Whakapapatia to korero – Connect your talk to the Earth.

That was a beautiful saying my Uncle Rātū came out with one day, when we were at Maraehako talking about a particular speaker on the marae. Their oratory was lovely, all the bells and whistles – but it wasn’t relevant to the context, or the space, or the people. It couldn’t be applied by anyone listening, other than to perhaps replicate those pretty bells and whistle to sound equally lovely anywhere else.

Whakapapatia te kōrero – kaua e whakarangirua

Connect your kōrero to the Earth, lest you cause uncertainty.

Whakapapa is about relationships – it encompasses family but stretches far beyond conventional genealogy. Whakapapa is about joining oneself to Papatūānuku – our Earth Mother who we all come from. Whakapapa is about layers, and layers, of ancestry. Layers of lifetimes spent growing into you. Whakapapa is about authentic connectivity – to space, to place, to the themes or issues that sit before us.

Whakapapa is, so often, the root of a problem, and the source of a solution.

Last year I was honoured to attend the UNESCO World Conference on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) in Nagoya, Japan. I found it incredibly inspiring in many ways – but also very concerning – and that was reflected in the Secretary General’s address, who noted both the incredible stories that herald a global movement – as well as the heightened urgency, and lack of progress, in too many other spaces. I  found myself often listening to speakers and considering the connection, or lack thereof, to the space and the cause, and hearing Uncle Rātū in my ear  “Whakapapatia te kōrero…”. I wrote a long (as in… 30 page) report to UNESCO on my experience of the conference – and here is my summary conclusion.

The world stands at a precipice, where the coming decade may define the survivability of our planet for the following generation. In a time where the world is consumed by economic crises, and our quality of life is defined by financial market forces – the requisite values for sustainable development – peace, love, understanding, good will – will often take a back seat. Action must be taken, it must be taken immediately, and it must be bold. If there has been an overriding unspoken theme for this conference – it is one of disconnection. There is a disconnect between our heads and our hearts. Involved in the development and implementation of ESD at global and national levels, are many great heads. Heads of state, heads of agencies, heads of fields of study. Each of these people – and indeed you, reading this, will also have a hearth that burns at home – your ahi kaa, that is fed by, and feeds, your family. You will have your home, your special place from your childhood, your precious place of retreat. These places, these people, are our heart. There is a disconnect between our heads, where we are making decisions, and our hearts – the effects upon these places and people.

We speak of the need for innovative means
and heartfelt commitment to reaching a new
space of communication, of principle, of
belief and subsequent action..
Yet we speak of this in distant, third person terms
in a policy, advisory, or conference space. We
present cold, lacklustre powerpoint or prezi
presentations that externalise what we know,
inherently, is an internal issue.
We advocate for sustainable practices to be
manifested by practitioners, students, and the
wider community.
Yet we still create unsustainable waste ourselves.
We advocate for grassroots mobilisation, green
economies and earth‐centered thinking
Yet our economy and governments continue on
increasingly neo‐liberal trends and are a hostile
climate for such ideals.
There is an observable growing divide between
what our governments agree must be done in
the interests of sustainability…
And the allocated funding and service support to
achieve these goals
We understand that those who hold tertiary
qualifications are more likely to participate
politically in advocating for sustainable
And yet the same group are also most likely to lead
the least sustainable lifestyles.

There is, in short, a great disconnect between what we want to see happen, and what we, ourselves, are prepared to do. We cannot hope to protect and provide for our landscapes, whilst avoiding the discussion about our own internal landscape that requires attention. Therefore, let us be bold, and open in our communication. Let us also be honest and frank in our own self‐assessment.

Often the consequences for these unsustainable lifestyles will be felt most keenly by those in low socio‐economic situations, especially the people of the land. As a Māori, I have the privilege of a cultural framework that links me, genealogically, to our Mother Earth. So when I say that I pray for us to restore our inner landscape, I speak of progress being achieved through a re‐membering of our role in nature, and nature’s role within us. An internal restoration project that begins with deep personal reflection – and yes this includes you. If, as policy advisors and developers, we cannot personally and intimately connect to this cause – then we cannot hope to inspire the level of change required to achieve our goals.

Restore your inner landscape

This is not new knowledge, in fact it is ancient, and was well understood by indigenous ancestors, who hold the longest running record of sustainable practice. They who learnt directly from the source, our parent, Mother Earth. This knowledge system has been damaged by the oft‐times destructive education and social systems, but still it survives. I know where you can find it ‐ but we must not seek to drag this into the classroom. We must, instead, bring ourselves to this already existing knowledge system and make all adjustments necessary to receive that which the Earth waits to teach us.

Communications from the Earth abound – whales beach in record numbers, our native species are on a rapid trajectory to imminent extinction, our access to freshwater is declining, while our sea levels and temperatures are rising, and so too are levels of ocean acidification. The most profound harbingers of this message are indigenous – the stories of the people of Kiribas and Tuvalu have attracted a great deal of international attention.


Our waka hourua, ocean voyaging canoes, have circumnavigated the Pacific Ocean, and now seek to circumnavigate the planet, carrying the cry of the oceans, along with potential solutions centred around education, innovation, relationship building and traditional indigenous knowledge. The culture with the longest history of sustainable practice is in Far North Australia. These communities are potentially the world’s greatest resource on sustainable practices – yet they are distracted and burdened by barriers such as access to education, health services, resource depletion, structural racism that extends from a policy and legislative level right down to the classroom, and across to police and justice sectors resulting in high levels of incarceration.

All of this inhibits potentially the world’s greatest advisory resource on sustainability. To return to my own cultural background – the arts of my ancestors clearly articulated our close relationship to the environment, and so this is a discussion about access to our visual heritage. The language of my ancestors was rich in metaphors of nature and our surrounding environment, further underpinning us as tangata whenua – people of the land, and so this is a discussion about access and support for my ancestral tongue. The way in which children were brought into this world underpinned a mothers role as the manifestation of Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) and our dependence upon whenua as the placenta and whenua as the landscape – with the ceremonial practices surrounding this journey reinforcing the powerful role of women in connecting us to nature. And so this is a discussion about the protection, and restoration, of our pre‐colonial practices and perceptions around pregnancy and childbirth.

Robyn Kahukiwa “Te Whenua, Te Whenua, Engari Kaore He Turangawaewae” (Placenta, Land, but Nowhere to Stand)

So can you see, now that when we speak of ESD – for me, we cannot address this issue without speaking to the centrality of indigenous rights. This discourse may not relate to everyone, but if it is omitted, it will be to the detriment of everyone – for the longest running, most effective model of integrated, holistic sustainable philosophy is held by indigenous culture. This has been spoken to by many, many wonderful indigenous contributors in and beyond UN forums, and these contributions deserve a central, privileged space.

This has led me to the understanding that ESD is not being duly valued with an indigenous lens, a concern that was compounded by the lack of indigenous content throughout the conference,  the lack of concrete action to protect indigenous rights around the world, and the lack of consistent, privileged indigenous presence at the conference.

Our communities, of all kinds, are jaded and disengaged. They have seen and experienced the dissonance between our intent and our action. We MUST address our means of engagement. We MUST return with hearts open and minds ready to re‐assess what we think we know. Change is required by all levels, not just in the classroom, but right across institutions – change must happen in this government, in this economy, and most importantly, within ourselves. We must challenge ourselves to think differently, to talk differently, and to effect change in our own personal lives, if we are to advocate for this on a greater level.

River’s End.

Miscarriage, infertility, broken-ness etc (which isn’t half as scary as what some people can say).

I’m 7. Playing on the couch.
Dad comes home with baby doll number 3.
It blinks vacantly. It has a milk bottle that fits between it’s lips. It mimis.
I’m gonna be the best mum.

I’m 17. Doubled over in the car park of a Westgate Shopping Mall.
Retching bile into a shrub,
Bellyful of razors,
A slender red snake escaping down my thigh.

I’m 20. In the ultrasound room for my second appointment.
Cold runny jelly smeared across my surface.
Grinning at an ambiguous smudge on a screen.
“Is that it??”
That’s when I clock her expression. Serious. Sad. Pitiful.

I’m 21. Staring out the hospital window from my bed
It’s been two days. My first visitor arrives.
His mother.
She’s just so sorry. Let her explain.
He would be here… but it’s just too painful for him.
I blink, vacantly, then return to staring out the window.

I’m 23. Lying in a hospital bed. No window this time.
There’s a young woman lying across from me
complaining how she has to stay there for the entire final trimester of her pregnancy,
“3 is enough, this better be the last”
I’m consumed with envy.

White coats and stethoscopes crowd my bed,
A thin veil wrapped around us for my dignity,
It’s just us now.
Just us five, huddled in clinical intimacy.
I roll to my side for all to gaze up into me.
My pillow cold from hot tears.

I’m 30, paging through Wāhine Toa,
Image after image of mother
And child
And mother
And child
We are divine because we birth.

I’m 34. On a boat, with friends.
We’re into the deep and meaningfuls.
The sea will do that for you.
What’s it all about we wonder.
Having kids, continuing the whakapapa.
Yes, that’s why we’re all here.
(my silence goes unnoticed)….

I’m 36, sitting across from Doctor number 300andwhatever,
She’s exhausted all the tests.
We just… don’t know, she says
(what’s wrong with you, she doesn’t say)
I’m only half listening.
I guess time doesn’t heal all wounds.

I’m 39, more deep and meaningfuls,
This time with a wāhine.
“If you ask me”, she says,
“you’re never truly connected to whenua until you have a child”.
It hangs in the air between us
Thick and heavy, like a violent fog.
My words are stuck in my throat

Like every other careless, soft strike
“You’ll never know true love until you have a child”
“Childless women just seem cold to me”
“You’d be an amazing mother”
“It’s a mum thing”

I’m 40.
One last hospital.
One last Doctor.
One last procedure.
My whare tangata distorted by
Creeping lianas
Pou lashed to maihi
lashed to pare
lashed to epa
lashed to tekoteko
lashed to tahuhu
lashed to mahau

The Awa stops here.


In a few weeks from now I will have my whare tangata removed, and I have not had children.

What I have had, is seven miscarriages, 5 d&c’s (dilation and curette), 3 laparoscopies, abdominal keyhole surgery, and an ovarian cyst removal. And not one clear explanation.

Apparently something like a fifth of all infertility is termed “unexplained”. Other than two (one from being kicked in the abdomen and one from a burst cyst) there have been no other clear explanations, and of course there is no way of knowing if those two would have spontaneously miscarried as well. What I know is that even well before my first failed pregnancy, my relationship with my whare tangata has been strained. I’ve loved it… It’s not loved me.

I think, generally, when you reach 40, you start to consider your life’s journey with your whare tangata anyway – and this is largely because it starts to behave differently, as your potential for childbearing begins to close down. In my case – differently meant from bad to worse. From random pain to consistent pain. And all the predictability of El Niño. Another trip to the doctors, some tests, some serious discussions, a right turn, and here we are in Hysterectoville.

My childbearing potential was never great to begin with…. Maybe 1 or 2%, I’m told?

But it’s only now that it is about to hit 0% that I realise how much 1% matters.

My percentage has always been pretty low – low enough that I had to make peace with the strong likelihood of a childbirth-less life quite some time ago.

But still – maybe it’s the social engineering, from the dolls to the happily-ever-after stories and every image in between – but even when it’s only 1 or 2% – it’s enough to make you, in the quiet moments, wonder.

Wonder what your partner would react like. Wonder what that “amazing love” that everyone describes, is like (you know, the one that makes your own idea of love pale in comparison). Wonder about that first glance at your own genetic footprint, your immortality, your continuation of an act that was passed unbroken to you since time immemorial. Wonder about that first skin to skin contact. Wonder about names. Wonder what a “little you” would look like, would be like, and how you could love and nurture “little you” into an incredible being. Sometimes you catch yourself wondering like this – quite inadvertently, and admonish yourself, and shut it down. And then, perhaps a month later, perhaps a year – you will do it again. Yep, you can pack a whole lotta wondering into 1%.

I don’t get to “wonder” anymore, and as sparse as those moments were, I will miss that.

When I think back about my journey with my whare tangata – it’s largely hospitals and doctors’ offices that come to mind. Clinical white coats and expressions that somehow simultaneously span sympathy and distance. “Some women just aren’t meant to have children”; “It’s just bad luck”; “You know, the Public Health Service isn’t here to help your kind reproduce” (ok that last one wasn’t so sympathetic).

And years, and years, and years, of being told in well-intentioned tones “Oh your turn will come”.

Note to those who have not experienced infertility: That does not help. Not one bit. Nor the various other versions of:
“Oh I knew someone who thought the same for X years but then [enter miraculous conception story here]”
“You just need to relax it will happen when you least expect it”
“When it’s meant to happen, it will happen”
All of these translated to me as:

“We cannot, and shall not, accept the fate of infertility”

When people would offer these platitudes, I’d plaster on a smile, turn, and walk away – silently fuming at the fact that within moments, in spite of myself, I would start helplessly wondering, again.

But more than that – I sincerely resented the cumulative inference that not bearing children was unfathomable. For wāhine Māori the inference is compounded by the suggestion that our whare tangata – our ability to create new life – is the source of our divinity and strength. If there is one thing I would ask of you – it is to check this reductive notion. All women are sacred. All women are divine. No suggestion should be made otherwise.  My role and divinity as a wāhine comes from so much more than my uterus – and I will continue to be just as much a woman, without one.

No, my body was not created to have children.

It was created to forge change. It was created to traverse this world and carry me through a multitude of adventures, triumphs, and lessons. It was created to hold and caress those I love, to stand up to injustice, to burn up the dancefloor, to plant seeds, to care for our planet, to stand and speak up for myself and others who require it. That’s what my body was created for.

I will not birth a child.

I have birthed, and will continue to birth, so much of great importance. I birth new understandings, I birth change for the better, I birth pathways for wellbeing, I birth opportunities. That’s what I birth.

Maybe I will raise a child. Maybe I will not.
Maybe I will raise a righteous army.

And maybe, just maybe – we are not divine because we give birth.
Maybe it’s that we give birth because we are divine in our ability to navigate change.
Why else do we also sit charge beside the waka tupapaku.
Why else do we herald the spirits to oversee hui.
My Awa Atua began with Hineteiwaiwa – and has been a mark of that divinity.
A mark of divinity that has travelled down countless generations to me.
A painful, tormenting mark, but one that I honour, and now, farewell.

My Awa Atua ends here.

DIY Decolonisation

This is good reading. Important reading, from a pākehā, on the pākehā obligations of decolonization
You know – our world faces huge challenges, much of which comes down to a basic lack of consciousness when it comes to how we treat the other (and by “Other” I mean other humans, and non-humans, including land, sky and sea).
I see the Treaty as a blueprint for the type of consideration that, were we operating on an effective level of consciousness, we would be honouring not because we are bound to do so by a treaty, but because we understood that this is the right, just, and honourable thing to do, and that it is in everyone’s best interests. The acceptance and honouring of differences in the pursuit of successful co-existance requires all these things. Of course indigenous wisdom and knowledge should be protected, promoted, accessible and cherished. Of course the sources of that knowledge (at community level) should not be divorced from that task. Of course the bedrocks of culture, the arts, the language, and all that informs and shapes them, should be cared for. Of course we should engage with integrity and not in a superficial, cursory manner.
These things are all given in a framework that allows for the prospering of humanity.
This, at a time, when the world is CRYING out for guidance on how to be more conscious.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have this blueprint, and the fact that people continue to view it as a historical document, something to be resisted, a burdensome weight of obligations, or even worse as some kind of cash cow, overlooks the greatest potential that it has – to guide us into a more appreciative state of co-existance.

Who’s up for a little Negative Waste Challenge for Plastic Free July!?


YAHOO IT’S PLASTIC FREE JULY!!! My favourite time of year where I get to go BALLISTIC on plastic reduction posts and rants for like… a whole MONTH!! Weee!!!

So following on from the previous post about negative waste… I’ve put together a little facebook challenge – join me if you can!

negative waste

Four simple rules, for the month of July:

  1. Commit to refusing plastics for Plastic Free July.
  2. Weigh your plastic waste at the end of the month and post it with a pic to this Facebook event page.
  3. Commit to picking up plastic from the beach once a week.
  4. Weigh your plastic litter pickup each week and post it with a pic on the same event page.

At the end of the month we’ll tally up the amount of waste we’ve taken from the ocean.

Let’s make Negative Waste, baby!

(P.S. If you’re not on Facebook, message me below to email your plastic waste pics!)

We Are The Answer

negative waste

At the beginning of 2014 I started my plastic-free journey. Through shopping at bulk inn and farmers markets, through reusable shopping bags, drink bottles and coffee cups, through cooking more at home and eating less takeaways, I managed to get my plastic waste down to an average of 30gm a month.

Later that year I started weighing the plastic waste I picked up in order to understand my plastic waste footprint. I learnt that in 20mins I can easily pick up 5-6kg of plastic waste from the beach.

That meant that – in just 20mins, I’d managed to make NEGATIVE waste, of over 5kg.

So now some figures:
(assuming 20mins = 5kg of litter)

If I pick up plastic litter for 20mins a week once a week = 19,970gm per month removed from the ocean.
If one person per household in my street did this (29 households) = 579,130gm per month removed from the ocean.
If one person per household in my town (15,768) tried this? 32,471,220gm of plastic waste per month removed from the ocean.

If one person per household in NZ were able to get their waste down to 30gm/month and pick up 5kg of plastic from the beach once a week, we would be removing 35,684,393,000 grams of plastic waste from the ocean EVERY MONTH. THAT’S OVER 35 MILLION KILOS. PER MONTH.

Play with the figures if you like, take it up to 100gms plastic waste, imagine you went twice a month or 2 times a month, imagine it were only half the households in NZ. It’s still a huge amount.

We don’t need to spend millions of dollars on “clean up” machines and developing “degradable” plastics.

WE CAN FIX THE OCEAN OURSELVES. But we have to make some changes, you and I and everyone we know. We’re all in this.

Science has shown us that as much as HALF the plastic waste in the Gyre winds up back on our beaches for a time, before being pulled back into the ocean. That’s right – each time the Gyre completes a cycle (every 3-4 years) it jettisons plastic waste, which makes its way back to the beach, before eventually being pulled back to the ocean again.

Which is why – beach clean ups are gyre clean ups.

Turn down our own plastic waste + Pick up the plastic waste from the beach = GYRE WASTE REDUCTION.

Corporations make plastic because we buy plastic. We are the problem.

Plastic waste is there because we create it. We are the answer.

Parenting Lessons from a Random White Guy


So… my friend posted this article from Mamahub on his facebook page – and invited my take on it. I pointed out, first and foremost, that this man is LOATHED in many indigenous circles because he represents the very worst in cultural exploitation. The indigenous repulsion to Nelson’s book has been voiced very well, not least by the likes of Nixiwaka Yawanawá and Indigenous Rights Activist Stephen Corry and has also been voiced in other Aotearoa blogs such as Mr JDHQ and Anthsisters. I’d have hoped that Nelson would have the decency to back down but no – we’re still getting doses of his incredibly inappropriate diarrhoea-logue – this time in relation to “tribal parenting”.

Anyway I was invited to elaborate, and specifically to address the article’s focus on childrearing and cultural comparisons. I tried to post the following but Facebook kept post-blocking me (“there’s an error with this post right now” – I BET, FACEBOOK).

So here we have it:

I honestly can’t write about my opinion of what Jimmy Nelson’s said about the “traditional” child rearing practices of “the tribes” without addressing his politics and agenda – because it’s this very agenda, which is not new, and is actually quite common, which has impacted upon our childrearing practices. VERY little of what he is saying relates to my reality as a Maori woman, or those of the Maori mothers I live with, or have worked with over the years as a Maori Health Researcher and Maori Women’s Health Researcher.

There was a time we were having children as teenagers – and that was the case for young pakeha mothers as well (two generations ago most women were having children in their teens, indigenous or not) – and in those cases they were in societies and communities that supported that choice. These days, for Maori, having children at a young age is NOT an empowered cultural choice that is supported or encouraged by a community or society. It’s not, usually, a “choice” at all – so much as a consequence of many other factors, many of which are related to multiple generations of social disadvantage. It’s certainly not a choice that’s made from an empowered, and fully informed space. It’s also a choice that leads to a very disadvantaged life for Mama and baby because hey, we don’t live in tribal villages with grasshuts – and nor are our societies set up to allow us to live in our tribal groupings or even in our tribal spaces. We are subject to the same laws and economic policies as everyone else which means that being a young parent means you’re more likely to have your education truncated, you’re more likely to have a lower income, and a colder, damper home, consequently with ill children, and all the social judgement that goes with it.

Now the young Maori Mamas I have worked with are incredibly strong, resilient, caring Mamas who are up against incredible odds in raising their children – odds which would defeat many in the same situation – and many of those odds exist in systems that have been built upon the kind of racist exoticized ideas communicated by the many Jimmy Nelsons in our history. The racism inherent in our health system, for instance, means that you’re not likely to have any access at all to a culturally relevant childbearing or childrearing program, in fact you’re not even guaranteed to have great access to any health system at all if you’re Maori in NZ. Neoliberal economic policies that centralise our populations into urban centers and away from our own traditional communities, and alienate us from our own wisdom and economic landbase, function to break the kinship systems that would have, traditionally, allowed for a collaborative childrearing framework. The foundation blocks of all of these systems was research that profiled us as primitive, exotic and historic.

So to say that “in the tribes, they all have their children in their teens” well that, again, is not at all reflective of the reality that faces Maori, or many other indigenous populations around the world – it minimises the fact that this is driven by a system which disadvantages us and advantages the likes of Nelson. Who is he referring to in his answers? Is he talking about us, now? Because for all the reasons stated above, that doesn’t apply. As I understand it, he’s talking unilaterally about this notion of “the tribes” – a direct (and very fetishized) homogenisation of all that is not colonial. But I don’t fit in that model, and pretty much everyone I know doesn’t fit in that model – I know for sure Pita Sharples and the others photographed don’t fit in that model. So as far as everything he says, well I’m just left thinking “who the hell is he talking about?” and also wondering how many other indigenous people, from other cultures that he’s claiming to talk about, would be thinking the same.

“It’s a survival of the fittest. If you’re not healthy when you’re born, you die; as harsh and simple as that. Those who are born healthy, functioning, they live, and they live a healthy life.”

That’s also bollocks – and belies the fact that we have always had a very complex, and effective medicinal practice which was just as much employed for babies as it was adults. Again, he’s primitivising indigenous culture as a whole, based on a very, very limited time spent with any of them really. He spent three years putting this book together – I wouldn’t consider that enough time to speak authoritatively on any one culture’s practices let alone on the 20 odd cultures that he claims to be lumping into one nobly primitive, yet brutal group.

So when it comes to comparing cultures – this guy is the very worst at it, not just because he’s homogenised us all in the most racist of ways, and not just because he’s primitivised us all – but because he’s had an incredibly limited time of observation with an obviously western-biased lens which could only afford him a ridiculously superficial opinion anyway. A number of his images of us were taken when he set up a stall at our performing arts festival, when we are purposefully in our regalia to celebrate our culture, a supposedly culturally safe space of which he completely took advantage of and exploited our vulnerability in that space. He was there for a few days in his stall at the festival, took a bunch of pics and then left – hardly the indepth saturation within our lives that would accord him any kind of nuanced understanding around our childrearing practices. Now why would he be pretending otherwise – why would he pretend to have the knowledge to be able to answer such questions instead of saying “well hey I was only there a short time to take some aesthetically pleasing pics I couldn’t really say I know much about their childrearing – maybe you should speak to an indigenous person”. Well that wouldn’t boost his profile and stroke his ego nearly as much would it. He’s commodified us – plain and simple. He’s claimed to be “celebrating” our culture – except we’ve never asked to be “celebrated” in this way and it certainly does nothing to help us. That tired old practice of exploitation dressed up as celebration is seen time, and time, and time again.

Pita Sharples in Jimmy's tent
Pita Sharples in Jimmy’s tent
Sir Pita Russell Sharples KNZM CBE, Maori academic and politician, every other day.
Sir Pita Russell Sharples KNZM CBE, Maori academic and politician, every other day.
Inside the tent.....
Inside the tent…..
... OUTSIDE the tent...
… OUTSIDE the tent…

Do I think indigenous communities have better childrearing practices? Well in a traditional sense that would probably have been the case for many indigenous communities. I don’t know about all, but I am just thinking of the many that I have been in contact with and worked alongside. That is, in my opinion, largely due to an enhanced level of connectedness. Connectedness to each other, wider kinship structures, connectedness to the environment and what our obligations to her are – as well as how to live in sync with her for mutual wellbeing.

Today it is a different, and much more complex story. We are not dying as a culture – we are vibrant and we are alive. We are fighting for the increased return of our childbearing and childrearing practices and have very innovative and interesting programs that are maintaining and reviving this knowledge, and using it alongside the very best of technological advances, and the very best of what we have grown to know through research, to provide a safe, informed, and culturally relevant journey into parenthood for our young people, and into life for our babies. And of course there are the multitude of happy, healthy and well functioning whanau Maori who, in spite of the systems, manage to forge their own culturally relevant and healthy space for childrearing. But does Random White Guy want to tell THAT story? No he’s too busy romanticizing us and selling our images and profile off as a dying breed to make a buck. A buck which stays in his pocket and does not in any way go back to assist the cultures that he’s terminally diagnosed.

We’re very much engaged with the process of reconnecting to our ancestral ways and bringing that forth to a modern context but it’s nothing like what this guy has talked about. We have our own voice on these matters, and the system that disempowers our voice is the same system that priveleges the Jimmy Nelsons of this world.

So that article was not, in any way, parenting lessons from tribes – it was parenting lessons from a random white guy who has exploited tribes around the world and appointed himself an authority on them.

Here’s the NZ reality (and I know this applies for a few others as well):

Why are there Maori who are disempowered in relation to our childbearing and childrearing practices? Why has our ancient knowledge in this area fallen into disuse?

Because chumps like this have, for 150 years, being afforded the privelege of exposure, and have provided an image of us as a primitive, brutal culture – the noble savage – a thing of the past. Legislation has been based on it. Policies have been based on it. Funding has been wrapped around these very errant ideas. It has been, and is still used, to legitimise nothing less than warfare on our ways, our language, our culture, our leadership, our kinship. Saddest of all (and this is the bit that makes me cry tears of rage) – it was a story fed to us, through the colonial school systems, and has led to multiple generations of our own believing it, and operating from very disempowered spaces.

The connectedness I mentioned earlier? That is what many indigenous cultures have that provide richness not just to childrearing but to EVERYTHING… because it’s ALL connected!!! The discussion about our childrearing is very much a social justice discussion that is linked to our fight for our language (because the transmission of this wisdom is best done IN our own language). The protection of our language is very much dependent upon our landrights (because our language is based on nature and our links to it). Our landrights are inherently linked to the fight to repatriate our ancestral artifacts from overseas museums (because those artifacts contain valuable articulation of our connection to land using the written language of our ancestors – which was art). Similarly, there are an abundance of artifacts overseas which have direct relevance and information about our childrearing and childbaring practices. Colonial frameworks view these these things as seperable – and that’s just the problem – it’s not. And if we have any hope of becoming a socially just and sustainable society, we need to get back to understanding connectedness in it’s fullest sense, which includes understanding how the privelege inherent in Jimmy Nelson’s practices relates to the disadvantage (including access to our own childrearing practices) suffered by the people that he is exploiting.

Yo GDC, let’s go PLASTIC-BAG FREE! (and ditch Capt. C)

So here is my oral submission to Council, this morning.

I’m going to speak to two issues today – the first one of which relates strongly to relationships.
Relationships with mana whenua are incredibly important to me, and should be to everyone – I would expect that they should be important enough to be in the largely publicised discussion document on the Long Term Plan and I was disappointed that they weren’t. It’s my belief that this is indicative of a flaw in the value of the mana whenua relationship, and the first issue that I’m going to address today will further illustrate that flaw.

I note that $700k over 10 years has been allocated for the Waingake Waterworks Bush Restoration. Whilst I support the explicit focus of this very important area it is my belief that this is nowhere near the amount required to reduce the threats and implement a sound restoration strategy.

The very beautiful Waingake Bush, surrounding the Arai River.
The very beautiful Waingake Bush, surrounding the Arai River.

I appreciate the response from council on this issue which notified the budget for this work was based upon the restoration needs of this area identified by the Wildlands Report of 2003. The available Wildlands report does not include the options and associated costs so I have no way of knowing if the cost estimate is as outdated as the restoration requirements – however the fact that the foundational document is over a decade old further underlines my concerns that the initial amount allocated for this project is grossly underestimated.

As stated in my written submission – I find the council expenditure of $2.6million towards the celebration of Captain Cook’s arrival here to be perverse given that in his first 36 hours he managed to murder 5 local Maori, wound a further four and kidnap 3 – this was not uncommon practice across the Pacific for Cook, and in fact was eventually the underlying cause of his demise in Kealakeakua Bay in Hawai’i.

The Death of Captain James Cook, by Carter
The Death of Captain James Cook, by Carter

What I had not written in my submission was that a number of those killed in Cook’s first visit to Turanganuiakiwa were actually from Orakaiapu, on the banks of the Arai River, and were Rongowhakaata.

First Sighting of Captain Cook by the Maori by Richard Wallwork

So can you see, how the allocation of $700k for the headwaters of the Arai River is not only underestimated but also incredibly inappropriate in comparison to the $2.6million commemoration of a date that resulted in the murder, maiming and kidnapping of Rongowhakaata ancestors. That you would give so much so celebrate this event is nothing short of a whitewash and historical amnesia.

I note that previous documents have only referenced Ngai Tamanuhiri as the relevant iwi, and wish to point out that while this may be the case for the headwaters, the majority of the Arai River runs through the heartlands of Rongowhakaata and is their sacred waterway. I appreciate that Rongowhakaata representatives are envisioned to be included in the advisory group, along with local Manutuke and Waingake representatives. Holding a position on an advisory group that sits alongside other community interests presents potential for mana whenua voices to be subsumed and belies the fact that as treaty partners, mana whenua hold distinct powers that should go over and above an advisory capacity that sits equal with all others.
With this in mind I wish to highlight and support GDC’s following policy to strengthen relationships and share decision-making with Maori:

By including all of the relevant sections of the Council in engagement processes we will support co-designed and co-located projects and processes.

I therefore wish to submit, in light of council’s intention to include mana whenua in an advisory capacity, that the Waingake Waterworks Restoration Project be a co-designed project between the mana whenua of the Arai River and GDC.

I wish to further note issues related to Gisborne’s waste management. Every year, New Zealanders use 1.14 billion petroleum based plastic bags. On average a plastic bag has 20minutes of use. However, they can take anything up to 1000 years to break down in the environment.

As a pacific country, and coastal community we are also direct contributors to the extreme levels of plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean, which is rapidly becoming acidified by plastic waste, and is killing fish, marine mammals, and birds at alarming rates. The World Wide Fund for Nature has estimated that over 100,000 whales, seals, and turtles die every year as a result of eating or being trapped by plastic bags.

I appreciate feedback from council which seems to communicate that according to the council’s annual litter survey – plastic waste and plastic bag litter is, relatively, not an issue in Gisborne, and is best addressed through educating people into using reusable bags.

Well, I have been carrying out my own research, on a weekly basis, for over a year now.

The rubbish I wheeled into council chambers.
The rubbish I wheeled into council chambers.

This took me all of 20minutes to pick up from Kaiti Beach, on the way here – you cannot tell me we do not have a problem with plastic waste on the beach.

Since the beginning of last year, I have been divesting myself of plastic waste and taken an active interest in monitoring plastic waste in the Gisborne region, particularly on our beaches. To hear that the GDC has been actively educating people to refuse plastic bags comes as an absolute surprise to me because I have never once come across any sign, or person, who has communicated this message on behalf of the GDC. Most retailers still use plastic bags and do not ask. We have two major supermarkets, one of which uses plastic bags as a default the other which has plastic bags at the point of sale, with boxes a small walk away – and both of which have recyclable bags – however in my own observation surveys I have personally noted that the majority of users still rely on plastic bags. If, as the GDC response suggests, plastic bags are not a problem in our landfill, and they are not a problem in the annual GDC litter surveys – then WHERE are they going? Because we’re certainly consuming them.

Furthermore, in relation to the litter surveys, I understand that they are largely conducted on street sites, not on beaches, which is where the majority of littered plastic bags wind up. They don’t stay on the street waiting to be picked up.

The slides of rubbish that I have been picking up from the beach over this past year, which I presented to Council.
The slides of rubbish that I have been picking up from the beach over this past year, which I presented to Council.

I KNOW that we have an issue with plastic bag waste because I have been down the beaches, picking the rubbish up and I can tell you that we DO have a plastic litter problem and there ARE a lot of plastic bags on the beach. As opposed to your annual litter survey – I carry out a weekly litter survey when I walk my dogs on the beach and pick up the plastic litter, bring it home, sort it, wash it, weigh it and recycle it.

In a 20min walk on the beach I will average 5-6kg of plastic waste that I pick up. I have been weighing it since August last year and measuring the plastic that I pick up against the plastic waste that I create in order to understand my plastic waste footprint. As you can see – there are plastic bags here every single time, including PaknSave bags.

Globally, and nationally – plastic bags ARE an issue, this is not an opinion it is a fact – and our plastic waste does not just remain in our region either – it becomes the issue of other regions, it becomes an ecological issue that affects our ocean which we all have a stake in. Plastic bag consumption also fosters unsustainable behaviour because they are made from petroleum and in fact a car can drive 11meters on the petroleum required to make one plastic bag.


In short – the responsible answer is NOT to merely manage them as a waste issue but to manage them as a consumption issue, and turn the problem off AT THE TAP. They are an icon for unsustainable behaviour – so if we are to entertain any hope of having a sustainable future, plastic-bags cannot feature.
Bans come in many different forms and need not be immediate, absolute, or overly punitive – there are a range of approaches ranging from a ban on the sale of lightweight bags, charge customers for lightweight bags or generate taxes from the stores who sell them.

Major countries such as Rwanda, China, Eritrea,Taiwan and Macedonia have a total ban on the bag. In the United States there are 187 jurisdictions that have banned plastic bags, including two states (California and Hawaii) – in multiple jurisdictions across over 40 countries, plastic bag bans of one kind or another are being implemented. Here in Aotearoa Waiheke Island and Kaikoura have both committed to going plastic bag free, and weeks ago, Auckland Council’s Environment, Climate Change and Natural Heritage Committee unanimously moved to “Support making Auckland plastic bag free”.


It is therefore my continued submission that GDC support a journey towards a plastic bag ban for Gisborne region. This is a journey that can certainly be supported through proactive education, but must be with the explicit goal of divesting ourselves of lightweight single use plastic bags and thereby modelling responsible, sustainable behaviour.

I urge GDC to commit to reducing our plastic bag consumption through working with communities and business owners on a journey towards developing our own bylaw that will gradually restrict plastic bag use, and eventually ban them completely.


It’s been a while! The one year mark came and went and yes… I made no fanfare (well, not on here but if you’re on my facebook page you would have seen the post). I guess because it has, very much, become a lifelong journey for me. So Jan the 1st 2015 was very much like Dec 31 2014, and all of the days of that year beforehand.

The details?

Well – my average monthly plastic waste production for 2014 was 34gms. So far, this year I’ve been maintaining that. I’d say that the sooner I get a nice big PROPER maara going the better. I’m still loving on my hanging herb garden that my bro built me 🙂
But still… can’t wait til I can grow my own cabbage, broccoli, kumara etc.


My average waste collection on my daily walk down the beach was 5.4kg.

20mins of plastic collection down our local beach in Gisborne.
20mins of plastic collection down our local beach in Gisborne.

The biggest barrier? Well – for me personally – I found that travel, and sharing your living space, came with plastic. It’s MUCH easier to control your plastic waste when you’re at home, by yourself, with a schedule, rather than out and about. My response to that? Well – preparedness and open communication, really. You have to be clear and open about what is ok to bring into the house.

Airplanes - plastic, inside plastic, wrapped in plastic, in a convenient plastic pouch.
Airplanes – plastic, inside plastic, wrapped in plastic, in a convenient plastic pouch.

My highlight of the year would be…. Plastic free July – and participating in the “Buy one get one tree” campaign that our local cafe’s took part in. That was massive. Getting to go to Nagoya to support the cause of sustainability at the UNESCO Conference for Education on Sustainable Development (ESD) was also incredible – and the many, many marvellous people I’ve met while on my journey to become plastic free – hearing that they have felt inspired to take that path themselves has been a continual source of motivation for me. So for everyone who stopped along the way to say hi, who sent a letter of support or let me know that it’s inspired them to go plastic free, themselves – THANKYOU, thankyou so much.

Let’s soldier on. 😀

Going Wastefree, Marae Styles

Kia Ora Whanau – well my final blogpost for the 2014 journey is coming up, I’ve got a lot to cover, a couple of reviews, my trip to Japan, and my final tally, so it’s taking a little bit. I’m headed up to my marae, Hinerupe, to finish the post up. That’s the source of my inspiration and my puna of strength (and one day we’ll be wastefree too).

Anyways, I’ve been up there this past week, cooking, cleaning, and writing stuff up… and watching the things we do, the things we’d like to do better, and what some of our solutions could be, and this infographic bubbled forth. After sharing it on facebook I received some requests for it to be printed out so here’s the hi-res version.

maraestyles (1)

Ngaa mihi o te tauhou paakeha everyone – hope you’re enjoying your summer, and will write again soon!

Septober Tally

Been another bussssssy month! That’s not such a great thing when you’re in the business of picking up para. Lots of waste down the beach. BUT have also been a part of some fantastic projects around communities who have committed to exploring their kaitiekitanga as well… first things first. THE COUNT.

GOOD NEWS. August was my first zero tally! Wahoo!! No plastic bought, and nothing to throw away.

BAD NEWS. This month’s is pretty big – on the bright side most of it was, again, me working plastic from last year out of the house (that process is taking aaages). I see it pretty positively though. Every time I throw that plastic away, I know I’m not going to replace it with more plastic. Ka rawe. 🙂

SO September tally – 80gms.


So, purchased this month was one iphone recharge cord (to replace the one in the pic). Guts.

The rest is pretty much just divesting plastic out of my household. Yays.

And picked up so far this month? Well… actually this is just from two and a half walks down the beach – 12.4kg


SO total plastic footprint: -11.6kg 😀


Over the past weekend our family celebrated love and togetherness over and over again. New love was celebrated as new partners were welcomed into the family. Anniversaries were celebrated. My Uncle’s birthday was celebrated, a permanent memorial of love to his mother was unveiled and celebrated, my brother’s birthday was celebrated, my nephew’s birthday was celebrated, and… the greatest highlight… after 16 years and thanks to the change of some pretty archaic laws, my sister was finally able to marry the woman that has made her dreams come true, and loved her unstintingly through some pretty significant challenges. I gotta tell you – to have so many people that you love so dearly in a state of celebration and love and happiness for one another is a pretty big buzz! It was a pretty awesome celebration of being there for each other.

AND GUESS WHAT… My sis and her darling even made significant efforts to have the wedding be as minimal waste as possible.

It was a close, intimate ceremony at home, on the farm.


Gorgeous solar powered paper lanterns and fairylights made for a magic festive ambience.

Bamboo cutlery, recycled cardboard plates, cups that compost in under 45 days…

IMG_2970 Earth. Composting. Portaloos. FTW.

IMG_2965 Clearly signposted bins lined with bags that compost in less than 40 days… like the signs?

IMG_2936 they’re made from REPURPOSED wood planks 😀 (Queen Repurposer in that shot, my sisinlaw Cleo Thorpe-Ngata – helps to have a kickass artist in the whanau)

The Lotusbelle tent for the wee’uns to play in all day/night long.

IMG_3036 …and what better souvenir to take away from a beautiful day like that than your own photobooth shots. Love you my sis. Happy happies.

I just LOVE my whanau for making these little efforts. I never expect people to do these things for me, and when they don’t it’s not like I scorn them – I’m quite realistic about where we’re at in our plastic consumption psyche and if it were otherwise then I wouldn’t be here writing this blog. As I’ve observed a few times now, it’s a journey, not a one-step destination. It’s the effort that matters. So Danni and Karena, thankyou so much, I really really do appreciate that you guys made the effort that you did. And that you feel affected by the journey I’m on… well that is ALWAYS an amazing and humbling thing to hear from anyone. Much love <3

When I first thought to do this, I really did consider it as a personal journey. Much like the day I sat behind a cattle truck in my car, and just decided at that point that I didn't want to keep pumping my weekly pay into that industry, or pretend that I wasn't propping it up with my constant investment. I didn't want to turn away from the fact that, through my consumption choices, I was responsible for the animals being in that truck, on the way to the abbatoir. So I changed my purchase habits. In the same way – last year when I decided I wanted to explore going plastic free – it really was a personal choice to front up to my personal contribution to what was happening to our oceans, to Toroa, to our whales, to our fish. All of it really. It was a personal choice but when my friend Marama suggested I blog about the journey I though “sure why not, someone might get something out of it”.

10 months later I’m amazed by all of you that have engaged in this discussion. It gives me hope for this cause, and for ourselves. Having connected with you all, I can’t imagine what this journey would have been without having you all to share it with. Your letters, emails, and comments of support (on the blog and in person) have really meant a lot, and I appreciate every single one of them. When strangers approach me to say that they’re inspired by the blog, well it just makes my day to know that even one person has considered, and made, a change in their lives. I beam, and feel like blowing a little kiss to Papatuanuku.

In the past month I’ve had a tv crew swing by to share this journey/kaupapa on Maori television (will link that when it’s televised).

I’ve also been nominated, supported, and then invited, by UNESCO, to participate in the 2014 World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, in Japan next month. This means more than I can possibly say. To be able to carry the kaupapa of indigenous rights and wisdom on sustainability to this type of a forum is a dream that I hadn’t even dared to expect coming true in this way. The global plan for sustainabile development education will be launched from this conference – another very exciting prospect, and no doubt a document that will influence countless subsequent movements for change across the globe. Thankyou whānau, thankyou tīpuna.

While I’m there, I’m hoping to be able to connect with as many environmental sustainability initiatives as possible, and to connect with our Ainu whanau as well (and learn more about their initiatives). I’ve started a few auctions to raise funds to enable this – if you’re keen on scoring one of my bags or artworks then here is the link to my auction list.

(Straight from Nana’s Bach to your shoulder 😉 )

And if you simply feel like donating, then thankyou, thankyou, ngā mihi NUI and here is the fundraising page.

Again, thankyou for everything – even if you’re not buying something or donating, just thanks for being there.