Dear NZ Human Rights Commission and Maori Television – You’re Failing Us.

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I’m writing this as an open letter to NZHRC and Maori Television in relation to Maori TVs  decision to air the series “Jonah From Tonga”. It will also be submitted to the Human Rights Commission as a formal complaint.


Even the damn font is offensive.

Dear Human Rights Commission,

I’m writing to formally complain about Maori Television’s decision to broadcast the program “Jonah from Tonga”. It is my position that the programme discriminates on the grounds of race. I also wish to express my disappointment at your own current response to this issue, and call upon you to reconsider this issue, and take a stronger public position on racist forms of humour.

The programme “Jonah From Tonga” is no stranger to controversy. It has been widely criticised by Tongan, and international, communities for its racism.

The Tonga Herald has covered the problems with this show extensively:

Chris Lilley on Causing Harm: “That’s the fun bit for me”

“I just thought, it’s going to provoke people, it’s going to be headlined — and certainly everyone in Australia fell into that trap. It was all over the place, like, ‘Blackface! He’s doing it!’ … I think I wanted to do it because I thought it was a challenging, new, interesting idea, and mostly I just thought it was a really funny character.”

Air New Zealand Pulls Jonah from Tonga from In-Flight Entertainment

Major US Civil Rights Organizations Slam ABC/HBO’s Jonah From Tonga

“As ABC’s show Jonah from Tonga airs on HBO in the US and Canada, enormous support has been voiced for Tonga and Tongans. A range of major American civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, National Hispanic Media Coalition, American Indians in Film/TV, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities and The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (which itself includes the Asian American Justice Center, Asian Pacific American Advocates, Japanese American Citizens League, Media Action Network for Asian Americans, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, and more) have written to HBO expressing their “deep concern” about the show.
This groundbreaking show of solidarity with Tonga and Tongans has been an important counter to the show’s racism.”

Japanese Americans urge HBO to pull “racist” ‘Jonah from Tonga’

As mentioned by the Tonga Herald, the show has also been decried as racist from a raft of minority organisations, and Tongan communities overseas. Air New Zealand received so many complaints that they were forced to pull it from their entertainment system. Tongan communities began a an online campaign headed by the hashtag #IAmNotJonah. A petition to HBO calling for the programme to be taken down gathered over eleven thousand signatures. A simple internet search on the controversy this programme has caused outlines its clear problems. The racism has been repeatedly, and articulately, identified.

So it therefore came as some surprise that your position on this was to call upon Maori Television to simply consult Tongan communities on this. Of course the Tongan community should be consulted on all matters that impact upon them – but to leave it at this rests your position upon the dangerous logic that racism is a matter of opinion. Painting your face brown and mocking races is racist, and it is your job to take a position on racism, not abdicate that decision to the community at hand. That is problematic for a number of reasons:

1. This type of humour, if permitted, sends the wrong message to NZers about accepting racist stereotypes. This is completely at odds with your own campaign to “Give nothing to racism” that urges us to take racism seriously and, specifically, to challenge racist humour. This does not just impact upon the Tongan community but all marginalised communities who have to deal with bigoted humour.

2. The racism is also directed at other groups. During this series racial slurs feature as humour devices including “fobs” “wogs” “curries” and “ching chongs”. I cannot believe that I am even having to write to you to ask you to call this type of humour out, given your current campaign.

3. These discussions, if they are to be fully informed, should not just be held with the communities at hand, but should be held within the context of racist humour, its history, and its impacts. To not do that is to expect communities to be experts on the impacts of racism simply by virtue of being of a particular race themselves – which is, in and of itself, a problematic and racist assumption.

4. Furthermore, given the earlier points about the broader impacts upon marginalised communities, the opinions of marginalised communities should also be taken into account.

5. This recommendation clearly overlooks the already significant history of opposition to this program, both from Tongan communities and marginalised groups at large.

I expect so much more of you than to simply recommend that the Tongan community be consulted. If we cannot rely upon you to demonstrate leadership in identifying racist humour then what is the POINT of your “Give Nothing To Racism” campaign? If we cannot look to yourselves, and Maori Television, for racial acuity, then how can you possibly expect it from others?

Already, even as those of us who model the behaviour you encourage in your campaign, refuse to laugh at this humour, we are being told we simply don’t get the joke, and lack humour, and need to “lighten up”. Well I think Maori Television have “lightened up” plenty enough for all of us…. And ironically I would also say that your own lack of action on this issue has compounded the problem for us who choose to take the issue of race seriously.

I therefore ask that you reconsider your position on this, and formally request that Maori Television reconsider their decision to continue airing this program.

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Appropriation, Volcano Bay, and Us.

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So a little while ago – some of our very best, and brightest, stars from Aotearoa gathered with other relations from across Te Moananui a Kiwa, and together, in a visual, musical extravaganza, launched a new tourism venture at Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida. Entrancing. And for some of us… concerning.

I struggled, over that week, to figure out why this was not an issue for so many other people. At times I wondered if WAI262 was actually a thing, or maybe it was a figment of my imagination. At one point I pondered at what point appropriation wasn’t an issue any more, and why I missed that memo.

I think before we go any further, it’s helpful to unpack this issue a bit – not least because some of the media exposure around it has been unhelpfully confusing. At least one media source edited my comments to make it seem as though I was focusing upon the performers who supported the opening. Some seemed to assume that I was accusing our own of appropriation. Editorials like this one missed the point entirely and were unhelpfully misleading.

By far and away – the issue is the park, itself. That’s not to say that having our own perform at the park is not problematic – but in order to determine that, you first need to consider whether there was any appropriation going on in the first place. So let’s unpack.

What is cultural appropriation?
Well as even the experts note, it’s not easily summed up in one sentence – it’s much more than simply using someone else’s cultural property, and definitely involves a relative power relationship. Usually it involves one group, who exerts dominance over another, taking from that culture and using as they see fit. More often than not it is a one-sided (or at least severely imbalanced) transaction. It is often defended as being “a homage”; “honoring”; “paying tribute” and “a cultural exchange”. It is, of course none of these things. It is a colonial exercise in entitlement and privilege. It is an act of colonial violence, an extension of the theft of land, brutalizing of bodies, and generations of legislation and policies of cultural erasure and replacement. Appropriation sometimes occurs when people are trying to look like a specific culture, and sometimes occurs when people blend cultures for a particular exotic look. Probably the most comprehensive collection of essays, blogposts and research on cultural appropriation can be found at

Is it a problem?
Short answer: Yes.
Which is why indigenous leaders all over the world are gathered right now searching for ways to halt cultural appropriation.

appropriation article
More often than not, appropriation is borne out of one of two drivers (sometimes both): Fetish or Profit. This is largely because non-white culture is seen as exotic – by virtue of its other-ness. In being the “other”, the non-white culture is conceptualised as edgy, unusual and different. This is what makes it marketable, and desirable. The two, together, is what leads to hypersexualised, eroticised depictions of indigenous women that contributes, in no small part, to the sad statistics about the frighteningly high rates of abuse, abduction and murder for indigenous women around the world.
As a part of the “packaging” process, it’s not uncommon for the colonizing culture to take bits and pieces from one, or a number, of indigenous cultures, and meld them together. Cultural distinctiveness doesn’t really matter, what matters is achieving the right amount of otherness, in order to achieve peak exoticism. The removing, and displacing, of cultural markers is a problem because it forms a part of a larger process of assimilation – and because the very act of one group defining another, reaffirms who is the alpha, and bolsters the power relationship.

Straight up, it’s theft. We can go on further with all of the damage it does – you can also google studies or get books out on it, there is a wealth of information out on the issue.

Is Volcano Bay appropriative?

What we see for sale in Orlando is classic “tiki lounge” culture.


Tiki lounge was borne out of the post-war era, where US servicemen returned from their time in the Pacific wanting to recreate some of what they experienced during wartime. Tiki lounge is a deliberate blend of real cultural markers to create a false culture – it looks something like Hawai’i, something like Tahiti, something like Rapa Nui, but isn’t quite. It even blends in Caribbean, African and Asian culture – ‘cause hell all non-whites are the same right? In tiki lounge you may find yourself drinking out of a mō’ai (mōkai in Māori – let’s all think for a moment on what that references). Or you may find yourself drinking out of a Tiki head. Poor old Tiki – one of the most important cultural symbols of our ocean and at the same time one of the most belittled. From plastic pendants to boozy vessels, Tiki has been dragged through the mud and back again by western capitalism.


Volcano Bay merchandise and bars

Importantly – Tiki lounge culture was borne directly out of militarised settler colonialism in the Pacific. It was an example of white men, taking what they wanted from our region, and using it how they saw fit – in this case it was to create an exotic drinking culture, which eventually became a pop-culture subset.

It is not just appropriation, it is an entire genre borne out of appropriation by military settler colonialism in the Pacific.

What impacts does that have?
There’s a word for when one culture imposes itself upon another, occupying its space and taking what it wants, in a onesided transaction. It’s called Colonization. I think we can all agree it has impacts.

In particular, appropriation feeds a mentality that is not helpful. Not when you have daughters who will eventually have to untangle who loves them, and who loves the idea of an exotic brown girl. Not when you’re too embarrassed by your “otherness” to maintain your own cultural practices. It’s not helpful with the young boy with fetishized ideas of brown girls grows up to be the policeman across the desk when your niece has to report a sexual assault.

So what about our own supporting it?

So having established what cultural appropriation is, that it does do damage, and that YES this theme park is appropriative, we’re in a much better position to consider the worth of involvement. Like they say – context is everything. Do I think the performers deliberately set out to support appropriative industry? No, I don’t. This is a group of people who dedicate their lives to celebrating indigenous culture and peoples. Either they don’t agree that it’s appropriative, or they are unaware of the appropriation. Perhaps they haven’t even seen the park in its entirety. This doesn’t change the value of the discussion.

At one point in the ceremony, there was the gifting of a mauri stone. I have seen it mentioned a number of times that the indigenous community from Orlando were invited to receive it – although the only reference to this that I’ve found is a Māori Television interview where Puerto Ricans were invited as an indigenous people to receive the stone (Puerto Rico is 2000 km away in the Dominican Republic, and the indigenous people there are the Taino).

This is nearly a whole nother article. My head filled with questions about this. Mauri wai in an area with so many water burdens (both in terms of chemical additives and allocation), mauri whenua when it is placed in a context of thieved lands and culture, alongside appropriative plastic merchandise, and when that land is built on the bones of indigenous slaughter and oppression. Anyway – all of that to the side – yet still many, many others have asked – where are the indigenous people that were supposed to receive it?

And this last part needs to be said because it is a formative part of First Nations history. In 1830 Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act – and it resulted in the mass displacement of thousands upon thousands of First Nations peoples from the South East of Turtle Island, across toward Oklahoma. In Orlando – they resisted, and were hunted down and slaughtered.

Survivors were force marched for over 1000 miles – nearly 4000 of them died. It became known as the Trail of Tears – and it is one of the most well known genocidal acts in the world. This is important so I’m going to paste a screengrab for those that don’t like to follow article links (from website


The Seminole today are resilient,  awe inspiring, and still, (like many of our indigenous brothers and sisters of Turtle Island) marginalized in their own lands. And while much has happened between 1830 and now, you know what hasn’t happened? They haven’t been given their land back. It’s still occupied. In this case, by Universal.

Now to place this in the context of appropriation – all of our cousins in Turtle Island face huge challenges with appropriation. After being forced off their own lands, stripped of their own culture, denied their language, their cultural practices criminalized – they are consistently mocked, mimicked and belittled, by the very people who stole, and continue to occupy their land.


They are turned into mascots, and costumes. The Florida Seminoles are one such example.



To expect a people to participate in a ceremony that positions Universal Studios as culturally sensitive – when they are clearly so given to rampant appropriative behaviour – is, probably, a bit much.

So there you have some of the reasons the opening ceremony were concerning. Was it beautiful? Without a doubt. Breathtakingly so. As always, our stunning culture, in the hands of the very best, captured the hearts of multitudes around the world. But what was missed (for whatever reason) was an opportunity for solidarity, and to confront and address one of the key challenges that face all indigenous peoples. One thing’s for sure – appropriation isn’t going away. It won’t fade into yesterday. The only question left is how will we choose to respond to it.



Te Reo Māori WON’T Fix Moana.

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WARNING: I cuss a bit in this. Cause I’m upset.

Ok time for some real talk. I was still at the UN this week while the call for auditions went out for Te Reo Māori Disney Moana voiceovers.



Oh great/Ah rawe 😐

To be clear. I was at the UN fighting for Indigenous rights over our moana. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was running around like mad trying to meet our obligations but was SUPER thankful that Leonie Pihama offered some sensible points of challenge to the DisMo hysteria that was re-infesting my newsfeed.

IMG_5265 It’s an intense space there at the UN – filled with challenges for us as Indigenous Peoples – but probably my highlight is that I get to spend time with some of the strongest Native Women I know. And I wanna say I am SUPER frikken humbled. Like don’t even have the words humbled, and in absolute awe, of my First Nations sisters from Turtle Island/Abya Yala. Their strength blows my mind.

I am ALREADY outraged at the unacceptable levels of violence that indigenous women around the world suffer. I’m ALREADY outraged at the unacceptable extreme violence that Māori women experience and the systemic misogynistic racism that drives it, and denies us justice.

But it deeply, profoundly hurts my soul to reflect upon all of our missing and murdered indigenous women in Turtle Island and I’m haunted by the Highway of Tears and the numbers continue to climb.

This didn’t just happen either. It took generations of chipping away at the sacredness of Native Women. Centuries of being stripped bare by the colonial gaze that turned our sisters into things you can watch, things you can objectify, things you can own, and abuse, and rape. Things you can kill – and dump by the side of the road like a doll you just broke.

Nope, this doesn’t happen overnight. This started with young boys watching cartoons of “squaws” flirting with and “running away with” white men, and continued in the form of young men watching non-native girls sexualise themselves as “pocahotties” in order to get attention from, and seduce, non-native men. And is still continued when Native sacred items are turned into fashion accessories and fun souvenirs – stripping them bare of their sacredness and ripping them from their cultural context.

And I am downright EMBARRASSED to sit with Native Women that I respect, and who I know understand the links between these murders and our representations, women who are pouring their energy into trying to keep their sisters and daughters and nieces safe and alive, and not always winning… I’m EMBARRASSED to sit with them and talk about the entry of Disney into the Pacific and how we’ve welcomed them with open arms.

Not just because of how it perpetuates colonial myths and reduces our own dimensions in the Pacific – but because Disney STILL – to THIS DAY – perpetuates the squaw stereotype in the face of the evidence that this contributes to the problem. They know – they’ve had it pointed out – but they don’t give a shit about our sisters being murdered.

So when I sit with my sisters and relate how the murders make absolutely no difference to us in how we consider Disney… When I see them shake their heads quietly but respectfully. It HURTS. Hot-shame-in-my-belly-hurts. I don’t know if they’re angry at us or disappointed in us and probably they’re too dignified to say so even if they are but I’m gonna say – I am.

I would have HOPED that we could pay attention to what has happened to them and not just stand in solidarity with them but make it COUNT as a lesson to us. At least take it into account and talk about it!? But no – nothing. Apparently this isn’t an issue worth discussing and THAT hurts.

So don’t – DON’T come to me with “chill out it just a kid’s show” – ESPECIALLY if you’re a Native Man. I gotta say there is a special level of hurt when I see Native Men dismissing the murders of Native Women. If you’ve got counter evidence to the body of work that proves how representations matter – or a counter argument to how the commodified Pocahontas trope isn’t problematic for Native Women, how the one dimensional depictions haven’t fed a system that places Native Women at risk then let’s have that talk but don’t just chuck “Ok” up and get back to the incredibly inane “I love seeing us up on the screen and the kids love it” diatribe.

Of COURSE they love it! That’s because Disney has a bajillion dollars that they’ve made off (and continue to make off) sexualising native women to pay for all the technology necessary to make this attractive to children alongside years of practice at knowing what seduces children’s minds. It’s called grooming.

And secondly why the hell aren’t we taking more responsibility for what goes in front of children? This is the most formative part of their development, when they are most vulnerable to suggestion, and we’re gonna say “relax it’s just a kids show” THAT’S THE POINT! This is why we’ve fought for Māori children’s literature! Because what they are exposed to MATTERS.

And lastly – children may see the issue with some of the inaccuracies but they wouldn’t have a clue about the extremities of the consequences. They don’t know about how Disney representations feed into missing and murdered native women and nor should they. That’s our job to know and respond to. ESPECIALLY as indigenous people.

Don’t just say “I don’t agree they’re linked”. You’re denying the voices of actual Native Women who have worked on this issue and say that it DOES matter. Bring me the voices of Native Women who have worked on that issue if you want to respectfully disagree.

Or talk with me about what you think is so important that we can overlook this link, overlook this horrid truth. Admit that this is what you’re doing… and then help me to understand WHY. Because I’m being 100% when I say…

I really don’t get it.

The Power of Stepping Back

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So I’m at the UN at the moment, and I wanna say this:

If you are white, and want to be an ally – then please consider that possibly the most powerful act you can make as an allly is to NOT do something.

Like… NOT take up a spot on a panel for Asia-Pacific women.


Original clip here

Check your own sense of entitlement. You don’t HAVE to inject yourself into the space. If you think your presence allows for “balance” then stop fooling yourself. Your presence is the default. It saturates your own, as well as our, existence. You get every other space, so occupying a space defined for us, even alongside us, only perpetuates imbalance. We will only ever START to get NEAR balance when you stop occupying our spaces and make way for us to FILL spaces with our bodies, our faces, our realities and our experiences and solutions.

Even if you’re asked to enter a space you can refuse, you know. You can do it. Don’t be a slave to your genetic disposition to colonize spaces. You have two legs, just use them to step back rather than forward. You have a mouth, you can use it to say “thankyou but I think it’s more appropriate that non-native women take a back seat here and I’m just thankful that I can listen and learn from the native women who are more than capable of filling these spaces”. That would be a powerful ally act.


And understand that when you take a forum titled “Asia Pacific Women Heal the Ocean” – you are referring to an indigenous region steamrolled by settler colonialism so when you use it to talk about white feminism framed as “gender issues” it is another act of colonization. Don’t look now but you may as well be a white man to me – there’s NO DIFFERENCE in a white woman colonizing my space than a white man. There isn’t even a sense of betrayal because I’ve come not to expect a form of sorority from you now anyway. I’ve been colonized by you so many times that my default space is to expect it and when that DOESN’T happen I’m happily surprised. When it does (again) I just see it as your genetic disposition, a byproduct of your role in the colonial patriarchy.

When you position these discussions in your own white feminism framework you erase our indigeneity, because our struggles are DIFFERENT to white womens struggles. They’re not the same. They’re not. Some of our struggles are BECAUSE of white women. Like, you know, when they OCCUPY our spaces. Our struggles are distinct. Our strengths are distinct. Our solutions are definitely distinct so don’t title a panel “Asia Pacific women…” and spend the whole time talking about “gender issues” but meaning white feminism as if we are all the same. That’s not just racist it’s heteronormative. BIG fail.
And wahine ma – we need to step up and into these spaces too. When we sit back, our spaces get occupied and we have to stop allowing that to happen. Get in there. Get heard.

Young indigenous women are watching and learning what it is to be a leader.

Show them.

The Reconciliation Lie

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Exploring the Logic of Achieving Sovereignty Through Celebrating Cook.


Many questions have been raised about the impending 2019 Cook Commemorations, and the various activities associated to the commemoration of Cook’s arrival in 1769. From the very outset, the idea was challenged at Gisborne District Council level, and has continued to be a contentious issue amongst our Tairāwhiti communities.

Still our government has thrown significant resourcing towards the commemoration of Cook’s arrival, and have, some would say, graciously allowed Maori to utilise some of this resourcing, along with supportive relationships, all launched under the banner of the commemorations in order to try and make this a positive experience for us all. Discussions have included the potential reconfiguring of our landscape, which is currently very Cook-centric (to date Cook’s arrival is immortalised through 2 Cook statues, a statue of his crew member, 2 statues of the Endeavour, a memorial of the landing site, a plaza, three streets, a park, an observatory, a hospital, various references through town, and of course through the name “Poverty Bay”). Relationships have been set up to facilitate the return of taonga from the extensive Cook collections held overseas. Waka hourua have been recruited to support the return of the Endeavour, and potentially to escort the Endeavour around Aotearoa in an apparent maritime version of “he iwi kotahi tatou” – a project which itself has already had millions of dollars pledged to it by the NZ government.


Of course, such support, and funding, for kaupapa Maori is novel in a region where we have traditionally struggled to fund such ideas. Which begs the question – why is the government so willing to fund and facilitate these endeavours (excuse the pun) under the mantle of the Cook commemorations, but not at any other time?

Is the overarching interest here an actual honouring of dual heritage, or is this an exercise in social licensing – where the government recognises the power of indigenous support, and more importantly, the damage of indigenous objection? So much so, in fact, that it will go to great lengths to secure that support. More importantly – is there something more at stake here than historical perspectives? What is it that they, and indeed we, stand to gain or lose in these transactions? In order to fully explore these questions we must consider the upcoming Cook Commemorations through a range of contexts. The common position seems to be that this is a historical event, the commemoration of which holds positive impacts for local hapu and iwi – but I would like to extend this discussion out, both in terms of time, and distance.

In the first instance – although this is seen as a historical event, there are a number of aspects to Cook’s arrival that can be seen to still exist in a contemporary setting, and certainly still impact upon current indigenous realities.

When the Royal Naval vessel HMS Bark Endeavour was commissioned to sail to the South Pacific, with Captain James Cook as its Captain, the ostensible purpose of the expedition was to observe the transit of Venus. Other, sealed orders were given to Cook but he was under strict instructions not to open them until after his work was completed in Tahiti. It’s important to remember at this point that many other European countries were vying for opportunities to strategically annex parts of the Pacific – and the British Crown were very careful not to alert other nations as to their intentions. Upon completing his work in Tahiti, the secret orders were opened, and they instructed Cook to locate Terra Australis, the great southern continent encountered by Tasman, chart its coasts, obtain information about its people, cultivate alliances where possible, and annex any convenient trading posts in the King’s name.

Cook's Secret Orders

Cook’s secret orders

This activity of “strategic annexation” is a part of what historians relate to as the “Age of Discovery” – the time range of which reaches from the 15th to the 18th century, and was characterised by European imperial expansion. European nations would fund “voyages of exploration” – and where new land and resources were discovered, they would be claimed in the name of the discovering nation.

From where did these many explorers, from different European nations, over three centuries, all derive the right to claim land and resources for themselves? How is it that, across such a wide expanse of time and distance, so many acquired this mindset of entitlement? Well it wasn’t a coincidence, it was in fact declared an activity sanctioned by Pope Alexander in a 15th century papal bull which came to underpin an international legal concept called the Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine declared that lands occupied by non-european, non-christian populations were able to be claimed as the property of the colonizer, as could all the resources within, and the indigenous populations forwent all rights of sovereignty.


The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, which shaped the Discovery Doctrine and incepted the “Age of Discovery” – which, as Moana Jackson notes, is probably more accurately described as the “Age of Genocide”.

The act of taking possession of lands through the Discovery Doctrine was carried out through the ceremonial raising of the flag. It is broadly accepted by historians that Captain Cook’s journeys fall within the age of discovery. It is also well accepted that his primary (albeit secret) orders were actually to “discover” the great southern continent (including Aotearoa) and “claim” it for Britain. It is also accepted that he raised the British Flag in Whitianga, and again in Te Waipounamu, each time claiming the land for Mother England.

Now even though Cook was under orders to, as much as possible, befriend the locals, one must remember that this did not mean that he was not permitted to kill them, and that he did. He and his crew killed them when he saw something of theirs that he wanted, like in Australia when he fired his musket at local indigenous people, then tracked them as they fled to steal from their homes, or here in Turanga when he decided he wanted a waka and so chased it down, and shot everyone inside it in order to seize it. He did when he thought he was under threat of any kind (whether he actually was or not remains to be seen) such as was the case for October 9th when Te Maro was killed by the coxswain in the first encounter.
Was this normal behaviour for Europeans? Did they kill each other with such ease when back in their homelands? Well no, of course not – but it WAS permitted behaviour under the Discovery Doctrine. Under this doctrine, Cook was able to take what he wanted – and this included not only other people’s property, but also other people. In fact, throughout his own journals, and those of his crew, and through indigenous accounts, we have reports of Cook and his men killing, stealing, and kidnapping their way around the Pacific. Of course, even here in Turanga Cook kidnapped 3 young men during his failed theft of the waka.

So we can see that in very nearly every sense – Cook was very much operating under the Discovery Doctrine in claiming lands and resources for England by raising the flag, and the manner in which he carried out his activities. It was this very first act that paved the way for the arrival of further settlers, and their own sense of entitlement. We must resist the concept that Cook was a noble explorer – and accept the fact that he was deliberately sent out as a military naval captain, with a naval vessel, as the vanguard of British imperial expansion – armed with the Discovery Doctrine to claim indigenous lands and resources. This was not unique – the military has always been the front foot of imperial expansion (and still is used as the front foot of corporate imperial expansion).


From Standing Rock to West Papua to Honduras and indeed here in Aotearoa – military forces are utilised to facilitate extraction from indigenous territories.

Importantly – while it is the Treaty that compels the Crown to consult with us – it is the Discovery Doctrine that enables our government to consistently ignore those consultations. It is the Discovery Doctrine that enables them to ignore their obligations under very document that validates their occupation.

And that is how we find ourselves in the contemporary context of the Discovery Doctrine. For if we accept that Aotearoa is, in fact, indigenous land – then the questions, very soon, begin to mount up:

  • Why, on indigenous land, does our government get to ignore our voices?
  • Why, on indigenous land, do we find ourselves looking to the likes of Maggie Barry for funding?
  • Why, on indigenous land, do we get such little say about what happens to our land?
  • Why, on indigenous land, do so many indigenous people die so soon, so often, and so tragically?
  • Why, on indigenous land, can we not protect and effectively promote our own indigenous language?

Again – some may well say “well this is because the treaty gets violated” – but then the question remains “so how do they get to remain in power, after they violate their own treaty?”

The answer is the Discovery Doctrine.

The very legislation that established the settler government, and paved the way for countless unjust legislative violations from then, until now, and onwards into the future, are reiterations of the Discovery Doctrine again, and again, and again.

And because Discovery Doctrine reaffirms the power structure of the “discovering” people, and the subjugation of the indigenous people, it is, of course, something that the discovering nation likes to reaffirm through celebrations, commemorations, and the creation and support of “hero’s tales” that, in totality, aim to “move past unsavoury pasts” in order to cement one’s place in the colonised country. Cue Columbus Day; cue Magellan celebrations; cue the Cook commemorations.

In fact, the social licencing of the Discovery Doctrine grows more difficult for governments to carry out every year. In the 1969 Cook Celebrations, Maori validation and support was inconsequential – pre-Waitangi Tribunal, pre-Maori Language Claim, pre-indigenous rights – the sixties were a time when indigenous erasure was commonplace.


Cook Celebrations 1969 involved another military invasion, complete with aircraft and naval vessels.

Indeed it’s only in recent years, thanks to much work from the likes of Moana Jackson, Linda and Graham Smith, Leonie Pihema and Aroha Mead, that colonial history has been exposed for its fallacy, and damage. Thanks to this groundwork, any history that marginalises indigenous peoples can be viewed as racist, and archaic.

Can you see, now, why it is so vital for our government to court indigenous approval for their festivities?

Now that we see what they stand to gain – let us now consider what we have to lose.

Of course we have heard of various benefits being channeled through these commemorations – the return of overseas taonga, the funding of voyaging events… and perhaps most interesting are the “opportunities to tell our version of the story”. Implicit in this statement are a number of assumptions – firstly that we cannot tell our truths in other ways, which of course is patently absurd. Second is the assumption that through telling our truths, we will find healing and reconciliation. Certainly this is lauded as a pathway to bicultural harmony – the languaging around the celebrations is deliberate in its continued reference to the event as a celebration of “dual heritage” and a way of “coming together”.

Yet given the disproportionate power system set up by Cook’s arrival and maintained by the celebration of that event, just how realistic is it to expect actual reconciliation?
While it may “feel good” to have our versions placed alongside other versions that heroicise Cook – is it still relevant, in this day and age, to be thankful for allowing that to happen, when this is now the minimum standard anyway?

Again, I must return to the concept of ground – for another position of the Cook promoters is that, in presenting 2 different versions of history, we reach a “middle ground”. This is reminiscent of the suggestion that Treaty principles are a fair middle ground between the differing versions of the Treaty and Te Tiriti.

But as Ani Mikaere points out – they’re not a fair middle ground- because we did not sign the Treaty – we signed Te Tiriti.

This tactic is known as creating a “false middle ground”. There is no middle ground here. There is only indigenous ground. The pakeha version of events has been repeatedly embedded in the nation’s consciousness for 200 years. It has dominated history. It is the default position for most of Aotearoa. Setting it alongside the marginalised indigenous version does not create a middle ground. There are also aspects of this version that have been challenged and disproven throughout much of the Pacific. Placing falsehood next to the truth does not make the falsehood any more truthful.


Actual reconciliation cannot be said to occur without fundamentally challenging the power systems which drive the continued oppression of our people in our own lands. This much will not happen as a result of these commemorations – we know that because this much is not even able to happen WITHIN these celebrations. Just look at who is holding the purse strings, who dominates the decision making, and (of course) whose anniversary we are basing everything around.

In Canada, our indigenous brothers and sisters face the same struggle. The banners of “truth and reconciliation” fly strong and high in the era of Trudeau. Yet still indigenous communities are robbed of their lands, and literally poisoned, by the Alberta Tar Sands giga-project – and we bear witness to instances where treaty promises are consistently broken every single day – all the while indigenous communities are asked to stand and smile for the cameras in the name of truth and reconciliation. Indigenous journalist Steve Newcombe writes:

Reconciliation is a false-word that makes it appear as if something positive is being done without once addressing the persistent and ongoing process that is causing the problems experienced by Original Nations of Great Turtle Island in the place now commonly called “Canada.”


Photo by Brian Encas – original article here

He couldn’t be more right – just how much “reconciliation” rhetoric should Sylvia McAdam be expected to swallow while she continues to fight the theft and ruin of her lands and oppression of her people on a daily basis?

This brings me to the next context within which we may consider this event – the global indigenous context. For as much as we must consider the benefits for our own hapu and iwi – we also enjoy membership of a global indigenous community. We regularly celebrate our indigenous relationships, we gather together and stand by each other by virtue of our many shared experiences – and in many spaces, we share a strong bond of solidarity and even alliances. When we consider what Cook meant to us – it makes sense to also at least consider what he meant for our indigenous brothers and sisters who encountered him after he left our shores.

As I mentioned earlier, Cook’s three voyages around the Pacific, Captain Cook managed to leave a significant legacy and impact with indigenous peoples – and not a good one.
Indeed – the fateful first 48 hours of Cooks time in Turanganui a Kiwa, which featured theft, kidnapping, and murder, are roughly representative of his modus operandi around the Pacific in general. In addition to those that he and his crew shot and killed, Cook also knowingly brought infected men with him and allowed them to sexually transmit their diseases throughout indigenous communities – which had devastating consequences for multiple generations.

For many, many other indigenous relations across Te Moananui a Kiwa, Cook’s exploits represent one more hurtful, destructive page in history where indigenous people are the unfortunate footnote in the story of European imperial expansion. Some of them are very much still trying to wrestle their own identity from the aftermath of Cook’s “discovery” (if Poverty Bay is not difficult enough consider being called the Cook Islands) – let alone pursue a platform for their experiences of encountering him. In providing a platform for Cook to be celebrated, we cannot absolve ourselves of the impacts this will have upon those who are also a part of Cook’s story.

And finally, for the broader indigenous community, the issue of the Discovery Doctrine continues to impact them, as it does us. Not only through the domination of history – but also through continued seizure and occupation of indigenous lands by settler governments and corporations. Even though it was Christopher Columbus who was famously credited with “discovering” the USA – it was in fact England’s recognition of the doctrine that was famously cited by the US Court of Law in removing the sovereign rights of First Nations peoples – and in fact it was acknowledged that the Discovery Doctrine formed the basis for US law. The doctrine has subsequently played a direct and indirect role in the theft of first nations lands, the theft of first nations children, and more recently, it has played a role in the sale of indigenous assets to corporate interests. Indeed, every year, still, indigenous nations stand before the United Nations and cite the continued use of the Discovery Doctrine by member state nations to pave the way for corporations to abuse our rights, and alienate our lands and resources.

The very curious, and human, condition of exceptionalism, exhibits as a tendency to think that we are the exception in the case – that racism is something that happens in other families, that other nations have experienced colonisation so much worse than us, and in fact that our experience is negligible in comparison. Yet – the discovery doctrine has underpinned legislation which has stolen much of our land, and displaced generations of our children, has robbed us of our language and forced the vast majority of us off our ancestral lands, into the cities, and away from each other. In failing to call out the Discovery Doctrine for its contemporary role in our own oppression, and that of our brothers and sisters, we perpetuate a power relationship that continues to set us back in the struggle for full sovereignty in our own lands.

Importantly, in the case of the Cook commemorations – if we are not willing to consider the role of discovery narratives in maintaining a system of domination over ourselves and other indigenous peoples, then the vision of mana motuhake will remain a distant mirage.

Peace through Justice

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Auckland Peace Action

uss-go-home-stay-homeIt has been an amazing ‘Week of Peace’ action here in Auckland. The things that we have achieved collectively during this campaign – culminating this week – will go a long way towards building a stronger and more focused peace movement.

Building bridges
One of our main goals at Auckland Peace Action is to “Build solidarity across movements by recognising the interconnected and disastrous consequences of war, colonialism and capitalism for the majority of people in NZ and the world.”

The presence of a huge number of allies at our blockade of the arms expo on Wednesday demonstrates the possibilities of combining our power to tackle the root causes of modern warfare: the use of extreme violence by those who hold power to protect and enhance their power and to steal the resources of the powerless.

Friends and comrades from the Pacific Panthers, No Pride in Prisons, Auckland Action Against…

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An open letter to those supporting the US warship next week.


It’s an interesting contradiction to me, when I observe the dichotomy of war and peace – that those who support war seem to want to portray the pacifists as idealistic, and out of touch with reality. As if those of us who oppose war are less realistic about the world than they are. As if their willingness to send people off to kill and die somehow makes them more pragmatic, more practical, than us.

I see it as quite the opposite. It’s precisely my understanding of what war does to people, to families, to communities, that underpins my opposition to it. It’s precisely my understanding of the visceral nature of what a bomb will do to a child’s body that informs my resistance. It’s precisely my understanding of how the military industrial complex affects my indigenous rights, and impacts upon the wellbeing of my own whanau, whenua, and moana that frames my absolute refusal to accept it. People will say that Maori have a strong history of working with and for the military and to that I say – it’s PRECISELY that debt, that is consistently ignored by our government, that drives me to say what I have to say. Our tipuna laid their lives down on the lines for this country, for this government – and the agreement was that we would get equal treatment as citizens and that is not now, nor has it ever been the case. We cannot carry on ignoring that unpaid debt.


Earlier this week I read that there will be a waka taua paddling out to welcome the arrival of the US Nuclear Warship arriving in NZ waters. According to the Navy it will be manned by the Tamaki Herenga Trust. This is the first US war vessel in our waters since we banned them in the 80s, and we have prided ourselves on being nuclear free ever since. The US have used a loophole to re-enter our waters as a part of our navy’s 75 anniversary celebrations (by only bringing in nuclear weapons that area less than 5 kilotonnes) – and this is all timed for the international weapons expo as well – so our once proudly nuclear free, peaceful country is now hosting “The Week of War”. I will be there, protesting this abhorrent series of events – but I wanted to say something first.

To you – the hapu/iwi who have decided to send this waka taua out. To you, the kaihautu-waka. To you, the kaihoe who will be paddling out to guide this ngarara into our waters. I want to tell you that I ABSOLUTELY KNOW what you are doing. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW what you are participating in. And I’d like to know that you do, too.

WARNING – some of the images below are graphic and shocking – just like war. I’m sure those who claim to be “in touch” with the reality of these decisions will not be bothered by them.


1. When you send this waka taua out – you are representing us ALL.
It will be seen, and promoted, as Maori endorsement of this kaupapa. Not the endorsement of your people alone, but by MAORI. I, and many others, resent that. This is an international event. The breaking of this seal is a seal that was put over all of Aotearoa, not simply your waters. Once it is broken, it is broken for all of us. In fact that same warship will be taking part in war-games (tactical exercises) that will be using live munitions in the Hauraki Gulf. The mana moana for that area stretches across multiple hapu and iwi, and the fish populations that migrate through there come across to many more hapu/iwi. One of over 30 military warships coming to Auckland on 15 November, the USS SAMPSON is stacked up with next generation microwave weapons as well as du weapons, harpoon & tomahawk missiles, and more than likely with micro-nuke warheads (<5 kT).

The deck of a modern destroyer is unmanned because a person would be fried by the intensity of the microwaves in use. Marine biologist Terry Lilley who has been monitoring RIMPAC in Hawai’i said that they are called ‘destroyers’ because wherever they go, everything dies. These technologies are responsible for massive coral reef destruction off of Kauai and for kelp bed destruction off of southern California; this is the likely fate of kelp beds in the Hauraki Gulf after Mahi Tangaroa. The electronic waves also hold devastating consequences for sea mammals and fish life. 


Dead whales, blasted turtles, and dead coral reefs – all resulting from naval military exercises the likes of which will be carried out in the Hauraki Gulf next week. THIS is what you’re supporting.

The impacts of your decision extend well beyond your own mana whenua and mana moana.

What is certain is that the tactical exercises carried out in those waters prepare these warships from MANY nations to carry out acts of warfare against other indigenous groups and innocent communities around the world.


Artist: Francisco de Pajaro, twitter handle is @artistrash

2. When you send this waka taua out – you are ACTIVELY supporting warcrimes against indigenous peoples.

“Exercise Mahi Tangaroa” is a brown mask placed over the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations) Defence Ministers’ Meeting – Field Training Exercise on Maritime Security. The ADMM-Plus countries include ten ASEAN Member States, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, and eight Plus countries, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russian Federation and the United States.


Standing Rock Militarised Action – this is what you’re supporting


Genocide in West Papua – this is what you’re supporting

This military exercise will then be utilised AGAINST indigenous defenders of lands and waters in state bids to access their resources. YOU CANNOT STAND FOR ISSUES LIKE STANDING ROCK and, at the same time, support the military forces that are mobilised, every day, against indigenous defenders of lands and waterways. Even within our own Pacific Oceanic territories, countries like West Papua are under ILLEGAL occupation by Indonesia, and Indonesian forces are carrying out genocide, using tactics that are supported by the training exercise that YOU are welcoming into our shores. Our own Hawaiian cousins are under ILLEGAL occupation by the US who use them as a military base to assert their power over the Pacific nation. In virtually all of the participating countries, the military forces are utilised to clear indigenous peoples away from resources for large scale extraction by corporations. THAT is what you are supporting.

While we are at it – OUR VERY OWN military is also utilised against us – kaitieki of Tangaroa and Papatuanuku, to clear us out of the path of corporate exploiters of our lands and waters. The Maritime Crimes Bill was passed this month for that express purpose and is built on the same international doctrines that the other countries use to case indigenous land and water defenders as terrorists. Do NOT come crying to us to support you when the oil companies come to drill your papamoana and frack your whenua. Those companies are a part of the very same military industrial complex that you are supporting.


The Bombing of Mururoa Atoll – THIS is what you’re supporting

3. When you send this waka taua out – you are ACTIVELY supporting militarisation in the Pacific.
That militarisation has included the testing of nuclear weapons – which we as a nation have such a long and proud history of opposing. Do any of you admire and love our ocean navigating traditions? Do any of you aspire to travel on waka hourua? Do you know who we have to thank for much of what we see today in terms of ocean navigating? If you answered “Papa Mau Pialug” you’d be partially right. Papa Mau was a Micronesian navigator from Satawal. Micronesia also remains under US occupation, who utilise their islands as a naval base but most disgustingly, also test their nuclear weapons on their islands. The nuclear testing of past generations is still impacting upon new births. The radiation has stuck to their DNA. Grandchildren being born grossly deformed, with no bones, or born with cancer. Infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, high cancer rates across the population. If any one of you dare to tell me that I am out of touch with the reality of the situation then you need to LOOK at these images.

This is the reality of what is faced TODAY by these peoples. This is what you are supporting.

WATCH THIS – You owe that much to the people of the Marshall Islands.

Now, I said partially right because the other people we owe a debt to is our Tahitian cousins – Tahitian voyaging was also carried forth by Francis Cowan, who along with Matahi Brightwell voyaged across the Pacific to Aotearoa in the early 80s. Tahitian voyaging traditions are distinct and the peoples of this rohe of the Pacific ALSO have suffered nuclear testing at the hands of the French military and the militarisation of the Pacific is felt keenly by these areas (as well as Hawaii and I will go into that soon). THIS is how we repay the koha of Papa Mau and Francis Cowan… by supporting this continued hara upon their peoples?


4. When you send this waka out – you are endorsing the US illegal occupation of the lands and waters of our Hawaiian cousins.
If Papa Mau is to thank for bringing us back the gift of ocean voyaging, our Hawaiian cousins are to thank for nurturing it. We, now, thankfully have a thriving waka hourua community across Aotearoa and the Pacific, but really it was our Kanaka Maoli whanau in Hawai’i that kept the fires burning, and invested time, money, and energy into nurturing this ancestral practice back into our lives today.

Yet here we are blatantly ignoring the debt we owe them for this – by supporting the forces that maintain Hawai’i as a colonized possession of the United States. The forces that occupy 30% of Oahu. The forces that have dumped so many biological and chemical contaminants on bases that that land could no longer be used by anyone EVEN IF they did the right thing and left today. The forces that have dumped millions and millions of tonnes of mustard gas bombs, agent orange canisters and hydrogen cyanide canisters into the waters surrounding Oahu. The forces that continue to bomb numerous Kanaka Maoli sacred sites every single day as a part of their own weapons testing and tactical exercises. The forces that, themselves, are located on STOLEN LAND. Forces that have kidnapped, tortured, and murdered indigenous peoples for peaceful protests against the use of sacred sites for bases and testing. The same travesty is experienced by the communities in Okinawa that endure continued military presence, military testing, and military dumping on their lands. Okinawa, incidentally, is yet another site for indigenous peoples of Japan who were wiped out through militarisation. DON’T TALK TO ME about employment for our peoples when that employment takes the form of KILLING other indigenous people and robbing them of their land and resources. Just as our kanaka whanau have faced off against military in the defence of their lands so too will I face off against the military – I will spend my final breath fighting their oppression and I don’t care the colour or the whakapapa of who I stand against. In that space I am defending my ancestral rights and you, on the side of the military, are defending the Crown, the USA, and all the corporations they front. How can we possibly maintain a space of rangatiratanga over our own lands, and fight our government for the return of our stolen lands, while ACTIVELY supporting the theft of the lands of our cousins?


5. When you send this waka taua out – you are actively supporting the growth of US imperialism across the Pacific.

We once were proudly nuclear free. Our Tamaki hapu and iwi led the charge that decried the use of nuclear weapons in the Pacific. We still, to this day, sing Herbs’ songs “Nuclear Waste”, “French Note (letter to France)” and “No Nukes”. We declared our country a safe-zone, we were David, and the US was Goliath. What we conveniently ignored was the fact that our country continued to participate (either overtly or covertly) in offshore military activity. That was the crack in the doorway. That crack was opened a little wider with improved military relations between this national government and the US govt – resulting in the signing of the Wellington Declaration in 2010. THIS signing paved the way for US and NZ official co-training for the first time since US troops were banned on NZ soil some 30 years beforehand. It was followed by the US / NZ combat training announcement, and Defence Amendment Bill. From there came the participation of NZ in “RIMPAC” – naval military war games that are responsible for the deaths of many, MANY whales and other sea mammals, and contamination of Hawaiian waterways. Then came the training of US Troops on NZ soil. Now we have the breaking of the seal for nuclear war vessels. If you CANNOT SEE the trajectory of the path we’re on then you need to open your eyes.

HILLARY CLINTON HERSELF wrote that the next battlefield for global power tensions is NOT the Middle East, but Asia – and she, herself, pointed out the tactical importance of pacific military presence (really, read the article it’s scary as hell). It has never been more important for New Zealand to provide the US with a military base than now. Now go back – and read what US military presence has meant for our whanau in Hawaii, in Micronesia, and across the Pacific. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE USHERING IN TO OUR WATERS.

You may think you are operating on the mana of your people alone, but what you are saying, by sending out your waka taua, impacts upon ME, upon MY WATERS, upon MY LANDS, and upon the future of MY MOKOPUNA.

And SO YOU KNOW – I will be facing you DIRECTLY with this knowledge when you carry out this act. That look in my eyes will be disgust, hurt, anger – and RESOLUTION. Looking at you will be the full force of my own whakapapa behind me, out to the furtherest corners of Te Moananui a Kiwa, and forward to the mokopuna that are yet to come.

NOW YOU KNOW. Make your choice.