Wāhine Māori, Indigenous Women and the Doctrine of Discovery
White Feminism in the Age of Roe vs Wade
I’ve been watching the fallout from the overturn of Roe vs Wade with I guess what could be described as a slightly jaded interest. Not because I don’t care about bodily autonomy, of course I do, but because whenever “women’s rights” issues boil to the surface in the United States, it inevitably exposes itself as actually being about “white women’s rights” even though it impacts Indigenous, Brown, Black, and Migrant communities first and worst. It’s a sad fact that for the most part, we have to wait for a matter to impact upon white women’s rights before they will take a stand.
In considering the recent overturn of Roe vs Wade, and what that means for us in Aotearoa, and what it will take to keep us safe from these forces, we have to be very clear about what those forces are: Right-wing, Euro-Christian fundamentalism. It is inherently racist, misogynist, and patriarchal. It is the scaffolding for colonialism, and it holds strong, nationalistic political influence both in United States and here in Aotearoa-New Zealand. This same imperialist patriarchy, however, is also the context within which European women have forged their own success and this struggle can be characterised as one where they have rallied against patriarchal oppression of their own rights, whilst simultaneously leveraging off the racist oppression of non-white communities.
There has been some rather weak suggestions (unsurprisingly from white men) that we have nothing to worry about here in Aotearoa, that the infringement of women’s rights like what we are now seeing in the USA could never happen here.
I can tell you here and now, that women’s rights in Aotearoa are absolutely at risk, from exactly the same forces that have resulted in the overturn of Roe vs Wade.
And if you don’t like hearing that then you really won’t like what’s coming next:
It’s likely to get much, much worse, both over there and here.
You may have seen this clip before, it’s an important and powerful one, and it would help to watch again, in this context.
It’s full of king-hit truths, but the most important words for me, in this clip are the following from Jocelyn Wabana Lahtail:
“You haven’t even started your healing journey yet”Jocelyn Wabana-lahtail
Healing journeys start with truth, and the primary truth that must be faced here is that coloniellism (ie white feminism) CANNOT ultimately oppose patriarchy, because it is a subset of patriarchy. This primary truth is expanded upon by the following three themes, which can function as stepping stones in our healing journey for what a truly feminist position should be, for Aotearoa and elsewhere.
1. Women’s healthcare has grown out of a racist, misogynist, BIGOTED history
J. Marion Sims, lauded as the “father of modern gynaecology” carried out his surgical experiments on the bodies of enslaved black women, with no anaesthesia. Of course being enslaved, they had no bodily autonomy but this did not matter to white women of the time, many of whom had their own slaves, many of whom offered up these women to be butchered in the first place, and when movement for women’s political rights, which would of course be the precursor to their bodily rights, swept through the United States it was to the exclusion of Black, Brown and Native sisters. This was no different in Aotearoa – just as black suffragettes were refused membership by their white counterparts in the US South, so too were wahine mau moko kauwae refused membership of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, headed by suffragette Kate Sheppard here in Aotearoa.
If you look at the states where Roe vs Wade’s overturn will have the greatest immediate impact, unsurprisingly its the states that are also the most violent towards Black, Indigenous and other non-white people AND towards trans and nonbinary folk as well.
That’s not a coincidence. Bodily autonomy and safety has been denied for centuries in these spaces, from the same forces which we are encountering now in the overturn of Roe vs Wade. The only difference is that now, it’s happening to CIS white women, as well.
In the 1970s the birthrate of native children in the United States was more than halved through the practice of forced sterilization at the hands of the state. At its worst point, over 25% of native women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44 had been forcefully sterilized. These procedures were not always carried out properly, resulting in complications like ectopic pregnancies, requiring further procedures – however those subsequent procedures were not funded by the government, resulting in pain, injury and death for many native women. This may be the first time you are hearing about this: that is likely because it did not happen to white women, it happened to native women.
Likewise here in Aotearoa, Maori were forcefully sterilized through the 1920s as a part of legislation aimed at removing the physically, mentally and intellectually unfit members of NZ society. While the policies were not explicitly aimed at Maori, the colonial determinants of who was deemed “unfit” meant that Maori were disproportionately featured in those groups – in much the same way as how discriminatory policies against gangs and beneficiaries become code for anti-Maori policy.
If you think this is relegated to history and no longer a matter of concern, consider that:
- In 2019 a for-profit ICE detention centre forced sterilization procedures on immigrant women.
- In 2012 the then Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett publicly endorsed the court-ordering of beneficiaries to not have children, and the enforcement of “compulsory lifelong contraception”.
Medical schools in the USA have a brutal, violent and racist history that includes, of course, racist colonial assumptions about our bodies, minds and rights, but extends through to the theft of Black and Native corpses for experimentation and teaching. Biased medical education and policy is not constrained by borders. The racist assumptions of medical education in the UK and USA was taught directly to those who developed medical education here in Aotearoa and also developed health policies here in Aotearoa, and unsurprisingly this resulted in racial disparity in our own health system.
For all of these reasons, it’s been disheartening, to say the least, to watch Wahine Maori MPs be targeted for their votes in relation to abortion legislation. I have not spoken with them, I can’t expand upon their media statements nor am I saying I agreed with their votes, but the recent attacks upon them have come across as tone-deaf and distinctly colonielle, with little to no acknowledgement of the racialised dimensions of this issue. It’s certainly perverse that this matter should result in Wahine Maori again being targeted.
The racist history of women’s healthcare still persists today in the following ways:
Racial disproportion in maternal suicide
The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) is an independent committee that reviews the deaths of babies and mothers in New Zealand. They have put out 14 annual reports, on the causes of death and near death events for babies and mothers. Every year, the greatest cause of death for pregnant mothers is suicide, and every year, Maori are disproportionately represented in this tragic statistic, representing 57% of suicides in New Zealand during pregnancy or within six weeks of birth as well as being over-represented in the other causes of maternal morbidity such as severe blood loss during birth, and are less likely to receive life saving treatment from clinicians in such a scenario.
Racial disproportion in treatment of breast cancer
Wahine Maori are less likely to access screening services, less likely to be referred on for chemotherapy, less likely to have satisfactory care, and are significantly less likely than non-Maori women to receive their cancer treatment within international guidelines
Racial disproportion in resuscitation of Maori babies
Again, looking at the PMMRC reports you will see that year after year Maori babies that are born prematurely or suffer birth complications and require resuscitation are less likely to be resuscitated than pakeha babies.
2. Lack of access to abortions is a distinct issue for Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Migrant Women
There is no doubt at all that the overturn of Roe vs Wade will impact upon Indigenous, Brown, Black and Migrant communities first and worst. Racist misogyny within police and justice sectors means these groups are less likely to have sexual assaults against them fully investigated, which makes them more attractive targets and they are consequently much more likely to be sexually assaulted. We are less likely to have access to appropriate sexual and reproductive education resources, which leads to less empowered and supported decision making around when, and with whom and how we share our bodies, and all of this leads to a higher likelihood of unintended pregnancies (Maori are, again, disproportionately represented in abortion services). In the USA, Black women are five times more likely to utilise abortion services. Our First Nations sisters are the most likely to be sexually assaulted yet, for decades before Roe vs Wade was overturned, federal law has forbidden Health Service Clinics on reservations from carrying out abortions. There have been no marches, no global campaigns, no international solidarity for the limitations upon Native women’s health rights.
Abortion services, like much of the maternal health care system in Aotearoa, are structured around sets of assumptions about women’s minds and bodies and those assumptions are, unsurprisingly, white and middle class. I have, first hand, witnessed young, scared Maori women being shepherded towards abortion services not because the people around them wanted the Mama to make the best health decision for her, but because they held deeply racist ideas about that woman’s ability to parent, or even right to parent. Yes we should have access to these services, but that access should be safe from racist influences.
Ok so we’ve established that the current issue of women’s health rights sorely needs decolonizing in order to succeed because of 1. The history of women’s healthcare is rooted in racist misogyny and 2. Lack of access to abortion services is a distinct and disproportionately greater issue for non-white women and so here’s the third reason:
3. Colonielles have RIDDEN colonialism throughout history and is a subset of colonial patriarchy.
Coloniellism (or white feminism) has consistently chosen colonial power over solidarity with BBI women and non-men for a long time, this is evidenced by both the lack of vocal solidarity with Native Women as successive governments failed to halt their continued abduction and murders, as well as the lack of accountability for the way in which colonielles weaponise their colonial privilege against BBI women and non-men and their families (eg false accusations, racist harassment, and false victimhood).
Colonielles have not only ridden colonialism throughout history, throwing their Black, Brown, Indigenous and Migrant sisters into the furnace of their colonial steam engines, but they have then gone on to claim credit for the progress of women’s rights around the world. So let me be clear on this:
Coloniellism (white feminism) has NEVER recouped what has been taken from Indigenous, Black, Brown and Migrant sisters through the process of colonisation.
Before colonialism/coloniellism came along, my tipuna wahine were political powerhouses and substantial landowners. While women were banned from education in Europe, Wahine Maori ran their own sacred schools of learning that held equal footing with all others. Well before misogynist Christian domination removed female bodily autonomy, including the right of wahine to end a pregnancy, abortion was practiced by tipuna wahine and respected as their decision, which is just one of the reasons why so much land was passed down through female lines, particularly in Tairawhiti. While European women were considered chattels, our tipuna wahine were military strategists, commanding defence of mana whenua and mana tangata. While European women still struggled for constitutional power, tipuna wahine were being recorded permanently in history through art and geography as eponymous ancestors of entire dynasties, wielding political agency that their European counterparts could only dream of. White feminism has never been able to restore our pre-colonial levels of political power, nor would I expect it to, because the political power of wahine Maori is a much larger threat to colonial patriarchy and the colonielle power it supports.
There are further, important differences between white women feminist causes and that of marginalised women. White women feminism has, throughout history, rested on political and economic parity with their husbands and brothers. This in itself is a reflection of the colonial privilege enjoyed by white women, because hyper-incarceration of their husbands and sons, excessive police violence and targeting of their husbands and sons, and the forced removal of their children from their homes did not feature strongly enough in the lives of white women to feature in their rights campaigns. Indeed, white women feature across history not as allies in the fight against hyper-incarceration of our own brothers and husbands, but as drivers of further incarceration.
Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Migrant feminism must necessarily address and include our broader community because these very racialised experiences inevitably fall on our shoulders, too. Yet where are our white sisters when we stand up to Oranga Tamariki? Where are our white sisters when we protest the closure of a kohanga reo? Where are our white sisters when we call for an end to racist hyperincarceration?
For all of these reasons, standing for non-white women’s rights necessitates standing for Native, Black, Brown and Migrant rights in general, which we have yet to see from the colonielles in our midst (and currently dominating the space).
So I will say it again: Colonielles have nowhere near the requisite moral capital to halt the march of colonial patriarchy. Both colonielles and their colonizer husbands and brothers, still need to undertake their own healing journey and confront their own violent ideologies, a step which colonielles in particular are loathe to do, because they are addicted to their roles as damsels in distress, as victims of the system that they actually suckle off. The time that they are wasting in confronting these uncomfortable truths allows the white supremacist patriarchy to grow stronger every day.
So what to do about all of this? Understand that the power of women on this land existed well before colonizer men and women arrived. Understand that it is literally soaked into the soil under your feet, flowing along riverbeds, surging along our coastlines. Acknowledge that Indigenous, Black, Brown, Migrant women have led political resistance without, and often in spite of colonielle presence for generations. Center the rights of Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Migrant women and non-men in all of your calls for justice. Understand how it intersects with oppression of our LGBTQI+ community, particularly of trans/irawhiti whanau, how it intersects with ableism and other forms of discrimination. Learn the art of radical decentering. Cede space, join the call for decolonization, and educate yourself.
That is what true feminism looks like in 2022.
Its Time (AGAIN) to Teach About Racism
I really don’t enjoy having to do this, so I wish white theorists would stop using their racialised privilege to undermine racial justice work. But here we are, in a nation that centers Don Brash during Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, centers white psychiatrists on discussions of Matauranga Maori, and centers a white anthropologist in discussions on race critical theory. Even if we can’t live in a world where the opinions like this article, where Dame Anne Salmond historically and cultural decontextualises Te Tiriti o Waitangi to her own ends, makes it to print, it would nonetheless be nice if that was not connected to a system which dehumanises and disadvantages our people at every turn.
But here we are.
And just like the Lizendallobarthoglas article (which I’m quite sure is obliquely referenced in this article by Salmond), it’s important for us to place our truth. Because the plain fact of the matter is that opinion pieces like this are picked up by those with power and influence, and are used to perpetuate harm – harm that the author will never, herself, experience. Harm that instead delivered to me, and mine.
Time to deconstruct more white piffle. Gloves on, sanitise, let’s go:
Why does she call upon this narrative, and this character? What appeal does he have to her argument?
1. He is Indigenous, and so she is extracting from his indigeneity to make her point. This is not new, she has extracted from Indigenous minds and bodies her entire career, it has paid for her house, her car, her overseas trips, her everything. She is white, but never declares her whiteness… quite the opposite she has taken Waititi like a toy doll and is using mimicry to try and fake some kind of cultural authority which she, as a white woman, does not have.
2. He has a strong public platform, and so the reframing of his words to suit her narrative draws from his platform – but this process actually takes place over the length of the essay, this is just where she has placed the marker to start the process of twisting the points he made. Waititi never once suggested we should unteach race. He has suggested you can unteach racism – you do not do that by erasing it. In fact, it is exactly the wish of colonial racism that you DO ignore it, so it can continue to extract from brown and black bodies of flesh and our lands and waters.
3. It provides a neat segue to the next paragraph where she goes even deeper into her appropriation of whakapapa.
So let’s point out the obvious, first – this is a clearcut case of claiming proximity as expertise – it is no different to Judith Collins using her Samoan husband as her authority on Pasifika matters, or pakeha women with Maori children speaking “on their behalf” or the pakeha male who went to school with Maori. It is just being exercised to a different degree, and empowered by white academic power structures.
The use of tipuna Maori to further an agenda is for the whanau of said tipuna, ultimately, to call for account – so I won’t be wading into the specifics of what they said, or didn’t say, or meant, or thought.
What I can say though is that those who have followed Salmond’s work long enough know that she consistently draws from this relationship to weigh in on telling Maori how to be Maori. She has pakeha genealogy, as do the tipuna she cites over, and over and over again, and she consistently uses this connection, including in this instance their shared pakeha genealogy to feign mandate to speak on Te Ao Maori. At the end of the day, Salmond does not have the requisite whakapapa to shape this debate.
This is a very common trait of Salmond’s writings, to draw from Maori rather than her own cultural underpinnings in order to make her point. She uses Maori rhetoric, Maori themes, Maori protocols, and Maori proverbs, injecting her own speculation, and placing her decades old interactions with people who can no longer speak for themselves,
Furthermore, the fact that she has so blatantly twisted Waititi’s words to her own agenda and that her reasoning is called into question by numerous Maori and race scholars compels the reader to question her mandate to use Maori to justify her own racial theories in the first place.
It is a common fallacy of white anthropologists that they assume there is a period of time which they can spend which will provide this mandate. Back in the day armchair theorism was huge (and with the advent of the internet, spouting theories from the comfort of your armchair has made a strong comeback). Salmond was trained in a time when armchair anthropology was still rife, but increasingly criticised. New Zealand anthropologist Raymond Firth published ten books on the people and culture of Tikopia (in the Solomon Islands), was granted professorships at the London School of Anthropology, Cornell, University of Hawai’i and elsewhere for his “in depth” scholarship on Tikopia culture, and his texts are still, today, utilised in university courses on Pacific culture and anthropology – he went there just three times (1928, 1956, 1966).
So just how long should an anthropologist spend with a people before they really “know” them? A year, to see them in all of theseasons? 5 years? What should that interaction look like? Going to someone’s house to interview them? Or living with them? How many people should that include? 2? Or living 24/7 amongst them in the context of their village, their whanau, their hapu and their iwi? What is the responsibility of that person to maintain their immersion in that world in order to have some perspective on its social evolution through time? Why would Salmond continue to draw from these two figures and her interactions with them, decades ago, when she could easily draw from her immersion in Te Ao Maori now, if, indeed, she has that?
The assumption that white anthropologists can spend a particular period of time with some people and use that as the basis for expertise is rooted in racism. It draws directly from the traditions of white academia which posit that European men are the source of all rational thought, and all that’s required for them is sparse observation of a group, and they can apply their innate rationality to understand them better than they understand themselves. It’s tired, we are all bored of it, and it is well past its expiry date.
We have always, ALWAYS had our own Indigenous intellectual discipline and traditions, but have also grown our own scholars within western academia and are more than equipped to speak to our own worlds, interpret our own protocols, and position ourselves accordingly. Take a breath and read:
There is no number of years, no number of interviews, no number of hui, that a white anthropologist can attend that affords them more expertise over Maori, than Maori do over themselves.
The fact that Maori scholars eclipse all other expertise on our worlds naturally threatens white anthropologists who have made their careers out of extracting from, publishing on, re-framing and exploiting Maori worlds and words. Anti-racism calls for the declaration of positionality – it demands that people critically examine the bias and privilege that their skin colour, gender, ability, class and/or cis-hetero status affords them. Note – not once does Salmond do any of that.
There, see that? That is where Salmond pivots from racism to race. Taika Waititi never said that – but again, Salmond is putting words in his mouth for her own ends.
Ok – quick digression on Biological Anthropology – that is the most physically violent branch of the discipline – for the exact purpose of legitimising Imperial expansion. Exercises in measuring and pickling black and Indigenous brains, and theorising on relationships between the melanin in ones skin and their intellectual and physical capabilities, were formed to validate the violent invasion and theft of black and brown lands and the displacement and enslavement of black and brown bodies – and biological anthropology still operates today to maintain those harmful racist theories FOR THE PURPOSE of maintaining the privilege and power sourced from said land theft, displacement and enslavement. Biological/Physical anthropologists have long held the perverse space of ignoring race as emancipatory practice even while failing to confront and dismantle the violent, racist legacy of their own discipline. It’s not surprising, but very telling that this is Salmond’s go-to.
Paragraphs 11-18 are all very basic Tiriti scholarship. It’s 101 stuff. That Maori never ceded sovereignty was formally acknowledged in the Paparahi o Te Raki report in 2010. I won’t post that all here.
This is a basic, dangerous, ahistorical and decontextualised statement to make. The tino rangatiratanga of hapu/Maori existed well before Victoria came along it is not a right created by Te Tiriti but affirmed as REMAINING in spite of Te Tiriti. No such right existed for Non-Maori. That this referred to Maori only is unquestionable and is made further clear in the second article by the fact that pre-emption was an exclusive arrangement between rangatira and the Crown (for the sale of land) and only, ever, from that moment related to whenua Maori. You would be laughed all the way home from the Waitangi Tribunal for suggesting that rangatiratanga was intended for Non-Maori.
Another farcical statement that alludes to erasure of Maori as a racialised grouping who entered into an agreement with the Crown and let’s NOT FORGET that the lawlessness was not an issue of Maori at the time. This is an astounding ahistorical approach which removes Te Tiriti from it’s socio-historical context. Prior to the arrival of Victoria, our ancestors lived in accordance to our own laws, which sustained our whenua, waterways and relationships. There has been no level of disruption that comes anywhere near that which was brought by lawless colonizers. Maori sovereignty and legal validity was further recognised by He Whakaputaanga in 1835. That the lawlessness referred to in the preamble of Te Tiriti was a feature of colonizer “settlers” who absolutely unsettled our social balance is not even debateable – it’s been well and truly debated and settled, and the fact that Salmond want to go back and try to reframe this is, again, a regressive take.
From the perspective of those who understand the construction of race over time, it is exhausting to see such basic attempts at erasure. The mechanics of empire and its construction and maintenance of racial hierarchy is of course not outlined in Te Tiriti – why would it be? This did not however stop colonizing “settlers” and the Crown government they formed from applying that racial hierarchy in a way that created massive inequity, and that story needs to be told in order to understand its injustice. Salmond is fixated on this argument that because the word “race” does not feature in Te Tiriti, that it has no racialised implications – in spite of the fact that Tiriti violations are racist in nature, and enabled by a racist system created by racist Europeans.
Again, no, it is an agreement between the Crown and Maori, who were a racialised grouping, and the fact is that the very arrival of pakeha to Aotearoa was off the back of a racist premise, that Europeans had the right to move around the world, claim land, and set themselves up regardless of the laws of those lands that they were breaking. That Europeans imported racism to Aotearoa is no secret, that race was absent in the context of Te Tiriti, or that it is a non-racial agreement, is flat out wrong.
This continued line of reasoning that the word race has to be explicitly stated in order for race or racism to be present is patently absurd. Europeans were very aware of race – they invented it in the 15th century – the term itself came along a couple of centuries later but none of that is relevant to the fact that the assumptions behind imperial expansion, carried by Cook, carried by Victoria, carried by Hobson, carried by Europeans in general, were not inherently racist. The tools for deconstructing it and articulating its harm and injustice have only really been developed since the advent of race critical theory in the 1970s as a development from the civil rights movement. This does not make it irrelevant or any less of an active force in 1840.
Pay close attention to the language employed here, in saying that Cooke’s judicial interpretation of the Treaty is rewriting the Treaty – she is accusing him of a form of historical revisionism. Yet interpreting the Treaty is precisely what is required of people in such a position. Now, the entire judicial process rests within a racially unjust system but interpreting the Treaty has been done by countless Justices and theorists including Kawharu, Ngata, an abundance of scholar and of course the Waitangi Tribunal itself. It does not “rewrite” the Treaty, but then historical revisionism is a favoured go to by scholars who simply disagree with with what people are saying. That, too, starts with the assumption of a universal truth and rationale, the source of which is white European theorists.
AGAIN – Waititi never issued any such warning about using the word race, and never suggested its erasure.
Race is a construct – that’s not profound or new. It was constructed by European imperialists – that’s also not profound or new. What Salmond misses here is that it was through the spread of European empires that racism became entrenched into the fabric of modern society all around the world. Simply stating the obvious that it is not a biological fact does nothing to deconstruct the injustice of the systems that have been built upon it. That is the “ism” in racism – the systemic embedding of these ideologies. As a system, racism continues to inform the flow of privilege and benefits – of which Salmond is a recipient. I bet she doesn’t want them deconstructed and dismantled, she has a vested interest in their maintenance. Which is precisely why she has not declared her positionality.
Nobody suggested we should unteach race – just you, and a number of white supremacists who would love to ignore race as a powerful social force and important context for understanding colonialism.
This is stomach churning as it is non-sensical – because after using a whole lot of words to undermine rangatiratanga – the basic right of Maori to self-determination, Salmond tries to romantically brandish our own concepts, our own whakapapa, our own concepts to validate her argument. It’s insidious, exploitative, extractive, brownskin-cloaking. Whakapapa is no more explicitly mentioned in Te Tiriti than race is, but that doesn’t stop her from weaponizing it.
Salmond has taken this line often – again the “we are all migrants” line is not new – it is wielded by racists to erase indigeneity. We all have some migrant whakapapa but that does NOT negate the fact that Maori are INDIGENOUS to Aotearoa and to Te Moananui a Kiwa. It does not change the fact that when Europeans brought racism and racial hierarchy to Aotearoa, they applied it, with Imperial force and complete lack of morals, to create racist economic, academic and political systems that persist to this day. As someone who has whakapapa Maori, which Anne does not, I can confidently say that whakapapa has not stopped racism in its tracks. Also – whakapapa is not up for pakeha grabs. It is our concept, it belongs to us to define, and to use. Pakeha anthropologists don’t get to grab it and put it up for everyone to employ in their own little racist redemption song.
And yet never once have they concluded that rangatiratanga applies to all, that racism was not present in the context of Te Tiriti, or that whakapapa negates racism.
For the upteenth time, Waititi never suggests to unteach race. But it’s more important, at this point, to acknowledge the following: What is developed by Tuhoe, and works for Tuhoe, is up to Tuhoe. Same goes for Te Awa Tupua, and the same for Taranaki mounga. I celebrate all of our iwi who have worked out an arrangement that works for them.
What a white anthropologist, thinks of those arrangements does not matter in the slightest and when white people position Maori actions they agree with as arguments against Maori actions they do not agree with – it’s a type of “positive racism” (another example of this is the “good Maori” trope, or complimenting a non-white person for having such good English, or wanting to touch and fondle curly black hair, or calling cultural appropriation “homage”). These agreements are, simply, not hers to judge or use as leverage points against other Maori actions or agreements. Similarly, what she thinks of the march towards tino rangatiratanga, as it manifests in Three Waters, or the Maori Health Authority, or Constitutional Transformation, is NOT hers to judge, nor are they the property and sole product of this government. They are a product of the Maori rights struggle, they have been called for by Maori, and Salmond, a white beneficiary of colonial racism, has absolutely no mandate to critique them.
Look, race is a scientifically invalid method for grouping people into categories based on physical characteristics. Invalid as it was, it was the violent enforcement of racial hierarchy that has caused this division, not the mentioning of the word race. What has allowed that violent coercion to be maintained is the ABSENCE of critical, deconstructive theory that identifies it, exposes its harm, and thereby enables us to develop deliberately ANTIracist solutions.
Removing all reference to race does not remove racism, it empowers it.
We know this because that is how it managed to spread right around the world and embed itself in every social institution while not-being-analytically-discussed for centuries leading up to the civil rights and Indigenous rights movements.
But this is why white women should not bring anthropology to a critical race theory fight.
Again, this is a reason why Anne Salmond needed to declare her positionality a the beginning of this – she is a white anthropologist, a beneficiary of colonial privilege who has not ever experienced colonial racist abuse, speculating on what should be done about that from her own privileged position (and exploiting tikanga Maori to do so). I should also say that on the marae, in pohiri, the declaration of ones position, through whakapapa, tauparapara, and other means, is the basis upon which you will be welcomed, or not. If you are deceptive in your positioning, then that is not at all respectful, and in the old days would have gotten you a straight crack on the head with a mere. James Cook is a great example of what comes to those who pretend to be someone they’re not.
It is not the framing that creates the racist abuse. It is the abuse of white privilege that does so. The abuse of white privilege that allows media editors, like Newsroom, to ascend to their roles without the critical tools necessary to see why an article like this should not be published. The abuse of white privilege that fails to enforce protective controls on social media and media comments sections, making them breeding grounds for anonymous racialised hate. The racist education system that allows people to foster those hateful ideas in the first place.
And for the record, although she does not explicitly say this, there are echoes of “free speech”, “be a nice native” and “reverse racism” arguments in this paragraph which are levelled against those who are righteously angered whenever they are confronted by racist arguments. So let me address this: rage against racism, is righteous rage. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it is not a waste of energy or emotion, it is not misplaced, or wrong, and it most definitely is not up for judgement by white beneficiaries of racism. White people can experience racial prejudice sure but beyond the obvious truth that it’s not a nice feeling – it has no further social consequence for those people. It is not attached to them being racially profiled. It is not attached to denial of access to education, or healthcare. It is not attached to a system of inequity that disadvantages them at every opportunity. It is not connected to a history of mass murder and displacement that still sits in their bones and still shapes their destinies. It is not. up. for white judgement.
Can you see how she has pivoted from “unteaching racism” in the first paragraph to a fully fledged “unteach race” argument, using Waititi as her shield?
Stop taking from our people.
Look, it’s a great pity that we have to do this. It’s a pity that Anne Salmond does not respect her lanes, and in fact, uses her proximity to Te Ao Maori to erase those lanes rather than respect them. It’s a great pity that the editor of Newsroom, and in fact most publications in Aotearoa, do not have the critical nouse to spot the harm a piece like this does. It’s a pity that our own race critical discourse in Aotearoa is so wanting, so embedded in white redemption rather than justice and emancipation for those targeted by racism, that it is left for non-white people to have to deconstruct these arguments for future reference. It would be nice if they could just stick in their lanes, necessitate quality Tiriti and Anti-racist education and policies for those in charge of platforms, and center the voices of those most impacted by racism when it comes to addressing it. Then I could have spent tonight chilling instead of having to place our truth, somewhere, for our mokopuna to find.
Doing Justice: 6 Racism Myths That Really Need Debunking
This originally started as a group of tweets, which I wrote in a bit of a frustrated state after having to go back through my internal playlist of responses to someone who didn’t quite get racism but really, really felt they did. And that’s the thing with racism – it’s so prevalent that there is a widespread belief that we all understand it very well, and yet, it’s our lack of understanding about it that keeps it so prevalent. Anyhow – the tweets grew very popular and I had a number of requests to write about them so here we are! There are enough misconceptions about race and racism that you could probably write a book about them, but we are going to settle on a handful for today. I’m also going to publish them as flashcards, feel free to download and share them.
One of the greatest barriers to addressing racism is that it’s not identified well, which allows it to hide in plain sight. There is a persisting belief that you are only experiencing racism when someone insults you with a racial slur, or physically attacks you because of the colour of your skin. These are of course racist events, but it’s important to understand that racist acts exist within RACIST SYSTEMS. They are permitted because there are policies that enable them… and because of a lack of policies that disable them. This is SYSTEMIC, or STRUCTURAL racism. It can only be addressed through ANTI-RACIST policy. There is no “not-racist” because global colonialism has ensured that the default state of society is a racist one. As activist-scholar Angela Davis says: “In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist”.
In fact arguably “Non-racist” does not actually exist. Claiming to be “non-racist” denies the default presence of racism, allowing it to remain. Claiming to be non-racist, is thus itself a racist statement. If you’re reading this and thinking “does that mean my organisation is racist?” Well if you don’t have anti-racist policies, then yes, it probably is.
Following on from Myth 1 is the myth that racism can only present as extreme acts. This is commonly what allows for people to continue to say racist things and do racist things because they will always compare it to a greater extremity. The only thing that you need in place to qualify as racism – is for it to uphold the system of racial inequity. That’s it. That might take place in a joke (which is one of the most insidious vessels of racism), it might take place on a sign, in a song lyric, in a cartoon, or it might take place in a costume or in a policy, JUST AS EASILY as it can take place in race-based assaults. In fact, physical assaults and hate crimes are only a tiny percentage of racist acts that occur every day. It’s the idea that racism must look like extreme, brutal acts that stands in the way of us exploring our own racism. For as long as we continue to view racism as an unshakeable and shameful personal characteristic rather than a social illness that can influence all of us – we will fail to unpick it within ourselves and the systems we influence every day.
I often hear this from our own – racism was imported by white people, it was invented by white people, why do we even have to do anything? This is their mess to clean up, right? Well, just like a whole lot of other not-great things that arrived on the boat with Cook – we acquired racism too, and there is simply no escaping that we have become active agents in racist systems. I also often hear “we can’t be racist because we have no power in racialised systems”. The system is a hierarchy, not a binary, and we can wield relative power within that hierarchy, and throughout history, non-white people have enabled racism (both consciously and unconsciously) in order to hold on to that relative power. So what does this look like, well if we are talking about lateral racism, that looks like Maori using the “N” word, or promoting policies that target black and brown migrant communities, or making racist jokes about other ethnic communities in Aotearoa.
If we are talking about internalised racism, well that looks like Māori creating policies that oppress other Māori (as numerous Maori MPs have done)… it might also look like a Maori police officer who has been indoctrinated to believe that his own people are likely criminals, it might present as an apathy towards ones own cultural traditions, or an obsession with colonial (often materialistic) values. One of the most common manifestations that I see of internalised racism is the preoccupation with being a “good Maori” – that is, a clear aversion to being disagreeable to pakeha, not wanting to rock the boat, and a tendency to be compliant in order to progress through white systems and claim relative privilege and comfort. Of all forms of racism, internalised racism is probably the saddest, because it indicates that within your native heart, a part of your resistance, your love for tipuna, and belief in yourself has died.
The idea that only white people can be racist is a trap that stops us from dismantling racial hierarchies. It is very, very easy when learning about the history and injustice of racism, to fall into the trap of anti-whiteness. Perversely, this leads to spaces where people deny themselves the freedom and acceptance to be native, and white, at the same time. The reviling of whiteness inhibits our ability to really understand how we interact with concepts like white proximity… and ultimately will stand in the way of the true goal of dismantling racial hierarchies – which will always ultimately harm non-white people the most. As race-critical theorist Ibram X Kendi says: In the end, hating white people becomes hating black people.
I also often come across white people who believe their anti-racism work to be some kind of charity work. I’ll try to explain this as succinctly as possible:
The system of entitled extraction from non-white lands and non-white bodies that forms the basis of racism, is exactly the system that will soon make this planet uninhabitable for every single person on this Earth.
Racist economic policies across Te Moananui a Kiwa allow for it to be used as a weapons, chemical and plastics dumping ground, crippling the second lung of the planet. The maintenance of racist systems is also what stands in the way of social justice solutions to those same problems. Racist ideas about conservation inhibits the development of Indigenous climate solutions EVEN though it’s already been demonstrated that Indigenous forest management outperforms all others in carbon sequestration. The absurd notion that environmental harm doesn’t matter when it’s someone else’s territory is exactly the kind of disconnected racist logic that is leading modern society off the cliff, while also blocking any guidance away from the cliff.
But quite separate to this, is the fact that racist imperialism also disadvantages 90% of white people. At the apex of the racist imperial superstructure sits a small group of extremely wealthy, white, abled, slim, cis-het men who insist, through their racist ideals grown out of the racist science of the racist enlightenment period, that material wealth, whiteness, able-ness, slim-ness, and toxic masculinity are all markers of supremacy, and they abuse the system from the apex-down, to reinforce those ideas, in order to keep themselves at the top.
Dismantling that system will undoubtedly benefit all of humanity – it is not a favour to anyone, any more than it is a favour to yourself, people in your own family, and your future generations.
I can’t even count the amount of times I have come across people who think learning about other cultures will solve racism. Inherent in this idea is a key flaw in addressing racism – the confusion between race and ethnicity.
Quick 101 – race is rooted in the idea that biological markers, (colour of skin, bone structure, eye shape, hair type) are genetically associated with intelligence, ability, criminality, promiscuity, and so on. The fact that these biological markers are so often equated with ethnicity is what often causes confusion. Here, here and here are some handy articles to start to get your head around this. Yes slavery has existed since forever – yes ethnic discrimination and warfare has existed since forever – but it is the constructed idea that you are only *worthy* of enslavement because of the colour of your skin, or *worthy* of ridicule because of the shape of your eyes, or that you are *destined* for prison based upon a combination of these factors, that developed out of the racist imaginations of European scribes and clerics of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Ethnicity is state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. It may include language, religion, and sometimes nationality as well. You can claim many different ethnicities and many different nationalities, but race is more often something that is applied to you, by society, by the racial hierarchy, by systems and the individuals within them, regardless of the ethnicities you claim. Some aspects of ethnicity can become racialised, an example of this is Islamophobia, which is not actually rooted in a deep understanding of Islam, but rather a racist othering of a Non-white, non-European religion. For this reason you will often see Non-Islamic groups like Sikh, or indeed Arab Christians, be subjected to Islamophobic abuse.
So when we say that celebrating cultural traditions will cure racism, it comes from a flawed understanding that confuses race with ethnicity. What we need to learn about is the construction of race, and racial hierarchies, and racial injustice, in order to dismantle systemic racism – and what will naturally flow from that process is a celebration of all cultures. As Arundhati Roy says about confronting empire: we must strip it down, make it drop its mask and force it out into the open on the world’s stage – too ugly to behold its own reflection, too ugly to even rally its own people.
The world has heard a lot about the Dunning-Kruger effect thanks to covid and misinformation. The idea of “instant expertise” has gone hand in hand with the growth of the internet and when that is combined with an experience as universal, powerful and emotional as racism, it can lead us into some very murky waters of superficial understanding, false certitude and blindspots. Racism is a discipline as well as a cause. Thought leaders and activists have had their lives taken while fighting it and exposing it. It has multiple contexts around the world that intersect, and interconnect and we become richer as we respectfully learn about them. As we embark on a journey as a nation to dismantle racist systems, we owe it to those who have dedicated their lives to racial justice, to immerse ourselves in their teachings, to honour the discipline they have grown, layer upon layer of deep reflection upon where we have come from and where we need to go, in order to do justice to it.
That’s it – it’s a small list but it is the most common misconceptions that I come across and the reflections I often have around them. I’ve only been studying this for a few years and I have so much more to learn – about racism in general and about the racism in me, and how to dismantle it all. I hope that at least some of this might help some of you in your journey too.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?
Could it be,
on this land upon which we stand,
the story of origins
returns to the soil
and a woman is shaped
from the earth itself?
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Some whānau want to be done together. Have adult doses ready for parents/grandparents.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be honest about it hurting (I pinched her quickly to show how fast it passes) Plan a postvaxx treat.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
Some of those health conditions are:
- 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
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:
- Allow his 5 year child to be transferred to Auckland by herself for ICU treatment (if it’s available)
- 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.
- 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.