to support social cohesion, because it’s a colonial fiction that cohesion comes from rigidly centralised power structures –social cohesion grows from the grassroots up, not from the top down.

Kia kaha tātou, we got this.

Kia Mataara – Assessing the Risks to Mana Motuhake Pt 2 – The Far Right and Its Attempted Subversion of Mana Motuhake

This is part two of a three part Waitangi series of reflections on risks to our mana motuhake movement. In part one, I looked at the risk posed by the uptick in performative gestures by this government without any real commitment to transformative change. In this part, I’ll be reflecting upon the risks posed by white supremacists, and the far right.

Possibly one of the most jarring aspects of the far right movement in Aotearoa in the past few years is the co-option of Maori into the movement. I’ve written about the rise of “Māori MAGA” before and since then a number of us have watched with great concern while more of our whānau became aligned with what is ultimately very dangerous mindsets.

What should be very clear now is that the groundwork for co-option of Māori into the far right movement has been set by the institutions of government, media and science themselves – for each of those institutions have their own history rooted in the Doctrine of Discovery, all of those institutions have visited significant harm upon Maori throughout the process of colonization and all of them have yet to really reckon with that history. The drivers for the dissolution of society are different – For Indigenous and the disenfranchised, the driver to dissolve government stems from the longstanding failure to secure real justice and the clear lack of regard for our human rights.

For the far right, the drive to dissolve government stems from the fact that governments have become too progressive. The far right seek to undo the progress made on civil and Indigenous rights, and wind the clock back to when white supremacy was well entrenched and normalised. Of course, it would be unhelpful for them to frame it as such – it’s much more helpful for the far right to focus on the shared interest of dissolving government.

Importantly, white supremacist movements understand that the dissolution of government must play out on their terms, to enable their vision of installing their own power structures. Of course, the work on constitutional transformation and the Matike Mai report – which considers how a government that is centered upon Te Tiriti and He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni might look – has been underway for over a decade now, and presents a clear threat to the far right promise of political reform. For these reasons, constitutional transformation (particularly through the He Puapua Report) is consistently attacked by the far-right conspiracy front. For those who have been aware of these discussions over the past decade, it’s farcical that conspiracy movements think they have uncovered some great secret – when John Key’s National government funded a nationwide conversation on constitutional reform, Matike Mai Aotearoa is freely downloadable online and has been for many years, and the 252 hui around the country that led to the report were anything but secret. Still – the pretence that they have access to secret information is one of their favourite recruitment devices so they will continue to larp as spies and detectives.

One of the narrative tools used to recruit Māori into the far right draws from Western storytelling methods which construct one-dimensional binaries of good and evil. Within these binaries, those who are constructed as villains are denied any form of humanity, and a happy ending can only come with the downfall of the villain. The dehumanising of our perceived opposition is a dangerous premise for violence and denial of human rights. When the far right position themselves as the victims, and suggest that they are “under siege”, it can trigger, at a very deep level, our own intergenerational trauma as a people whose way of life has actually been under siege for 254 years, and we can think we have something to identify with.

The “great replacement” conspiracy theory can also interact with our own internalised racism, a legacy left in our hearts and minds by the Doctrine of Discovery, and trigger our own xenophobia towards other racially marginalised groups. When pākehā speak of great replacement – they do that with the privilege of not being seen as immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, themselves. When pākeha speak of great replacement, they have a media and education machine behind them which reiterates that they are the default, never the “other”. Raising the great replacement theory is much more likely to stoke Māori trauma about being replaced on our own land, than lead to us considering the root of that trauma itself.

The involvement of the new age and capitalist wellness industries further confuse our communities, because they present themselves as being progressive (when in fact they are often also capitalist extractors). We can also layer upon this confusion the practice of “pointing to the mirror” – seen way in which white supremacist and neonazi movements utilise nazi and Nuremberg imagery in their attacks, casting their opponents as nazis and threatening them with hanging… all while either wearing swastika or standing alongside others who do. It is not an approach built on logic (and in fact confusion and disarray is also a goal in itself) but rather a deliberate strategy of emotionally manipulating the masses in order to build your movement.

While antiracism as a concept and movement is over 2 generations deep – there are now new elements to the far right political scape that have super-charged it, and chief amongst those is the advent of the internet. Through the internet and in particular social media, the far right have been able to rapidly recruit in an unprecedented fashion, utilising the reach of the internet to warp the minds of the disenfranchised. Internet security analysts have noted:

“The internet has become the most important tool of right wing extremists to spread propaganda, plan events, recruit, finance and communicate”.

Indeed it has already been evidenced that right wing extremist groups have become global in nature, and New Zealand’s right wing community is bankrolled from the USA/Canada, and there is a mimicry and trial relationship between our nations where what happens over in the USA/Canada will be mimicked here, and the USA/Canada far right groups also utilise New Zealand as a kind of social experimentation site.

They have successfully infiltrated non-extreme sites and online communities for recruitment and radicalisation purposes, and court people across to their conversations using universally condemned notions such as child sexual abuse but then gradually link that to their broader conspiracies – and in this way the far right are building the critical mass necessary to mainstream white supremacist ideas.

So the mana motuhake movement needs to understand internet and social media dynamics and how to combat them (I will be talking about our solutions in the next essay). In addition to this, of course, is the direct harassment and the threats received by online racists towards Māori leaders, Māori technicians, Māori activists, Māori academics and Wāhine Māori , the brutality of which is completely uncalled for and reminds us of the depraved extent to which white supremacy will extend itself, where neither women, nor children, nor families are safe.

Collectively, the co-option of our own struggles; the triggering of our trauma and recruitment of our own people into their movement; the super-charging effect of the internet; the reach of social media; and the brutality and degradedness of the white supremacist online bullies have all delivered a chilling effect upon the mana motuhake movement. The very notion of hikoi has been sullied by the 2022 Wellington protests, and people who would have previously engaged in perfectly legitimate discussions on our rights or constitutional transformation now veer away from it for fear of being misaligned with violent conspiracy theorists. Others simply will not take the risk of their families being targeted, and who can blame them?

The clear articulation of our rights struggle is what is necessary here – the story of the Doctrine of Discovery and its connections to the far right as well as its connection to our current government. From that shared understanding of how a global injustice was brought to our shores and remains here, can we then clearly articulate our own whakapapa within this story – from He Whakaputanga o Nu Tireni, through to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and onwards throughout time to our mana motuhake movement of today. Kia kaha tātou katoa

Kia Mataara – Assessing the Risks to Mana Motuhake Pt 1 – Performativity and Permissiveness

This Waitangi week I wrote three pieces that reflected upon the areas I believe we most need to focus on for our pursuit of Tiriti justice in Aotearoa. They are three short form pieces, and are all based upon recent developments of our political landscape which threaten to derail our progress towards mana motuhake. The first of these is the uptick in liberal performative gestures, and the permissiveness of Te Ao Māori which allows it.

If the New Zealand government really punches above its weight at anything, it’s performativity. Over recent decades the Crown has refined, to a fine art, the practice of performative gestures that don’t really amount to anything transformative. This includes siloed reforms which are under-resourced and regularly drop terminology like “mana motuhake” whilst still leaving ultimate power in the hands of the Crown. The fact that they are siloed means that even the most progressive of the reforms will inevitably butt up against other sectors who are far from ready to take that step – for instance, the health sector reforms will struggle to achieve wellbeing for Māori whilst Māori are still being disproportionately incarcerated and dispossessed of our own children through institutionalised racism within the Ministry of Justice and Oranga Tamariki. Even when the intention is bold, and benevolent, rarely is it met with the systemic force or resourcing to support that intention reaching its fullest potential.

Performativity also includes giving buildings and public agencies Māori names, yet still not equitably sharing power or even securing pay parity within those same agencies and buildings, and further includes the targeted resourcing of Māori cultural optics (eg extravagant launches with roopu kapa haka or waka hourua presence) for spaces or entities that offer no material benefits or systemic transformation for Māori people. We see this where the government tries to “solve” racism by investing in cultural promotion and education, but refuse to embed education about racialised privilege, white supremacy or the harms of colonialism (as found in critical race theory).

As much as we may wish to point the finger at the Crown and call this yet another example of colonial mal-intent – all of these empty or part-gestures depend upon Māori endorsement in order to be effective. Our own permissiveness as ceremony holders, as performance or visual artists and as leaders, is critical for the government’s ability to continue with performative acts which at best offer scant progression, and at worst take us off course entirely. Perhaps it is conscious mal-intent, but we cannot overlook the fact that the governmental system we live with – the system which provides the policies that shape our lived experiences – was borne out of an intent to dispossess Māori, and that fact has never really been reckoned with by this government.

A vital component in combatting this phenomena is an understanding of the economics of colonialism, democratic capitalism, and how global market forces, crafted out of a history of colonial empires, seduce us into thinking that representation and financial success within colonial structures equals liberation and advancement. Mengzhu Fu and Dr Mahdis Azarmandi write eloquently here from a Tangata Tiriti perspective about the way in which cultural platitudes can be a distraction from where energy needs to be directed.

This is particularly pertinent for the issue of constitutional transformation. This government understands what it is, understands the discussion, understands how it relates to Tiriti justice – but it has repeatedly evaded doing anything about it. Ex-Prime Minister Ardern predicted it would happen in her lifetime, but not in her government. The current Prime Minister has yet to comment on constitutional transformation, but given he is clearly focussed upon clawing back the centre right drift to National and ACT, it’s doubtful he will be effusive.

So we are clear: this government’s constitutional framework is an unavoidable source of institutional racism with deadly consequences for Māori. If you need the connections drawn for you – I would recommend you read the recommendations of the Maranga Mai Report on The impact of colonisation, racism and white supremacy on tangata whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand – and in particular the chapter on health. We now know and have the scientific data to support that racism is an *independent* predictor of early, avoidable death for racialised minorities including Māori. When we delay constitutional transformation, we are condemning Te Ao Māori to higher death rates – and a raft of other horrid social and economic outcomes that would never be acceptable for white populations. We have to be unrelenting, and uncompromising, in our pursuit of constitutional transformation and no longer accept and enable performative gestures that distract us from this goal.

Tangata Tiriti must underpin their support of Tiriti justice by centering the importance of constitutional transformation – for you cannot pretend to be an ally whilst also tolerating a system that disproportionately kills those you purport to be an ally to.