Cerebrum Coloniae (Colonial Brains)

He Tirohanga Ki Tai (A View from the Shoreline): Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery is an exhibition featuring both leading and emerging Māori artists, who have created a completely sovereign space, supported by Indigenous funds, to hold a conversation critiquing the Cook invasion, the ensuing colonial experience, up to and including the TUIA250 events.

This exhibition started at Tairāwhiti Museum, in Whataupoko, Tūranganui a Kiwa, not far from the actual site of invasion itself. It subsequently toured to New York, where it was hosted by the ORA Gallery in Manhattan and accompanied with talks by First Nations scholars and myself on the specific impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous women. It will next be on display during NAISA at the University of Waikato, opening June 26th 2019 and on display until September 2019.

The works are able to be viewed here. A full catalogue and essay will soon be available, however for now I am sharing a brief essay I wrote about my own entry in the show: Cerebrum Coloniae (Colonizer Brains) – Whataūpoko.


Tina Ngata
Ngāti Porou
Cerebrum Coloniae series: First they discover you, then they subjugate you, then they fund you.
Plastic, glass, steel, wood

cerebrum diagram

#1 Cerebrum Praesumptor
14mm x 11mm x 4mm
“I am aware that the most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat, nor do I my self think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will att all justify me, but when we was once a long side of them we must either have stud to be knockd on the head or else retire and let them gone off in triumph and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timourousness”

#2 Cerebrum Agripeta
14mm x 9mm x 5mm
“They didn’t kill enough”

#3 Cerebrum Rex
14mm x 9mm x 5mm
“Where is the 5 percent discount for Pacific Island people, if they are actually causing trouble as well? They climb in the windows of other New Zealanders at night. It is not only Māori.”

This artwork (by the author) – responds to the claims that Cook was on a research expedition, and was no more than a benevolent scientist – a claim that is supported by the involvement of the Royal Society for Science and the various scientists on board such as Solander and Banks. This argument is often used to cloak the fact that Cook was also a naval officer, the HMS Bark Endeavour was a weaponized naval vessel, and they had direct orders to discover and claim lands for the Crown.

This fact aside, the use of science as a benevolent cloak also belies another truth – that it was systematically utilized in the colonization process to justify the killing and assimilation of Indigenous Peoples. In his article for E-tangata “Understanding Racism In This Country”  , Moana Jackson writes:

“Like all of the ideas that have been used to justify colonisation, racism developed over time through a complex and uniquely European history, in which the normal curiosity people have about the different and unknown was morphed into a patronising determination to equate difference with inferiority… The bodies of the racialised “other” became chattels to be enslaved, and lab rats to be dissected and measured and experimented upon.

Forlorn samples of pickled indigenous brains were scanned, and skulls were measured, as pseudo-scientists justified the European will to dispossess by inventing rationalisations about an indigenous lack of intelligence, and even an inability to appreciate the sublime.”

Many of the pseudo-scientists referred to by Jackson in this statement were members of the same Royal Society that sponsored expeditions into Indigenous territories. The practice of “phrenology” was based upon the notion that Indigenous peoples, due to the shape and size of their skulls, housed smaller brains and were therefore intellectually inferior. This conclusion was then used to justify colonization as a beneficent act upon savage, indolent peoples.

Collectively, this artwork turns the tale around, placing colonial brains on display, subjected to the gaze of others. They are presented in belljars, a common display method in Victorian science.

It’s also referenced in 1960s popular culture through the literary iconic novel “The Belljar” by author Sylvia Plath. In this novel, the author uses the metaphor of the belljar to describe how, from within the belljar, one’s perspective of the outside world is bulged, ugly, and distorted, and inescapable.

“Wherever I sat, on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok, I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

Within the context of this artwork, the belljar therefore references the lens of colonial phrenologists, anthropologists, navigators and politicians who have, throughout time, distorted the realities of Indigenous peoples to suit their own agendas.

This collection from the “Cerebrum Coloniae” (Colonial Brains) is termed Whataupoko, which references a site that is closely located near the Cook landing site, and a story which, from the Native perspective, plays a pivotal role in the story leading up to Cook’s invasion. It is also the site where “Tirohanga Ki Tai – Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery” first launched.

Whataupoko referred to the “piked heads” of Mahaki chiefs Tuarau o Te Rangi from Repongaere and Waiopotango from Whanau-a-Kai which were placed at the boundary marker of the Waimata riverbank, a mark of the mana of Konohi, a leader from Whāngarā who killed the two to protect the Whānau a Iwi people of that area. Konohi was the nephew of the highly esteemed chief Rakaiatāne. The grandson of Rakaiatāne was Te Maro – who was the first ancestor murdered during Cook’s invasion.

The three brains, as disembodied heads on pikes, therefore also reference the landblocks upon which the invasion took place, as sites of resistance, conflict, protection and resolution.

Although the brains are given quotes that come from actual people, each piece is given a latin name, as latin was the common language for European science from the 18th century onwards, and commonly used to denote species. The artists utilized this nomenclature to demonstrate the dehumanizing approach of European science towards Indigenous subjects – but also to reference that these are not just about singular events or individuals, but rather a socialized mindset and system of which these quotes are representative.


The first in the series is called Cerebrum Praesumptor – Brain of the Aggressive Invader. The quote is taken from the journal of James Cook, in reflecting upon his invasion of Tūranganui a Kiwa, wherein he shot and killed a number of unarmed fisherpeople on board their waka.

“I am aware that the most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat, nor do I my self think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will att all justify me, but when we was once a long side of them we must either have stud to be knockd on the head or else retire and let them gone off in triumph and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timourousness”

This is an important quote to highlight, because it highlights that Cook’s decision to carry out this mass-murder was not at all an act of self-defence – but merely one to exercise their superiority, so that the victims were not to think that they were in any way superior. This therefore speaks to the aggressive nature of Cook, and directly challenges the notion of colonization as a benign experience.

The second in the series is titled “Cerebrum Agripeta”. “Agripeta” translates in latin as “squatter, settler, landgrabber”. This refers to the colonial hordes who followed upon the heels of Cook, grabbing land, and establishing “settlements” by way of unsettling the Māori who were already there, and eventually setting up their own system of governance which is still in power today. The “Agripeta” power structure relies upon the colonial fictions of Cook’s arrival being just, and even the killings being necessary. This was reflected last year when a Gisborne District Councillor was heard to utter that Cook did not kill enough local Māori during the invasion. Thus, the brutal, presumptuous nature of the original invaders lives on, and continues to bear impacts for local Māori through the policies and governance decisions of “Cerebrum Agripeta”.

The final in the series is “Cerebrum Rex”. Rex, in latin, holds the multiple meanings of: Monarch, oppressor, usurper, and patron. This quote is taken from ex-MP Jenny Shipley, who, in response to the government selling radio channels to Māori with a 5% discount, remarked in parliament:

“Where is the 5 percent discount for Pacific Island people, if they are actually causing trouble as well? They climb in the windows of other New Zealanders at night. It is not only Māori”.

As Ani Mikaere notes, “This comment revealed as much about Pākehā New Zealand’s obsession with home invasion, as it did about Shipley’s racist belief in a Polynesian prevalence for criminal activity”. 

Like Cerebrum Agripeta, Cerebrum Rex relies upon colonial fictions, and the suppression of Indigenous truth, in order to maintain it’s oppressive power structure. This is seen in Shipley’s attitude towards Maori historical accounts, when she said:

“While all political parties in my experience are generally committed to closing the gaps that exist in health, welfare, education and employment, this won’t be achieved by rewriting history”.

This was in response to Tariana Turia referring to the Māori experience of colonization as a “holocaust” (which is literally defined as destruction or slaughter on a mass scale).
Mikaere goes on to note that “The response of Pākehā politician, media and public to a simple truth about the genocidal impact of colonization on Indigenous Peoples typifies the fear and ocerreaction that usually accompanies any interpretation of events other than the one that sustains their own shaky foundations.”

Today, Dame Jenny Shipley is the co-chair the National Coordinating Committee for the multimillion dollar TUIA250 patron fund that is facilitating the invasion anniversary events.

Why I Won’t Give the Cook Celebrations My Brown-ness.

porourangi poutama
So here we are, in the thick of it – 2019. The Cook celebrations are set in train in multiple townships across our country and there is a hearty debate on their impact and value.

From the moment it crossed my attention back in 2014 I have opposed it wholeheartedly. There are many other Māori, however, who have decided to participate. I’m not going to speak to their motives – that is for them to do. One of the most common tactics of the colonizer is to place Natives in front of other Natives to hold the debate about colonial abuse – so that the colonizer can continue on their business.

What I am going to speak to here, however, is my own reasoning why I, as a Ngāti Porou woman from Te Tairāwhiti, have not, and will not, participate in the TUIA250 funded Cook events.

The “Kia Mau” FB group and Declaration was founded by Robyn Kahukiwa, and is for Indigenous Peoples to state their opposition to TUIA250.

Now, back in 2014 when I first started vocally opposing these events, I was approached by members and associates of “Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust” with various versions of “please be quiet and/or get on the waka”. I have been offered a “River Award”, I have been cajoled, and cried at, and when the attempts to recruit failed – the tactics shifted to publicly discrediting me as a liar, purist, and a hater who “needs to keep her mouth shut”. That’s not so much cause for “woe is me” but rather, it’s interesting to see how determined these attempts have been. I’ve seen them do the same with others who have opposed – with varying results. The conversation themes generally went along the lines of:

“This is your chance to tell your side of the story”
“There’s a lot of money involved, you can make this work for you and your people, get something good out of it”
“You can get some conservation wins out of this”
“We need to start focussing on how to chart a path forward together”

“Look for better or worse, it happened, and we need to acknowledge that”
“Well the events are going ahead anyway, with or without you, so you just need to decide if you want your voice in there or not.”

Now, I can focus on every single one of those arguments but I think it’s more important right now to focus on why brown endorsement of the TUIA250 events is so important.

Of course, if you ask any person involved in these events they will rightfully point out that it is ethically important to “both sides of the story”. Of course we have never required colonial permission or validation to tell our side of the story, we’ve been doing that for a long time – but in all honesty – if this were really about some benevolent intent to make sure I had my side of the story included, then the attempts would never have tipped over into aggression.

So let’s consider, instead, what this would have looked like without any brown endorsement and involvement: Colonial funds, celebrating colonial arrival, telling a colonial story. Colonizing governments spending tens of millions of dollars purely on themselves, while Indigenous peoples remain in poverty.

It would never have gotten past square 1.

For this reason, whenever I hear people talk about how we can use this as “our chance to tell our story” – what I cannot help but consider, is how we are actually being used for the colonizer to center their own story. Indeed, Indigenous participation on the margin is vital to the centering of the colonizer.

Therein is my first reason why I will not lend them my brown-ness: I will not play any role in the colonizer centering of themselves in the story of my land.

Of course it’s vital to get brown endorsement of these events – it sends a signal to ourselves, and the world, that our interests are being represented and supported. In this sense – it doesn’t really matter what is said in our participation – what counts is that we participated. That is what the world will see, and when TUIA250 is critiqued, that is the first defence they have.

Therein lies the second reason I will not lend them my brown-ness: I will not be a tool of defence for our colonial government.

This is a form of exploitation that functions to cloak the white supremacy which sits at the heart of these events. The very articulate Moana Jackson (I know… I quote him a lot) has reflected that:

When many Europeans were still nervously venturing into what Socrates called the “little pond” of the Mediterranean, the peoples of the Pacific were charting the greatest ocean in the world. They mapped its currents, reached for stories in its depths, and established a whakapapa that joined all of its islands together. That is a story worthy of being honoured — but in the Crown commemorations, it is only being told in the shadowed narrative of someone else.

There is what you say in an event, and there is what an event says – just as monuments are a signal of what society deems important enough to embed as a marker of our identity on the landscape – so too are publicly funded nationwide events a statement in and of themselves. They are a monument in time that says THIS date matters, that THIS person matters, and that they matter enough to center our identity on it. In placing our stories within the wake of the colonizer, we give them power to once again be our great benefactor, the center of our success. This is why groups like Robyn Kahukiwa’s “Kia Mau” page, and the accompanying declaration, is so important. It is not just opposing the celebrations – it is DENYING them our participation, as Tangata Whenua.


Like I stated above – the colonial story does not hold center stage in my story of Aotearoa. It does not even share center stage. Māori are the center of this nation’s identity, and the colonial story (even that which sits in my own whakapapa) is a much more recent addition to the story of Aotearoa. We are very selective in what counts as history in this country – certainly, the “Māori Land Wars” (probably more aptly called the Colonial Theft Wars) are not deemed important enough to be embedded in the national curriculum. In Aotearoa our history is consistently misrepresented, and indeed even the historians at the very center of the Cook campaign continue to misrepresent the facts of what happened, positioning Cook as benevolent, framing his killing of Native people as a mere character flaw of an otherwise noble renaissance man, and deliberately minimising the murders of brown people that he carried out everywhere he went. Our participation alongside these people implies endorsement of their fictions, and therein lies my third reason I will not participate in these events: I refuse to allow my brown-ness to endorse the continuation of colonial fictions about the killing of my ancestors, and the theft of our lands and waters.

There is also a larger story and issue at play here and that is the global struggle of opposing the impacts of The Doctrine of Discovery. It has played out all around the world, and has been highlighted by the United Nations as the driver of all Indigenous dispossession. As a mindset, the Doctrine of Discovery reiterates an entitlement to conquer for the sake of imperial expansion. That mindset sits at the heart of corporate empires to this very day, and fuels the processes of climate change and ocean pollution which place our very existence at threat. I cannot maintain a position of solidarity with my Indigenous brothers and sisters, or one of care for our Earth Mother, while reinforcing the very mindset which threatens them all. I will not allow my Indigeneity to be used in a process that places the roots of my Indigeneity, and my Indigenous brothers and sisters, at threat.

The Doctrine of Discovery is the bedrock of the colonial structure that sits around us. Like all structures – if left alone, the colonial power structure will soon crumble in on itself. It requires acts of restoration and reinforcement in order to sustain itself. Disguising Indigenous truth with colonial fiction is one such act of reinforcement. These colonial fictions look like:

“We were discovered”
“Our colonial experience is historical”
“Our colonial experience was benevolent and non-violent”
“Our colonial experience was invited”
“Our colonial experience has been overall beneficial”

Capitalising on the ‘benefits’ of a platform for us to tell our side of the story belies two facts, one: that we have already been telling this story without them for 250 years, and have generally been vilified, by our colonizers, for doing so. And two: that if the colonizer was generally interested in our side of the story they could have joined us in this practice at any point over the past 250 years rather than vilifying us, or arguing with us. The entire Waitangi Tribunal process is a harrowing experience of us telling our truths about the colonial experience while the Crown continues to deny or minimize it – and that is going on still, today.

Of course it is hoped that the pockets of Indigenous truth that are allowed through these events will result in some social shift towards justice. This does not, however, allow for the bulk of colonial fiction that is being funded through this event. Those colonial fictions will continue to frustrate my children and mokopuna’s struggle for sovereignty in their own land – because the first step to justice is TRUTH. TUIA250 may not be willing to take responsibility for the colonial mistruths they are facilitating around the country, but I can certainly make them accountable through refusing to lend them my brown-ness.

Most especially – you will not find me anywhere near a welcoming ceremony for the replica of the death ship, Endeavour. To provide welcoming ceremonies for the replica of a ship which killed our people and stole our lands is exactly the kind of endorsement our colonizer requires of us to maintain their false premise of being invited, and welcome, in their role. These kinds of optics are vital for the colonizer – which is why I use the term “brown-ness” because to them it is very much a performative, optical endorsement of their presence and behaviour that they seek – even though within Te Ao Māori these ceremonies, our whakapapa and mana, should mean so much more. This is why it becomes difficult and confusing for whānau and communities who don’t want to welcome the colonizer, but do want to welcome each other, our waka hourua, and our performers, who are walking alongside the colonizer, ushering the colonizer into these opportunities. You see – it is US providing the coloniser with opportunities to tell their story and indeed center it, not the other way around.

Tōku mana Māori, he mana Māori motuhake – a line from the anthem of our tuakana, Te Whānau a Apanui. My mana is a gift of my ancestors, inherited to me by way of whakapapa, genealogy. They have survived 250 years of colonial fictions and oppression. Their marks upon my skin, their name that I carry, their values in my heart, their matauranga in my mind. Regardless of my actual skin colour – everything that the colonizer perceives as my “brown-ness” actually comes from them, it is a sacred part of who I am, my connection to this land and these waters – and that is the most important reason I cannot, and will not, allow it to be used within a systemic legitimisation of colonial crimes.

Nōku tēnei whenua, kei a au te kōrero. Nōku tēnei whenua, ko au te rangatira – Apirana Mahuika

(This is my land, this is my story to tell. This is my land, and I am the authority)

James Cook and the Doctrine of Discovery – 5 Things to Know

The Doctrine of Discovery (also known as the Doctrine of Christian Discovery) is an international legal concept and Christian principle, that is borne out a number of catholic laws (called “papal bulls”) originating out of the Vatican in the 15th and 16th centuries. It gave the monarchies of Britain and Europe the right to conquer and claim lands, and to convert or kill the native inhabitants of those lands.

In 2019 it will be 250 years since this process was carried out in Aotearoa New Zealand, by James Cook. Here are 5 important things to know about that:

Related image

  1. The intent of the Doctrine
    The Doctrine of Discovery provided a framework for Christian explorers, in the name of their King or Queen, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians. If the lands were vacant, then they could be defined as “discovered” and sovereignty claimed.

  2. Within the framework of the Doctrine, Indigenous Peoples were considered non-human
    The Doctrine asserts that non-Christians on these discovered lands were not human and therefore the land was empty or “terra nullius”. When Cook arrived in Aotearoa he was under orders to claim land for King George III, preferably by consent – however he did so without consent. When he arrived in Australia, there would have been up to 750,000 people living there, who had been living on those lands for over 65,000 years, however, he declared the land “terra nullius”, which means he declared the Indigenous people of Australia to be not human, and the land empty – and then claimed the land for King George III. In Aotearoa, Lieutenant William Hobson, on order from the British Crown, declared Te Waipounamu (The South Island) terra nullius in 1840 and then claimed it for the Crown.

    Image result for united nations doctrine of discovery

  3. The UN’s perspective on the Impact of the Doctrine of Discovery (May, 2012)
    “The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues concluded its eleventh session with the approval of a set of nine draft recommendations, highlighted by a text approved on the special theme, the ongoing impact of the Discovery Doctrine on indigenous peoples and the right redress. That fifteenth century Christian principle was denounced throughout the session as the “shameful” root of all the discrimination and marginalization indigenous peoples face today.

    The Permanent Forum noted that, while such frameworks of domination and “conquest” were promoted as authority for land acquisition, they also encouraged despicable assumptions: that Indigenous peoples were “savages”, “barbarians”, “inferior and uncivilized,” among other constructs the colonizers used to justify their subjugation, domination and exploitation of the lands, territories and resources of native peoples.

  4. The Doctrine of Discovery is a legal foundation for many of the courtcases and pieces of legislation in Aotearoa New Zealand, that have alienated Māori land.
    One of the most famous courtcases in New Zealand legal history is Wi Parata vs The Bishop of Wellington 1877. You can find the details out here, but it’s impact was huge for New Zealand law, in that it famously declared the Treaty of Waitangi “a simple nullity” and found that the only valid title to land was Crown title. This finding, by Judge James Prendergast, relied upon a precedent case from the USA: Johnson vs McIntosh which invoked the Doctrine of Discovery. In this case, US Chief Justice John Marshall repeatedly cited the Discovery Doctrine, saying:

“that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects it was made, against all other European governments [which] necessarily gave to the nation making the discovery the sole right of acquiring the soil from the natives.” Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. 543, 5 L.Ed. 681, 8 Wheat. 543 (1823)

In using this US case as a precedent, Judge Prendergast inserted the Doctrine of Discovery into New Zealand law, and these findings continued to then be used as precedent and be supported by New Zealand judges in the denial of Māori rights and the alienation of Māori land right up to the current day. In fact, in the Court of Appeal case Ngati Apa v Attorney-General – famously known as the Foreshore and Seabed case, Chief Justice Sian Elias referenced Wi Parata vs Bishop of Wellington by saying that:

“I am of the view that the approach taken by Turner J in the Supreme Court and by the Court of Appeal in In Re the Ninety-Mile Beach can be explained only on the basis that they were applying the approach taken in Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington. On that approach Maori property had no existence in law until converted into land held in fee of the Crown. Until then it was assumed to be Crown property…. For the reasons already given, such view is contrary to the common law”
Ngati Apa v Attorney-General [2003] 3 NZLR 643, 663.

In legal speak, that’s Chief Justice Sian Elias saying “GTFOH with any idea that the Crown owns the foreshore”. In response, the NZ Govt drafted legislation that, in direct conflict with these findings, vested ownership of the NZ Foreshore and Seabed with the Crown.
So even when the judges stopped explicitly supporting it, the NZ government still based legislation on the Doctrine of Discovery that alienated our foreshore and seabed.

5. The Doctrine of Discovery continues to dispossess Indigenous Peoples of our rights every day

The Doctrine of Discovery has come to mean much more than a legal concept. It has been acknowledged by the United Nations as “the driver of all Indigenous dispossession”. The laws and policies that grew out of the Doctrine have come to shape society’s ideas and attitudes about Indigenous Peoples and our rights. In 2012 at the United Nations, international human rights and Indigenous rights lawyer Moana Jackson said:

“. . . while the Doctrine of Discovery was always promoted in the first instance as an authority to claim land of indigenous peoples, there were much broader assumptions implicit in the doctrine. For to open up an indigenous land to the gaze of the colonising “other”, there is also in their view an opening up of everything that was in and of the land being claimed. Thus, if the Doctrine of Discovery suggested a right to take control of another nation’s land, it necessarily also implied a right to take over the lives and authority of the people to whom the land belonged. It was in that sense, and remains to this day, a piece of genocidal legal magic that could, with the waving of a flag or the reciting of a proclamation, assert that the land allegedly being discovered henceforth belonged to someone else, and that the people of that land were necessarily subordinate to the colonisers.”

In short, Moana is pointing out that the Doctrine of Discovery has been used not only to exercise control over Indigenous lands, but also over Indigenous peoples – this is probably best reflected by the many, many times Cook and his crew took natives lives while also taking the land.

This disregard for Indigenous rights remains to be the case, at all levels, today. Importantly – the “waving of a flag or reciting of a proclomation” that Moana refers to are the rituals carried out by colonisers to apply the Doctrine of Discovery and state the claim of the Crown to those lands. These rituals are about to be re-enacted around Aotearoa and Australia to mark the anniversary of the original claim of the Crown.


If we are to accept that the current NZ government is in breach of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi by 1. establishing itself in a way that subverted tino rangatiratanga and 2. failing to secure adequate and appropriate Māori representation as defined by Māori – then this begs the question – by what right does the government of New Zealand make laws that impact upon Māori lives and lands? By what right does this government continue to breach the very document that permits its presence, yet still retain power?

The simple answer is – the NZ government is not operating under the provisions of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It is operating under the provisions of The Doctrine of Discovery – which it will be re-entrenching throughout 2019.  

Time to Pray

I have been here on Turtle Island for the past 3 weeks for many reasons, but largely to conduct a range of discussions and research on the Doctrine of Discovery. Through our He Tirohanga ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery art exhibition, through panel discussions, through community discussions, through interviews and through United Nations interventions – I have twisted and turned this issue of the Doctrine of Discovery around and examined it from multiple angles, and I have come to a couple of conclusions… probably most of them I already knew, but they have crystallised in their importance.

  1. Papatūānuku is crying out for us to wake up. For over 500 years – since the Catholic church declared that European Christians held exceptional levels of entitlement to non-white, non-christian lands, minerals, waters, animals, and that the peoples of those lands (Indigenous peoples) were expendable – our planet has undergone a destructive experience based upon this racist, greedy, and unjust ideology. Today what that looks like is an extremely small group of people benefitting from global corporate empires. It looks like all of us behaving in a way that does not honour our relationship to Papatūānuku, and our dependency upon her. That cry can be heard in unprecedented extinction rates. It can be heard in the loss of ecological beauty. It can be heard in climate disaster after climate disaster. It can be heard in our Indigenous youth suicide rates. I can be heard in the heartbreaking numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Papatūānuku is crying out, and I don’t know what it will take for us to hear her.
  2. Truth is the first step in the journey to justice. If we cannot face the truth, we have no place pretending to care about a pathway to justice. The ugly, brutal, whole truth about the cost of Imperial expansion around the world must be told, in order to fully understand how to right our course.
  3. Racism against Indigenous peoples is an extra kind of difficult for settler colonial governments to address – because it requires more economic sacrifice than any other kind of contrition. As far away as they are from addressing most kinds of racism – they are even further away from addressing that towards Indigenous peoples.
  4. Re-enacting colonial acts of invasion has huge negative implications for these goals.

  5. This is the most difficult part: Colonizers have a lot of work to do, that Indigenous people cannot do for them. We can speak our Indigenous truth, but it will take the colonizer to dismantle the power structure that keeps them at the top. It will take them facing the truth, accepting the truth, committing to change, and then implementing change. It will take them giving up power, giving back lands, stepping down from their platforms, and decentering themselves. They must do this for their own sake, as well as that of Papatūānuku. It’s the most difficult because… I don’t know what it will take for them to do that. I’ve never known power to disestablish itself.

I, for one, am going to pray – to all ancestors and Ātua – for colonizers to come to this realisation before it is too late.

What Does A Just, Safe Aotearoa Look Like?

E rere ngā roimata mamae aroha,
Te tangi a te ngākau kua haehaetia e te aroha mōu,
Taku tūngāne, taku tuakana, taku taina.
Koutou e tū mai nei i te papa mākū i te marangai,
Koutou kua koroewetia i te pō
Te Pō uriuri, Te Pō tango-tango
E rere ngā roimata, e rere, e rere.

E rere, e te whānau kua riro atu ki te pō.
Tāne ma,
Wāhine ma,
Haere hoki atu ra ki o tini whanaunga ki tua o te arai, e tatari ana mō koutou.
Ngā ringa kua tūwhera atu, ngā karanga pōhiri, ngā whatu piataata i te aroha.
E rere ki te taha o tō koutou Kaihanga, a Allah, okioki ai i tōna aroha, i tōna korōria.
As-salāmu ʿalaykum

Our tears flow,
Our hearts hewn by our anguish for you,
My brother, my sister,
Standing on soil sodden with tears
Folded over in grief, in this darkness
In the darkness that swirls
In the darkness that takes
Let the tears flow.

Return as a family, the spirits that have been received into the night,
Return to your loved multitudes who wait beyond the veil for you
Arms outstretched,
voices calling you,
eyes ashine in love for you,
Return to the side of your creator Allah, to rest in his love and glory
Peace be upon you.


The vigils for our slain Muslim whānau in Ōtautahi are rolling out across the country. The numbers are a force of aroha, a tide of emotion for what has occurred, and this is only right. It’s only right that we grieve together right now, and support our whānau through this time. The government’s care and support of our Muslim whānau has (to all media accounts) been appropriate, and there have been promises for changes to prevent this happening again. So far those changes are in the form of gun laws – but for many others, we know that changing the gun laws are just the very first step in what is needed to prevent racial hatred, and for us to feel safe again.


There are so many layers to this issue, and it’s important at times like this to remember there is a hierarchy of opinion, and we must amplify Muslim voices here as the community primarily attacked. I have really appreciated the reflections coming from our Muslim and refugee whānau here, in Australia, in the Middle East and on Great Turtle Island.

Please, please share and support Anjum

Anjum Rahman has been a long time leader of the Muslim community here in Aotearoa and I can’t overstate my admiration for the work she has put in over the years. Please, please share her voice – people need to understand that our government, and the past government, have actively refused to confront Islamophobia and white supremacy, and instead have vilified the most vulnerable – a practice which, as you will see below, is all too common in Aotearoa.

This piece by Randa Abdel-Fattah has made some very salient connections between the treatment of Muslim, and immigrant whanau, and the treatment of Indigenous peoples, by settler colonial governments.

And I agree – you want a readout on how governments will treat their refugees and immigrants – observe how they have treated their first nation.

Settler colonialism may primarily impact Indigenous peoples, but it rests within a mindset of white supremacy that harms all communities of colour. Many Māori understand this, and it has been the underpinning of the strong Māori support for  Palestine, and for our refugee and immigrant communities. That support remains today. Indeed, there has never been a more important time to talk about our interconnected realities of Māori, Muslim, and refugees, in Aotearoa.

I cannot imagine the depth of pain that you are going through, my Muslim brothers and sisters. The trauma of our own slaughters have receded to rest in our bones and memories. But I can grieve with you, and stand in complete solidarity with you. I will karakia (pray) for you, for your loved ones. I will hold you in my heart – and most importantly I will continue to fight for our country to be a safer place for you, for us all. I wish I could hold faith that this will be the white light to bring justice to our nation, as called for in the prayers of Imam Nizam ul haq Thanvi.

My lived experience in this nation, however, leads me to agree with Lamia Imam, in her article above:

“Today, we are united in our grief and everyone is saying all the right things. By next year we will forget, and small racist incidents will go unnoticed by the media and the police.”

Indeed, you can be assured – not everyone who grieves and prays with us this week, will be ready to effect change, even next week.

But we, Tangata Whenua will, my brothers and sisters. We will continue to call for change. We will continue to call for an end to the killings at the hands of white supremacists that we have been experiencing from, well, for 250 years now, since the moment James Cook arrived here and slaughtered our ancestors.
We will be with you, in prayer, we will support you in grief. We will continue to stand with you in demanding change.

We are will continue our march to ensure that the violence ends –

That of the gun, or any other weapon. That of the spoken word. That of the government policy and legislation.

Ironically, many of us who will stand with you on these issues are, like you, surveilled and placed on terrorist watchlists by the NZ government, often for standing up to the oil industry in our lands, or US imperial militarism on our waters. This does not dissuade our call for Aotearoa to address our white supremacy and racial injustice.

Like NZ’s 2002 Suppression of Terrorism Act – that was borne of the US “War on Terrorism” after 9/11. Signed off by Helen Clark, and utilised to surveil, stalk, and ultimately invade Māori communities. Used to board children’s buses with automatic weapons and balaclavas. Used to lock families in sheds, drag elders out onto the street barely clothed, and terrorise the defenders of Maori and environmental rights up and down the country. All charges of terrorism were eventually dropped (not before ruining many lives), and all the while, NZ Police ignored the armed white supremacist militia groups in Christchurch.


Yes, we were highlighting, and decrying white supremacy and calling for change back then. Our government responded by calling our own people terrorists, surveiling them, attacking them and their communities, charging them with bogus offences, and maligning them in the media.

Mind you – this experience can also be traced back to the 1863 Suppression of Rebellion Act, where our ancestors who spoke out against invading forces (or indeed were just inconveniently located on land desired by a settler) were labelled rebels, imprisoned without trial, and sent away to prison camps, their land confiscated and given to settlers.

It can, of course, be traced back even further, as mentioned above, to the arrival of James Cook, and his entitlement to take our lives, should we stand up to him in his duty of applying one of the ultimate white supremacist international legal concepts – the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.

Māori still decry these instances of brutal white supremacy today (just as I will expect us to decry the Christchurch massacres for the next century and beyond) – far from supporting us, though – the government is investing $25million to memorialize the murderer in nationwide events and a national curriculum.

We still decry the Suppression of Rebellion Act, and Rangiaowhia, and all of the injustice of the Land Wars, and in the settlement of this country – do we get millions of dollars and a national curriculum so that future generations can learn about the fact that this very nation is built upon injustice, including massacres, by white supremacists?

No. When we call for justice – we are criminalised,

While white supremacists are memorialised.

So you see, our work to heal and protect our nation from racism began some time ago – and we have continually been thwarted by previous governments, and by this government, and even by our local governments.

I have to come back to Anjum again, at this point:

At least five years of solid government engagement across a National-led and then a Labour-led government. We begged and pleaded, we demanded. We knocked on every door we could, we spoke at every forum we were invited to.

At a major security conference in February 2018, Aliya challenged the sector: if you can spend so much on surveilling our community, why can you not spend on preventative programmes?

I just don’t see how the government is going to address this. Gun control is a necessary start but it doesn’t deal to the deeply rooted racism that all communities of colour have called the government’s attention to for a long time.

Solutions won’t come from this government’s racist police force – where you are 3 times more likely to be arrested and 11 times more likely to be remanded in custody if you are Māori. Not from the racist immigration system that profiles people using harmful Middle Eastern stereotypes. Not from the justice system that is four times more likely to convict and seven times more likely to imprison a brown person. Not from the health system that is more likely to let a brown baby die, or the social system that is far more likely to just take your brown baby away.

Brown lives have historically not spurred our government to action. Not when they are our people in their courtrooms, not when they are our people in their prisons. Brown lives have not mattered to them when they are our children. Brown lives have not even mattered to them when they are babies.

How can this government possibly be equipped to deal with such deeply entrenched racism and Islamophobia? It cannot stop carrying out genocide through the taking of our children. It refuses to educate our future generations about the foundational white supremacy of our nation. It refuses to effectively investigate it within its own ranks. Indeed – it is borne of it.


And let’s be clear – any racism assessment worth its salt, would ultimately point out that the very fabric of our government is white supremacy – and that it simply cannot pretend to be facing it’s own complicitness with white supremacy whilst enforcing colonial law on Māori land, without Māori consent.

Someone needs to explain to me how a government so deeply entrenched in racism at every level, is meant to save us from it.

Pulling racism out at the roots in our county means dealing to settler colonialism. Justice on settler colonial lands starts with our ancestral god-given right to govern ourselves on our own lands, to secure the safety of our whānau (family), and our manuhiri (guests). Justice, in this land, begins with returning what has been denied and stolen. The safety and integrity of our whānau, the integrity of our land, the integrity of our waters.

Anjum needs to be listened to. Lamia needs to be listened to. We need to be listened to. The changes required here are big, and fundamentally reformative. It will take no less to walk this pathway together to justice, and security, as a nation. Until I see these discussions and actions undertaken by our government, I will remain sceptical of their ability to keep any of us safe from white supremacy. 

We will continue to fight for this, for the safety of our children, for the safety of our lands, for the safety of our Muslim whānau, and all communities of colour.

As-salāmu ʿalaykum

Gisborne District Council – Racism isn’t going away (and nor will we).

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Nice building, shame about the racism

Ahhh Councils… they really know how to put the “settler” in settler colonialism. Maybe it’s the dominance of older white farmers. Maybe it’s the tantalising opportunity to directly manipulate land and resources within a region. Maybe it’s the finger sandwiches and savouries. Whatever the cause – Councils around the country can’t seem to help but fall prey to their own settler colonial mentalities, downplaying the issues that disadvantage Māori, like Institutional racism, Treaty responsibilities, and fair representation, to focus on “more pressing matters”.

There have been some very asute observations by the public around the way in which the recent issue of racism within local government in Gisborne have been handled, with recommendations that the Council requires basic governance training more than Treaty or race relations training. I can completely see where that line of reasoning comes from.
One thing I’ve noticed though, is how easily councils relax the rules for themselves, and how swiftly they buckle their process boots for others.

Case in point: When accompanying Meredith to her interview with the Code of Conduct board, I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (I didn’t). The reason given? “It’s just process”.

Was there to be a transcript taken so that any breach of the NDA could be proven? No.
The Chair Rehette Stoltz (who bears an extraordinary conflict of interest here by virtue of sitting on the trust that will oversee the Cook celebrations) offered to record the meeting. I accepted that offer. It didn’t get recorded.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, although the Code of Conduct Committee is supposed to be there to investigate breaches of the COC, it was stated repeatedly by Pare Keiha that the most important issue on the council was public confidence in Council. They should probably rename it the Damage Control Committee or something then.
While in the meeting it was suggested to Councillor Akuhata-Brown that “sometimes these affairs work out better if one or both sides simply apologise… you don’t have to say what you’re apologising for, but it can help smooth things over, would you consider that?”

So let’s pause to consider that statement for a moment. A committee put together ostensibly to examine a breach of the Code of Conduct, with a Chair who holds a distinct conflict of interest, redefined its own purpose in that meeting, and then suggested that the subject of the enquiry offer a non-apology.

Small coincidence then that the Councillor in question, Malcolm Maclean, met with the same committee, and then afterwards offered Meredith a non-apology for what she “thought” she heard. She accepted it at the time and then changed her mind, and while that has been again duly criticized, let’s have a look again at the council behaviour around that context.

The meeting, and a subsequent one where she was invited, where council called upon Meredith to meet with local media, was one where she was refused the right to a support person. She was effectively isolated in the face of her bullies, which is unacceptable and a form of coercion. Any acceptance offered by Meredith of what was offered in those meetings needs to be understood within that context.

Next case in point: The subsequent extraordinary GDC meetings.
So because Meredith, away from the isolated and intimidating context of GDC, rethought her acceptance of the apology, and again spoke to the media, an “extraordinary” meeting was then held by GDC.

And extraordinary it was.

Now, the role of ANY chair in a meeting is to provide fair and impartial guidance to a meeting, ensuring meeting rules are upheld, in a manner that is neutral to the issues discussed.

Rehette at first outlines the format of the meeting, where she, as the Chair of the Code of Conduct Committee, as well as the spokesperson for the Council in Meng’s absence, will give the Council background information in order to bring everyone up to speed, followed by a roundtable discussion and recommendations.

Except that’s not what happened at all. The “update” was loaded with judgemental language, addressed Meredith directly in a reprimanding tone, drawing clear lines of blame between the impacts, and Meredith’s acts, NOT the racist or offensive comment that was stated in the first place, and certainly fails any reasonable standards of neutrality.

My jaw was on the ground watching this. It is COMPLETELY inappropriate for a Chair to take this tone and make such statements. She continues on to call upon Meredith to explain “what it was you were hoping to achieve by playing this out through the media”.

It is a Clearly. Hostile. Meeting.

Throughout Rehette’s statement, people are paying attention.

Now watch as Meredith speaks after her. Both Rehette and the CEO are on their phones. Are shuffling papers. Are whispering to each other. Rehette’s tone and body language is cold and closed towards Meredith, with no real recognition for Meredith’s position offered. Compare it to her tone and body language to others.

The microaggressions abound.

So too the breaches of standing orders.

As does the denial.

And so does the self-centeredness.

Again and again we hear from Council how sad this is FOR THEM. How difficult this is FOR THEM. I responded because I just couldn’t, any more, with the “what about me”isms from our largely white/white passing councillors.

Institutional racism kills. If we are real about wanting to deal to it we must tackle it head on, in the open, in the light. There is NOTHING to fear from talking about racism.

Admitting to institutional racism does NOT detract from the great work carried out with Iwi Māori. In fact, it augments it and takes your relationship with Iwi to a new level because guess what…

We (Māori) ALREADY know GDC is institutionally racist! We’re just waiting to celebrate the day you finally admit it, so we can have honest discussions about how to deal with it.

So here we have the meeting the following day. More microaggressions. Note the big sigh Rehette offers when allowing Meredith to speak (17.34). Note how at 19.04 she actually gets up to walk across the room while Meredith is giving her statement. Note how Rehette allows Councillor Cranston to completely interject and breach standing orders to be rude to Councillor Akuhata-Brown, with no response from Chair whatsoever.
Just incredible.

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Meredith (in orange) speaking. Who’s missing?

In this next meeting we hear from Councillor Maclean, who we now know is the Councillor in question. Again, note the body language carefully. Councillor Maclean has, by this point (some weeks later), constructed an alternative offering of what was said.

To be fair, the week of the Code of Conduct hearing, over two weeks after the incident, and two weeks before this meeting, Councillor Maclean had already inferred he did not say anything wrong though the non-apology for “what you thought you heard”.

We still have not heard why Councillor Maclean did not simply come out in the first instance with a clear denial.

And what about when it all first happened? Well, in spite of some councillors saying that they want to firmly put this behind us, shut the door, and “move on” (see the 2nd GDC meeting at 10.05 where Cllr Burdett asks for it to be shut down, and Cllr Rehette Stoltz states “It stops here”) – YOUR VOTING PUBLIC WANT TO KNOW. So much so, that we requested all councillor emails relating to the issue through the Official Information Act.

Councillor Maclean’s initial response to Meredith’s article, just 2 days after it was published, is below:


Now keep in mind:
The context of the statement was made very clear. There was no confusion as to WHO Meredith was referring to. There was no other councillor on hand, in the original incident, that spoke just after Mayor Meng Foon mentioned Cook’s murder of local Māori saying anything remotely similar to this. So it was only Malcolm that Meredith could have been referring to and he knew this.

He didn’t deny it.

What he called it was “a throwaway comment” and refused to take ownership for it, no doubt hoping it would at that point all go away without him having to take ownership.
Two weeks later he was inferring she misheard him entirely.

Council’s news release on the Code of Conduct meeting?
Let’s see if you can see who’s missing:



It’s like mean girls, in government.
No, Council – we do NOT want you to bury this, to close the door on it and pretend that this problem does not exist.

Yet STILL – knowing this, Council want to close the entire thing up, and carry on as if the Institutional racism coating this entire affair is not unfairly impacting Māori in this region. Councillor’s statements make it EXTREMELY clear that they have no idea what racism is, and how it operates.

But enough is enough. I cannot praise Meredith highly enough for sitting in there, amongst this ONGOING level of toxicity, bias, disregard, isolation, abuse of process and privilege, and continue to go to bat for us, the victims of Institutional racism in her region. Thankyou Meredith.

For the rest of Gisborne District Council. This WILL NOT go away. We will continue to insist that you, as a council, admit to your own racial bias, and work OPENLY to address it, for the betterment of everyone in our region.

We can do better, GDC.

(And in closing… Robin DiAngelo, Robin DiAngelo, Robin DiAngelo)

A Racist Democracy Is No Democracy

In 1981 Gisborne had something to say about racism

It was the Springboks tour of New Zealand. South Africa was still ensconced in the draconian and racist policy of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for speaking out against this regime (you see, that is what an actual denial of free speech looks like). The people of the land in South Africa were being oppressed, and Aotearoa heard their cry. Our government didn’t respond, NZ Rugby didn’t respond, but we did.

Image result for springbok protests gisborne
Isn’t it funny how things move in circles.

Move forward 37 years, we have a South African Gisborne District councilor leading a Code of Conduct Committee investigation into a complaint laid against a Māori councilor who heard her colleague make a racist, hateful statement about the people of this land, and decided to speak out.

All in the context of a national dialogue about free speech, and racism.

But perhaps I’ve jumped too far forward in our story, let’s take a step back and recap the past few weeks.

While Aotearoa was caught in the grip of discussions about, and protests against, racism, white supremacy, and hate speech disguised as free speech. Gisborne District Councillor, Meredith Akuhata-Brown was in the USA attending the Freedom Writers gathering. The Freedom Writers were made famous by the film starring Hilary Swank, which spoke to the power of courageous writing, the power of speaking your truth. Our ability to write our way to freedom. Our ability to write our way to justice.

Upon returning to Gisborne, it was the birthday of Nelson Mandela, and Meredith was in council chambers when she overheard a discussion about the arrival of James Cook in Turanganui a Kiwa. When the story arrived to the point where our ancestors were shot and killed – Meredith heard her colleague comment that “not enough were killed”.

What was Meredith to do?

She had become quite accustomed to racist comments in council. In one session alone she recorded, and wrote down, 15 racist comments which she took to the head of the ethics committee and was promptly told to forget them.

On that same day, the councilor column on the events in the GDC was due to be submitted, and it was Meredith’s turn to write the column. With the Freedom writers, Nelson Mandela, and her tipuna on her side and in her heart, Meredith wrote her way to freedom.

Freedom from complicitness with a hate crime. Freedom from the burden of hearing her people derided in the halls of decisionmaking, and her own objections being ignored. Freedom from the façade of racial harmony in Tūranganui a Kiwa.

In less than 24hrs she had a Code of Conduct complaint laid against her for bringing the council into disrepute.

This is the Gisborne we live in.

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An email received by GDC councilors following Meredith’s column

The Chair of the Code of Conduct Committee, Rehette Stoltz, is the current Deputy Mayor, an ex-pat South African who first came here herself in 2001, and a member of the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust, the mandated body for the impending events to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of James Cook.

Now let us again consider this situation. A member of the Trust responsible for promoting and profiling the Cook Commemorations is presiding over an investigation of the whistleblower on a fellow councillor’s racist perspectives of the Cook narrative. Did she declare her conflict of interest? No. And yet, of course, it is a flagrant conflict of interest. Nobody involved with the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust should be within a million miles of this issue.

The racist comment in question again casts a pall over the upcoming Cook Commemorations. How can a city possibly be mature enough to hold an event that is anything near sensitive to the taking of life and subsequent taking of land, waters, and coastline, while our own council members are not only unsympathetic but indeed believe more should have been killed. How can we expect any kind of growth and healing to take place when Council processes are utilized to suppress truth and defend racism rather than raising it to the light? Every councilor has a responsibility to care for the interests of all in Tairāwhiti. If racism is harboured in council through the ignoring, hiding and defence of racist comments then this makes the entire council complicit with those directly responsible for the comments themselves. As Dr. Cornel West points out in this recent interview on hate speech, racism and free speech, the cornerstone of democracy rests upon accountability for those who arbitrarily use power to oppress vulnerable populations (really this is an amazing interview I can’t recommend it enough).

When we consider the entirety of this story, from the quashing of Meredith’s previous attempts to raise awareness and responsiveness to racism in council, to the fact that the immediate response was to lay a complaint, it’s quite clear that we have a problem in our council (and of course this will undoubtedly be the case beyond our council, and beyond our region).

Hauora Tairāwhiti recently passed a courageous and timely resolution to acknowledge systemic racism within their organisation and commit to resolving it. Conversely, the immediate response of Council to Meredith’s testimony has been to attempt to shut the case down as swiftly as possible and make it go away. Anyone who has met Meredith Akuhata-Brown, should soon be able to ascertain that she will not simply go away – she has withstood years of bigotry and racism in council already. Her commitment to justice is as formidable as her love for her community.

When the Code of Conduct Committee met to interview Meredith, independent committee member Pare Keiha expressed that the most important outcome was for the public to maintain its trust in council.

I would contend that the majority of the Gisborne region, who are indeed Māori (our communities number between 50-90% Māori in our region), but are represented by a council who is majority pākeha and apparently racist, are well advised to NOT trust their council.

And in fact, there are much greater outcomes to aim for than simply maintaining faith in a flawed council. Hauora Tairāwhiti’s resolution to resolve institutional racism is a firebrand that all institutions and organisations in Aotearoa can take lead from. While it may be easy to get caught up in the details of dippy attention-seeking fascist Canadians, or ex-politicians who have become the racist old granduncle of the nation, the opportunity that lies within these events is to elevate our discussion to question the systems that provide them with a platform in the first place. GDC could have an expert on institutional and socialized racism review council meetings and feedback on their observations, with clear recommendations for addressing this issue. Te Tiriti o Waitangi certification could be a requirement for candidacy during council elections. GDC could champion a remit for Local Government NZ to acknowledge and commit to their obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi (they currently do not).

We owe it to ourselves to have this discussion, and not consider it as a chore of justice – but to think of what we could stand to gain, as a community, from facing our own systemic racism, and committing to addressing it. What promise could a commitment such as this hold for our children, for all of our mokopuna. I think we saw a glimpse of it in Aotea Square at the celebrations against racism. A multicultural country that upholds and celebrates Tāngata Whenua. A place that values relationships and a sense of service to the wellbeing of our community, lands and waters. A future where our mokopuna have the luxury to set and pursue their own goals unhindered by systemic barriers and having to put out fires of racial injustice.

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Aotea Square’s recent Rally Against Racism was a celebration of multiculturalism and solidarity.

No doubt Meredith also has many suggestions along these lines. I would say that given her leadership up to this point, she would be perfectly placed to lead this process for Council.

And yet – here we find ourselves in this curious reflection of 37 years ago, with a South African Deputy Mayor leading an investigation into a Māori councilor being persecuted for speaking out against racism. Undoubtedly there are those who would hope that if this is buried in council processes long enough, and smoothed over with some conciliatory media, the unsavoury problem will simply go away.

And perhaps they would be right, but 36 years ago, Gisborne had something to say about racism, and if the circles of fate continue to spin, we can expect Gisborne to have something to say about it again.

The Standing Strong House – A review


Whakapapa is enduring, and no matter the circumstances you find yourself in, your whakapapa will see you through – and it is never irredeemable. That’s the take-home message I received from The Standing Strong House, a new children’s book from Reina Kahukiwa and illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa.

Based around the story of hapū Ngāti Tū Māia, The Standing Strong house revolves around multiple generations, weaving our stories together in a way that celebrates tīpuna, mokopuna, Ātua, and kaitieki. This book provides learnings on our ancestral worlds, our survival of colonial interference, the Atua realms of the marae and wharenui, and our visual and performing arts. Reina Kahukiwa’s writing style provide easy interpretation of the reo in the book and therein lies another wonderful reo resource for all.

Robyn Kahukiwa treats us to a new vibrant, plaintive watercolour with every page. For those of you who, like me, came of age poring over Robyn Kahukiwa’s illustrations and artworks, introducing them to your daughters is a whakapapa experience in itself. I’ve read this book with my girls twice now. It spans centuries, with different phases to the story, and so we break the book up and read it over three nights. That way we also get to spend time looking at the artworks and practicing our reo as we describe them. My youngest enjoys touching the moko kauwae on the page, then touching my own moko kauwae, and it’s always my favourite moment.


We are seeds sown in the chiefly soils of Rangiātea. An immutable thread through time, and in our bones remain the minerals of the soil that our tipuna Hine-Ahu-One arose from. She, and all of our tipuna between her, and us, are carried within us. Colonial interference may distract us for a time, but whakapapa is a powerful thing, it will heal and it will re-weave. Sometimes it will take generations, but when the story of your people spans aeons, this is but a blink of an eye.

There are huge issues taken on by this book, just as there are huge issues taken on by us as a people. Colonial theft, urbanisation, homelessness, cultural desolation are all touched upon, as is our strength, beauty, courage, capacity for love, and resilience. As I consider the future for our mokopuna, I for one fully appreciated the honest and reassuring voice of The Strong Standing House, whispering to us as our own kuia have, that all hope is never lost, and no matter how dark the night, there will always be a dawn.

Korihi te manu, takiri mai i te ata. Ka ao, ka ao, ka awatea.
(The bird sings, the morning dawns, the day breaks through)

You can get your copy here.