Lifting The Veil on Our Anti-Blackness

I remember very clearly, when I was a kid, hearing the N word used as an insult. Before hearing it as an insult, I’d heard it as a dog’s name, I’d heard some whanau use it for a nickname. It didn’t have a meaning at that point to me, any more than the name “Rover” or “Bill”. But once I heard it levelled as an insult, it clicked that it must have some kind of meaning to it – so I went to my mum and asked “Mum what does [n*****] mean?”

She was in the kitchen at the time, she stopped what she was doing and turned and asked me where I’d heard it. I don’t recall if it was myself or a friend who had been called it – but the very next thing Mum said to me, in a very careful, deliberate manner was “You must never, ever say that word, do you understand me?”

She went on to explain why. In an age-appropriate fashion, she told me of the history of the Ku Klux Klan, and of slavery, and the slave trade. She told me, at that point, that when we use that word, we call up that history, and it’s not our history to call up.

To this day, I have a hard time letting the word move past my lips, and in spite of hearing it used here in Aotearoa over the years, I am glad my mouth has never gotten used to it. I have, however, heard it many times – it worked its way into our lexicon (both English and Maori) very early on. Since that discussion with my mum all those years ago, I’ve learnt a lot about its use both here and across Te Moananui a Kiwa. I’ve read about its use here, as an insult, nickname and even place name, since the arrival of the colonizer.

And this past week, I have seen it levelled, in an insulting and demeaning fashion, by our own, against a Black American man here in Aotearoa, and the ensuing fallout exposed numerous loci of pain for both our Black community here in Aotearoa, Maori Kiritea, and Maori/Pasifika in general. It was just the latest in many instances where a black person I know, has been called that word within a very short timeframe of their arrival to Aotearoa. In quite a few instances, it is their first experience of being called that word.

Yes, they had to come to Aotearoa to be called the N-word.

Now, allow me to be clear on my positionality (as we all should when entering into conversations about power and bias). I carry Maori lineage alongside Czech, Scottish and Cornish. So I am Maori, and I am Pakeha, with neither cancelling out the other. That is my lineage.

How I present is another thing entirely. I am Maori Kiritea. My skin can move from being very brown in the summer, to being very light in the winter. Between my partner, myself, and my two children our household skin spectrum ranges from dark brown to alabaster. While my moko influence my own experience of the world, I chose them, and before I chose them, much of my pathway was shaped by my own whiteness and proximity to whiteness (ie people believing I was white, or at least, “white enough”).

Why is ‘how I present’ another thing altogether? Because skin colour is a building block of race, and has been since the concept of race was created. Skin colour influences how you move through, and experience the world. Race is different to ethnicity in important ways, in that it can be applied to you without any knowledge of your culture. Where ethnicity is something we often claim ourselves, and can communicate our cultural, religious and national identities – race zeroes in on how you present, visually. (Read that paragraph again, if you like – it’s an important one, and one that we will return back to again, before this is through.)

Race critical theorists often pinpoint the early stages of racism as being around the 14th century, with the advent of the Doctrine of Discovery, the creation of the “Black” race for the purpose of enslavement, and the creation of the “Native” race for the purpose of dispossession, with both being subordinated to the “European” race – hence the rise of white supremacy. I’ve written many times about how this hierarchy of power was embedded into our global power systems, shaping our modern economy, international relations, legal frameworks, media, and power systems. From the very earliest stage of this story, as the children of Africa were ripped from her breast, and traded around the world, their story has become intertwined in deeply complex ways with the Indigenous peoples of the lands they were taken to – and the common oppressive experience of white supremacy. Just as we need to understand that this embedded white supremacy everywhere, we also have to understand it embedded anti-blackness into power dynamics everywhere, even into the conversations you have with people here, today.

Here, in Aotearoa, colonizers applied the N word liberally to anyone who was not white and without the full context of what the N word meant, or the relationships or experience to appreciate its inference, it was often seen as a mere descriptor and absorbed into our lexicon. Back then, before the ease of international travel, cross-cultural education, the civil rights movement, decolonial theory and the internet, there were a lot more excuses for centering ourselves in our understanding of that word. Now, not so much. It’s so, so important that we consider what was said and done in the past, with what we now know in order to consider whether we will continue to weave it into our identity. It is dangerous, very dangerous, to consider something intractable simply because it has managed to stick around for a long time.

After all, racism has managed to stick around for over 500 years.

All of this is a very long preamble to acknowledge the context of cultural appropriation of blackness, antiblackness and the use of the N-word in Aotearoa. Yes it has history specific to here… and yet none of that should be used to erase the history that came before its arrival, and the power dynamics that stem from that history. I need us to understand this very important fact: While anyone can “say” the N-word, it is impossible to say the N-word and limit what we invoke to our own shores, and our own history. When we say the N-word, as non-black people, there is simply no escaping the fact that we also invoke a history that we do not carry in our bodies, that we do not carry in our movement through this world, and that cannot be weaponised against us to the same effect.

Understanding this requires us to reach beyond the context of the n-word, and into understanding anti-blackness as the context which allows for it to be taken, claimed and used to repeatedly.

I’m not going to define anti-blackness because that’s not for me to do, even in Aotearoa. That is for black people to do – and we have a wealth of Maori-African, Maori-Black-American, and Black Tangata-Tiriti who can, and have provided that definition. Here, here, and here are links to their voices and I implore you to listen to them. When it comes to defining it, I defer to them.

We have had some discussion in recent years about the use of the N-word, and probably there is an increasing number who get it now. But still, in this past week, even those who could see the anti-blackness in the use of that word, did not stand up to decry it, and did not see the anti-blackness in that. Others still, only stood up to decry it when it was a part of “correcting” the victim’s response, and did not see the anti-blackness in that. Some other non-black people started to “explain” to black people what anti-blackness actually means, and of course, did not see the anti-blackness in that. Within an hour of witnessing a black man being called the N-word, we had managed to make it about non-black people’s feelings – and we still could not see the antiblackness in that. Black people then consistently had words placed in their mouths and were called anti-Maori, divisive, ignorant and made to feel, again, like outsiders and the antiblackness of THAT was not seen. Black people were told, again, that now was not the time for raising the issue of anti-blackness, or not to speak in such angry ways, and definitely to not point out the white skin of those they were responding to – and the antiblackness of THAT was never acknowledged.

It extended to a pakeha (who claimed his entitlement to the conversation because he has brown children and is, farcically, making a documentary about the N-word in Aotearoa) calling the police on the black man who was called the N-word, and falsely accusing them of violence. It has been embarrassing, disheartening, and at times gut-wrenching.

How have we come to miss the rampant anti-blackness right in front of us? Well, one thing I can say is that in the many spaces I’ve worked that seek to explicitly deal with racism at a local and national level, very, very few include black people, and consequently a lack of informed analysis about anti-blackness permeates our discussions on race. Over the years I have seen anti-blackness raised in Aotearoa, I have seen it derailed time and time again as Maori (often Maori kiritea) insisted that colourism be understood in light of themselves and their experiences of being light-skinned Maori. Whiteness as a RACE is consistently confused and conflated with ethnicity and whakapapa, and at the slightest mention of someone’s whiteness as it influences their experience of this world and the power dynamics of that conversation, this suggestion is called insensitive, un-nuanced, and even ignorant to the cultural context of Aotearoa. We rarely go a few months without a new think-piece about how difficult it is to be a Maori kiritea and the judgement that comes with it from our own. In that sense, we have repeatedly held each other to account over our anti-whiteness.

We cannot, however, seem to bring the same energy for anti-blackness.

I have watched black people in Aotearoa exercise incredible grace and restraint over the years as they sought to progress the korero but have been continuously derailed or shut down by our own. I have watched them back away from the discussion, at times out of respect for tangata whenua. Sometimes it was to protect their own wellbeing. Sometimes it was just sheer exhaustion. Being kiritea myself, I’ve not wanted to force a discussion that would draw further fire their way – but I can see, now, that our ineptness in this space has contributed to a context where black people are now routinely exposed to harm on our whenua, under our watch, and we cannot allow that to continue.

Further, as a nation that has in recent years seen extremist racist violence, are staring down the immediate reality of more extremist racist violence, and are desperately trying to eliminate racism, we CANNOT continue to avoid or limit our discussions of anti-blackness. There simply is no anti-racist future without addressing it, and you WILL NOT address it in the absence of black voices.
I can see a few factors getting in the way of this discussion, and I’m going to name them here, along with a few things I think we can do *as a start* to dealing with it.

  1. Our people do not like being called white by other people
    It was very, very weird to see people who call themselves white in their profiles (apparently to take ownership of what privilege that brings), take exception to being called white by black people. We have been defined by others for so long, and even mis-defined by our own, that it is instinctively egregious to have someone else “label” us. When people who understand the difference between race and ethnicity call us white, it is a challenge to accept all that comes with it, and to understand the limits of where we can go, and where we cannot go in our discussions. To those who do not understand that difference, it feels like a denial of our whakapapa and a re-defining of who we are.
    What is needed: Deep learning about the difference between race and ethnicity.
  2. Being denied access to a discussion triggers our mamae
    Leading on from point 1 – when you are Maori, and have had everything taken from you, being denied access is a deep-seated mamae. It triggers experiences of being denied access to our land. It triggers experiences of being denied access to our culture and language. For Maori Kiritea it triggers hurtful experiences of being denied access to our identity. When we hear “this isn’t your place” it raises all of the pain of being shut out by colonizers, and our own. Similarly, when we are told of the privilege of being white in a white supremacist world, we feel the difficulty of being white-presenting in Te Ao Maori is being negated. While we do experience the intergenerational legacy of racism, Maori kiritea do not have a reference point for being pulled over, or incarcerated, or denied a job, or denied justice, or denied service, because of being black.
    What is needed: De-centering of our own mamae and a reciprocity of the grace shown us by many black New Zealanders who have decentered their own pain for us, repeatedly. Deep understanding of, and respect for the distinctiveness of black history. In short, manaakitanga.
  3. We place intrinsic negativity on being white
    While being white provides an opportunity for privilege abuse, and the fact we live in a white supremacist society means that the abuse of that privilege happens regularly, having white skin is not innately bad. The domination of white privilege abuse in the stories of colonization means many of us struggle with the idea of being called white (even though we say it easily enough). We fear that, in accepting the whiteness of our presentation, this must necessarily make us white supremacists.
    What is needed: An understanding that white supremacy is a system, and exists in acts, words, and policy, not in genes or skin colour. Deep wananga on what it is to carry whiteness responsibly.

As difficult as this has been, the discussions on antiblackness of the past week have probably surged us closer to racial justice than Aotearoa has been in a long time. I’m just sorry that, as is so often the case in this global system of anti-blackness, black people again had to pay the price for that.

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Kati Ra, E Moana….**

I love words, and so I missed them somewhat this week. The air left my lungs when he walked out of our room, to join the mountains, oceans, and stars. Inaccessible and irreplaceable.

Kati ra e hika, te takoto i raro ra, he uea ake ra ka he to manawa…

Te Moananui a Kiwa Kauwhakatuakina Jackson.

Named after a hero who gave his life to protect his people from racist extremists. Named after an arbiter of peace who scaled heights to negotiate the terms of engagement. Every so often, there comes a leader whose skill, intellect, and compassion challenges us all to be our greatest version of ourselves, to fulfil the wildest dreams of our ancestors, to pave righteous paths for our mokopuna… a leader of hearts, and minds, who speaks truth with such integrity that it lands effortlessly within you, and compels you to listen.

Ka titiro ki uta ra ki Hikurangi maunga, ko te puke tena, i whakatauki ai a Porourangi e
Ka rukuruku a Te Rangitawaea i ona pueru e…

In losing them to this world, and in losing our ability to turn to them for their sage advice, to listen for their guidance, we are left bereft, cut adrift upon tides of colonial malintent and circumstance. I have read all the beautiful words offered online as those of us who love him sought to come to terms with the loss of someone who none of us are ready to let go of.

Ka mamae hoki ra te tini o te tangata, ka mamae hoki ra ki a tama na tu
Ka takitahi koa nga kaihautu o te waka o Porourangi
Ka areare koa puangai i tona rua

Like you all, I’ve struggled, and even these paragraphs are interspersed with bouts of wailing. Tears are sacred – from the time of Rangi and Papa they have taken center stage in our stories. The first karanga, our Aunties taught us, was a karanga tangi. It was the tangi of Papatuanuku for Ranginui. It drew forth the sacred tears of Ranginui to help soothe and heal her in her pain.

It’s not been easy to share these past few days – almost like it would be another relinquishment that I’m not ready for, but expression is a part of who we are, as Moana so often reminded us, in our multi-dimensionality. Tangihia, tangihia, tangihia e te motu.

Taku hiahia e i
Kia ora tonu koe hei karanga i o iwi
Ka tutu o rongo ki nga mana katoa
Ko tama i te mania, ko tama i te paheke…

And once the tears are shed, the songs are sung, and the words lay woven articulately across the marae atea, all that is left to do, is pursue the goals we shared with him, and the vision of justice for our people, with the tools he has left for us. These tools of compassion, of peace, of intellect and integrity, of unwavering belief in ourselves, our ancestors and our descendants.

Ka ngaro koe e hika ki te po, aue
Ko nga iwi katoa e aue mai ra
Ka nui taku aroha, na.

So now that is said, and sung, I’m going to share, with you, some of the gifts left for me in my time with Moana. As so many have already shared, Moana left you feeling like you were capable of anything, and the most important person in the room. So often he would enquire about every day matters: maara tips, how my children were doing at kura, whether I was looking after myself, what latest recipe had I discovered. I enjoyed immensely that we could pivot so easily from such topics to matters of national and international gravity, and consider them each, turning the kaupapa over under a lens of Arundhati Roy, or George Manuel, or Haunani Kay Trask. He asked for my input on matters that I really didn’t feel qualified to answer, but he cared for my perspective and it made me feel important, and making us feel important, because we genuinely were, all of us, important to him, was one of his most beautiful gifts.

Keep our people safe

I was in New York, at the inaugural United Nations Oceans Conference, with my cousin-brothers Tawhana Chadwick and Raihania Tipoki, and sister Pauline Harris. We were navigating hallways, and offices, and backroom meetings and dignatory forums, to attempt to present a petition, endorsed unanimously by over 80 of our iwi hapu and marae, and signed by a further 28 thousand New Zealanders, asking the Norwegian government to remove their state owned oil company StatOil from our coastline where it was prospecting. As the days passed and it became clear they were avoiding us, the printed pages started to weigh heavy in my bag. We had crowdfunded our way there. There was no way we could return home without presenting the voice of our people. I was not prepared to fail in that task but I had run out of options and the only thing I could come up with was to cross the main floor while they were speaking (which would have probably gotten us kicked out). I hadn’t slept, it was our last day, and I called Moana at some crazy hour, in a panic, blubbing that I wished he was there, and asking him what he thought I should do.

He listened patiently to my ramble, and then said: “Although I wish I could be closer to support you, I don’t really miss that place, it’s full of pitfalls and traps. But I do believe everyone is put where they are for a reason, and for whatever reason, your tipuna have put you there, not me. They’ve given you all the right tools to deal with that situation, and I believe that when the time comes, you will know the right thing to do. All I would ask of you, is that whatever you do, you keep our people safe.”

I’m going to be honest, I was annoyed. I wanted a “go to level xx in this building and find office xx and say ABC” answer but of course that’s not how Moana worked. I sat with his answer for a while, and then went into the cuzzies’ room, and we prayed. We called upon our ancestors to help us, we asked for clarity and the opening of pathways. About an hour later, as we arrived at the UN, we were invited to speak in a side event later that day, and the Norwegian govt agreed to attend it, and formally accept and acknowledge the petition. We finally handed it over in the final hour of the UN meeting, and about four hours before our flight left. Statoil never returned to Te Ikaroa to continue their prospecting, and eventually they surrendered their permit. That advice from Moana, in particular, has resonated over the years, again and again. First and foremost, we must always keep our people safe.

Remember na wai te he. Remember who did this to our people

Ok this one, I think, was one of those tailored pieces of advice that was really Mo telling me what part of myself I needed to work on, because he offered it up randomly, and frequently. I’m still working on it. It would come with a story about how annoyed he and his brother Syd was at some of their own relations, who, they felt, had betrayed our people. Syd had wanted to call it out in front of everyone but his mother, present at the time, forbade it. When Moana asked her later why she did, she said: “Just remember who did this to our people”. Now this advice, he offered to me way too many times, and way too randomly, to be anything other than a lesson he considered I needed (and so beautifully consistent that he offered it in a way that owned his own learnings in that context). It’s a story I’ve come back to, and the few times I’ve reigned my own indignant disappointment in, it’s usually in remembrance of this.

We are all mokopuna

This was not a lesson for me so much, but a beautiful way that Moana reflected upon the diversity within Te Ao Maori. There were times when we spoke at length about those who were marginalised in multiple ways, either because they are takatāpui, ira whakawhiti, tangata whaikaha, or some other reason. Moana was always respectful in learning the right terminology, but also, often, reminded us all that in every case, it was also correct to call them mokopuna.

Remember the legacy of those before us

It’s easy to get swept up in the injustice and drama of some of our international forums. There have been so many times I have seen new attendees arrive to the United Nations, full of hope, and then watch as they slowly come to see the same machinations of oppression play themselves out in that space. It can be deeply disheartening, and a lot to deal with when you have constructed an ideal of justice in your head. Moana relieved me of that idea very early on, before I attended my first meeting I asked him what it’s like and he said: “Well, you know how our people get when dealing with the Crown”, I replied: “Yes” and he said, “Well, it’s like that, but with 193 Crowns”. It made me not want to go. But he also reminded me of the incredible work that has gone into forging our voice in that space, work carried by himself, by Nganeko Minhinnick, by papas before us like Hanara Reedy, and Wiremu Ratana. All of them, generation after generation, have fought for the right to have our voice in that space, with all of its flaws, so that we can articulate for ourselves what justice looks like, and hold them to account in their own halls. Regardless of how we feel about these spaces and the dynamics within them, we must always remember that we are one part of a much larger story, carrying, in our time, a legacy that was forged well before us, and we must care for it so that it may be passed on.

Don’t ever lose sight of the goal

There are so, so, SO many sleights of hand played before us as Māori, that look deceptively like mana motuhake, and many of them function more to drain our energy, and create a mirage within which we mistakenly rest, rather than getting us closer to the goal. The goal is, has always been, and must always be uncompromised self-determination, and we must believe in ourselves to both achieve and maintain that. We can never be free, nor can we ever evade mamae or hara, while we remain under colonial authority, because colonisation is an inherently dehumanising and harmful process. As Noam Chomsky points out:

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

Similarly, the smart way to keep Maori colonized, is to strictly limit the parameters of acceptable self-determination, but allow for very lively debate and solutions within that spectrum… but while the ultimate authority is wielded by others, we are not, and will never be free. This must always be the standard by which we judge our pathway back to mana motuhake, and this must uncompromisingly be the measure of tino rangatiratanga. I cannot think of a more important legacy for us to remain steadfast on, for Moana and ourselves, than the uncompromising pursuit of our people’s freedom from colonial rule.

There are many more gifts that can be shared, but that seems enough for now. All of our love to you Hatea, Di, and all of Moana’s mokopuna whom he loved so dearly, and whose mention made him shine, without fail, every single time, and that joy was infectious.

He would often ring me after I published a piece to discuss it, and I will miss that. I will miss you so much, Moana. You are loved by your people, you have been an incredible mokopuna, whanaunga, mentor, friend, leader, and you will continue to lead with these million and more wananga gems, placed in our skies like guiding stars.

Moe mai ra, my dear friend.

**Kati ra e hika is a waiata tangi, composed originally as a longer waiata by Te Rangiuia and known as “He tangi na Rangiuia mō tana tamaiti, mo Tūterangiwhaitiri” and then recomposed a number of times, most notably for the mourning of Moananui a Kiwa Ngarimu VC, whom Moana Jackson was named after.**

Wāhine, White Women, and Waitangi

Yesterday, like most Waitangi Days, I reflected a lot about the incredible women who have led our Tiriti justice movement over the years. I thought about the history of the movement, and pondered on the future. I spent time with my daughters, and thought about whom I want them to look up to, and who I needed to protect them from, and where I needed to focus my energy, in order to leave them a better world. I do have a Waitangi Wāhine hero, and I’m going to get to her in a moment, but we need to go on another journey first.

Curiously, I noted, many others took the opportunity to acknowledge Waitangi Day by celebrating the Prime Minister – I mean, sure, there’s lots that can be said when it’s in comparison to her forebears, but that’s probably the least appropriate day to carry that exercise out (and even less so when you appropriate Māori vernacular to do that… seriously, #ChurArdern really ain’t it, folks). Still, even all of that is vastly preferable to the tone-deaf annual drone of colonielle feminists and their monocultural stale takes on women’s speaking rights on the marae. When we cannot even click to the fact that we have no entitlement to a particular debate, we are very, very far from addressing colonial entitlement to power, or land, or water.

Waitangi is an opportunity for us to talk about challenging Treaty issues, so let’s talk colonielle oppression.

By colonielle I mean colonizer women who benefit from and exploit colonial patriarchy. They have an arsenal of tools at their manicured fingertips, including deadly tears, the camouflage of gender rights, deployment of their colonial male protectors and the manipulation of media.

Over the past week we have seen it demonstrated, as women of colour were gleefully thrown, yet again, under the bus by a white female journalist for her own ends:

MIQ has played a crucial role is keeping us alive and relatively safe from Covid, but it has also generated its own injustice, particularly for NZ citizens returning home and has, itself, become heavily politicised. So naturally, the Anti-Labourites and Anti-Ardern crowd came out strong, upholding Bellis as the white Mother Mary spurned from safe lodging. Blissfully ignorant or uncaring to the fact that she had employed time honored colonielle tactics of exploiting misogynist patriarchal power and stealing/appropriating from women of colour for her own benefit, the New Zealand commentary managed the trick of impassioned laziness, as they failed to look beyond their own cultural and political context of MIQ and PM Ardern.

And even as Afghani women such as Muzhgan Samarqandi pointed out that she is doing more harm than good, had been actively silencing their pleas, and as other eloquent writers such as Rafia Zakaria pointed out that she is employing privilege and exploiting misogyny (seriously, read those links they are very, very good)… the chorus of Bellis supporters, part political opportunist, part colonielle faux feminist, chimed together that there is NO racism at play here.


Now, we need to appreciate the NZ context here. White women racism is its own genre, with its own characteristics and features (including white women feminists exploiting colonial systems that oppress non-white women, and society that protects that behaviour, and using feminism to cloak racism). Elizabeth Woolstonecraft, considered a founder of the British suffrage movement, used slavery as a metaphor to discuss the treatment of privileged white women in the UK.

It’s a chilling reminder, in this age of faux-oppression, that white supremacists co-opting victimhood is not new, and in fact has its own historical narrative.

In the USA, white women suffragettes sided with racist white female slaveowners because getting women the vote was more important than halting lynchings.

This genre of racism also sits at the heart of the NZ feminist movement, with Kate Sheppard being centered as the iconic leader of NZ and the world’s feminist movement, all the while erasing that wāhine Māori held political power long before this, or that Kate Sheppard’s Christian Temperance Union applied horribly racist policy against the sacred practice of moko kauwae for Wāhine Māori, a powerful cultural attack upon the sacredness of wāhine. Even in the recent 125yr anniversary celebrations, New Zealand largely failed to grasp the opportunity to expose, and dismantle, the legacy of colonielle racism in Aotearoa, and failed to explore the colonial and Indigenous context within which the NZ suffrage movement played out (for a wonderfully articulate exploration of this truth, read this piece by Leonie Pihama or click on the poem below by the incomparable Dr Karlo Mila).

A Poem for Women In Parliament by Karlo Mila

Could it be,
because for centuries,
the land upon which we stand
has been cherished,
as mother, goddess, beloved?
Papatūānuku.

Could it be,
because here,
on this land upon which we stand,
the story of origins
returns to the soil
and a woman is shaped
from the earth itself?
Tihei mauriora
Hine Ahu One.

Could it be
because of a history
where it was believed
that life and death,
those transcendent transitions
between sacred and secular –
spectrum of being and unbeing,
lay between a women’s legs?
Whereby only a women’s cry
initiated the coming together of the people?

Could it be, because here,
the secret of
immortality
was sourced to
a return to womb?
And the dark portal cave
of death itself,
was watched over,
by the greatest woman
of the night?

Maybe,
it was this history,
embodied within the land itself,
embedded within all women’s bodies
enabled the women settlers
who arrived here and landed –
defined as chattels and property –
to put down their feet
and immediately demand to be counted
and then count –
in that seat of power.

Dr Karlo Mila, 2021

NZ is steadfastly committed to drinking its own Kool-aid when it comes to race relations. We have stitched-in blinders when it comes to convincing everyone that we are kind, and just and equitable. We are the archetypal pearl clutching, apron wringing Stepford wife of a nation, refusing to face our darkest truths and insisting, through gritted teeth, that everyone just enjoy the damn trifle. Even when we have moments of apparent insight (like the Dawn Raids apology), they are portrayed as the errors of previous era, historical transgressions that this new, shiny government can heroically make up for (even utilising the metaphor of breaking shackles), and unsurprisingly, when just weeks later that history repeats itself, it is treated as an aberration of the colonial system, not a feature.

Between New Zealands compulsive delusions about its own innocence, and the additional racist layering of white feminism, New Zealand society is ripe ground for colonielle racism, and all the while it will occur against a backdrop of “no racism to see here”.

So let’s just get clear about something:

THE MOMENT someone says a situation is “not racist” that is, in itself, a red-flag. 

Racism exists in acts, deeds, words, thoughts and policy which uphold a system of racial injustice. 

Our entire world is built off of a system of racial injustice. The global economy was borne from, and is maintained through racial injustice. The New Zealand government, which creates the system of policies that shape our lives, is premised on racist ideals of European supremacy. Those ideals are upheld today as we see Waitangi Day after Waitangi Day pass without the government ever volunteering to address the injustice of our racist, Treaty violating constitutional framework.

Treaties are tools for equity. You cannot achieve treaty justice by applying the Treaty within an inequitable system. While racism remains at the roots of our society, it will inevitably rise to the surface in implicit and explicit ways. It will be provided for in policies, protected in institutions, and enabled in individual acts and words. Even organisations such as the Race Relations Commission and Human Rights Commission are not exempt from this fact.

Excellent panel of Wāhine Tangata Tiriti – Susan Devoy, Jane Kelsey and Chloe Swarbrick discussing racism in Aotearoa with Moana Maniapoto

Racism that results in Indigenous women being targeted for harassment, for abuse, for assault, rape and murder does not just exist in the individual acts of their assailant. It exists in the justice system that fails to take their complaints seriously, it exists in the mono-dimensional media portrayals of us as promiscuous creatures, angry disrupters, poor mothers. An impossible dichotomy of undesirable brown troublemaker, or compliant and desirable native guide, but never quite the Madonna.

It is in its ubiquity that the power of racism rests. It is the systems that refuse to accept its presence, even in the face of it, which allow racism to not only be maintained but proliferate. It’s the society and organizations which always point to others but never themselves that fail to dismantle it, and permit its presence as the default experience for everyone who isn’t white. Which is why we say, in the critical theory of race, there is no such thing as “not racist”.

You are either actively exposing and addressing the ubiquitous system of racism as it appears in your organisation, through antiracist education and policy, or you are enabling racism to remain, which is racist.

Which brings us to the case of Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti who was followed through Farmers Tauriko by a staff member, and then profiled as “undesirable”, and told to leave.

@jayjay_petty

It’s sad that this is the reality for some of our young people, know you are loved despite the words that people may say ❤️

♬ State Lines – Novo Amor

Farmers have apparently held an investigation and the whanau have a meeting with them soon, to be mediated by the Human Rights Commission. In an email to the whānau, Farmers contested that the incident was not, in their opinion, racist.

So let’s have a closer look. 

One might suggest that being followed and called “undesirable” is in itself an objectively neutral experience, and without explicit racist intent, could not have caused racialised harm. 

Let’s take one factor off the table early: Intent

Racism is not experienced by intent. It is not about the person that did it, but rather where it lands, who experiences it, and the power relationships between them. This phenomena did not happen on a blank canvas. We have an older white woman, in a position of authority, following a young brown woman for no reason than how she “looked”, labeling her “undesirable”, implicitly accusing her of doing something wrong, or being somewhere wrong, (and explicitly looking/being wrong) and directing her to leave.

This occurs to Aiomai as a member of a people who have been unfairly judged, labeled, villianised, disempowered and displaced for generations. It occurs to her as the next generation of a long line of brown women who have been subjected to the colonial gaze as either “desirable” or “undesirable”, with equally disastrous consequences. 

It occurs against a history, passed down to Aiomai, where native women and children have been specifically targeted by a colonial project with the aim of leaving their people morally dejected, deflated, and easier to oppress.

To have applied such treatment in a way that ignores that reality, is, in itself, racist. It erases the harm that this experience creates WHEN COMBINED with the longstanding experience of being Māori in colonially racist NZ and being a young woman of colour in a racist world.

It expects her to receive that experience as if she were, in fact, white. 

There’s a certain dark poetry to this story of cotton farmers, sugar farmers, slavery, stolen land, settler colonial farmers, and a store called Farmers enabling racism toward a young wāhine Māori, literally displacing her because of her appearance. Just when you thought Farmers had reached peak-colonizer… this past Waitangi week, Tauranga Farmers managers gathered for the karakia that was offered to mark the opening of their new store. While it is of course the tradition of this whenua to open all new premises with karakia for the protection of staff and customers, it’s also a fact that colonial reliance upon Māori grace, while still being racist towards Māori, is another longstanding colonial tradition (along with guilt-laden aggression towards Māori).

So, after another Waitangi Day has passed, and we see our land is still not back, our rights to self determination remain denied, and the power systems that enable racist abuse of privilege remain, I celebrate and uplift Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti who is standing her ground, along with her whānau who stand by her side. Standing up to the system that has protected and enabled white women to exploit colonial power against brown women. Drawing on the long history of wāhine Māori who have held and protected this land from the time of Atua to this day, continuing a legacy carried by Whina, by Eva, by Naida, by Tariana. You see, it is not just trauma that travels through the generations, but also mana, strength, and forbearance. Aiomai is here because every generation before her survived everything colonizers had to throw.

Aiomai Tarawhiti | Exposure Talent


Of course Aiomai upsets colonizers, she is the walking reminder of the failure of colonialism. Of course they feel threatened by Aiomai, she carries the force of righteousness, she carries the whakapapa of this land and when colonizers compare themselves to her, at a very deep level, they feel bad, and all they know to do, is try move her out of sight.

But she is not moving, she is a powerful wāhine and even as a rangatahi, is forcing racist colonial systems to confront themselves and for that, she is my Waitangi hero, and she should be yours, too.

Protecting Our Whakapapa

After an intense few months of vaccinating, and training our whanau to be isolation support workers, and setting up a community SIQ facility, establishing a rapid antigen testing program for our community, we hit a huge milestone this weekend – we were finally able to start vaccinating our children.

This is a momentous step in our protection journey for all parents, I think, but for us in Matakaoa, with one of the highest ratios of children to adults in the country, it holds particular relevance. Let me give you a bit of background korero for you to better understand why:

Similar to covid, in 1918, influenza was imported and first experienced by Non-Maori, and then crossed over to the Maori population. When the influenza epidemic arrived in Tairawhiti district in October 1918, cases were consistently reported upon within Gisborne township, for the duration of its spread through the colonial population. There are numerous articles that testified to the way in which Gisborne residents came together to support each other through the outbreak.

Poverty Bay Herald article (16 November 1918) showing the community spirit and mutual support within the Gisborne community to overcome “the scourge” of influenza

Once it exhausted its colonial hosts and crossed over to the Maori population in mid to late November, the Poverty Bay Herald shifted its reporting, it returned to focusing on the war, trade, and other places where influenza was still impacting upon “the whites” (as the newspaper called it).

At this point, when influenza was mentioned in the Poverty Bay Herald, it was no longer framed as an effort for people to support each other through – rather it reported on the need, and council discussions, to ban Maori from entering the township.

Article from Gisborne Times (5 December 1918) titled: “Should Natives be banned from entering the township?”

This is a well known part of our pandemic history, and it is echoed in our experience today. Infectious diseases imported by non-Maori, with media and government calling for a “team effort” by everyone, but with impacts upon Maori being under-reported, and eventually with Maori being blamed. In fact were it not for the work of Rawiri Taonui, it’s unlikely that the disproportionate nature of the infections, hospitalisations and deaths would have been picked up or highlighted at all. No other media outlet has pointed out that within the last month there have been “zero Pakeha infection” days in the current outbreak.

Even today, if you read the official figures for Maori loss over that time, the numbers are nowhere near what we as Maori know them to be. The Gisborne Herald just recently reported that 160 died in our district in 1918, and the NZ History website reports that there were no recorded deaths in Waiapu County, and 11 Maori deaths reported across Cook County. If you look to the Maori newspapers of the time, they tell a very different story: thousands of Maori lost, and hundreds of Maori children laid upon just the one marae alone, here in Wharekahika. We have numerous mass burial sites dotted along our small section of coastline, from typhoid, from smallpox, from influenza. At least one of them is dedicated to children, alone.

Article from Te Kopara (19 March 1919) written by Matakaoa ancestor Wi Paraire Rangihuna: “Collectively, the bodies of children lain upon the marae of Tu (Tumoanakotore, Wharekahika) numbered 300 over recent years. Maori who died from the influenza, over just the past three months alone – 1300. And this was just the registered deaths. Were we to add on the unregistered deaths, we would likely surpass 2000”

It’s hard to overstate the impact that so much loss can have on a people – but still, our tipuna were determined that we not forget what has happened. The photos of those lost still hang in our wharenui, babies in beautiful crisp white christening gowns, children in attire of the day. The names Materoa (the great loss), Mamaeroa (the long grief) were re-embedded into our family lines, laments were composed, all so that we would not forget, and would not allow it to happen again.

A lament for a loved one passed from influenza, recounted by Ngati Porou ancestor Maharata Te O Wai (Piriote) of Makarika

And this has been our commitment, to our elders and our tipuna, that we would not allow this to happen again, not to our people, and certainly not to our children. We already know that we have disproportionate levels of child asthma and rheumatic fever in our region, and some of the poorest access to health services in the country. We don’t need modelers to know that it will not bode well for our children. It’s for this reason that we have, like the government, gone hard and gone early to prevent Covid coming to our region.  For this reason, I have pushed hard for supported conversations for Maori parents to ask the questions they need, and when they are ready, for priority access to vaccines for tamariki Maori. It’s for all of these reasons, a number of us have been working hard to ensure that tamariki Maori, who hold higher rates of respiratory illness, diabetes and rheumatic fever, are not left til last as many of their parents were in the Covid vaccine rollout.

Excerpt from story by Ruwani Perera on The Hui

Just like before, longer, and more indepth conversations will be required for Maori parents to feel comfortable about vaccinating their children – and to avoid Maori being blamed and in particular Maori parents being blamed. These conversations need to be supported, and held in a context that appreciates the journey we have been through as a people. As we gathered on Saturday morning to say our karakia for the commencement of child vaccinations in our community, I looked up at children’s burial site that overlooks our community and I thought of them all – those we have lost in past generations, who never had this opportunity of a vaccine, and gave thanks to all those involved in keeping us safe til we could get to this point, and all of those who have been involved in us being able to protect our babies now.

Heoi ano, after a long wait – what feels for some of us like the longest wait – our children can now be vaccinated, and in spite of whatever else could have been done, there are still things that we, ourselves, can do to prepare our children for their vaccination. I’ll leave us with these recommendations, built from amazing conversations with health experts as well as our incredible and inspirational community covid response team (all mothers and grandmothers ourselves). Have a wonderful sacred week, everyone, as we embark on this, most precious and special step in our nation’s journey of protection. Kia kaha tatou katoa xx

Supporting your children’s vaccination journey:

For planners of clinics:

  1. Some whānau want to be done together. Have adult doses ready for parents/grandparents.
  2. Children pick up on fear/nerves. Provide loads of opportunities for parents to ask their questions of experts BEFOREHAND (you might want to consider group Q&A sessions with GPs/experts or even one on one sessions if parents request them). They need to be calm & confident on the day for their child. Have clinically approved advice handouts for planning staff to pass on to parents when clinical staff are not available so the advice is consistent and correct.
  3. Recommend to your community BOOKING in for child imms, and if possible call the parents the day before to check if they have any other questions about the imms and that they understand what to look out for afterwards, and the nature of normal after-effects.
  4. Similarly if you can, go with Wellchild/Tamariki Ora nurses. They’re already familiar with child imms techniques, and may also be familiar with the children (ours is). More confident nurses make for calmer child patients.
  5. Have a whanau-friendly space set aside for child observations. Coloring in resources, movie space, tamariki friendly kai, music, and a celebratory atmosphere for them.
  6. Follow up with a phonecall in the next day or so if you can. Check in on how the children are doing, reassure parents for the expected aftereffects and remind them of when their children’s second vaccination will be due, and how to book it.

Parents:

  1. Have lots of discussions with children in the lead up. Frame it positively, they’re helping everyone be protected, a part of the kaitiaki team just like Mummy & Daddy.
  2. Be honest about it hurting (I pinched her quickly to show how fast it passes) Plan a postvaxx treat.
  3. Be prepared for the next couply days after vaccination. Lethargy, sore arm, slight fever, headaches, generally blah are all normal after effects. Have pamol, water bottles, movies, blankies, games, treats ready and plan to be available for extra attention and cuddles.
  4. Ask all you have to ask before the day, so you can cede all Q&A space to your child ON the day. Let them ask all the questions, you’re there to support.
  5. Carefully consider your child’s exposure to antivaxx content. This includes their online time & yours (especially when posting vaccination photos and most especially when children are able to see and read the responses). Antivaxx narratives regarding children are particularly nasty so be proactive & vigilant in your online protection of your tamariki.
  6. Check in with your child over the following days and talk about what is happening inside their body in an age-appropriate way. For my 5 and 7 year old we discussed how the vaccine is now teaching their tinana how to block and punch the virus (just like The Karate Kid which is one of their fave movies), and even though it might not feel like it, that’s a lot of learning going on which is why they can sometimes feel tired. Reassure them that some after effects are normal (sore arm, feeling tired, a slight fever or headache), and of course don’t be shy to go to the doctors if there are more concerning symptoms like difficulty breathing or a sore chest. Here is some information about side effects that you need to take into consideration.
  7. Again, take the time to check out trusted, reliable sources. Protect Our Whakapapa and Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Uruta are great starting points for your journey towards making a good, informed decision about your child’s vaccination.

    Below are some clips from a recent parents’ Q&A session we held online with health professionals (Health Researcher Dr Donna Cormack, GPs Dr Rachel Thomson and Dr Rawiri Jansen, and Starship Hospital Pediatrician Dr Jin Russell).
Dr Rawiri Jansen discusses child health and Omicron
Dr Jin Russel of Starship Hospital discusses the importance of child vaccination
Dr Rachel Thomson discusses important things parents can do now to prepare for Omicron
Dr Jin Russel provides some crucial advice about children with pre-existing conditions, and after-effects of the child vaccine.

Painting a Covid Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Ministry of Health

Some of those health conditions are:

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

Ok so – early summary:

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

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

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

Riri is also asthmatic.

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

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

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

Here are the fathers choices:

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

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

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

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

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

That is for vaccinated.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

So I need to know from you…

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

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

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

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

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

Noho haumaru, noho ora ra.

Rangatiratanga in the Age of Misinformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FORGIVENESS

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

GRACE

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

SELF DETERMINATION (binaries are fake)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

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


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

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

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

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

Te Reo Māori full size downloads:

English version fullsize downloads:

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

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

Planning for Delta at Community Level

Discussions for whānau, hapū, marae, and kura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might want to consider the following:

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

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

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

May be a cartoon

HAPŪ PLANNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

KURA PLANNING

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

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

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

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

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

The Freedoms We Lose

GoodTherapy | Schizophrenia Correlated with Increased Risk of Dying Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No photo description available.

Te Tiriti and Vaxx Rates

We’re not the ones with the trust problem.

There’s a big truth in decolonization discourse that is often overlooked:

Injustice is an every day choice of colonial governments

I’m going to digress to an example here to illustrate what I mean.

The Waitangi Tribunal is the government appointed judiciary on Treaty justice. In 2014, the Crown, through the Waitangi Tribunal, formally acknowledged that Maori never ceded sovereignty. We could go through how they came to that conclusion, but just know that it was 2 years of expert historians presenting in front of the country’s best treaty experts, and further 2 years of rigorous analysis of that information, to arrive to the finding that sovereignty was never ceded.

What does that mean?

That means that Hobson never had the right to claim sovereignty by right of cession (and he certainly did not have right to claim sovereignty over Te Waipounamu, the South Island, by right of discovery).

Now keep with me – if Hobson did not have the right to claim sovereignty by right of cession, then Queen Victoria did not hold legitimate sovereignty over Aotearoa. Which means that she did not hold the rights to establish the government as the administrators of sovereign power in Aotearoa.  And here’s the rub of that, which people find so unfathomable, and apparently radical, but is completely 100% evidence based: The New Zealand government (like so many colonial governmets) is illegitimate, and is operating by application of force. They do not hold ultimate power by any just or moral means, they hold power because they have the ability to enact force upon you by the police and by the armed forces if you do not ultimately comply.

So the government acknowledged this through their own judiciary 11 years ago, but because the government has also made the recommendations of the tribunal unenforceable, it does not have to do anything about those findings, and it has chosen, every day for 11 years and running, to not do ANYTHING about that.

It has, instead, again, as many colonial governments do, chosen the route of self interest and protection of ill-gotten power, through the wielding of force.

Now I know it’s fascist-fashionable right now to claim we are living in a police-state because one cannot go to the gym or nightclub, but the truth is, Maori have been existing in a police-state for a long, long time. It is a police-state that has enforced colonial suppression of Maori self-determination.   This is a choice that those in power make every single day.

It is vitally important that people grasp this – when you want to discuss Maori distrust in Crown authority, you cannot set the start of the conversation to March 2020, and you cannot begin from the assumption that Crown authority is legitimate in the first place.

1. This means that the government has been running a very effective misinformation campaign for 170 years and is continuing to gaslight Maori about it’s denial of our right to self-determination.

2. There are numerous, numerous studies that illustrate how colonial denial of self-determination results in high mortality rates. These studies have been placed before government numerous times, including through the recent Hauora claims process. It is not a case of Maori dying early because of genetic pre-determination. It is a case of humans dying early because of oppression. If you oppressed Europeans the same way over the same number of generations, they too would die earlier, and would die.  The overarching communication is: Maori are disposable in the eyes of the Crown. Maori lives have, for a long time now, been weighed up and valued against continuation of colonial privilege (and will never outweigh it so long as the Crown holds the scales).

Source: Stage One Report of the Hauora Claim

Can you see how this logic is playing out today in the COVID response?

Given that this is a well reported scenario, it stands to reason that this was foreseeable from the outset of COVID’s arrival in Aotearoa. And that it was. Our own communities in Matakaoa and Te Whanau a Apanui  highlighted this to the Crown and where we have been able to drive our own vaccination strategies, we have done well. That right there is the demonstration that success lies in self-determination.

But this is not something we should have to fight for. It is not something that should depend on the skillsets in your community and the relationships you may be able to work with government. It is not something that should happen in pockets, and nor is it reaching its fullest potential even for those pockets, unless it happens everywhere. One of our dominant COVID response considerations right now, even with our vaccine progress, are those living outside of our region who are unvaccinated and wanting to return back home in the summer months. It’s an unfair and difficult position to be put in, and all of it was avoidable, had our treaty partnership been respected from the outset.

And in all of these cases, the government could prioritise Maori leadership of these matters today, it could prioritise treaty justice today, it could treat the mending of the relationship with urgency if it chose to, but it is not politically convenient for them to do so. And so, instead, we are told this is a Maori problem, not a colonial problem. Maori are being problematized as defiant and uncaring of society, while ignoring the fact that Maori lives have been deprioritized (for the benefit of the state) for generations, ignoring that Maori have been frontline responders since forever both for COVID and natural disasters, ignoring the fact that where Maori have taken the lead, it has borne great results. The unfairness is stinging – Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Urutā and numerous other Maori and Non-Maori health and health research organisations foresaw this, warned of this, and were sidelined by the government, and we are now being pushed into  an untenable situation: We were hobbled from the outset, forced to play catch up, and are now being told the rest of the nation will not wait for us to catch up anyway. Yet again, we are being told through policy that we are disposable in the interests of everyone else. 

The burden could be significantly alleviated today, by the Crown, but it is choosing not to, because it does not trust anyone else with power even when the sharing of that power is the basis upon which its existence rests (ie the treaty partnership). It is an every day choice that the government makes, and while it is OF COURSE urgent that Maori vaccinate, we cannot overlook the role that this broken relationship and intergenerational neglect and devaluing of Maori life plays in vaccine hesitancy, because every day, the government chooses not to treat Maori mortality and risk with the same urgency that it now demands of us.    
The fact that they are easing restrictions while Maori are still broadly under-vaccinated is a continuation of that theme.

Defence of Colonial Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Kendarthohbethelas


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

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

Angela Davis says it best

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

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

Actual footage of a Kendall Clements lecture

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

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

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

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

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

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