For many reasons today I was thinking about a hui I was at some time ago with some researchers who had come to ask our community if they could do some work with us. We were discussing intellectual property and my Aunt said something that has stuck with me over the years since:
“Stop trying to be Maori, I don’t need you to be Maori – I’ve got that covered. I need you to be a good treaty partner”.
Now, I’m blessed to know quite a few wonderful Tangata Tiriti, some of them have been so for decades in fact. A number of qualities occurred to me today about what I expect to see in a good Tangata Tiriti. Let me say before we go any further – this is not an exhaustive list, it doesn’t shortcut the work Tangata Tiriti have to do to figure out their responsibilities. I’ve been asked a few times “What do Maori want” – its a rude and reductive question, and not one that I recommend anyone ask… because WE are not the problem and what we WANT is not the point. The real question to be asked is – what does justice demand of us? And what follows are just a few things that justice requires of Tangata Tiriti.
Be tau (at peace) with your position. You need to be able to speak frankly about the process of colonization that created the space for you to be here in Aotearoa. Not ridden with guilt, and not trying to explain it or evade it, but ready to respond to the legacy of that story. Be aware of your own privilege that has descended down to you by virtue of that process. Even in describing your own class, gender, ability or sexuality based oppression, you should know how the legacy of colonization influences your experience of that oppression.
Respect boundaries. So much space has been taken from us, so primarily you need to respect our boundaries where we lay them down. Don’t argue with us when we insist on our own spaces. Don’t make it about your hurt feelings, or your need for inclusion. Don’t paint it as divisive. If you are mourning the space we have just reclaimed for ourselves, be comforted by the fact that pretty much the entire rest of the world is either yours, or shared with you. We require safe spaces to speak, just us. That will also require you to self identify and self vacate at times. Be proactive. Read the room. Remove yourself out of consideration for the space we need to safely continue a conversation.
Be prepared to make sacrifice. If you understand the story of privilege that has shaped Aotearoa you will understand there has been a mass transfer of power. Justice cannot be restored without addressing the power imbalance. If you are only interested in discussing the past but not responding to it, then you are of no use to the process of restoring justice, and I do have to question whether you are really adverse to racism and the benefits you enjoy from it. This will mean learning the art of saying no. No to sitting on panels on Indigenous issues. No to occupying roles and positions where you are paid to impart (and judge) Indigenous knowledge. No to opportunities where systemic failings allow you to accept funding to lead Indigenous projects.
There will be many spaces where your voice will be valued. Speaking to your fellow pākeha about being good Tangata Tiriti. Discussing what it means to be pākeha. Dispelling fear of decolonization. There is a perverse situation right now where pakeha do not want to do the work on themselves, but they DO want to do the work of telling Maori how to be Maori. Because the system supports this kind of behaviour, you wind up with Maori supplementing the workload, and spending way too much time teaching pakeha about their Tiriti responsibilities, rather than working with our own (which we’d much rather do). There is an important space for Tangata Tiriti right now, and it’s not teaching Maori – it’s working with each other on how to reckon with the historical injustice of their establishment, and what to DO about that, now.
Stand with us for our language rights, for our health rights, for the rights of our children and women and stop perceiving Indigenous rights abuses as an Indigenous problem, rather than a colonial inevitability.
Benchmark the discomfort of your decolonization experience against that of our colonization experience, every time you want to ask us to wait. Read here for a brief insight into what Māori have undergone, and undergo, awaiting justice.
Understand that learning our content and knowing our experience are two different things. For this reason we do want you to learn, and lead, your own karakia and waiata… But that does not equate to permission to explain our own culture to us. Remember, boundaries. Learning the reo is not your get out of Treaty free card.
Don’t expect us to know everything about Te Ao Māori or have our own identity journey sorted out for you. Colonization has made, and is still making a mess of our identity, and our relationships, and that is difficult enough without having to explain ourselves to you. Especially when you have yet to do the hard work on your own identity as pakeha.
Nothing is automatically a 2 way street. I, for instance, can talk frankly about what a good Tangata Tiriti looks like. Tangata Tiriti cannot tell me what being a “good” Tangata Whenua is. This requires you to learn well beyond Treaty/Tiriti articles, or provisions, or principles. Privilege. Power. Bias. Racism. Learn how these operate in the context of Tiriti justice and you will get a better idea of how to navigate relationships as a Tangata Tiriti beyond the very flawed “anti-racism means treating everyone the same” fallacy.
Don’t expect backpats or thankyous. You may get them (in fact you probably will – it’s another product of our colonial experience that pakeha are thanked and recognized for doing Tiriti justice work much more than Māori), but it’s important you realise that justice work is as much for yourself as it is for anyone else. It’s self-improvement, and improvement of your children’s future. You’re not doing me favours that you aren’t also doing yourself.
Ten seems like a good space to stop.
TANGATA TIRITI – if you ever feel tempted to ask that question, please instead come to this page and reset your journey with yourself.
CUZZIES – you get that dumbass question, just flick them this link. Merry whatever.
I want to let you know, I get it. I get how hard it is to not print racist Sam from Linden and bigoted Barrie from Island Bay
And what’s a little racial supremacy premised on blatant falsehoods between treaty partners, anyway?
So lets not call it a mistake (even though it was not just morally but patently factually wrong)
I mean, I don’t want to create intense tension, and I get your great intentions, so lets bite back any mention the racist misinformation dripping from the hands of your publication…
I get it, oh do I get how hard it will be for you to make good on your apology.
Not the kind of world splitting hard that comes with having your child taken for the crime of being a taken child.
No, not that kind of hard.
But it will be frustrating for you.
Not 180 years of saying the same thing over and over and over and over again and being expected to play along with a perverse charade of any interest in justice kind of frustrating.
Not the watching everyone around you die early from fatigue related illnesses because they have spent every last breath pointing the obvious out to you kind of frustration.
But you will click your heavy tongue and sigh a lot and gaze out the window of your 7th floor Willis Street office and wonder just how long this will take.
Which won’t be the same kind of waiting for, like, a home for you and your children because your landlord hiked the rent beyond minimum wage which was never a living wage anyway but that’s not the first or only way you’ll get told to not-live, today.
It’s not, like, waiting for Pharmac to approve life saving medication and wondering if you will outlive the process of them discussing whether to approve a cure for something that doesn’t quite affect enough White people yet.
Not that kind of waiting.
But you will definitely flick those heavily lacquered, impossibly shiny nails and there will be many tsktsks.
It’s going to be hard work, you know…. facing up to racism is not easy.
Not working two jobs to keep that roof over your head and buy another short life pair of school shoes because you can never quite reach the flash long lasting investment pair for Bub, only to open the paper to see a cartoon of you portrayed as a dole bludging bad parent.
Not that kind of hard work, no.
But there will be many hui.
Not really the same as when you have to meet 20 different times with 20 different faces of the crown in a never-ending Groundhog Day that essentially boils down to you saying another version of please, for the love of all that’s sacred… stop. finding new ways. to kill us.
It’s not really comparable to that, but it will take a lot of time, and you will have to figure a lot out for yourself, you know. Not like, how to feed your family this week, and not like, how to stop your son from killing himself like his best friend did.
But it will challenge you.
Not like a University Professor challenging your right to be there, and not like a police officer stopping and challenging you for no good reason.
More like, challenge you to really think about who you are and how you got here. Except without the cultural shame of having your language stripped from you and being a third generation manufactured outcome of assimilation, not knowing your pepeha let alone your whakapapa and staring red faced at your boss who insists you lead the room in karakia.
It won’t be like that, and it will be thankless.
Not having your entire economic base ripped away from you to form the basis of the national economy but being called a freeloader for even pointing that out kind of thankless – but you get my drift.
It’s tiring my dear.
Not bone tired, thousand yard stare tired, battle weary, heart-sore and, soul bruised tired from seeing your people kicked while they’re down, yet again. Not the gut-sigh kinda tired of the Maori journalist having to read the same racist rant again for the thousandth time even though its been disproven even tho it dehumanises her in a way that you will never have to go through even though you just said sorry for this shit last week, not that tired. Not the kind of tired that robs your children of a parent because you have to choose between giving them today or fighting for their tomorrow. Not that kind of tired
But I promise you will be ok, in fact you will be better for this, in the end.
Which will be, most likely, about 12 years later than mine.
Reflecting back on this year, I’ve been asked a lot about the role of Wāhine. More than other years, and perhaps, in reflection, it’s in times of adversity that we all start to question what are our roles, and how do we value each other.
It has not been a difficult question to answer, for the most part. During lockdown, it was easy to see that in the vast majority of cases, Wāhine were leading the community safety checkpoints, protecting families and elders where police resources just couldn’t extend. In the marae, Wāhine were organising and packing our food parcels. Online, Wāhine were leading innovative education programs. As always, in times of upheaval, Wāhine have stepped up, instinctively – not waiting for permission or guidance, but just doing what needs to be done, for the greater good.
During our elections, here in Tairawhiti, we were spoilt for Wāhine leadership. Elizabeth Kerekere, Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Kiritapu Allen, Meka Whaitiri, Heather Te Au-Skipworth were all fine candidates who held strong track records of leadership in different ways for our region.
And once the votes were tallied it was revealed that Debbie Ngarewa-Packer would enter parliament, alongside Rawiri Waititi, marking the return of the Māori Party into parliament. This past week the nation was put back in their seats by her maiden speech – a term which, with its inferences of youth and inexperience, completely underserves her searing account of the historical injustice meted out by that house. A notice, delivered directly into the belly of the beast, that her service in that space would stand for no less than a complete reckoning, and power shift.
The nation was rightfully moved, both her and Rawiri Waititi’s statements reminded us all of exactly what can be said in the absence of general party constraints.
In the Greens, Marama Davidson moved into the role of Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, as well as the Associate Minister of Housing with Responsibility for Homelessness. My heart smiles when I consider this, as she is the one minister whom a number of us have seen sit and hang out with our homeless, on the street, and share her meal with them, and treat them with dignity, call them by their names because she knew them and they, her – at all times of the day or night, without a camera in sight. In two areas where we fair amongst the worst in the OECD, the work before her will be significant and I believe nobody could do this like she will.
In the Labour Party, we have seen Wāhine Māori ascend into pivotal ministerial roles – Kiritapu Allen is our new Conservation Minister. Her boots-on-the-ground approach to serving her East Coast electorate will no doubt serve her well in what is a deeply contentious role, supporting the care and restoration of our precious natural heritage that is, in many spaces, facing imminent, permanent, loss.
Importantly, we saw Nanaia Mahuta ascend into the coveted role of Foreign Affairs Minister, the first time that seat has been held by a Wāhine Māori – and she has committed to bringing her perspectives as a Wāhine Māori to her role, and she certainly has the illustrious diplomatic heritage to do just that.
It is a fascinating time for Wāhine Māori leadership in parliament – which makes it an important time for us to consider – what does Wāhine Māori leadership LOOK like as a leadership model?
For just as Indigenous leadership means so much more than a particular ethnicity and job title – so too does this mean so much more than being a Wāhine Māori in a leadership role. We don’t have to look far for examples of women in history that have upheld the patriarchy, of Māori who have upheld Imperialism, or indeed of Wāhine Māori who have upheld both.
So what DOES Wāhine Māori leadership look like in its own right, then? This is probably something we could run an entire conference on (and that would be a pretty amazing conference to go to) – every woman would have her own response to it and I feel like I could write all day, but today I just want to explore three fundamental areas: change, relationships, and healing.
CHANGE Everything I have been taught about Wāhine scripts us to initiate, and navigate change. We are the doorways into this world. A woman’s cry is the first thing you hear coming into the world, and it is what helps to lift the spirit from the body when you leave. You enter under the auspices of Hineteiwaiwa, you leave into the embrace of Hinenuitepō. Our bodies are constantly shifting and changing, along with the lunar cycle. Ceremonially, our karanga opens channels for ancestors to join us in our gatherings. We can shift a space from sacred, to accessible, and back again. The power of women helped to prepare our fighters for battle, and played an important role in safely reintegrating them back to the community. For this reason, in our customary carved art, you will most often see women carved on spaces that function to transition someone from one state to another. Over the door lintel of an ancestral house, or along the side strakes of a waka taua (war canoe). It is fair to say that we were not only acknowledged for our dominion over transition, but celebrated for it.
This aspect of Wāhine Māori leadership is particularly pertinent for us now, for multiple reasons. Times are always changing, and while I don’t favour the word unprecedented, certainly our current generation has never faced such existential crises as climate change, and COVID-19. These issues both call upon us to facilitate radical change to our societal functions at a local, national and most importantly global space. Both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are traceable as consequences of patriarchal imperialism. We will not overcome them by preserving the patriarchal imperialist structure. It will take the distinctive Wāhine Māori leadership trait of navigating change to facilitate the radical shifts required of our political and economic systems, for us to survive.
It is estimated that in the coming decade, water scarcity could displace over 700 million people, and this will only get worse. Water cycles are becoming increasingly disrupted, and the impacts of this cannot be overstated. As the irreplacable basis for crops, food systems, sanitation, basic health – it really is life. It is, in particular, a realm of life that women also hold dominion over. We are the original bearers of the most sacred of waters. We are the first oceans of life. Every person on this planet has been nourished within the saline waters of woman. Aquacide is a fundamental assault on human rights, on women’s rights, on childrens rights, on the rights of the unborn and the rights of the planet and for all these reasons, Wāhine Māori leadership is necessarily characterised by opposing the commodification, commercialisation, and pollution of waters.
RELATIONSHIPS It is a common misconception that internationalism is a virtue of colonialism, one of the “gifts” bestowed upon, apparently, backwards and insular Indigenous peoples. Yet 3000 years before Europeans even knew the Pacific was here, my ancestors were crisscrossing this ocean, establishing themselves from Samoa to Rapanui and beyond, gathering together to teach and learn at Taputapuatea, intermarrying, establishing trade relationships and forging moana dynasties. And do you know who it was that was forging those relationships, and navigating those seas, and negotiating those trade deals? Wāhine. Our moana history is resplendent with Wāhine leadership across all of those arenas. Many colonial anthropologists famously cut these roles from their own accounts, either unable to comprehend them, or finding them too unpalatable to record. These are usually the same ones that have tried to diminish our own superior voyaging and scientific expertise. Yes our own genealogies speak to the matrilineal descent of mana whenua. While our whale riding ancestor Paikea is rightfully remembered and celebrated in song, haka and art – it was his wife Huturangi who held the mana over vast tracts of Te Tairawhiti through her own illustrious genealogy. Interestingly, Huturangi travelled to Aotearoa inutero, carried in the womb of her mother Araiara on board the waka Nukutere, captained by her father Whiro (known in Hawai’i as Hilo). Araiara herself also land here on Te Ika a Maui, and thus we know that Araiara herself was a voyager, moving between Te Tairāwhiti and, amongst other places, Hawai’inui.
I raise this now because I have spent a lot of time thinking about our relationship with Hawai’inui. Hawaikinui. An ancestral homeland with which my home Tairawhiti holds an intertwined destiny. A counterpoint in a story that started with our Atua, and includes Maui, and Araiara and Whiro, and also includes Te Maro, and James Cook, and Kalaniopu’u, and now includes RIMPAC, Pohaukuloa, and the HMNZS Manawanui.
There are multiple relationships that call for reconfiguration right now but most definitely our moana nations are, from a Wāhine Māori standpoint, most urgent. Our relationships across Te Moananui a Kiwa exist across genealogical, ecological, economic, linguistic, cultural, as well as geographic dimensions. This region, so ironically called “The Pacific” by imperial expansionists, ironically sits within a fraught geopolitical context of North Korea and China on one seaboard, and the USA/Canada on the other. For hundreds of years now, colonising powers have strategically positioned themselves throughout our ocean continent, so that now we now reside as a series of tactical targets on a much larger chessboard. In the center, we have Hawai’inui, home to multiple military zones, where the US military bomb sacred sites every single day, and where, every few years, the world’s largest naval war game program (RIMPAC) plays out involving naval crews and vessels from multiple nations. It, too, largely revolves around blowing up moana spaces, a process that wreaks ecological, cultural, and spiritual devastation – and this year, during a global pandemic, against all pleas, the NZ government still sent a naval research, the HMNZS Manawanui, to participate in the war games.
Upon returning, it moved to its new home port of Tūranganui a Kiwa, with no consultation or invite. 250 years after a Crown naval research vessel, the Endeavour, arrived uninvited on our shores captained by James Cook, in the face of a year of saying that they had listened to our pain, the Crown sent another naval research vessel to station itself, again uninvited, on our shores. 240 years after our relations on Hawai’inui put pay to the naval invasions of our moana region, Aotearoa are still sending invaders their way. It appears our homes of Hawai’inui and Tūranganui a Kiwa are intertwined across time in a cyclical, ominous relationship.
All of this of course exists across the broader backdrop of Pacific militarism – an issue inextricably tied into human and ecological rights abuses. An issue that places so many of us at threat, through military testing, through sexual slave trade, through sexual assaults, through tactical targeting, and all, largely, in the interests of colonial powers.
Again, Wāhine Māori leadership cannot serve to maintain the patriarchal status quo. The state military is the most extreme and overt manifestation of imperialist might and we must always question: why, and for whom? Why must our military forces participate in exercises that so flagrantly ignores Indigenous and environmental rights? Whom does that serve? Whom does that ignore? Whom does that privilege? Wāhine Māori leadership cannot stand at once for wāhine and Indigenous ideals, whilst contributing to imperial militarism. If we cannot call upon our Wāhine Māori scripting for forging change to make a stand against this, in our own moana, it begs the question, what do we stand for, and where do we stand for it.
HEALING Our planet, our ecosystems, our people need healing. We are in the middle of the largest human health crisis in living memory. It is easy to forget this, here in Aotearoa while COVID rages overseas worse than ever before, but we are not safe yet. Economically and socially, we are staring down a very turbulent immediate future and it will require great navigators of change, it will require the fostering of relationships, it will require community cohesion, and it will require a lot of healing, for a long time. The trauma of this period will be long lasting and multi-dimensional. It will require divergent thinking and proactive leadership. It will require the kind of healing leadership that Wāhine are famous for: just doing what needs to be done.
At the base of my skull I have a rugged scar, a reminder of this characteristic carried by my own mother, who, after I fell backwards through a plate glass window at the age of 4, scooped me up, rushed me to the bathroom, cleaned the wound, plucking the glass out, and sewed up the wound. So many times (like the recent checkpoints) I have seen how Wāhine Māori have instinctively seen what needs to be done, and simply go about doing it. So I want to finish on this small, but powerful story. A couple of weeks ago our own community was torn apart by a quadruple tragedy. I won’t go into the specifics, but it was the kind of tragedy that could irreparably rend a community in two. I was heartbroken for my community, and heartbroken for my own whanau too who had, at the same time, lost my young cousin to suicide. The loss in our small community was so profound, I wondered what could be done to help. They say that it is in our darkest hour is when people shine the brightest, and it was during this time that I saw some of the most incredible Wāhine leadership rise to the surface. My relation, Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, called for counsellors, for artists, for tohunga tā moko, for massage therapists and storytellers and they came, and for nearly two weeks they made themselves available to our community, children, friends, parents, teachers, to receive healing, to join in ceremony or to just sit and listen. When I finally returned home, she held ceremony with me as well to help with my own healing. I have never seen community-wide healing rolled out before, and while much healing still remains, what I saw happening over that week left me in complete awe and reverence for the healing that Wāhine leadership can bring.
I have heard so many times this year “we want to change, but it’s a slow ship to turn”. What I’ve come to see is that the ship will turn as fast as the person at the helm wants to turn it. The only thing standing in the way of radical change are those who seek to preserve the patriarchal, imperialist structures that we have become accustomed to. If you are not going to seriously consider what is it about your leadership that is distinctively Wāhine Māori, then how can you rest assured you are not simply propping up the patriarchy? If you are not interested in using your innate, hereditary scripting to call in the radical change that is required for future generations, for sacred waters both fresh and marine, for whakapapa, for relationships and for the whenua, then what does the whare tangata stand for?
We are in interesting times, times of great challenges, times for radical hope. In spite of the pervasive presence of colonialism, the strategic positioning of Wāhine Māori in pivotal roles in parliament provides us with crucial potential. Furthermore, the uncompromising political leadership of Wāhine Māori, Wāhine Moana leaders outside of parliament, in local, national and international spaces such as Margaret Mutu, Annette Sykes, Dayle Takitimu, Julia Whaipooti, Ani Pahuru-Huriwai and Emalani Case provide us with important compass points to remind us of exactly how we can wield our passion and commitment as Wāhine Māori to bring exactly what is needed forth, for our people, right now, kia ora ai te mauri tangata, me te mauri taiao.
Over the past few months, I’ve been really fortunate to sit with some pretty cool people and discuss the related issues of racism, colonialism, and misinformation as a part of my “What a Load of Colony” webseries. A lot of what I want to share today draws from those conversations. Most recently, I was blessed to sit and discuss this issue with my whanaunga Diana and Mark Kopua. Diana is a Māori psychiatrist and Uncle Mark is a tohunga tā moko, educator, artist and storyteller. I will be including snippets from our kōrero throughout this post. I’ll upload the entire discussion as well, but it encapsulated so much of what I wanted to say, so well, that I wanted to place it within a broader discussion around Māori and misinformation.
While certainly not a new phenomena, misinformation has featured as a mega-theme of 2020. In the political era of post-truth, information wars hit defcon 1 as right wing administrations desperately sought to conceal the devastating consequences of economic prioritisation over life. The global information-scape of 2020 meant that information designed to influence Georgia and Mississippi, arrives just as fast and can hold equal influence in Te Karaka and Taupō. Information, and equally misinformation, has never held the potential to spread as fast and impact so many as it does now. And the trajectory of information technology multiplies upon itself by the day.
Just as a brief insight into how information transmission has changed in the past few decades, a few facts for us:
• In 1986, the global information network capacity (ie how much information was flying around and being stored around the world) was about 2 and a half million terabytes (you know those terabyte external hard-drives you buy from Warehouse Stationery? 2 and a half million of them).
• By 2007 that had grown to 2 billion terabytes of information flying around.
• Now, in 2020, we have nearly 30 billion terabytes (30zetabytes) of information flying around and being processed and stored around us – to be precise it’s 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information – floating around in front of us, accessible to us and being stored by us at any given moment.
• That is equivalent to 27,000 stacks of books reaching from the Earth to the Sun!!
• Or put another way, in 1986 we received around 40 newspapers full of information every day but this had rocketed to 174 in 2007 and today we have about the equivalent of 5220 newspapers worth of information accessible to us every day!
• Our means of accessing that information has also radically changed. From being strictly controlled in the late 80s, and requiring direct ports of access via a computer, with the arrival of wireless technology and advancement of cellphone technology we can now access this information through our phones, on our laptops or other devices, on our smart tvs, through “smart house” technology (siri devices etc).
• Our time in front of screens absorbing this information has also significantly increased and this has correlated with a drop in outdoors form of leisure – as noted by internet researchers – “free time” has become “screen time”.
Now while many people consider this to bring great opportunities (and they would be right) – it is foolish to assume that this necessarily equals a greater level of autonomy over the information we receive. As the recent documentary hit “The Social Dilemma” discusses, recent advances in social media mean that we are being manipulated by greater forces now more than ever, and operate under a façade of information liberty. This framework of domination has differential impacts on various groups. These differential impacts are, as always, drawn along lines of income, class, race and gender. That was, probably, my first gripe about The Social Dilemma – it’s an important message, and also one that really needs decolonizing.
And while we can all appreciate that misinformation impacts upon all of us – there are specific impacts and dimensions of this discussion for Māori communities that I really wish more people would take into consideration – especially as it becomes an area of strategic focus and mainstream discussion.
Now – full disclosure – I am very invested in this topic for multiple reasons – I’ve been the subject of conspiracy theories myself, which have led to death threats and slander campaigns. I vaccinate, as in my children are vaccinated and I occassionally take the flu jab too. I am NOT afraid of 1080 (I do advocate for each hapū to carry out their own research on this, rigorously assess the science, physically go to the places that have used it and exercise their Tiriti article 2 rights to make the right choice for their taonga). I don’t believe 5G will cook our brains, nor that it will transmit COVID (though I do worry about the implications of even more unsupported, unregulated information flying around and increased screen dependency). I do believe COVID is real, I don’t believe the earth is flat and I do believe we have made it to the moon. Myself, and I would say the majority of my friends and whanau, are not prone to believing in what I call “rabbit hole” theories – but still, I have seen these theories enter our community, I have seen them take root and I have seen the division they can cause. Kotahitanga is more important than ever – and I also believe we need to be developing digital strategies at a hapū and iwi level for the protection of our whānau and our taonga. But as the issue of misinformation continues to grow as a focal point for government, researchers, and the online community- there are a few issues I need them to consider, first.
Mental health insults are NOT ok This is more for the online commentary, although I’ve heard a few scientists and government officials launch into this space as well, and speak about our people as if it’s simply a matter of low intelligence or mental health. I’ve tracked the scope of conspiracy theories before and I agree, many can seem outlandish and completely out of touch with reality. It is hard to not side-eye someone who believes in something that is just not in your own scope of rationality… but some of these theories are picked up by our own whānau precisely because of the extremely bizarre and horrifying experience of colonization, and that’s something that very few, who have not been through colonization, can appreciate. I remember last year when the Oranga Tamariki story broke through Newsroom – yes it was harrowing but also, it was not surprising to me, and I was a little bemused watching other New Zealanders sit in apparent horror that this is happening. It reminded me of just how privileged a good chunk of our nation is to have not realised this is what happens to young Māori mothers, every day. So yeah, while I get the temptation to just label someone “crazy” because they believe in a global cabal of satan worshipping pedophiles plotting to take over the world, keep in mind whom you are talking to.
Keep in mind you are speaking with a people who are 5 times more likely to have their children removed by the state than their counterparts – and that once our children are in the state system, many are subjected to physical and sexual violence. This is now commonly understood as the genesis of Aotearoa gang culture. This is NOT historical. In 2019 Māori children accounted for nearly 70% of all child uplifts, and then accounted for 75% of children who were sexually and physically abused as wards of the state. Their abusers are approved by the state.
We are not crazy for believing in the presence of state sanctioned pedophile networks – it aligns with our lived and proven experience.
Maltreatment by the state occurs in various contexts around us every single day. The state then forces us to participate in harmful processes, and if we don’t it assumes our voice for us, with devastating consequences. Not long ago I attended a meeting in Tūranga where the community was forced to participate in a process that was in and of itself a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Our choice was:
We had been left out of the discussion about whether we wanted them anywhere in the first place. We had heard councillors who were assuming our perspectives, and saying we would have been fine with having the replicas erected in the middle of town. We were therefore left with no option but to take the opportunity to express our disgust and hurt WITHIN a meeting that assumed we were ok with their presence – on penalty of being cast as being not only ok with their presence but also ok with them being in the most prominent space possible. It was a perverse, and hurtful, and all too common experience in a system that was built to facilitate pākehā expansion into our spaces.
Multiply this experience hundreds of times every day, in different contexts, all around our country, not just now but over multiple generations going back to the mid 1800s – all the while being told we are “Treaty partners” – and you can begin to see how this is trauma and mental illness inducing. I’d challenge any group to undergo multiple generations of abuse, gaslighting, passive aggression, state violence, and implicit and explicit discrimination on the daily, and not come out of it with some form of trauma for multiple members of that group. As Uncle Mark Kopua notes:
Colonisation is recognised within the sector as a driver of mental illness – it has, and continues to visit trauma upon our people every single day in this country. Not to mention that, as Uncle Mark suggests, we are continuously told our own belief systems are myth and superstition – to the point where a significant number of our own people have been institutionalised for believing in matakite (seers) and Atua – but whitehouse advisors like Paula White get to walk around doing this…
So yes, maybe some of us ARE operating from a space of trauma. So what – the liberty of belief in how the universe operates, across generations and the wellbeing that comes with that are forms of privilege – don’t wield it against others.
Concerns over diminishing individual agency are valid. When we consider how information has shifted over the past 30 years, we have to ask – who is in charge? Who has the power to manipulate algorithms and promote or demote particular narratives? Hint: it’s not beneficiaries or marginalised groups. It’s currently, largely with wealthy white males, and who is wrestling them for control over that information scape? Wealthy white governments. From an Indigenous perspective, it’s much of a muchness here except if you have not researched the IT heirarchy you are probably more aware, and distrustful of, government authorities. This distrust is completely understandable given that the state has proven itself to be extremely cavalier with individual privacy rights – and more often than not it’s the privacy rights of Māori, or human or environmental rights activists that are being breached. The NZ govt is a part of the 5 eyes network, a USA led spy network that surveils internet communications and has made multiple moves to erode privacy rights, and there is increasing concern that NZ is losing its ability to protect NZ privacy rights within that arrangement.
You can’t just expect us all to be instantly comfortable with the state, or other authorities, increasing their control over our world, whatever part of the world that may be. For Māori, they were never invited to take control in the first place, why would we give them more?
Why WOULD Māori trust the state/media/science? Hoooo boy where do I start. Ok let’s start with the government. There is not one aspect of Māori lives that have not been adversely impacted by colonization. The word gets used a lot and I think people have become numb to it so let’s revisit what colonization entails:
It is a process of dehumanisation – where your birth rights, carried by your ancestors, are subjugated to the rights of your colonizer. It is violent, and it IS genocidal. The process of colonization requires the displacement, dispossession and debasement of an entire people. Around the world, where colonial governments have taken control over the lives of Indigenous peoples, they experience high levels of imprisonment, higher death rates, higher poverty rates, and are generally worse off than non-Indigenous in their lands. Colonial governments, and this is reaffirmed by authors of all ethnicities, were CREATED to facilitate imperial expansion and the eradication of Indigenous peoples. Don’t expect us to just trust governments that were formed to eradicate us. Our survival has depended upon us not trusting them.
And from the very get-go, media and science has held the hand of these governments. Never once has a New Zealand media source reported on the brutal, drawn out invasion of Aotearoa and the ensuing 30 year war for the international war crimes that they were, rather, they have been celebrated and heroicized as the foundations of our nation. Whitestream media further consistently demonizes Māori, from those who resisted the invasion and land theft through to those who today continue to resist the colonial fiction of state benevolence. What’s more, major media outlets consistently provide a platform for hate speech against Māori with relative impunity. For a long time, the most common time to catch us being represented on tv screens was in the back of police cars, or being pulled over. We have fought a long fight for more appropriate representation on the screens and in the news, but it is still, overarchingly, misrepresentative. So don’t expect us to just pass our trust over to the media, either.
Science? Well – if you haven’t heard of scientific racism, then I’d recommend a quick 10minute course via Moana Jackson’s famous “Once Were Gardeners” speech.
Science has, like media, presented us as savages, brutes, promiscuous, simple, poor parents, and suited only to manual labour – but with the added force of being “scientifically valid”. Racist science has provided the legitimisation of brutal colonial policies and legislation. Racist science has not just supported, but recommended the removal of our children, the caging of our people, the taking of our lands – and again, this is not historical. To this day, studies are still being funded that are centered on the racist idea of a fictitious “warrior gene”, and operate off of similar deficit notions that we are inferior to our colonizers in many ways.
What is the state doing about its own misinformation campaign of colonial legitimacy? Before you come and talk to Māori about misinformation or disinformation – consider that we have been asked to swallow a centuries old disinformation campaign by our own government.
There’s a LOT of information that can be laid out in this section but one simple angle to take is this:
The NZ government is a violation of the treaty upon which its existence is based.
This has been acknowledged BY the government authority on the matter, the Waitangi Tribunal, who found in 2010 that Māori never ceded sovereignty. Now, if Māori never ceded sovereignty – then the very authority of government to make laws which govern Māori lives is called into question. I should say at this point that it was never news to many Māori that we never ceded sovereignty, nor was the illegitimacy of a government that consistently breaches its own tenancy agreement a particularly novel challenge. We have always understood the right to govern is subservient to Māori independence and self-determination (tino rangatiratanga), and that is the basic power arrangement our ancestors agreed to. The fundamental shift in 2010 was that the government’s own Treaty judiciary finally, officially, ruled that this was the case. The issue, however is that the government is not bound to take action on the findings of its own tribunal.
Let that sink in for a moment. The government’s very right to exist is based upon a treaty that it, itself violates, and that it, itself does not feel it needs to adhere to. The treaty, apparently, matters enough to form a government upon, but not enough to be held to account on.
So for most Māori, we are born into a system of disinformation that occurs all around us on our own lands. Like all other cases – this is not historical. The government handed out millions of dollars last year to support disinformation campaigns that cloaked or misrepresented the Imperial invasion of Aotearoa.
Māori are born into a disinformation campaign about the benevolence and legitimacy of colonial rule, one that rolls out through our schools, and in our faces by way of statues, on our currency, and across our screens now for generations.
Of course we are distrustful of the state, and of course we are targets for disinformation – the colonial state has ensured this. THINK about that before you come knocking on our community doors wanting to talk about THIS particular form of disinformation.
We have our own means of responding to misinformation. We have our own information platforms, which are also being consistently eroded by the state. Support for Māori Television, support for Māori broadcasting on major networks, support for Māori internet content development, support for Iwi radio, support for our information hubs in our communities such as marae, kohanga, and kura, our wānanga spaces, our own health services, are all sites that we constantly have to fight for resourcing to keep going – and yet these are also the sites where we discuss and validate our truths as a community. These are the sites where the power of truth validation gets taken out of the hands of Silicon Valley millionaires. These are the sites where we discuss issues with insights across the generations and with reflections on who we are, in relation to our lands and waters, and who and where we come from. If the intention is to support community cohesion and resilience to disinformation, then stop under-resourcing and gutting our own spaces of information and knowledge sharing.
Don’t come to us assuming we have the same approach to knowledge and truth validation as you.
Don’t come to us like we don’t already have answers and solutions of our own for this issue.
In short, don’t come at us like you’ve just “discovered” the problem of disinformation, and are here to save us.
We can work together on this – but it will take mutual understanding, and respect.
“Tonight I am feeling for you Under the state of a strange land You have sacrificed much to be here There but for grace as I offer my hand Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome Welcome home from the bottom of my heart Out here on the edge The empire is fading by the day And the world is so weary in war Maybe we’ll find that new way”
Dave Dobbyn “Welcome home”
2020 has been, among many things, the year of Anti-Racism. COVID-19 has demonstrated, around the world, how racial disparities can save or take lives, with Indigenous communities, black communities, refugee communities around the world have borne the brunt of COVID mortality rates. Black Lives Matters marches have called an end to racial oppression, and are catalysing rights movements around the world, including Aotearoa. Marginalised groups are not willing to wait a moment longer for justice. In the Aotearoa 2020 elections, The Māori Party have put forward an exciting, and powerful policy suite that responds to this backdrop – returning Maori placenames, supporting constitutional reform, ending oil and gas exploration in Aotearoa. One single policy, within the Whānau Build program, however, is a piercing needle-scratch within an otherwise honorable policy suite: A ban on immigration, until housing stock meets need. As has been noted in this conspiracy-rich environment, Maori can often fall prey to false theories about our oppression – and immigration is certainly one that triggers us for the very reason that colonization arrived on a boat, from elsewhere. To extend this into a policy which blames current migrant populations for Maori dispossession is, however, a mistake, and one that requires unpacking and careful consideration if we want to avoid harming others, as well as ourselves
So for a start – multiple studies – have concluded that immigration has minimal to no inflationary impact upon house prices:
“We find no evidence that the inflow of foreign-born immigrants to an area are positively related to local house prices”
In the words of Maori housing advocate and researcher, and author of “Rebuilding the Kainga”, Jade Kake:
“The focus on curbing migration demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of housing markets and demand side drivers. Research has shown that returning New Zealand citizens have the most significant impact on demand, as opposed to migrants, and that once controls for population growth are factored in, overseas migration has been found to have little to no impact on local house prices or rents.”
Keep in mind that the research we have on links between racism and immigration was carried before COVID restrictions severely limited our immigration figures, meaning that if they were making very little to no impact on house prices before – it is even less so, now. This is supported by research which observed that over periods where immigration slowed, house prices continued to climb.
In short – migrants are not costing us our housing stock.
It’s important we hold on to that fact through this discussion – because it is the driving force behind using an immigration ban to help solve the housing crisis. It’s not new that they are accused of doing this though. Blaming migrants for stealing jobs and houses happens everywhere around the world, and has happened for a long time.
So now we know what an immigration ban doesn’t do, what does it do?
Well, policy language is a powerful systemic driver of bias. Policies are perceived as communicating widely held beliefs and values of a country and shape ideas of what is acceptable, what is normal, and in the case of immigration, what it takes to belong. I say they are perceived as communicating widely held beliefs because our political system makes it entirely possible for a very small group to craft and pass a policy based upon their beliefs, and that policy can then go on to impact society in general. In any case – the truth holds that policy, once in place, continues to shape attitudes and influence behaviour.
When those in power suggested Maori wanted to lock “all New Zealanders” out of the nation’s beaches – it was absurdly false in a practical sense, but the true harm sat in the logic behind this suggestion: That Maori are here to take everything away, that Maori concerns over the foreshore and seabed were about greed, and exclusion, and that Maori sit in an oppositional space to “regular New Zealanders”, othering us on our own lands. Similarly, multiple policies and legislation have been grounded in racist logic that Maori are a drain on society, and exist in a marginal space, oppositional to “mainstream” New Zealand (a term which, in itself, marginalizes Māori).
This policy and legislation then shapes the decisions, actions, and language of everyone they impact. If we take an example of education: A racist premise in an education policy will shape the decisions, actions and language in the ministry – in this case the Ministry of Education. That policy language, and direction, and actions will then be carried through the agency as a whole, who are tasked to deliver that racist premise, coded in the language and actions, to its clients (eg training and education providers – including teachers, principals, etc). The end recipients of the racist premise are the students and their whanau. The racism in that policy is not often overt – it is subtle and coded, and exists in the logic behind the policy. But because this is happening across multiple policies, and across multiple sectors, and is happening with new policies all the time, and is being welcomed into an already racist system, the impacts it holds are super-charged.
Being a part of a broader white supremacist structure means that racism in policy which targets Pacific islanders does not just impact upon Pacific islanders. Once it is welcomed into a system which is already racist in nature, it acts as scaffolding for other racist assumptions. The suggestion that Pacific islanders are a drain, once entered into a white supremacist policy sphere, supports the assumption that Maori are also a drain, by virtue of our skin colour, genealogical connections, cultural similarities, and importantly because in a white supremacist system there is white, and there is “The Other”.
So to come back to the question of what does an immigration ban do, if it is not helping Māori get into homes?
It reinforces false ideas that migrant groups are to blame for Māori dispossession. The logic of the policy is that migrants are a drain on the housing stock, and by extension a drain on the socio-economic capital of Aotearoa. A drain on welfare, a drain on employment, a drain on our cultural integrity. This is dangerous and harmful logic – and it was exactly the logic expressed in the manifesto of the Christchurch gunman. For those of you who poured out your sympathy and commitment to justice for that horror. For those who decried and rejected the racism that led to those attacks. To those who just weeks ago expressed support for the families delivering their victim statements, we need to seriously consider how this logic is activated against these same families and communities. It does not just impact upon those not yet arriving, it impacts upon those who are already here.
Māori researchers and experts on racism and immigration, Dr Tahu Kukutai and Dr Arama Rata, speak to Maori-Migrant relationships in their chapter “From Mainstream to Manaaki” in the book Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century. While acknowledging the impacts that immigration has upon Maori outcomes, they are clear: the issue is not one of migrants themselves, but one of racist colonialism within employment, within housing, and within welfare, and that a Tiriti centered approach can provide for both manaakitanga of migrant communities AND Māori advancement.
In reinforcing blame of migrant groups within the colonially white supremacist system of New Zealand, we buttress and galvanise harmful ideas of nationalism that obscure the true drivers of injustice against Maori. It provides oxygen to white supremacist movements who operate on false ideas of nationalism and patriotism to further their domination of our world. In servicing that premise, we service their domination. White supremacist movements have long relied upon the manipulation of other marginalized groups to further their agendas. For this reason, the founder of the Australian Ku Klux Klan, Peter Coleman, said that:
“If we did actually set up in New Zealand, we would expect to get a lot of Maori members because they are also concerned about things like immigration and don’t like the Asians coming in and taking over things.”
While most Māori would be rightly repulsed at the idea of the Ku Klux Klan viewing us as allies – immigration bans which operate on the same false logic espoused by the Ku Klux Klan is exactly what gives this problematic idea weight.
What else does this policy do, alongside NOT getting Maori into homes?
It breaches our international obligations that we have signed up to under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Not only does this impact upon those who are arriving here – but this is an arrangement that also functions to protect Māori who are overseas. While Māori should definitely be negotiating our own involvement in international agreements – for now, pulling out of these arrangements places our overseas whanau Māori at risk.
It also, as Jade Kake pointed out, is a distraction from the actual drivers of the housing crisis. The timeframe suggested through the policy “until housing stock meets need” is a timeframe set upon irrelevant factors. Just last year, the United Nations sent rapporteur Leilani Farha here to assess the housing crisis. Her findings were that:
“At the root of the crisis is a speculative housing market that has been supported by successive governments who have promoted homeownership as an investment, while until recently discontinuing the provision of social housing and providing inadequate tenant protection.”
It bears mentioning that this same economic logic of promoting homeownership as investment is what underpinning Māori Party support for the Social Housing Reform Bill, which resulted in the govt sale of thousands of state homes, at the apparent behest of iwi. That may have been different MPs, but there is no escaping that the drop in stock is a legacy of this bill, a legacy that is being unduly visited upon migrant populations with little to no acknowledgement of that vote.
The role of systemic racism against Māori is also mentioned in the findings of rapporteur Farha, and when addressing homelessness we must also account for ableism and a fraught mental health system. These deeply complex contributors makes “until supply meets need” a dubious timeframe for this policy, in addition to that timeframe being applied against a group that do not cause the problem in the first place.
There are many other GOOD aspects to the Whanau Build Policy that DO focus on us rather than focusing on migrants, and are upheld by Maori and non-Maori expertise in housing – introducing rent-to-buy options for state housing, taxing unoccupied houses to force them into the property market and bringing foreign owned income properties under the Overseas Investment Act are all sound measures – and ultimately, Maori leadership of both housing and immigration policies are what is called for here.
But Maori leadership is much more than a Maori person being in the leader position. If it does not center our tikanga, or Te Tiriti o Waitangi; if it does not service Maori but in fact can be used against us; if it sets us back on the dismantling of white supremacist structure by galvanizing its racist logic; if it does not listen to our own Maori housing and immigration experts, then it must surely be questioned in its ability to look after us, or indeed anyone else, as we have always prided ourselves in doing.
Delivered as a part of the online launch for the exciting Claim the Future project led by UK Labour MP John McDonnell, which brings together activists, policy experts, campaigning organisations and movements to Claim The Future – united behind a radical and optimistic vision for a Post-Covid future.
Science has now confirmed for us that COVID-19 is caused and sustained by human excessiveness. Our intensive global food systems, animal trade, biodiversity loss and climate change and their impacts upon animal habitats are all now clearly linked to viruses which cross over from the animal world to humankind and turn into pandemics.
But it’s also our excessiveness that sustains the virus and exacerbates its impact – globalized economies, air pollution, poverty, economic compulsiveness, individualistic attitudes are all behaviors that maintain COVID-19 transmission rates, stymie recovery, and subsequently increase mortality rates.
Our vulnerability to it is therefore of our own making and we have the power to change these things – BUT what we also know is that there are varying levels of agency to effect that change, as well as varying levels of vulnerability. This is because imperialism has shaped our way of interacting with each other, and the planet in a hierarchical fashion – Empire has hierarchically apportioned power, and it has hierarchically apportioned resources, and the consequences of that is a system that has hierarchical levels of COVID-19 impact.
As has been pointed out time and time again – COVID-19 is a kind of doppelganger for climate change that has brought the impacts of our actions right up to our faces in a way that we cannot evade, as we have our climate change responsibilities. COVID-19 is it is vast, it is terrible but it is not an extinction level event, climate change is an extinction level event and if we can recognize COVID-19 as a mirror it can show us important truths about ourselves to help us avoid the extinction level event that is climate change.
One of these truths is that we have become, over time, very good at articulating goals which we then set about undermining. We set underwhelming emissions targets we do not meet. We set sustainability development goals that we fail to achieve and we keep asking why that is so. It does not bode well for the Global Green New Deal. But if you apply the lens of empire to our global systems, it becomes very apparent, very soon, why we cannot meet these goals. Imperialism is inhumane – its very nature is to dehumanize so that it can dispossess. The systems through which such these goals must travel to come to fruition are fundamentally imperialist in nature and as such are incapable of achieving humanitarian ideals.
And so there are three points I want to make crystal clear here:
We must face the lessons of COVID-19 as a matter of humanity AND a matter of survival.
Our flaws that are exposed by COVID-19 are fundamentally crafted by Imperialism
Because Imperialism is inhumane in nature, it must be understood, exposed and rejected in order to achieve humanitarian goals.
One thing that happened where I live (and many indigenous places around the world) is that we set up checkpoints as a matter of survival because colonialism made us vulnerable to COVID-19. That act of survival was characterized as vigilantism and insurgency against the state (as it has in other nations too) but that is just one very obvious example of the intersection of imperialism and covid19.
Whole nations labour under economic imperialism, their own resources extracted for hundreds of years by European imperial powers, chained down by debt established under that same imperial system so that they CANNOT afford to effective respond to COVID-19 or climate change or any other crises – and that kind of imperialism is being maintained by international institutions such as the International Monetary fund and the World Bank.
We are already seeing how Imperialism is seeking to exploit COVID – through exploitation of Uighur workers in the PPE factories in China, how corporate food systems are exploiting community need by perpetuating dependency rather than supporting food sovereignty, how plastics industries are both exploiting emergency systems, perpetuating falsehoods about the necessity of single use plastics for COVID protection, and applying for COVID bailouts alongside the fossil fuel industry in general when the truth is they were flailing before that anyway.
It’s also vitally important we understand the mechanisms of injustice because it plays a huge role in the distrust of government systems and that is being manipulated by the global right. The climate crisis has spanned center right and center left governments in so many places around the world. Homelessness, wealth divides, resource wars have spanned both sides of the political spectrum. The inability for the broken political system to confront its own imperialism has muddied the waters for who is the lesser evil and who has the moral highground and it has created a context where what little power the populace has can be manipulated by imperialist media to vote against their own interests.
So we must identify these systems of injustice and reject them in our aspirations to build a just new normal. We cannot allow imperialist systems to define the scope of injustice either. They cannot be allowed to say “we care about justice except for the return of Indigenous lands”; or “we care about justice except for militarization in Hawai’i“.
If you’re interested in justice then this is what it will take: It will take a new international, and transnational, relational model. One that recognizes the independent rights of indigenous peoples, one committed to reversing the longstanding imperial injustice visited upon the global south, one that supports the rights of grassroots movements for self determination. That is what you will champion, if you are interested in justice, rights and humanitarianism.
Taking this step will require radical self-belief. Empire relies upon a number of fictions to maintain power. One is the fiction of benevolence – it likes to position itself as a benefactor of humanity, so that we believe we need it (we have discussed that). That also includes convincing us of its inevitability, and that there is impossible to dismantle it, or to do without it.
Along with fictions, Empire requires a machine to manufacture those fictions in numerous iterations and repeat it all around us again and again. That is the function of media empires – to convince us that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do. So, in the face of this media onslaught of hate and fear -to believe in ones own capability, and to believe in our own humanity, then becomes a truly radical act, and that is what we must do. We must reject the poverty of the mind and the austerity of the heart and radically believe in our own humanity, in our capacity to build systems of love, to the point where we invest in them. To love ourselves back into greatness. To let the planet love us again.
My beautiful friend and poet Karlo Mila says: You know – the planet she loves us. She wants to provide for us, but we keep hurting her. Water loves us too, she wants so desperately to be to be abundant, for us, to heal us and cleanse us but we keep killing her and we saw how fast she could recover during COVID.
Around the world there are small scale communities taking this lead for themselves. Where this is happening we need to support it to continue and grow, but importantly, for transnational issues like climate change, globally just economies, plastic pollution and the global green new deal, we need to model ourselves upon grassroots ideals of collective responsibilities, communal wellbeing, relationship regeneration, radical acts of love, and belief in humanity.
Whareroa Marae is nestled in the inlet of Tauranga Moana, a humble marae that has weathered an onslaught of industrialised colonialism for decades now. Most recently – the whanau of Whareroa have raised their voices to say: No more. Listening to their story, it’s impossible not to think of how this plays out across the nation. The industrial divisions of cities and townships that are zoned for “the public good” are so often merely another form of colonial landgrabbing from local Maori to facilitate urban and corporate expansion. The whanau of Ihumaatao, for instance, have, without consent, had their lands, their sacred mountain, their waters and food systems, stripped from them for the provisions of a quarry, an airport, and a sewerage treatment plant for Taamaki Makaurau. Similarly, the whanau of Whareroa Marae in Tauranga have watched their land holdings degrade over time, along with the abundance of their waters, and the freshness of the very air they breathe.
Ballance Agrinutrients in particular seem to be playing a significant role in this story. Whareroa Marae residents say the fumes from Ballance Agrinutrients drive them indoors and make the air unbreathable. Ballance Agrinutrients have responded by saying that it meets their consented criteria. In 2016 Ballance were fined $60,000NZD for sulphur dioxide release. That year the local council received 19 complaints from local residents.
Like all marae and hapu who bear the weight of public services, Whareroa deserve our support. But what Whareroa are also providing us with, is the local context of a story of injustice that extends across our nation, is bolstered through our own Māori economy (over 25% of all beef and lamb is farmed on Māori land, constituting over 228,000ha of grassland), and reaches out across oceans to the lands of other Indigenous peoples. The fertiliser industry is one that requires some careful consideration for Aotearoa, and for Te Ao Māori, who are both significantly impacted by, as well as having significant impact upon, the NZ agricultural sector. Opposition has mounted in recent years towards the injustice of phosphate mining in the Western Sahara for the production of fertilisers by Ravensdown and Ballance Agrinutrients, a practice now commonly known as “blood phosphate” mining.
Tecber Ahmed Saleh's tour of Aotearoa has ended, and for those who want to help stop Ravensdown and Ballance importing blood phosphate from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, then get involved with Western Sahara Solidarity Aotearoa by emailing email@example.com pic.twitter.com/XqhPj8TWxI
The people of the Western Sahara know that New Zealand is a major culprit in phosphate extraction from their lands, stripping the topsoil, leaving land inarable – and transferring the arability across to Aotearoa where the bones and stones of the Western Sahara feed the fertility of New Zealand pastures. To understand the endgame of this practice we can look much closer to home. The Pacific islands of Nauru and Banaba were stripped bare of their own phosphate to feed New Zealand’s agricultural economy – driving the people of those islands off their ancestral lands and rendering those lands ecological deadzones. Our greed for fertilizer created an entire class of refugees within the Pacific, an injustice compounded by our reluctance to accept them onto our own shores. and the only reason that Ballance and Ravensdown turned their eye to the Western Sahara is because, in their locust-like extractive model, they exhausted the Pacific supply.
This is just one of many ways in which New Zealand, through racist economic practices, perpetuates economic imperialism across the Pacific and within the global south. Quite separate from the fact that the New Zealand economy is built off of stolen Māori land, and our dark past of Pacific slavery (blackbirding), but our fertiliser industry exploits non-white, non-European lands to prop up our agricultural sector, as a nation we have exploited Māori and Pacific Island communities as “essential workers” who are still not awarded a basic living wage, continue to exploit Māori, Pacific, and Asian workers on our fishing fleets who are working in deplorable conditions, and have, right up to the COVID-19 crisis, imported cheap labour from across the Pacific to subsidise the picking and packing of our fruit across the horticultural sector.
The exploitation of Indigenous lands for someone else’s gain, and the practical enslavement of migrant workers in our orchards and on our seas is an extension of racist and imperialist economic practices that were incepted, coincidentally enough, in Western Africa in the mid 15th century, where Europe first acquired permission to plunder lands, and the people of those lands, for the profit of European empires. It appears New Zealand as a colonial nation-state is now coming a full circle, founded in British imperialism, maintaining the economic traditions of it’s colonial forebears by propping itself up through the exploitation of others. This is a challenge not only for New Zealand’s economy, but also for the Māori economy, who holds environmental and Indigenous principles dear to our practices, but are also embroiled within these deeply problematic practices in our own horticultural, agricultural, and fishing industries.
In 2019, I interviewed Banaban scholar and author, Katerina Teaiwa, on the story of Banaba, phosphate mining, and Aotearoa. It was as a part of Katerina’s “Project Banaba” exhibition that was touring at the time, curated by Yuki Kihara. If you would like to learn more about the story of Banaba, I’d recommend Katerina’s book Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba. Most chilling, for me, in this interview and exhibition, are the facts about human remains that are scooped up in the phosphate mining process. For me, as Māori, I felt ill thinking about us loading planes with the dust of somone’s ancestors and sprinkling them over our fields. This is quite separate to the heavy metal impacts this has on our soils and polluting effect on our waterways. Superphosphate topdressing is an issue that all of New Zealand need to consider, but certainly that the Māori economy also need to consider, in our journey of decolonization.
Here is my interview with Katerina:
New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom collectively owned a company with the purpose of mining the island of Banaba for its phosphate rock. This was shipped to cities and towns like Napier, to be manufactured into superphosphate fertiliser. While New Zealanders were developing the practice of aerial topdressing in the 1940s to spread vast quantities of fertiliser and transform what was once native forest into farms of lush green grass, Banabans were relocating to the island of Rabi in Fiji as their homeland was rendered uninhabitable. Katerina Teaiwa, Banaban artist and scholar, draws on this history in her multimedia exhibition Project Banaba. Curated by Yuki Kihara, Project Banaba traces further links between lands and lives unsettled as a result of the ‘settlement’ of the European colonial project. Weaving together film, still photographs, archival quotations and appliquéd hessian evocative of sacking, the installation brings the experience of the Banaban people to the fore. This is a story that highlights the imbalanced nature of colonising societies, premised on the domination of nature and indigenous peoples. While this imbalance has long been obscured, it becomes increasingly undeniable as soil quality declines, waterways become toxic, biodiversity is lost, and the climate destabilises. The exhibition therefore leaves us with a vital question: for the sake of all people, how can balance be restored?
TINA: Tāna koe e Katerina, i te tuatahi te tika me mihi ki a koutou ko ō tīpuna i tēnei mahi, koutou kua mau, kua takoto te manuka i mua i a mātou katoa, kia whakamōhio mai, kia whakapuare ō mātou whatu ki tēnei mahi tūkino. Just a mihi to you, and to all of your ancestors as well, who have carried this story and brought it forth in this work. It’s powerful and revelatory, and an important challenge to place before us all so that we can really consider it, and our role in it all. Were it not for these forums of truth that our own hold, to converse with each other – we would never learn of all of these systems going on around us that we are, knowingly or unknowingly, complicit in. Our governments sure as heck aren’t proactive in bringing any of this to our attention. So thank you for this, and for all your work on this issue. A lot of my work and contact with the injustice of phosphates has been with relation to its devastating effects on our waterways and food systems here in Aotearoa. Of course, the quote that there can be “no food without phosphate” is plainly ridiculous given that our own ancestral food systems performed so much better before all of this came along – but then I looked at the quote a little longer and realised that it can just as easily be a command, as much as a declaration – which really drives home the colonial nature of this practice. More recently I think we’ve been able to access more information on the injustices attached to this product in West Sahara, and through your work, in Banana. Does it feel to you like acknowledgement is finally on its way?
KATERINA: Tēnā koe and ko na mauri Tina. Ko bati n rabwa for talking with me about Banaban histories, phosphate landscapes and waterways and how these are entangled with the same in Aotearoa. The ongoing sourcing of phosphate from the Western Sahara illustrates just how important this resource is to New Zealand agriculture and how problematic phosphate extraction and reliance on fertiliser can be when ignoring the knowledges, practices and environmental relations of indigenous peoples. Banaba, like Nauru, was one of those islands deemed absolutely critical to the development of Australia and New Zealand and because it was directly underneath Banaban homes and villages, the people had to be removed to allow for unfettered access to the resource. This means that any human remains, any bones in those landscapes were also mined and transformed into fertilizer along with the rock. This wasn’t just unique to Banaba, though, bones are actually a critical source of phosphorus, an essential nutrient for plants and animals, and scholars have written about how both human and animal bones have (disturbingly) been used in history as fertiliser. At different times this Banaban story has been acknowledged, mainly when Banaban themselves fight for visibility, like in the 1970s when they sued the British government for colluding with the British, Australian and New Zealand mining company at the expense of the Banabans. The British Phosphate Commissioners was owned by the three governments so of course the interests of the three countries was paramount, not the interests of Pacific Islanders. Between the big court case in the 70s and today there have been a few media stories about Banaba and how mining destroyed most of the island but it has never resulted in any of the parties revisiting their responsibilities to rehabilitate the landscape. There was a payment made of 10 million Australian dollars in the early 1980s and six thousand or sonatas were expected to be able to benefit off the interest from this fund in perpetuity. They were moved by the company to Rabi island in the North of Fiji which once belonged to the Rabea people. The company bought it for them from the Lever Brothers who had used it as a copra plantation. Rabeans still have indigenous interests and claims to Rabi which leaves Banabans in a precarious spiritual and economic position with respect to their new home.In 1996 my elder sister, Teresia, wrote an essay called “routes and roots of a displaced native “which reflected on all this by imagining the bodies of Banabans, specifically our grandfather, his father and our great, great grandmother whose landswere leased to the mining company together with the body of the mind landscape. She wrote “agriculture is not in our blood but our blood is in agriculture.” This is captured in the concept te aba referring to both land and people. But as much as dispersing Banaban lands as superphosphate across Aotearoa has resulted in increased fertility of farms and stabilised erosion in hill country, excess phosphorus leaches into waterways and causes algae to proliferate. Industry thrived on and eventually decimated Banaba and the same is happening in New Zealand, Australia and other countries with mass agriculture.
TINA: People think that colonisation happened in the past but the truth is… the invasion of our territories, of our bodies, of our families, of our worlds, is relentless and never ceases.
KATERINA: Totally and in addition to remaining committed to challenging and critiquing colonial pasts and presents, I’m also interested in how Banaba history helps reframe contemporary intra-Pacific or trans-indigenous relations. Who are we to each other when our lands and ancestral remains are spread across Aotearoa and Australia? What does indigenous solidarity look like when commodities are formed from whenua or te aba and become part of a global food chain?
TINA: Well yes this is a very interesting question – when we consider ourselves, literally as iwi – the bones of this land – how do we reconcile our own Indigeneity with the fact that we are literally drawing from the ancestral bones of another land to coat our own for economic gain? Of course we take pride in being Indigenous but this clearly exposes that such pride does not necessarily translate into demonstrating solidarity. I feel we have become very good at conceptualising colonialism in a political sense but not an economic sense. There is a strong focus on sovereignty being accomplished when we have our own government colonial models) – but we still chase colonial models of economic success that are inherently linked to power disparity, exploitation, adversarialism and extraction… and we are quite happy to step into the role of coloniser in order to achieve that success. The time to address this discordance is more than overdue.
KATERINA: I agree, and I also think there are many trans-Pacific race, class, religious and cultural issues that hinder true solidarity and are hidden when the focus is on the state or colonial other. Colonialism and imperialism must be held accountable for the social, environmental, political, epistemological and gender based havoc it has wreaked on indigenous peoples but we also need to be wary of how such histories and biases of our own have resulted invitro-Pacific racisms and hierarchies. Until climate change catapulted Kiribati onto the global stage, British Micronesia was either at the margins of Pan-Pacific consciousness or vilified through unflattering representations of Nauru and ideas about “rich phosphate islanders”. Both Nauru and Banaba are in a most challenging environmental and financial state right now. Everyone knows Australia had much to do with the demise of both islands but New Zealand’s critical role in the exploitation of phosphate resources is often forgotten.
TINA: These are brave and necessary conversations to be had, at many levels. The New Zealand government has platformed itself in a sanctimonious manner as the “Switzerland of the South Pacific” (which in itself is a very colonial turn of phrase) – and yet, its own oppressive domestic colonial history aside, it has directly or indirectly played a role in horrid rights abuses of Native communities across our Moana and beyond. From blackbirding, to PACER plus, to our lack of leadership in relation to West Papua, to our participation in Gaza, New Zealand is anything but the politically neutral champions of peace and justice that we purport to be. And here we are, in the anniversary year of the arrival of Captain Cook – the vanguard of British imperialism that incepted a long, slow experience of genocide upon our lands and waters. If this is to be the year of anything then surely this is the year to examine the true cost of colonialism – upon our lands, upon our waters, upon our bodies -but also upon our minds. If we are to decry the colonial structures that have beset us as Indigenous peoples, this must come with an honest appraisal of how we engage and perpetuate these systems ourselves, and THAT must come with commitments to divest ourselves of these actions. We cannot hope to see justice if we are not going to build justice from the inside, out. And this is such a very “inside” space to consider. A very visceral inside space. The space of ancestral bones. The space of the soil we have arisen from. I’m reminded of the very wonderful words of Waziyatawin that pathways to justice must begin with forums of truth. This is a very powerful forum of truth that all of us in Aotearoa need to consider. And I say this not only because of the Non-Indigenous economy that has shaped both your and my ecological landscape – but also in mind of the significant Māori agricultural economy. The questions you pose about solidarity, and trans-Indigenous relations are quite right. I see some movement in our Māori economy towards sustainability – but this concept is increasingly understood within a context of social justice. So this poses a challenge to us BOTH in relation to how we call colonial power to account – as well as how we call ourselves to account.
KATERINA: E koala! Ko rabwa Tina. I look forward to more conversations and wish you te mauri, te raoi ao tetabomoa in all endeavors for your family, people and lands.
So after a lot of thought I have decided I will be shifting gears and working a lot more through my patreon page.
Those of you who have been with me from day one will have seen the political progression of my work as it gradually became clearer and clearer that plastic pollution IS oil pollution IS colonialism, and Imperialism, and over the past year in particular, it’s become really clear to me that if we cannot address these core issues of entitlement to lands, bodies and waters that are not ours – then we will never heal ourselves or Papatuanuku. The journey has become so much more than a personal pledge to reduce plastic use, and over time this blog theme has become less suited to that fullness.
Events of this year have really crystallised that issue for me, and so while I will continue to stand up against big plastics and big oil (and am definitely still directly involved in research, activism, and advocacy on those issues) – I’ll be focussing my content now on issues that are more explicitly focussed on issues of race, imperialism, Indigenous rights and environmental care.
I want to acknowledge all of you who have been on this journey with me for the past seven years. There’s been a lot of growth and a huge amount of support that I’m forever grateful for.
I’ve had a lot of people asking me about the Doctrine of Discovery and Aotearoa lately – to be honest there isn’t a hell of a lot out there on that particular intersection (which is why I did the work that I did).
Anyways – here you go, for free, the e-copy of Kia Mau – Resisting Colonial Fictions.
If you feel moved to koha, please consider the following organisations: