So there is a suggestion that I have heard numerous times of late, on social media and in general – that only white people can be racist.
It popped up in last year’s elections, it pops up often in social media spats, it popped up last month when I watched a disturbing series of online pile-ons upon a white individual for some innocuous statement she made about a café. I’ve seen it utilized to permit some horrid behaviour and I’m often tagged into these scenarios with the expectation that I will confirm someone’s apparent diplomatic immunity from being racist.
I won’t, and it’s probably overdue that we talk about why.
Anti-whiteness is not a commonly held conversation (outside of white nationalism) because if a white person tries to talk about it, it comes across as defensive fragility… and non-white folk, in my observation, either don’t see it as an issue, or they see it as work that is primarily benefitting white people – therefore it either does not help in anti-racism work, or that it does not meet the same priority as supporting non-white communities to deal with their experiences of racism.
I, too, prefer my own energy to be spent on helping my own communities, and prefer good Tangata Tiriti to work with educating their own colleagues in this space about confronting how race and privilege descends down to them, and what to do about that.
But that is precisely why I am taking time out for this issue – because some of the LEADING critical race theorists are very clear about this:
If we are saying that ONLY those who are a) white and b) at the very top of the societal power structure can be racist, this will delay our collective journey to being anti-racist.
It will inhibit our ability to address lateral racism.
It will inhibit our ability to deracialize white minds.
It will inhibit our dismantlement of racial hierarchies.
It will, ultimately, manifest as oppression against brown folk.
And that is why we need to talk about it – because it will, in the end, impact on our own communities anyway.
Critical race theorist Ijeoma Oluo discusses racism as follows:
“there are two dominant forms of racism. 1) Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race and 2) Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power.“
In taking this definition, some people like to suggest that non-white people therefore cannot be racist because they have no power in the system.
Yet that is not true. Non-white people can hold power in this system, and in holding that power, they can also perpetuate harm along racialized lines.
In Ibram X Kendi’s book “How to be an AntiRacist” he uses the example of Barack Obama, who rose to be one of the most powerful national leaders in the world. You cannot say he was powerless. While in that seat, he drove policies that increased racial inequities. He drove policies that cost lives, along racial lines. Obama appointed famously racist white policy makers into his administration where they developed and delivered abominably racist policies. One of them is quoted as saying:
“A given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”Lawrence Summers
There is also the case of Ken Blackwell, who, as a black secretary of state for Ohio, developed policies that deliberately suppressed black voters in order to favour George Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign – and Judge Clarence Thomas who doubled the number of dismissals of cases of racial discrimination within the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Professor of Black Studies Kehinde Andrews speaks at length about Candace Owens and her insidious anti-black rhetoric in support of US conservatism.
Want a more local example? Shane Jones, while in power, sought to establish policies that would directly undermine the inherited rights of Māori to their customary fisheries and protection of their marine estate – insulting their intelligence along the way. Winston Peters thought it funny to quip “two Wongs don’t make a white” in criticizing Asian land ownership in Aotearoa. The Māori Party sought to blame immigrants for the housing crisis during the 2020 electoral campaign in a way that placed refugee communities (already victims of global racism) directly, and unnecessarily, in the crosshairs.
Māori MP Paula Bennett, while in office as Minister for Social Development, drove policies that negatively targeted Māori and Pacific families while ignoring the same issues in pakeha families. She is Māori. She held power within this system. She used that power in a way that drove racial inequity. It’s simply not true to say that only white people can be racist. There are numerous Non-White MPs who have held office in this country – and while in office have driven policies that have perpetuated harm along racialized lines.
Next question is, can people of colour be racist towards white people?
Well, we have already established that non-white people can be racist towards each other – they can do this individually, and they can do this through policies and manipulation of the relative power that they hold. Racism can be delivered down, and it can be delivered across… can it be delivered up?
As Oluo notes, the first definition of racism (that it is any act of prejudice because of ones race) reduces discussions of racism down to a battle for the hearts and minds of individual racists, and misses the point that individual acts of racism are a part of a larger system. In short – if you only ever address it as individual acts, you will never overcome it, because you will fail to address the system that indoctrinates racists in the first place. We must address this at a systemic level.
So within that definition – no, racism cannot be delivered “up”. More often than not, anti-white statements are considered “racial prejudice” which are excusable by virtue of the fact that it lacks the systemic power to make it relevant or problematic.
There is a BUT, however, and here it is:
If you want to define racism through power analysis – you must also consider that racial prejudice against white folk reaffirms racial hierarchies and racist power systems. An anti-racist future is one where there IS NO racial hierarchy – not one where either 1) A racialised minority is at the top of the racial hierarchy or 2) A racialized minority is permitted to hit UP against whoever is at the top of the racial hierarchy.
Kendi puts it best:
“Anti-White racist ideas are usually a reflexive reaction to White racism. Anti-White racism is indeed the hate that hate produced, attractive to the victims of White racism. And yet racist power thrives on anti-White racist ideas—more hatred only makes their power greater. When Black people recoil from White racism and concentrate their hatred on everyday White people… they are not fighting racist power or racist policymakers. In losing focus on racist power, they fail to challenge anti-Black racist policies, which means those policies are more likely to flourish. Going after White people instead of racist power prolongs the policies harming Black life. In the end, anti-White racist ideas, in taking some or all of the focus off racist power, become anti-Black. In the end, hating White people becomes hating Black people.“Prof Ibram X. Kendi
You will notice, dear reader, that Professor Kendi does not at all shy away from the term “Anti-White racism”. He does not specify it as prejudice, he is focused more on the system that takes Black lives and forging ahead to an anti-racist future.
The pathway to this anti-future necessitates frank discussions about privilege, power, and fragility. It requires us to see racism as, in Kendi’s words, “a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas.” So it requires us to deracialize our policies, and the minds that create those policies, through anti-racist action, thought, and education.
The suggestion that Māori are completely powerless, or that people of colour are completely powerless, stems from a racist idea (and in fact can be traced back to racist policies). It is not antiracist.
The suggestion that only White people can be racist, and that white people will only ever be racist within that system, erases all forms of allyship and condemns white minds to never being able to deracialize. It is not antiracist.
The suggestion that Māori can never be racist erases the harm that we can do with the limited access to power that we have in our own lands. It will never enable us to address how we have utilized relative power against each other, against wahine Maori, and against other marginalized groups. IMPORTANTLY – it will never enable us to explore how this behaviour supports a racially hierarchical system that we will never (and should never want to) reach the top of. It will inhibit us from bringing that racially hierarchical system down and growing an antiracist future for our children.
Too often, what’s been apparent in people tagging me into their online racism debates is that it appears to be about their own aversion to see themselves as capable of a racist act – because they, too, see racism as a permanent personal slur, a fixed characteristic (reserved only for whites) rather than an act that is informed by a system of racial hierarchy. They, too, are ironically focussed on themselves as an individual rather than focussing on the system.
I have said racist things, and thought racist thoughts… and it’s my ownership of that, my commitment to change, and my faith that the system can also change that makes me anti-racist.
Today, in Hawai’i in 1779, the imperialist known as James Cook was put to death. Across our moana, numerous communities celebrate this day, known in Hawai’i as Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomake iā Kapena Kuke, (Happy Death of Captain Cook day). Of course much to the disdain of colonial descendants, who consider these celebrations macabre and, according to them, distasteful.
Before we go much further into this discussion, there are a few facts that bear remembering:
- Cook was a serial killer of Indigenous peoples. He murdered natives right throughout the Pacific: in Tahiti, in Tonga, in Aotearoa, in Australia, in Hawai’i. He would have continued to kill us had he been given further opportunity. How do we know this? Well accounts of the day before he was killed detail his orders and comments to his crew.
Naval Lieutenant James King recounted Cook’s orders “that the behaviour of the Indians would at last oblige him to use force, for that they must not, he said, imagine they have gaind an advantage over us’.
Translation: Better a dead native than one who thinks above their station.
Think that was out of character for Cook? Nope – his journals are dotted with this sentiment – that regular shows of deadly force are necessary to remind natives of European supremacy. Ten years earlier, he had used this same justification for firing into a fishing vessel full of unarmed women, men and youth… killing all but the three young men whom he abducted. That evening he reflected in his journal:
“I am aware that the most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat, nor do I my self think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will att all justify me, but when we was once a long side of them we must either have stud to be knockd on the head or else retire and let them gone off in triumph and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timourousness”
TRANSLATION Better a dead native than a native who thinks himself superior to us.
Throughout his three journeys were multiple instances where he took native lives for the mere reason of demonstrating white supremacy. He clearly felt that his duty to expand the British Empire included entitlement to take native lives. Cook did not invent that entitlement – it was in his orders, it was a part of his training (his naval mentor in his first overseas posting was Jeffery Amherst who was famed for purposeful infection of Mohawk communities through smallpox-laden blankets and was a self-confessed fan of the “Conquistador method” – hunting down and killing natives with dogs). In fact the very catalyst for Cook’s demise was the arrival of the news that his men on the other side of the bay had fired upon the locals, killing another Ali’i (just the latest in a string of deaths at the hands of Cook’s crew, and at Cook’s orders) – at the same time as Cook was attempting to abduct Ali’i Kalaniopu’u. The taking of native lives was expressly legitimised for imperial expansionists, dating all the way back to the 15th century where it was legally codified in the Doctrine of Discovery.
This, of course, is just the direct murders – they are in addition to the many more Indigenous lives lost through infection (both through handing out influenza-infected kerchiefs and through sexually transmitted diseases), through land theft or through injuries sustained through torture.
Which brings us to the second point: Now that we have established taking Indigenous lives was not a mishap but a form of modus operandi… now that we know it was an official and indoctrinated entitlement of his profession – we can reasonably deduce that he would have continued to take native lives in the pursuit of Imperial expansion – because our moana ancestors would most certainly have continued to resist his continued violations.
Simply put – Had Cook not been killed, he would have gone on to kill more of my ancestors.
And so today, we celebrate our ancestor’s resilience, we celebrate our survival, for in spite of all the efforts of the colonial imperial war machine WE ARE STILL HERE.
Indeed, in celebrating Imperial death – we celebrate LIFE.
We celebrate the halting of someone who had clear designs on Indigenous property and Indigenous bodies.
We celebrate all Indigenous women – we celebrate wahine Moana, like Kānekapōlei, wife of Kalaniopu’u, who had the foresight to warn her husband, and call her sons out of the vessel where they would have again been held captive like so many others abducted by Cook in his journeys. Because of Kānekapōlei, Kalaniopu’u survived, her sons survived. We celebrate the sacredness of Indigenous women and children who were all impacted, and are still impacted, by military imperialism and the sexual violence that comes with it – and colonial entitlement to our bodily territories, land territories and water territories.
We celebrate INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE in all its forms.
We celebrate the overturning of white supremacy. Because in spite of Cook’s arrogance about his own superiority – he was ultimately met with Indigenous justice. This is an important reflection for us all today, fighting for our lands, our waters, our lives and that of our descendants at the hands of economic imperialists, who carry the same arrogant entitlement to the lands, waters and lives of others.
Today is a day for us to remember that Imperialism cannot be excused, cannot be legitimised, and cannot exist in the same space as human rights. Whether it be economic or military (or a combination of the two) – In order to honour life, Imperialism must die.
There is an analogy I have often heard over the years of working with Indigenous brothers and sisters around the world in issues of conservation: The first and worst invasive species are the two legged sort. Like a rat at the nest of a native bird, the colonizer will come back at all hours, every day, constantly wearing you down until you give up and let it have its way.
For the non-Indigenous mind, reading this, I don’t think it’s easily understood just how very draining it is for us to protect our language, keep our whanau together, keep our children in our homes, keep our men and women out of the colonial injustice system, secure adequate healthcare, protect our customs, and always, always, protect our territories from the onslaught of colonial grabbery. Not only are new fires being set alight every day, but the fires we have put out keep coming back to life again, and again, and again, as well.
It steals time, heartbeats, and patience away from us. It steals the energy that we would otherwise be pouring into our own aspirations. The entitlement to the time and energy of Maori communities is staggering – with each group, person or organization thinking they are the exception, that it’s everyone else who is the problem but not them. Here is one example – just one, but a particularly potent example:
In our community of Wharekahika, the TerraFermah group have been trying to push through a logging port for four years. This comes after decades of other attempts to build a port, all of which have been opposed. Initially, when approaches were made to the local iwi in 2016, the iwi authority was warm to the idea of a feasibility study. Problem is… mana moana rests with the hapu. When the hapu called the iwi to meet with them in 2017 there were stern questions asked about why the concept was even being entertained without discussions with the hapu. After a long discussion where many of the local community expressed their continued opposition to the port, it was eventually agreed upon that a pre-feasibility study would be allowed, so that any opposition was made from an informed space.
The next community meeting happened ten months later, the pre-feasibility report was shaping up and the port was looking a lot more expensive, with far greater ecological impacts than what had initially been proposed. The report proposed removing the seawall in order to cut costs, but this significantly increased the risk of an event where the vessels could crash and lose or discharge fuel into the bay and along the coastline. The feasibility report itself cost in the vicinity of three hundred thousand dollars, and included Cultural/geo-physical/logistics. It appeared that the Terrafermah group had, in addition to approaching the iwi, also approached Eastland Port and the sense from the community was that Terrafermah’s approach was becoming aggressive and predatory. Again the community came together to discuss the issue, air grievances and express their reservations, taking into account all of the research that had been done. A number pointed out that we are not anti-development but that a port simply does not fit with the community’s economic aspirations. Rail was one of the other infrastructural options put forward by the community for a feasibility report. The community response: too expensive both in terms of money and cost to the environment, and not a part of our own community aspirations.
Now keep in mind that every time a meeting is called, we need to call upon our elders, call families out of their homes and away from their own pursuits, we go through all of the protocols and expend mental and emotional energy dealing with what is being put before us – all the while aware that if we do not, the decisions are always made FOR us, and most often in ways that cause us harm. It’s an economic and regulatory system that has been developed to favour anyone with development agendas and ignore the rights of local hapu and the environment. Between each of these hui are also phone calls and smaller meetings so that the hapu can keep abreast of people who are insisting on developing plans for our property. All of this unresourced, all of it taking up time and energy of local people who are simply trying to preserve their own property for their own aspirations.
Ok so where are we up to – meeting number three, August 2018. Again, the community came out in force to engage in the discussion, with over 150 present. By this point, Rural Development Minister Shane Jones had been talking extensively in the media about his support for the port, and rather insultingly about hapu opposition. The pre-feasibility report that had been agreed to by the hapu was never provided TO hapu. It was again, however reiterated that without the hapū support, the port would not go ahead, and at this meeting, again, the sentiment was clear: No Port. Again, the whanau suggested that alternative measures such as rail be explored. In this meeting, as in the last, there were numerous concerns raised by both iwi and hapu about the practices of Dave Fermah and his business, TerraFermah, in how they were approaching this issue. Locals started a petition to demonstrate their opposition, which gathered over eight thousand signatures. Signs were erected around the township to make it clear that a port was not welcome.
Fourth hui, about a month later, the community again reconvened to discuss and vote on the matter. More tension. More emotional and intellectual energy. More debates. Still no pre-feasibility study had been presented, and again the hapu made their sentiments clear: No port, and no further support for a full feasibility study. In the words of Maori Committee Chair at the time, over the 11 years previous there had been at least 5 approaches to develop a port at that location, each time met with stern opposition from the community. Again, the community were at pains to make clear that we are not anti-development but that our own economic goals simply did not align with a port. The community outlined 13 reasons for their opposition which was communicated to the Iwi authority in detail, and at the time also pointed out that the process had been painfully time consuming for the local community. The pre-feasibility report was eventually provided, but it was nevertheless made clear that the issue, as far as the community was concerned, was closed.
Again, in 2019 Shane Jones started up with media suggestions of a port at Wharekahika, at a similar time, Gisborne District Council started floating communications about a “blue highway” that would include a port at Wharekahika or Te Araroa. Cue meeting number five, with council and members of the local community who were rightfully outraged that 1. They were revisiting this issue and had evidently invested time and energy into the matter and 2. Were consulting broadly across the region for an issue that required hapu approval, and did not have it. Council staff were made aware in no uncertain terms that a port was NOT welcome in Wharekahika, that our economic aspirations were for non-extractive economies that invested in our people and a healthy environment, and to cease any further consultation with the broader region about a port in Wharekahika.
Undeterred, however, Terrafermah again returned in 2020 with further aggressive tactics. This time, Dave Fermah engaged a consultant named Tom Garlick to circulate letters around the community stating that he would donate money to the local schools and hospital, and that because he had addressed some of the reasons for opposition outlined in the letter of 2018 to our Iwi Authority, that the matter could now be re-approached. Not only had he done this, but he had gone to the extraordinary lengths of establishing a trust in the name of our community (The Matakaoa Community Trust) of which he was the sole trustee (living in Freemans Bay Auckland).
Cue community meeting number six, where the community sought confirmation from the schools and health board about their involvement with what we were now calling the zombie port. Both schools and the health board roundly rejected the offer of sponsorship, as it was clearly not in the interests of the community. In fact, at the time of sending the letters out, Dave Fermah had not even bothered with the consent of these groups for his proposed sponsorship. As if this was not distressing enough for the community – he went to the even more extraordinary lengths of establishing a website for the port that is riddled with assumptions, misdirection and straightup falsehoods.
A letter of complaint and continued opposition was registered with the Iwi Authority, who again reiterated their support of the hapu position against a port. Shane Jones, again, took the opportunity to attack the hapu through the media. His parting shot, before being ejected from parliament in the 2020 elections, was to allocate $45million towards the development of the port in literal spite of local opposition.
And now, in recent weeks, we have again heard that the port is being reconsidered, this time at the behest of Minister Grant Robertson’s office – who apparently don’t feel that the community have been clear enough in our opposition, and would like us to gather in yet another meeting to make our position clear. Six minuted meetings. Numerous media releases. A 8000 signature strong petition.
Of course, again – they have not yet come to the hapu, but rather have engaged with other groups in Gisborne (that being the Iwi and Council). The community is completely exasperated with the issue, we have met over, and over again. We have debated. We have seen the research. The process has been literally exhaustive, and the no is an informed no.
At this point – it is harassment. A colonial level of entitlement to people’s time and energy. It’s a troubling disregard for our non-consent, and an assumption of supreme authority over our own territory, in addition to an abuse of Crown privilege and resources. We are not resourced, and have not been resourced, to continue to meet, and debate, and oppose this issue. We are not resourced to write to media, and the Iwi, and the council, and whoever else government sends to us. We are trying to pursue our own economic aspirations as a community, but between this, and all of the other frontlines we are expected to engage upon, we are exhausted. And this, this is the reality of living as Indigenous peoples in colonized times – just the act of living uninterrupted in our territories requires INORDINATE amounts of reactive energy. Energy we would rather be putting towards our children, our families, our own dreams and other pressing issues like climate resilience and the restoration of our coastal fisheries and forests that have already been depleted by the Crown.
So here we are again, saying NO to a port. Invest in exploring rail. Invest in non-extractive economies. And for Treaty’s sake – respect our NO when we say it.
CONTENT WARNING: Sexual violence and rape of women, youth and children.
This piece was written after a late night chatting with my dear relation Mereana Pitman who has been working in the prevention of family violence and sexual violence for over 40 years, and about the same period of time campaigning for, and educating on, Treaty justice. These are our combined reflections upon the role of the Doctrine of Discovery and sexual violence.
It is, perhaps, a mark of the year that 2020 has been that the creation of a new ministerial portfolio for the prevention of family and sexual violence sailed past the bluffs of the election media without barely a mention. Aotearoa has some of the highest rates of family and sexual violence, and it is a cornerstone issue – it impacts upon multiple other spaces of mental health, the rights of women, youth and children, crime and incarceration to name just a few. It is a cornerstone issue in the social ecology – and while its impacts upon Māori communities are distinct it should not be understood as a Māori problem. It is, in no small measure, a colonization problem, and like all stories of colonization it requires a thorough understanding of the history of sexual violence in a colonial context. Here are just a few important considerations for us to keep in mind in considering the role of sexual violence within a colonial state:
Sexual violence is a tool of conquest and colonization.
We should, first, understand sexual violence as a primal act of domination that features across species, and certainly across cultures. It is used to punish, humiliate and destroy, and has been used as a tool of war, conquest and domination for as long as war, conquest and domination has existed. We then, must understand imperial expansion as acts of war, domination and conquest, and colonialism as the maintenance of domination. For nations that have undergone colonisation, sexual violence is one of the many tools that has been used to establish and maintain domination – and it has been an extremely effective one.
The Doctrine of (Christian) Discovery is an international legal and social concept which created sets of entitlements for European monarchs to expand their empires throughout the world. In the words of the papal laws, these entitlements included the right to:
invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens [Muslim] and pagans [Non-christians] and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.Dum Diversas
It’s important to note that even though these laws are ostensibly about the right to claim land, the first rights accorded are the rights to “invade, search out, capture and subjugate” Saracen and pagan people, followed by the right to then take their property, including their lands. This comes as no surprise within the context that these earliest of papal bulls were primarily aimed at establishing a slave trade.
However, within a very short period subsequent papal laws then expanded the entitlements both in scope of the geography (moving from the right to invade and claim West Africa, to the right to invade and claim the “New World”) and in provisions (increasing, and clarifying, what could be taken and done).
Under the likes of Christopher Columbus and Francisco Pizarro, the application of the Doctrine of Discovery utilised sexual violence from the very outset. One of the documents utilised in the process of applying the Doctrine of Discovery was called El Requierimiento. It was read out as a proclamation of discovery to the natives of the lands being claimed (of course it was never understood, and was in many cases read as a formality upon sighting the land, just before invading it and waging war upon the natives of that land). It reads as follows (emphasis added):
“… We shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”El Requierimiento
Here we see, in the tools of the Doctrine, the explicit entitlement towards women and children, the intention to make war in all ways possible, to “do all the mischief and damage that we can”, and importantly, that all blame for this will be upon the victims themselves. Unsurprisingly, the mischief described consistently involved sexual assault. Franciscan monk Bartolome De Las Casas recorded the events in his journal regarding Columbus’s invasion of Haiti:
“This was the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians, and here they began their subjection of the women and children, taking them away from the Indians to use them and ill use them…. And some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians… They behaved with such temerity and shamelessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer.”De Las Casas
Further accounts are provided by crew members of the orders given to rape women, and in the instances of crew such as Miguel Cuneo, where native women were “gifted” by Columbus and subsequently raped. Sexual trafficking and sexual violence against women, children and youth featured throughout what became known as the “Age of Discovery” (better termed the Age of Genocide). It featured in the voyages of Magellan, of Pizarro (and indeed all conquistadors), and of James Cook.
In the case of the British colonization of India, not only was the colonial rape of Indian women widespread, but colonial laws were adopted which placed a heavy standard of evidence upon rape victims only for cases where the accused was a British officer.
AND SO – The history of colonization must include the employment of sexual violence and trafficking as a tool of domination and conquest, and conversely the history of sexual violence must include its specific use against Indigenous peoples as a part of the colonial project.
Sexual violence is intended to strip the sacred
Sexual violence is a form of consumption, and so, in consuming you, it attempts to desanctify you, making you not only property, but consumed, defiled and defecated property. In making you non-sacred this legitimizes the entitlement to take whatever is required of you, because you do not matter. It is the most powerful expression of you not mattering, along with extinguishing your life.
The whare tangata (womb) is seen as a sacred repository for Hine, in the form of Hineteiwaiwa, who oversees the female reproductive cycles. It is the space where the divine and human come together. It is a portal for souls to enter this world. The assault upon this aspect of our sacredness is one intended against not only the victim, but the line which continues through her. Sexual violation and commodification of Indigenous women is also associated to their hypersexualisation and subsequent cultural appropriation. The “Dusky Pacific Maiden”, and “Squaw” tropes are two examples of of how the Indigenous feminine is hypersexualised, commodified and consumed for colonial entertainment, through literature, through porn, and through costumes. Today, still, the true story of Pocahontas which obscures and erases colonial rape is made all the worse by the continued commodification and hypersexualising of her story and image, primarily through the likes of Disney, which then drives subsequent hypersexualised costuming every single Halloween.
Furthermore, the rape of children in particular is a stripping of sacred innocence that feeds a colonial compulsion to acquire all that can possibly be acquired of a people. Nowhere is sacred when even the innocence of children can be taken. As we have seen in the cases of children taken and then abused through the state system both in Aotearoa, in Australia and on Great Turtle Island, the deep, psychological and spiritual damage that is done through sexual violence passes on intergenerationally, and after the first instance, the colonial perpetrator becomes the Indigenous vector.
AND SO – healing sexual violence necessitates spiritual healing.
Sexual violence is synonymous with environmental violence.
As outline above, sexual violence is a powerful tool to facilitate the taking of land. Making you insignificant is an important step in the legitimizing of the theft and abuse of your land and waters. In particular, the aforementioned assault upon the womb is one which, with its many associations to sacred land and waters, extends to the entitlement to own, and abuse, the natural Indigenous world. This is not only historical but also contemporary, and is further evidenced in the correlation between oil pipelines and missing and murdered Indigenous women on Great Turtle Island (insert maps).
As pointed out by Dr. Dawn Memee Harvard, Native Women’s Association of Canada in her United Nations submission:
A 2014 report by the ILO estimated that 21 million individuals are being trafficked for sex or labor globally per year and showed that sexual violence and trafficking is exponentially higher near points of extraction and worker camps, or “man camps” than it is in locales of similar population. Destructive, resource-intensive, and often forced practices of mineral extraction are primary ways that colonialist conquest and genocide continue today, through simultaneous violence against the land and against indigenous peoples, disproportionately affecting women and girls.Dr. Dawn Memee Harvard
Indeed, at Standing Rock, at the Alberta Tar Sands, in Peru, parts of Africa and around the world, environmental exploitation is synonymous with gender based violence. In all of these places, historically and in a contemporary sense, Indigenous peoples are subjected to sexual and gender based violence as a response to their efforts to return and protect their Indigenous territories.
AND SO – sexual violence and gender based violence must be further understood as a precursor and facilitator of environmental harm that disproportionately impacts Indigenous peoples. Environmental colonialism must also be understood as an issue which increases the likelihood of sexual and gender based violence against Indigenous communities.
Sexual violence dispossesses/displaces us of our bodily, emotional, spiritual territories.
It is a commonly seen consequence of sexual violence that survivors disconnect themselves from their bodies/emotions/spiritual selves in order to survive. This displacement can remain lifelong, and can then lead to behaviour that is symptomatic of the heart, mind, soul, body and collective being displaced from each other. This is particularly true of children who are nowhere near equipped to be able to deal with the trauma of sexual violence.
Their pathological selves are disconnected from community, through the shame associated with sexual trauma. The shame of being defiled. The shame of sexual dysfunction. All of these things drive victims of intergenerational sexual trauma away from the community. In some cases, the community finds it easier to ignore what is happening, or attack the victim, than deal with the sexual violence itself, and in other cases it is the victim who perceives the shame and never raises it to the community.
Hurt people hurt people. Our patriarchal, heteronormative, Christian society does not allow for deep discourse on sexuality. Where all sex is seen as a sin, open intergenerational discussions about sex are limited and consequently our ability to differentiate between natural, healthy sex and sexual violence is also limited. It vilifies the intergenerational vectors of sexual violence, forcing them underground, away from healing, so that the harm continues in our communities. The depth and scale of trauma created by sexual violence, coupled with the lack of effective support, underpins the “state-care” to prison pipeline and is consequently linked to a wide range of harmful outcomes for individuals, whanau and communities.
AND SO – healing sexual trauma in Maori communities necessitates processes that reconnect us to our physical, emotional, spiritual and communal selves. It needs to be connected to our work on suicide and addiction, and understood as a major contributor to hyper-incarceration. It further requires a range of healing approaches both for victims and vectors of intergenerational sexual trauma, as well as their communities.
Sexual violence has promulgated through Maori communities at the hands of the Crown.
There are two significant sites of our colonial history that have contributed to sexual assault within Māori communities: warfare and “state care“. Over 100,000 children were placed into state care in just 40 years, with the rate of Māori being between 50% and 90% depending on the year, and the region. Abuse in state care is rife, and reports indicate the the vast majority of that abuse that has occurred also happens to Māori.
In consideration of these numbers, one simply cannot overstate the impact of what we can safely term the mass-rape of Māori children by the state. Moana Jackson says “you cannot take a young man in a prison cell and look at him separately from the experience of colonization”. The same can be said of sexual trauma in Māori communities. We simply cannot look at it in isolation of the experience of colonization and the utilization of sexual assault as a tool of colonization both to us, and through us.
Militarism and sexual assault goes hand in hand. It is a part of the oldest military strategies. If we understand the “Age of Discovery” as a series of war crimes, invasions of Indigenous nations – then we can see that the same tactics were employed as military strategies. It occurred in Africa under Dum Diversas. It occurred in Haiti under Columbus. It occurred in Aotearoa at the hands of Cook’s crew. It occurred in Aotearoa as a tool of the land wars, at Rangiaowhia, at Parihaka, at Maungapōhatu. Our tipuna were further exposed to wartime sexual violence in the battlefields of Europe and North Africa during World War 2, and in Vietnam. It occurs, still in Afghanistan. Sexual violence has occurred, and continues to occur, throughout the Pacific in and around the military bases. Sexual trafficking, forced prostitution, sexual assaults, all spike around military bases. Essentially, where there is war, there is sexual violence.
Our tipuna came back from war broken, and hurt men. Men who had been exposed to wartime sexual violence. Men who were offered little more than alcohol or drugs to numb the trauma of what they experienced. Addicted, traumatized, hurt, and then planted back into our communities where the hurt became intergenerational.
AND SO – sexual assault within Māori communities must be understood as a legacy of colonization.
Colonial Sexual Trauma is Capitalised Upon by the Colonialism Industrial Complex
Just as there is a poverty industrial complex and a nonprofit industrial complex – colonialism also exists, itself, as an industrial complex. Many billions of dollars is spent on the social fallout of sexual trauma, through Corrections, through counselling services, through social service providers, through Oranga Tamariki, through women’s refuge…. and the vast majority of the funding either cycles back through the State, or is paid out to pākeha social service providers. Numerous studies and experts have concluded that the subsequent services are not geared for Māori, and fail to provide the appropriate healing required for spiritual, physical, emotional, and communal wellness.
One doesn’t have to impugn the motives of the individuals and nonprofits working in this industry to observe that, in the aggregate, they consistently behave like other industries: working closely with elected officials and government agencies to preserve the government funding that supports their work. The result is ingrained inertia that makes it harder to shift resources to programs that could provide better outcomes and do so more efficiently.Daniel Stid, Washington Post
When you look at how the complex is facilitated, through relationships of privilege and social opportunities that are built out of a background of education and qualifications that are also acquired through socio-economic privilege, it is easy to see how easily pākeha turn a profit from the colonial harm visited upon Māori. This is not uncommon within the framework of the Doctrine of Discovery, where the extraction from Indigenous peoples and their territories underwrites the global imperial economic complex.
AND SO – Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery within the sexual violence-social work sector means primarily resourcing Māori services to provide multi-level healing services from the colonial legacy of sexual violence.
For many reasons today I was thinking about a hui I was at some time ago with some researchers who had come to ask our community if they could do some work with us. We were discussing intellectual property and my Aunt said something that has stuck with me over the years since:
“Stop trying to be Maori, I don’t need you to be Maori – I’ve got that covered. I need you to be a good treaty partner”.
Now, I’m blessed to know quite a few wonderful Tangata Tiriti, some of them have been so for decades in fact. A number of qualities occurred to me today about what I expect to see in a good Tangata Tiriti. Let me say before we go any further – this is not an exhaustive list, it doesn’t shortcut the work Tangata Tiriti have to do to figure out their responsibilities. I’ve been asked a few times “What do Maori want” – its a rude and reductive question, and not one that I recommend anyone ask… because WE are not the problem and what we WANT is not the point. The real question to be asked is – what does justice demand of us? And what follows are just a few things that justice requires of Tangata Tiriti.
- Be tau (at peace) with your position. You need to be able to speak frankly about the process of colonization that created the space for you to be here in Aotearoa. Not ridden with guilt, and not trying to explain it or evade it, but ready to respond to the legacy of that story. Be aware of your own privilege that has descended down to you by virtue of that process. Even in describing your own class, gender, ability or sexuality based oppression, you should know how the legacy of colonization influences your experience of that oppression.
- Respect boundaries. So much space has been taken from us, so primarily you need to respect our boundaries where we lay them down. Don’t argue with us when we insist on our own spaces. Don’t make it about your hurt feelings, or your need for inclusion. Don’t paint it as divisive. If you are mourning the space we have just reclaimed for ourselves, be comforted by the fact that pretty much the entire rest of the world is either yours, or shared with you. We require safe spaces to speak, just us. That will also require you to self identify and self vacate at times. Be proactive. Read the room. Remove yourself out of consideration for the space we need to safely continue a conversation.
- Be prepared to make sacrifice. If you understand the story of privilege that has shaped Aotearoa you will understand there has been a mass transfer of power. Justice cannot be restored without addressing the power imbalance.
If you are only interested in discussing the past but not responding to it, then you are of no use to the process of restoring justice, and I do have to question whether you are really adverse to racism and the benefits you enjoy from it.
This will mean learning the art of saying no. No to sitting on panels on Indigenous issues. No to occupying roles and positions where you are paid to impart (and judge) Indigenous knowledge. No to opportunities where systemic failings allow you to accept funding to lead Indigenous projects.
- There will be many spaces where your voice will be valued. Speaking to your fellow pākeha about being good Tangata Tiriti. Discussing what it means to be pākeha. Dispelling fear of decolonization. There is a perverse situation right now where pakeha do not want to do the work on themselves, but they DO want to do the work of telling Maori how to be Maori. Because the system supports this kind of behaviour, you wind up with Maori supplementing the workload, and spending way too much time teaching pakeha about their Tiriti responsibilities, rather than working with our own (which we’d much rather do). There is an important space for Tangata Tiriti right now, and it’s not teaching Maori – it’s working with each other on how to reckon with the historical injustice of their establishment, and what to DO about that, now.
- Stand with us for our language rights, for our health rights, for the rights of our children and women and stop perceiving Indigenous rights abuses as an Indigenous problem, rather than a colonial inevitability.
- Benchmark the discomfort of your decolonization experience against that of our colonization experience, every time you want to ask us to wait. Read here for a brief insight into what Māori have undergone, and undergo, awaiting justice.
- Understand that learning our content and knowing our experience are two different things. For this reason we do want you to learn, and lead, your own karakia and waiata… But that does not equate to permission to explain our own culture to us. Remember, boundaries. Learning the reo is not your get out of Treaty free card.
- Don’t expect us to know everything about Te Ao Māori or have our own identity journey sorted out for you. Colonization has made, and is still making a mess of our identity, and our relationships, and that is difficult enough without having to explain ourselves to you. Especially when you have yet to do the hard work on your own identity as pakeha.
- Nothing is automatically a 2 way street. I, for instance, can talk frankly about what a good Tangata Tiriti looks like. Tangata Tiriti cannot tell me what being a “good” Tangata Whenua is. This requires you to learn well beyond Treaty/Tiriti articles, or provisions, or principles. Privilege. Power. Bias. Racism. Learn how these operate in the context of Tiriti justice and you will get a better idea of how to navigate relationships as a Tangata Tiriti beyond the very flawed “anti-racism means treating everyone the same” fallacy.
- Don’t expect backpats or thankyous. You may get them (in fact you probably will – it’s another product of our colonial experience that pakeha are thanked and recognized for doing Tiriti justice work much more than Māori), but it’s important you realise that justice work is as much for yourself as it is for anyone else. It’s self-improvement, and improvement of your children’s future. You’re not doing me favours that you aren’t also doing yourself.
Ten seems like a good space to stop.
TANGATA TIRITI – if you ever feel tempted to ask that question, please instead come to this page and reset your journey with yourself.
CUZZIES – you get that dumbass question, just flick them this link. Merry whatever.
I want to let you know, I get it. I get how hard it is to not print racist Sam from Linden and bigoted Barrie from Island Bay
And what’s a little racial supremacy premised on blatant falsehoods between treaty partners, anyway?
So lets not call it a mistake (even though it was not just morally but patently factually wrong)
I mean, I don’t want to create intense tension, and I get your great intentions, so lets bite back any mention the racist misinformation dripping from the hands of your publication…
I get it, oh do I get how hard it will be for you to make good on your apology.
Not the kind of world splitting hard that comes with having your child taken for the crime of being a taken child.
No, not that kind of hard.
But it will be frustrating for you.
Not 180 years of saying the same thing over and over and over and over again and being expected to play along with a perverse charade of any interest in justice kind of frustrating.
Not the watching everyone around you die early from fatigue related illnesses because they have spent every last breath pointing the obvious out to you kind of frustration.
But you will click your heavy tongue and sigh a lot and gaze out the window of your 7th floor Willis Street office and wonder just how long this will take.
Which won’t be the same kind of waiting for, like, a home for you and your children because your landlord hiked the rent beyond minimum wage which was never a living wage anyway but that’s not the first or only way you’ll get told to not-live, today.
It’s not, like, waiting for Pharmac to approve life saving medication and wondering if you will outlive the process of them discussing whether to approve a cure for something that doesn’t quite affect enough White people yet.
Not that kind of waiting.
But you will definitely flick those heavily lacquered, impossibly shiny nails and there will be many tsktsks.
It’s going to be hard work, you know…. facing up to racism is not easy.
Not working two jobs to keep that roof over your head and buy another short life pair of school shoes because you can never quite reach the flash long lasting investment pair for Bub, only to open the paper to see a cartoon of you portrayed as a dole bludging bad parent.
Not that kind of hard work, no.
But there will be many hui.
Not really the same as when you have to meet 20 different times with 20 different faces of the crown in a never-ending Groundhog Day that essentially boils down to you saying another version of please, for the love of all that’s sacred… stop. finding new ways. to kill us.
It’s not really comparable to that, but it will take a lot of time, and you will have to figure a lot out for yourself, you know. Not like, how to feed your family this week, and not like, how to stop your son from killing himself like his best friend did.
But it will challenge you.
Not like a University Professor challenging your right to be there, and not like a police officer stopping and challenging you for no good reason.
More like, challenge you to really think about who you are and how you got here. Except without the cultural shame of having your language stripped from you and being a third generation manufactured outcome of assimilation, not knowing your pepeha let alone your whakapapa and staring red faced at your boss who insists you lead the room in karakia.
It won’t be like that, and it will be thankless.
Not having your entire economic base ripped away from you to form the basis of the national economy but being called a freeloader for even pointing that out kind of thankless – but you get my drift.
It’s tiring my dear.
Not bone tired, thousand yard stare tired, battle weary, heart-sore and, soul bruised tired from seeing your people kicked while they’re down, yet again. Not the gut-sigh kinda tired of the Maori journalist having to read the same racist rant again for the thousandth time even though its been disproven even tho it dehumanises her in a way that you will never have to go through even though you just said sorry for this shit last week, not that tired. Not the kind of tired that robs your children of a parent because you have to choose between giving them today or fighting for their tomorrow. Not that kind of tired
But I promise you will be ok, in fact you will be better for this, in the end.
Which will be, most likely, about 12 years later than mine.
Reflecting back on this year, I’ve been asked a lot about the role of Wāhine. More than other years, and perhaps, in reflection, it’s in times of adversity that we all start to question what are our roles, and how do we value each other.
It has not been a difficult question to answer, for the most part. During lockdown, it was easy to see that in the vast majority of cases, Wāhine were leading the community safety checkpoints, protecting families and elders where police resources just couldn’t extend. In the marae, Wāhine were organising and packing our food parcels. Online, Wāhine were leading innovative education programs. As always, in times of upheaval, Wāhine have stepped up, instinctively – not waiting for permission or guidance, but just doing what needs to be done, for the greater good.
During our elections, here in Tairawhiti, we were spoilt for Wāhine leadership. Elizabeth Kerekere, Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Kiritapu Allen, Meka Whaitiri, Heather Te Au-Skipworth were all fine candidates who held strong track records of leadership in different ways for our region.
And once the votes were tallied it was revealed that Debbie Ngarewa-Packer would enter parliament, alongside Rawiri Waititi, marking the return of the Māori Party into parliament. This past week the nation was put back in their seats by her maiden speech – a term which, with its inferences of youth and inexperience, completely underserves her searing account of the historical injustice meted out by that house. A notice, delivered directly into the belly of the beast, that her service in that space would stand for no less than a complete reckoning, and power shift.
The nation was rightfully moved, both her and Rawiri Waititi’s statements reminded us all of exactly what can be said in the absence of general party constraints.
In the Greens, Marama Davidson moved into the role of Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, as well as the Associate Minister of Housing with Responsibility for Homelessness. My heart smiles when I consider this, as she is the one minister whom a number of us have seen sit and hang out with our homeless, on the street, and share her meal with them, and treat them with dignity, call them by their names because she knew them and they, her – at all times of the day or night, without a camera in sight. In two areas where we fair amongst the worst in the OECD, the work before her will be significant and I believe nobody could do this like she will.
In the Labour Party, we have seen Wāhine Māori ascend into pivotal ministerial roles – Kiritapu Allen is our new Conservation Minister. Her boots-on-the-ground approach to serving her East Coast electorate will no doubt serve her well in what is a deeply contentious role, supporting the care and restoration of our precious natural heritage that is, in many spaces, facing imminent, permanent, loss.
Importantly, we saw Nanaia Mahuta ascend into the coveted role of Foreign Affairs Minister, the first time that seat has been held by a Wāhine Māori – and she has committed to bringing her perspectives as a Wāhine Māori to her role, and she certainly has the illustrious diplomatic heritage to do just that.
It is a fascinating time for Wāhine Māori leadership in parliament – which makes it an important time for us to consider – what does Wāhine Māori leadership LOOK like as a leadership model?
For just as Indigenous leadership means so much more than a particular ethnicity and job title – so too does this mean so much more than being a Wāhine Māori in a leadership role. We don’t have to look far for examples of women in history that have upheld the patriarchy, of Māori who have upheld Imperialism, or indeed of Wāhine Māori who have upheld both.
So what DOES Wāhine Māori leadership look like in its own right, then? This is probably something we could run an entire conference on (and that would be a pretty amazing conference to go to) – every woman would have her own response to it and I feel like I could write all day, but today I just want to explore three fundamental areas: change, relationships, and healing.
Everything I have been taught about Wāhine scripts us to initiate, and navigate change. We are the doorways into this world. A woman’s cry is the first thing you hear coming into the world, and it is what helps to lift the spirit from the body when you leave. You enter under the auspices of Hineteiwaiwa, you leave into the embrace of Hinenuitepō. Our bodies are constantly shifting and changing, along with the lunar cycle. Ceremonially, our karanga opens channels for ancestors to join us in our gatherings. We can shift a space from sacred, to accessible, and back again. The power of women helped to prepare our fighters for battle, and played an important role in safely reintegrating them back to the community. For this reason, in our customary carved art, you will most often see women carved on spaces that function to transition someone from one state to another. Over the door lintel of an ancestral house, or along the side strakes of a waka taua (war canoe). It is fair to say that we were not only acknowledged for our dominion over transition, but celebrated for it.
This aspect of Wāhine Māori leadership is particularly pertinent for us now, for multiple reasons. Times are always changing, and while I don’t favour the word unprecedented, certainly our current generation has never faced such existential crises as climate change, and COVID-19. These issues both call upon us to facilitate radical change to our societal functions at a local, national and most importantly global space. Both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are traceable as consequences of patriarchal imperialism. We will not overcome them by preserving the patriarchal imperialist structure. It will take the distinctive Wāhine Māori leadership trait of navigating change to facilitate the radical shifts required of our political and economic systems, for us to survive.
It is estimated that in the coming decade, water scarcity could displace over 700 million people, and this will only get worse. Water cycles are becoming increasingly disrupted, and the impacts of this cannot be overstated. As the irreplacable basis for crops, food systems, sanitation, basic health – it really is life. It is, in particular, a realm of life that women also hold dominion over. We are the original bearers of the most sacred of waters. We are the first oceans of life. Every person on this planet has been nourished within the saline waters of woman. Aquacide is a fundamental assault on human rights, on women’s rights, on childrens rights, on the rights of the unborn and the rights of the planet and for all these reasons, Wāhine Māori leadership is necessarily characterised by opposing the commodification, commercialisation, and pollution of waters.
It is a common misconception that internationalism is a virtue of colonialism, one of the “gifts” bestowed upon, apparently, backwards and insular Indigenous peoples. Yet 3000 years before Europeans even knew the Pacific was here, my ancestors were crisscrossing this ocean, establishing themselves from Samoa to Rapanui and beyond, gathering together to teach and learn at Taputapuatea, intermarrying, establishing trade relationships and forging moana dynasties. And do you know who it was that was forging those relationships, and navigating those seas, and negotiating those trade deals? Wāhine. Our moana history is resplendent with Wāhine leadership across all of those arenas. Many colonial anthropologists famously cut these roles from their own accounts, either unable to comprehend them, or finding them too unpalatable to record. These are usually the same ones that have tried to diminish our own superior voyaging and scientific expertise. Yes our own genealogies speak to the matrilineal descent of mana whenua. While our whale riding ancestor Paikea is rightfully remembered and celebrated in song, haka and art – it was his wife Huturangi who held the mana over vast tracts of Te Tairawhiti through her own illustrious genealogy. Interestingly, Huturangi travelled to Aotearoa inutero, carried in the womb of her mother Araiara on board the waka Nukutere, captained by her father Whiro (known in Hawai’i as Hilo). Araiara herself also land here on Te Ika a Maui, and thus we know that Araiara herself was a voyager, moving between Te Tairāwhiti and, amongst other places, Hawai’inui.
I raise this now because I have spent a lot of time thinking about our relationship with Hawai’inui. Hawaikinui. An ancestral homeland with which my home Tairawhiti holds an intertwined destiny. A counterpoint in a story that started with our Atua, and includes Maui, and Araiara and Whiro, and also includes Te Maro, and James Cook, and Kalaniopu’u, and now includes RIMPAC, Pohaukuloa, and the HMNZS Manawanui.
There are multiple relationships that call for reconfiguration right now but most definitely our moana nations are, from a Wāhine Māori standpoint, most urgent. Our relationships across Te Moananui a Kiwa exist across genealogical, ecological, economic, linguistic, cultural, as well as geographic dimensions.
This region, so ironically called “The Pacific” by imperial expansionists, ironically sits within a fraught geopolitical context of North Korea and China on one seaboard, and the USA/Canada on the other. For hundreds of years now, colonising powers have strategically positioned themselves throughout our ocean continent, so that now we now reside as a series of tactical targets on a much larger chessboard. In the center, we have Hawai’inui, home to multiple military zones, where the US military bomb sacred sites every single day, and where, every few years, the world’s largest naval war game program (RIMPAC) plays out involving naval crews and vessels from multiple nations. It, too, largely revolves around blowing up moana spaces, a process that wreaks ecological, cultural, and spiritual devastation – and this year, during a global pandemic, against all pleas, the NZ government still sent a naval research, the HMNZS Manawanui, to participate in the war games.
Upon returning, it moved to its new home port of Tūranganui a Kiwa, with no consultation or invite. 250 years after a Crown naval research vessel, the Endeavour, arrived uninvited on our shores captained by James Cook, in the face of a year of saying that they had listened to our pain, the Crown sent another naval research vessel to station itself, again uninvited, on our shores. 240 years after our relations on Hawai’inui put pay to the naval invasions of our moana region, Aotearoa are still sending invaders their way. It appears our homes of Hawai’inui and Tūranganui a Kiwa are intertwined across time in a cyclical, ominous relationship.
All of this of course exists across the broader backdrop of Pacific militarism – an issue inextricably tied into human and ecological rights abuses. An issue that places so many of us at threat, through military testing, through sexual slave trade, through sexual assaults, through tactical targeting, and all, largely, in the interests of colonial powers.
Again, Wāhine Māori leadership cannot serve to maintain the patriarchal status quo. The state military is the most extreme and overt manifestation of imperialist might and we must always question: why, and for whom? Why must our military forces participate in exercises that so flagrantly ignores Indigenous and environmental rights? Whom does that serve? Whom does that ignore? Whom does that privilege? Wāhine Māori leadership cannot stand at once for wāhine and Indigenous ideals, whilst contributing to imperial militarism. If we cannot call upon our Wāhine Māori scripting for forging change to make a stand against this, in our own moana, it begs the question, what do we stand for, and where do we stand for it.
Our planet, our ecosystems, our people need healing. We are in the middle of the largest human health crisis in living memory. It is easy to forget this, here in Aotearoa while COVID rages overseas worse than ever before, but we are not safe yet. Economically and socially, we are staring down a very turbulent immediate future and it will require great navigators of change, it will require the fostering of relationships, it will require community cohesion, and it will require a lot of healing, for a long time. The trauma of this period will be long lasting and multi-dimensional. It will require divergent thinking and proactive leadership. It will require the kind of healing leadership that Wāhine are famous for: just doing what needs to be done.
At the base of my skull I have a rugged scar, a reminder of this characteristic carried by my own mother, who, after I fell backwards through a plate glass window at the age of 4, scooped me up, rushed me to the bathroom, cleaned the wound, plucking the glass out, and sewed up the wound. So many times (like the recent checkpoints) I have seen how Wāhine Māori have instinctively seen what needs to be done, and simply go about doing it. So I want to finish on this small, but powerful story. A couple of weeks ago our own community was torn apart by a quadruple tragedy. I won’t go into the specifics, but it was the kind of tragedy that could irreparably rend a community in two. I was heartbroken for my community, and heartbroken for my own whanau too who had, at the same time, lost my young cousin to suicide. The loss in our small community was so profound, I wondered what could be done to help. They say that it is in our darkest hour is when people shine the brightest, and it was during this time that I saw some of the most incredible Wāhine leadership rise to the surface. My relation, Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, called for counsellors, for artists, for tohunga tā moko, for massage therapists and storytellers and they came, and for nearly two weeks they made themselves available to our community, children, friends, parents, teachers, to receive healing, to join in ceremony or to just sit and listen. When I finally returned home, she held ceremony with me as well to help with my own healing. I have never seen community-wide healing rolled out before, and while much healing still remains, what I saw happening over that week left me in complete awe and reverence for the healing that Wāhine leadership can bring.
I have heard so many times this year “we want to change, but it’s a slow ship to turn”. What I’ve come to see is that the ship will turn as fast as the person at the helm wants to turn it. The only thing standing in the way of radical change are those who seek to preserve the patriarchal, imperialist structures that we have become accustomed to. If you are not going to seriously consider what is it about your leadership that is distinctively Wāhine Māori, then how can you rest assured you are not simply propping up the patriarchy? If you are not interested in using your innate, hereditary scripting to call in the radical change that is required for future generations, for sacred waters both fresh and marine, for whakapapa, for relationships and for the whenua, then what does the whare tangata stand for?
We are in interesting times, times of great challenges, times for radical hope. In spite of the pervasive presence of colonialism, the strategic positioning of Wāhine Māori in pivotal roles in parliament provides us with crucial potential. Furthermore, the uncompromising political leadership of Wāhine Māori, Wāhine Moana leaders outside of parliament, in local, national and international spaces such as Margaret Mutu, Annette Sykes, Dayle Takitimu, Julia Whaipooti, Ani Pahuru-Huriwai and Emalani Case provide us with important compass points to remind us of exactly how we can wield our passion and commitment as Wāhine Māori to bring exactly what is needed forth, for our people, right now, kia ora ai te mauri tangata, me te mauri taiao.
Over the past few months, I’ve been really fortunate to sit with some pretty cool people and discuss the related issues of racism, colonialism, and misinformation as a part of my “What a Load of Colony” webseries. A lot of what I want to share today draws from those conversations. Most recently, I was blessed to sit and discuss this issue with my whanaunga Diana and Mark Kopua. Diana is a Māori psychiatrist and Uncle Mark is a tohunga tā moko, educator, artist and storyteller. I will be including snippets from our kōrero throughout this post. I’ll upload the entire discussion as well, but it encapsulated so much of what I wanted to say, so well, that I wanted to place it within a broader discussion around Māori and misinformation.
While certainly not a new phenomena, misinformation has featured as a mega-theme of 2020. In the political era of post-truth, information wars hit defcon 1 as right wing administrations desperately sought to conceal the devastating consequences of economic prioritisation over life. The global information-scape of 2020 meant that information designed to influence Georgia and Mississippi, arrives just as fast and can hold equal influence in Te Karaka and Taupō. Information, and equally misinformation, has never held the potential to spread as fast and impact so many as it does now. And the trajectory of information technology multiplies upon itself by the day.
Just as a brief insight into how information transmission has changed in the past few decades, a few facts for us:
• In 1986, the global information network capacity (ie how much information was flying around and being stored around the world) was about 2 and a half million terabytes (you know those terabyte external hard-drives you buy from Warehouse Stationery? 2 and a half million of them).
• By 2007 that had grown to 2 billion terabytes of information flying around.
• Now, in 2020, we have nearly 30 billion terabytes (30zetabytes) of information flying around and being processed and stored around us – to be precise it’s 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information – floating around in front of us, accessible to us and being stored by us at any given moment.
• That is equivalent to 27,000 stacks of books reaching from the Earth to the Sun!!
• Or put another way, in 1986 we received around 40 newspapers full of information every day but this had rocketed to 174 in 2007 and today we have about the equivalent of 5220 newspapers worth of information accessible to us every day!
• Our means of accessing that information has also radically changed. From being strictly controlled in the late 80s, and requiring direct ports of access via a computer, with the arrival of wireless technology and advancement of cellphone technology we can now access this information through our phones, on our laptops or other devices, on our smart tvs, through “smart house” technology (siri devices etc).
• Our time in front of screens absorbing this information has also significantly increased and this has correlated with a drop in outdoors form of leisure – as noted by internet researchers – “free time” has become “screen time”.
Now while many people consider this to bring great opportunities (and they would be right) – it is foolish to assume that this necessarily equals a greater level of autonomy over the information we receive. As the recent documentary hit “The Social Dilemma” discusses, recent advances in social media mean that we are being manipulated by greater forces now more than ever, and operate under a façade of information liberty. This framework of domination has differential impacts on various groups. These differential impacts are, as always, drawn along lines of income, class, race and gender. That was, probably, my first gripe about The Social Dilemma – it’s an important message, and also one that really needs decolonizing.
And while we can all appreciate that misinformation impacts upon all of us – there are specific impacts and dimensions of this discussion for Māori communities that I really wish more people would take into consideration – especially as it becomes an area of strategic focus and mainstream discussion.
Now – full disclosure – I am very invested in this topic for multiple reasons – I’ve been the subject of conspiracy theories myself, which have led to death threats and slander campaigns. I vaccinate, as in my children are vaccinated and I occassionally take the flu jab too. I am NOT afraid of 1080 (I do advocate for each hapū to carry out their own research on this, rigorously assess the science, physically go to the places that have used it and exercise their Tiriti article 2 rights to make the right choice for their taonga). I don’t believe 5G will cook our brains, nor that it will transmit COVID (though I do worry about the implications of even more unsupported, unregulated information flying around and increased screen dependency). I do believe COVID is real, I don’t believe the earth is flat and I do believe we have made it to the moon. Myself, and I would say the majority of my friends and whanau, are not prone to believing in what I call “rabbit hole” theories – but still, I have seen these theories enter our community, I have seen them take root and I have seen the division they can cause. Kotahitanga is more important than ever – and I also believe we need to be developing digital strategies at a hapū and iwi level for the protection of our whānau and our taonga. But as the issue of misinformation continues to grow as a focal point for government, researchers, and the online community- there are a few issues I need them to consider, first.
- Mental health insults are NOT ok
This is more for the online commentary, although I’ve heard a few scientists and government officials launch into this space as well, and speak about our people as if it’s simply a matter of low intelligence or mental health. I’ve tracked the scope of conspiracy theories before and I agree, many can seem outlandish and completely out of touch with reality. It is hard to not side-eye someone who believes in something that is just not in your own scope of rationality… but some of these theories are picked up by our own whānau precisely because of the extremely bizarre and horrifying experience of colonization, and that’s something that very few, who have not been through colonization, can appreciate. I remember last year when the Oranga Tamariki story broke through Newsroom – yes it was harrowing but also, it was not surprising to me, and I was a little bemused watching other New Zealanders sit in apparent horror that this is happening. It reminded me of just how privileged a good chunk of our nation is to have not realised this is what happens to young Māori mothers, every day. So yeah, while I get the temptation to just label someone “crazy” because they believe in a global cabal of satan worshipping pedophiles plotting to take over the world, keep in mind whom you are talking to.
Keep in mind you are speaking with a people who are 5 times more likely to have their children removed by the state than their counterparts – and that once our children are in the state system, many are subjected to physical and sexual violence. This is now commonly understood as the genesis of Aotearoa gang culture. This is NOT historical. In 2019 Māori children accounted for nearly 70% of all child uplifts, and then accounted for 75% of children who were sexually and physically abused as wards of the state. Their abusers are approved by the state.
We are not crazy for believing in the presence of state sanctioned pedophile networks – it aligns with our lived and proven experience.
Maltreatment by the state occurs in various contexts around us every single day. The state then forces us to participate in harmful processes, and if we don’t it assumes our voice for us, with devastating consequences. Not long ago I attended a meeting in Tūranga where the community was forced to participate in a process that was in and of itself a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Our choice was:
We had been left out of the discussion about whether we wanted them anywhere in the first place. We had heard councillors who were assuming our perspectives, and saying we would have been fine with having the replicas erected in the middle of town. We were therefore left with no option but to take the opportunity to express our disgust and hurt WITHIN a meeting that assumed we were ok with their presence – on penalty of being cast as being not only ok with their presence but also ok with them being in the most prominent space possible. It was a perverse, and hurtful, and all too common experience in a system that was built to facilitate pākehā expansion into our spaces.
Multiply this experience hundreds of times every day, in different contexts, all around our country, not just now but over multiple generations going back to the mid 1800s – all the while being told we are “Treaty partners” – and you can begin to see how this is trauma and mental illness inducing. I’d challenge any group to undergo multiple generations of abuse, gaslighting, passive aggression, state violence, and implicit and explicit discrimination on the daily, and not come out of it with some form of trauma for multiple members of that group. As Uncle Mark Kopua notes:
Colonisation is recognised within the sector as a driver of mental illness – it has, and continues to visit trauma upon our people every single day in this country. Not to mention that, as Uncle Mark suggests, we are continuously told our own belief systems are myth and superstition – to the point where a significant number of our own people have been institutionalised for believing in matakite (seers) and Atua – but whitehouse advisors like Paula White get to walk around doing this…
So yes, maybe some of us ARE operating from a space of trauma. So what – the liberty of belief in how the universe operates, across generations and the wellbeing that comes with that are forms of privilege – don’t wield it against others.
- Concerns over diminishing individual agency are valid.
When we consider how information has shifted over the past 30 years, we have to ask – who is in charge? Who has the power to manipulate algorithms and promote or demote particular narratives? Hint: it’s not beneficiaries or marginalised groups. It’s currently, largely with wealthy white males, and who is wrestling them for control over that information scape? Wealthy white governments. From an Indigenous perspective, it’s much of a muchness here except if you have not researched the IT heirarchy you are probably more aware, and distrustful of, government authorities. This distrust is completely understandable given that the state has proven itself to be extremely cavalier with individual privacy rights – and more often than not it’s the privacy rights of Māori, or human or environmental rights activists that are being breached. The NZ govt is a part of the 5 eyes network, a USA led spy network that surveils internet communications and has made multiple moves to erode privacy rights, and there is increasing concern that NZ is losing its ability to protect NZ privacy rights within that arrangement.
You can’t just expect us all to be instantly comfortable with the state, or other authorities, increasing their control over our world, whatever part of the world that may be. For Māori, they were never invited to take control in the first place, why would we give them more?
- Why WOULD Māori trust the state/media/science?
Hoooo boy where do I start. Ok let’s start with the government. There is not one aspect of Māori lives that have not been adversely impacted by colonization. The word gets used a lot and I think people have become numb to it so let’s revisit what colonization entails:
It is a process of dehumanisation – where your birth rights, carried by your ancestors, are subjugated to the rights of your colonizer. It is violent, and it IS genocidal. The process of colonization requires the displacement, dispossession and debasement of an entire people. Around the world, where colonial governments have taken control over the lives of Indigenous peoples, they experience high levels of imprisonment, higher death rates, higher poverty rates, and are generally worse off than non-Indigenous in their lands. Colonial governments, and this is reaffirmed by authors of all ethnicities, were CREATED to facilitate imperial expansion and the eradication of Indigenous peoples. Don’t expect us to just trust governments that were formed to eradicate us. Our survival has depended upon us not trusting them.
And from the very get-go, media and science has held the hand of these governments. Never once has a New Zealand media source reported on the brutal, drawn out invasion of Aotearoa and the ensuing 30 year war for the international war crimes that they were, rather, they have been celebrated and heroicized as the foundations of our nation. Whitestream media further consistently demonizes Māori, from those who resisted the invasion and land theft through to those who today continue to resist the colonial fiction of state benevolence. What’s more, major media outlets consistently provide a platform for hate speech against Māori with relative impunity. For a long time, the most common time to catch us being represented on tv screens was in the back of police cars, or being pulled over. We have fought a long fight for more appropriate representation on the screens and in the news, but it is still, overarchingly, misrepresentative.
So don’t expect us to just pass our trust over to the media, either.
Science? Well – if you haven’t heard of scientific racism, then I’d recommend a quick 10minute course via Moana Jackson’s famous “Once Were Gardeners” speech.
Science has, like media, presented us as savages, brutes, promiscuous, simple, poor parents, and suited only to manual labour – but with the added force of being “scientifically valid”. Racist science has provided the legitimisation of brutal colonial policies and legislation. Racist science has not just supported, but recommended the removal of our children, the caging of our people, the taking of our lands – and again, this is not historical. To this day, studies are still being funded that are centered on the racist idea of a fictitious “warrior gene”, and operate off of similar deficit notions that we are inferior to our colonizers in many ways.
- What is the state doing about its own misinformation campaign of colonial legitimacy?
Before you come and talk to Māori about misinformation or disinformation – consider that we have been asked to swallow a centuries old disinformation campaign by our own government.
There’s a LOT of information that can be laid out in this section but one simple angle to take is this:
The NZ government is a violation of the treaty upon which its existence is based.
This has been acknowledged BY the government authority on the matter, the Waitangi Tribunal, who found in 2010 that Māori never ceded sovereignty. Now, if Māori never ceded sovereignty – then the very authority of government to make laws which govern Māori lives is called into question. I should say at this point that it was never news to many Māori that we never ceded sovereignty, nor was the illegitimacy of a government that consistently breaches its own tenancy agreement a particularly novel challenge. We have always understood the right to govern is subservient to Māori independence and self-determination (tino rangatiratanga), and that is the basic power arrangement our ancestors agreed to. The fundamental shift in 2010 was that the government’s own Treaty judiciary finally, officially, ruled that this was the case. The issue, however is that the government is not bound to take action on the findings of its own tribunal.
Let that sink in for a moment. The government’s very right to exist is based upon a treaty that it, itself violates, and that it, itself does not feel it needs to adhere to. The treaty, apparently, matters enough to form a government upon, but not enough to be held to account on.
So for most Māori, we are born into a system of disinformation that occurs all around us on our own lands. Like all other cases – this is not historical. The government handed out millions of dollars last year to support disinformation campaigns that cloaked or misrepresented the Imperial invasion of Aotearoa.
Māori are born into a disinformation campaign about the benevolence and legitimacy of colonial rule, one that rolls out through our schools, and in our faces by way of statues, on our currency, and across our screens now for generations.
Of course we are distrustful of the state, and of course we are targets for disinformation – the colonial state has ensured this. THINK about that before you come knocking on our community doors wanting to talk about THIS particular form of disinformation.
- We have our own means of responding to misinformation.
We have our own information platforms, which are also being consistently eroded by the state. Support for Māori Television, support for Māori broadcasting on major networks, support for Māori internet content development, support for Iwi radio, support for our information hubs in our communities such as marae, kohanga, and kura, our wānanga spaces, our own health services, are all sites that we constantly have to fight for resourcing to keep going – and yet these are also the sites where we discuss and validate our truths as a community. These are the sites where the power of truth validation gets taken out of the hands of Silicon Valley millionaires. These are the sites where we discuss issues with insights across the generations and with reflections on who we are, in relation to our lands and waters, and who and where we come from. If the intention is to support community cohesion and resilience to disinformation, then stop under-resourcing and gutting our own spaces of information and knowledge sharing.
Don’t come to us assuming we have the same approach to knowledge and truth validation as you.
Don’t come to us like we don’t already have answers and solutions of our own for this issue.
In short, don’t come at us like you’ve just “discovered” the problem of disinformation, and are here to save us.
We can work together on this – but it will take mutual understanding, and respect.
“Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
There but for grace as I offer my hand
Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart
Out here on the edge
The empire is fading by the day
And the world is so weary in war
Maybe we’ll find that new way”
Dave Dobbyn “Welcome home”
2020 has been, among many things, the year of Anti-Racism. COVID-19 has demonstrated, around the world, how racial disparities can save or take lives, with Indigenous communities, black communities, refugee communities around the world have borne the brunt of COVID mortality rates. Black Lives Matters marches have called an end to racial oppression, and are catalysing rights movements around the world, including Aotearoa. Marginalised groups are not willing to wait a moment longer for justice. In the Aotearoa 2020 elections, The Māori Party have put forward an exciting, and powerful policy suite that responds to this backdrop – returning Maori placenames, supporting constitutional reform, ending oil and gas exploration in Aotearoa. One single policy, within the Whānau Build program, however, is a piercing needle-scratch within an otherwise honorable policy suite: A ban on immigration, until housing stock meets need. As has been noted in this conspiracy-rich environment, Maori can often fall prey to false theories about our oppression – and immigration is certainly one that triggers us for the very reason that colonization arrived on a boat, from elsewhere. To extend this into a policy which blames current migrant populations for Maori dispossession is, however, a mistake, and one that requires unpacking and careful consideration if we want to avoid harming others, as well as ourselves
So for a start – multiple studies – have concluded that immigration has minimal to no inflationary impact upon house prices:
“We find no evidence that the inflow of foreign-born immigrants to an area are positively related to local house prices”HOUSING MARKETS AND MIGRATION: EVIDENCE FROM NEW ZEALAND, Stillman and Mare 2008
“Population increases from three of these groups, including both immigrant groups, again show no significant link with house price increases – and some appear to be slightly negatively correlated”Housing markets and migration – Evidence from New Zealand, Motu Research 2019
“Despite declines in resident visas over the last two financial years, house prices are still comparatively high, indicating that a reduction in immigration isn’t the main contributor.”Reducing immigration won’t magically lower house prices, experts say, Deguara 2019
In the words of Maori housing advocate and researcher, and author of “Rebuilding the Kainga”, Jade Kake:
“The focus on curbing migration demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of housing markets and demand side drivers. Research has shown that returning New Zealand citizens have the most significant impact on demand, as opposed to migrants, and that once controls for population growth are factored in, overseas migration has been found to have little to no impact on local house prices or rents.”
Keep in mind that the research we have on links between racism and immigration was carried before COVID restrictions severely limited our immigration figures, meaning that if they were making very little to no impact on house prices before – it is even less so, now. This is supported by research which observed that over periods where immigration slowed, house prices continued to climb.
In short – migrants are not costing us our housing stock.
It’s important we hold on to that fact through this discussion – because it is the driving force behind using an immigration ban to help solve the housing crisis. It’s not new that they are accused of doing this though. Blaming migrants for stealing jobs and houses happens everywhere around the world, and has happened for a long time.
So now we know what an immigration ban doesn’t do, what does it do?
Well, policy language is a powerful systemic driver of bias. Policies are perceived as communicating widely held beliefs and values of a country and shape ideas of what is acceptable, what is normal, and in the case of immigration, what it takes to belong. I say they are perceived as communicating widely held beliefs because our political system makes it entirely possible for a very small group to craft and pass a policy based upon their beliefs, and that policy can then go on to impact society in general. In any case – the truth holds that policy, once in place, continues to shape attitudes and influence behaviour.
When those in power suggested Maori wanted to lock “all New Zealanders” out of the nation’s beaches – it was absurdly false in a practical sense, but the true harm sat in the logic behind this suggestion: That Maori are here to take everything away, that Maori concerns over the foreshore and seabed were about greed, and exclusion, and that Maori sit in an oppositional space to “regular New Zealanders”, othering us on our own lands. Similarly, multiple policies and legislation have been grounded in racist logic that Maori are a drain on society, and exist in a marginal space, oppositional to “mainstream” New Zealand (a term which, in itself, marginalizes Māori).
This policy and legislation then shapes the decisions, actions, and language of everyone they impact. If we take an example of education: A racist premise in an education policy will shape the decisions, actions and language in the ministry – in this case the Ministry of Education. That policy language, and direction, and actions will then be carried through the agency as a whole, who are tasked to deliver that racist premise, coded in the language and actions, to its clients (eg training and education providers – including teachers, principals, etc). The end recipients of the racist premise are the students and their whanau. The racism in that policy is not often overt – it is subtle and coded, and exists in the logic behind the policy. But because this is happening across multiple policies, and across multiple sectors, and is happening with new policies all the time, and is being welcomed into an already racist system, the impacts it holds are super-charged.
Being a part of a broader white supremacist structure means that racism in policy which targets Pacific islanders does not just impact upon Pacific islanders. Once it is welcomed into a system which is already racist in nature, it acts as scaffolding for other racist assumptions. The suggestion that Pacific islanders are a drain, once entered into a white supremacist policy sphere, supports the assumption that Maori are also a drain, by virtue of our skin colour, genealogical connections, cultural similarities, and importantly because in a white supremacist system there is white, and there is “The Other”.
So to come back to the question of what does an immigration ban do, if it is not helping Māori get into homes?
It reinforces false ideas that migrant groups are to blame for Māori dispossession. The logic of the policy is that migrants are a drain on the housing stock, and by extension a drain on the socio-economic capital of Aotearoa. A drain on welfare, a drain on employment, a drain on our cultural integrity. This is dangerous and harmful logic – and it was exactly the logic expressed in the manifesto of the Christchurch gunman. For those of you who poured out your sympathy and commitment to justice for that horror. For those who decried and rejected the racism that led to those attacks. To those who just weeks ago expressed support for the families delivering their victim statements, we need to seriously consider how this logic is activated against these same families and communities. It does not just impact upon those not yet arriving, it impacts upon those who are already here.
Māori researchers and experts on racism and immigration, Dr Tahu Kukutai and Dr Arama Rata, speak to Maori-Migrant relationships in their chapter “From Mainstream to Manaaki” in the book Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century. While acknowledging the impacts that immigration has upon Maori outcomes, they are clear: the issue is not one of migrants themselves, but one of racist colonialism within employment, within housing, and within welfare, and that a Tiriti centered approach can provide for both manaakitanga of migrant communities AND Māori advancement.
In reinforcing blame of migrant groups within the colonially white supremacist system of New Zealand, we buttress and galvanise harmful ideas of nationalism that obscure the true drivers of injustice against Maori. It provides oxygen to white supremacist movements who operate on false ideas of nationalism and patriotism to further their domination of our world. In servicing that premise, we service their domination. White supremacist movements have long relied upon the manipulation of other marginalized groups to further their agendas. For this reason, the founder of the Australian Ku Klux Klan, Peter Coleman, said that:
“If we did actually set up in New Zealand, we would expect to get a lot of Maori members because they are also concerned about things like immigration and don’t like the Asians coming in and taking over things.”
While most Māori would be rightly repulsed at the idea of the Ku Klux Klan viewing us as allies – immigration bans which operate on the same false logic espoused by the Ku Klux Klan is exactly what gives this problematic idea weight.
What else does this policy do, alongside NOT getting Maori into homes?
It breaches our international obligations that we have signed up to under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Not only does this impact upon those who are arriving here – but this is an arrangement that also functions to protect Māori who are overseas. While Māori should definitely be negotiating our own involvement in international agreements – for now, pulling out of these arrangements places our overseas whanau Māori at risk.
It also, as Jade Kake pointed out, is a distraction from the actual drivers of the housing crisis. The timeframe suggested through the policy “until housing stock meets need” is a timeframe set upon irrelevant factors. Just last year, the United Nations sent rapporteur Leilani Farha here to assess the housing crisis. Her findings were that:
“At the root of the crisis is a speculative housing market that has been supported by successive governments who have promoted homeownership as an investment, while until recently discontinuing the provision of social housing and providing inadequate tenant protection.”
It bears mentioning that this same economic logic of promoting homeownership as investment is what underpinning Māori Party support for the Social Housing Reform Bill, which resulted in the govt sale of thousands of state homes, at the apparent behest of iwi. That may have been different MPs, but there is no escaping that the drop in stock is a legacy of this bill, a legacy that is being unduly visited upon migrant populations with little to no acknowledgement of that vote.
The role of systemic racism against Māori is also mentioned in the findings of rapporteur Farha, and when addressing homelessness we must also account for ableism and a fraught mental health system. These deeply complex contributors makes “until supply meets need” a dubious timeframe for this policy, in addition to that timeframe being applied against a group that do not cause the problem in the first place.
There are many other GOOD aspects to the Whanau Build Policy that DO focus on us rather than focusing on migrants, and are upheld by Maori and non-Maori expertise in housing – introducing rent-to-buy options for state housing, taxing unoccupied houses to force them into the property market and bringing foreign owned income properties under the Overseas Investment Act are all sound measures – and ultimately, Maori leadership of both housing and immigration policies are what is called for here.
But Maori leadership is much more than a Maori person being in the leader position. If it does not center our tikanga, or Te Tiriti o Waitangi; if it does not service Maori but in fact can be used against us; if it sets us back on the dismantling of white supremacist structure by galvanizing its racist logic; if it does not listen to our own Maori housing and immigration experts, then it must surely be questioned in its ability to look after us, or indeed anyone else, as we have always prided ourselves in doing.