So Disney has pulled the most ill-conceived merchandise idea of the year (perhaps decade) — the Maui skin suit — and issued a “sorry-some-of-you-were-offended” non-apology. While the decision to pull the suit was obviously the best one given the circumstances, the non-apology and the decision to run with that merchandise choice in the first place …
In Aotearoa we have a native praying mantis, te whē. Te whē provides us with a number of services, not least of which is keeping our maara, our food gardens, pest free. In order to have whē, we require a range of elements to be present, and in balance.
Whē requires other whē to mate with, whē requires insects to eat. Whē enjoys native, leafy shrubbery to hide under. That shrub requires loose, aerated, rich soil. The soil has it’s own needs. Bacteria. Warmth. Aeration. The spiders and ants aerate the soil and allow for the spread of the roots. The ants and spiders in turn have their own needs. The shrub also requires clean water and sunlight to grow. The water also has its needs. The shrub will require birds to spread its seed across the forest floor. Those birds will also have their needs.
You remove one of these elements… the sunlight, the water, the other insects, the birds – even the bacteria from the soil – and the other aspects of that system will be impacted upon.
I guess that’s the point that I want to start this post on. The complexity, and interdependence of our systems. How beautiful that is. How sacred and worthy of protection. How right nature gets it (through millions of years of practice). You can take this model of complexity and apply it to many other contexts. That of water. That of politics.
That of culture.
As any storyteller of merit can tell you – storytelling doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is inextricably linked to other elements of our world, including language, protocols, values, sacred spaces, and sovereignty. Our representations are an inherently political issue to us. The mining of our lands, and the mining of our knowledge and culture through appropriation is one and the same act. The forced dispossession of our representations sits within a broader experience of forced dispossession of language, lands, and loved ones.
Muriel Rukeyser said that “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms”. As a species, humans are constantly asking questions such as “what is this all about and why are we here”, and our stories are the answers to those questions. As indigenous peoples, our storytelling is bound within contexts and values that protect who we are, that protect the world we live in. It is symbiotic and its extraction holds consequences. Our tales are passed down within a context of language and meaning. Within a context of human, and non-human kinship relationships and protocols. A spiritual, political, and cultural context that recognises the power of the word, the power of the storyteller. A system that impels you to be responsible and accountable with this power.
I returned home from Hawai’i last week to see this:
I knew the merchandising was coming. It was an inevitability… but wearing someone’s skin is just… next level, and it’s predictably creeped a LOT of people out (you don’t have to understand cultural appropriation to know that wearing a skinsuit is just plain wrong). I’ve blogged about the Moana movie a couple of times now and a part of me felt that I’d probably said everything I needed to say. And I’m SO thankful to the likes of Tēvita Ka’ili, Vincent Diaz, Keala Kelly, Karlo Mila, and Teresia Teaiwa for their articulate responses to this space. Still – looking at this image honestly shocked me to tears. This little tama, clad in impropriety, blissfully ignorant of the potent symbolism of his act. His beautiful smile in such stark contrast to the weeping I felt for, and from, our ancestors. I sat in my car, staring at that image, with angry tears spilling over my cheeks. I swore a lot in the following 24hrs. At random things. I’ve carried the rage around like a righteous prickly coat. It’s time I talk it off.
You see, Disney also sits within a broader system. It sits within a system of mass-appropriation. A system of warping cultural pillars to appeal to the humour of their dominant audience. A system of cultural subversion, where they get to redefine history, and everyone in it. A system that includes industrial mass-production lines of plastic merchandise sold within a hyper-consumptive system that compels us, and our children, to buy, buy, buy, and then throw away, throw away, throw away. A system that models the thoughtless consumption of collective property and is ultimately destructive of all we hold sacred. This is the system within which Disney – and the broader industrial storytelling complex of Hollywood – exists. These are the invasive species that have been introduced to our storytelling landscape.
And they have been planted by our own hands.
Our own hands who are only too swift to protest that “it’ll be different this time”.
You wanna tell me that the same company who still, to this day, perpetuates racist stereotypes in their merchandise and theme parks, have all of a sudden changed?
You wanna tell me that the same company who would wrap my child in this obscene mockery of our ancestor and Atua – that subverts not only the story of Maui but also the traditions of tatau and moko – that actively participates in cultural genocide through targeting our children – that THIS business is now conscionable?
This “Oceanic Story Trust“, in all it’s expertise, finds it acceptable for our children to dress up in a costume that mocks our ways for European humour, bound in a European construct, a cog of the European economy built on the exploitation of indigenous representations. And that’s ok to this “Oceanic Story Trust”. That’s authentic. A costume that will be used for probably less than a year before being tossed away, to bulk up land fill and increase the toxification of our lands, or wind up in our oceans, killing Tangaroa. The irony of this in relation to a movie called “Moana” is thicker than toxic sludge.
I cannot accept that this violation is beyond the groups who were approached by Disney to validate this process. The importance of storytelling cannot possibly be news to them – nor could the impact of cultural appropriation. They cannot deem to be experts in their field and be unaware of the interconnected nature of our stories, representations, and the political implications. All I am left with when I consider what they know, is that they were knowingly complicit in this act of cultural mining. That they assessed the situation – and in an opportunistic and purposeful manner, permitted themselves to sell off our collectively held traditions to a known abuser. The hands that have planted these species in our maara are brown. Tragically… so will be the eventual pest species.
This post isn’t going to be a long one – it’s not an area that I like to spend too much energy or time on, merely because I’m busy looking after a multitude of other kaupapa – and this kaupapa is one that is really best cared for by others anyway.
I’m talking about White Fragility.
How do I know it’s best handled by others? Well experts in the field like Judith Katz carried out the research for all of us quite some time ago through years of anti-racism training and wrote about it in her book. She’s not alone – many others contest that the best people to educate white people about racism is white people. This is exampled really well by the Andrew Judd phenomenon.
Andrew Judd didn’t say anything new. He didn’t say anything that Maori haven’t been saying in a myriad of ways – through calm reasoning, through protest, through song, through lobbying, through civil disobedience and peaceful but resolute resistance, through education and publishing… Maori have been repeating the SAME message since forever and have achieved much through holding that space. They also got ignored by the mainstream media, but that’s because the mainstream media is racist too and tends to under-report Maori voices or characterise them as radical and dissident.
Not so with Andrew Judd. Because he’s white – and a mayor at that. He looks like the older white man who sits up from you in the boardroom – who better to listen to? If he’s calling NZ racist… it’s GOTTA be, right?
Andrew didn’t say this in a different way, he didn’t bring a different light to it, and the peace walk was NOT Andrew Judd’s peace walk. It was the Tū Tama Wāhine Peace Walk that Andrew took part in. The mere fact that people characterise his discussion as somehow more peaceful and reasonable than Māori – even as Andrew himself was raising awareness about the epitome of peaceful resistance that is the Parihaka story… says a LOT about the wilful blindness of some. He didn’t say anything new – he just got attention because he’s a white man in power.
What Andrew did do though – was incredibly valuable. He examined and acknowledged his own role in this biased system. He correctly deduced that being a white male in a position of authority accorded him extraordinary privileges – and most importantly he used that fact to cast a light on racism in New Zealand, he used it to recruit attention to the lessons of Parihaka and most importantly he used it to advocate for POWER SHARING.
Subsequently – the Andrew Judd Fan Club facebook page has rocketed in popularity but even that is not immune to the ravages of white fragility – and much time seems to be taken up with roughly the same discussions being had elsewhere online, where white people problematize Maori frustration and project their hypersensitivity on to Maori. The discussion is not “Those damn Maori who think they have rights” but rather “Those damn Maori who are angry and won’t let me give them their rights”. Time and time again the catch-cry “Andrew wouldn’t do it this way” is thrown up in defence. Apart from the very obvious point that Andrew Judd isn’t the messiah and isn’t actually THERE to deliver his sermon and instructions in the first place – the very POINT that is being missed here, the very POINT of what Andrew did, was to highlight systemic racism and the insidious nature within which it infects the social psyche. That INCLUDES the entitlement that white people assume to being gently led through the process of self-critique, that INCLUDES the privileging of the white voice over a brown one, and it includes the insidious nature in which white voices wind up coming out of brown mouths (like when Maori start criticising their own for not being nice enough, or projecting the common white trope of the angry Maori onto their own).
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not now, nor am I ever, going to advocate for abuse. You use cusswords to call someone a name at any point – you’ve lost all credibility.
But let’s be clear about abuse. Let’s be clear about anger, and about what it looks like to ‘get ugly’. Because recounting the brutal facts of history is NOT rage, and blunt statements about the ubiquitous nature of colonialism and our racist society is NOT abuse.
Hypersensitivity is a PART of the crime of racism. It means that we’ve been ignored so long we have to shout to be heard. It means I have so many fires to put out by now that I don’t have TIME to break it down into gentle whispers for you. And it means that even if I did, you’re so unused to my voice that even a whisper still sounds like a shout, to you.
And let’s also be clear that when you set up a situation that is intended to address racial injustice but then wind up perpetuating injustice through enabling passive racism – that’s going to frustrate Maori – some will be able to identify and articulate it well. Others will not. The crime is then compounded when they are singled out as angry and crazy. Again – I’m not advocating for the raging abuse that comes out of them – I’m just pointing out that passive racism contributes to that rage and incites it.
So no, potential ally who wants to examine your role in this state of affairs – I don’t want you to victimise yourself and crumble under your perceived weight of blame. That’s of no help to me or to us as a nation trying to progress.
It’s not an easy process – it’s traumatising, it’s laden with self-analysis and you have to avoid the pitfalls of self-loathing because the system is set up to benefit you. You have to be strong, and come through it… just as we have had to be strong with our load, just as we have had to bear much over the years, and still do – so, too, must you be strong. You can. And you must. You have to be strong in your space and hold that up, so we can continue in the business of being strong in ours.
And what does that look like? What does it look like to be a good ally, to be a helpful ally?
Well first of all – stay white. You can be white and learn te reo. You can be white and learn tikanga. You can be white and support and celebrate Te Ao Maori. Please, god please don’t abandon who you are in shame and try to “become” indigenous. New Agers do it all the time and it evokes something like this from us.
Seriously – I’ve seen ALL those expressions in response to Dolezal-ism (it’s a word).
In fact it’s vitally important that you stay white (not least because it will cost you a bundle in expensive fake tan solutions and failed hair do’s) – but also because your whiteness gives you access into spaces and discussions that we are shut out of. Just like so many white NZers did with Andrew Judd – white people will listen to you more then they will I.
So stay white… and speak up. That’s going to be the next level of discomfort for you. Your white friends and colleagues may not appreciate you dropping the truth bomb into what was previously a safe-zone for racist dialogue and decision-making. Rest assured that at least you will get more mileage from their ears than if it were me saying exactly the same thing. Jane Elliott is living proof that you can be incredibly blunt and confrontational with your own and get marvellous results (and of course she has had to deal with her fair share of resistance as well, including physical assaults).
Stay white – speak up – and stay strong. Stay in the conversation even when it’s uncomfortable. We didn’t get a free pass from trauma for the past 200 years, so no point in you expecting one.
Let’s be clear on this: Your participation in this conversation is not a gift to anyone else but yourself. It is not a service to Maori – it is a service to yourself, and a duty to your community. If you check out on this conversation you are checking out on your own self-improvement, you are checking out on your OWN duty to your community. It WILL get messy. You WILL encounter rage. And you have the capability to acknowledge that for what it is, understand it’s underpinnings, and use that as further justification for your commitment to work towards a more just community. You don’t need to be pulled down by it, you don’t need to subject yourself to abuse – you just need to stay true to the course. What does the language look like?
“I understand your rage, I’d be pissed too if I were subjected to the injustice you’ve been subjected to – I wish to god I could change what happened, it was shameful, and unjust – but I can’t – all I can do is commit to making a change here, and now, and support the call for your rights to be restored, which is what I intend to do.”
Understand that even THAT might not be enough for some of us – but still… bless them on their way, hope for them that they find peace, and continue on your own path of self improvement and supporting the cause for better justice. Understand that if you choose to check out on dealing with colonisation, based on their behaviour – that is still your choice, and it’s one that we don’t have.
And there are so many spaces to do educate yourself in this manner, if you choose to.
Which brings me to the final point. Self help.
We’re busy. This blog is already longer than it should have been. I’ve got dinner to put on, I’ve got assignments to mark, and assignments to write, and a class to plan for, and funding apps to write and soap and shampoo to make and juicing to do and well the list could go on but please don’t add to that list by expecting me to educate you. Where we do make time for that – it’s great. But it’s not an entitlement and don’t WAIT for us. Learn from each other. Seek information out – the internet is full of wonderful resources. Watch a Jane Elliot clip. Read some Linda Alcoff. Get busy, because the sooner we tackle this beast the better, and it’s going to require ALL of us on the frontline.
That’s it really. Stay white. Speak up. Stay strong. Self help.
Good luck on your journey.
(ps will post my soap and shampoo recipes up next)
So for those of you who have not been following NZ politics this week – there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about Helen Clark’s bid for UNSG. Here is a link to a great summary from Jeremy Rose on mediawatch, Radio NZ.
I have to say, I’m glad someone else also noticed the irony that I was on mainstream news one week being celebrated for plastic resistance and the next week I was being associated with treachery and treason. The feedback has been interesting to say the least. I’ve been private messaged with accusations of letting womanhood down. I’ve been told I should get over it and get into line (not sure why anyone would think that would all of a sudden work when we’ve been getting told to do that for 180 years now). And interestingly, I’ve been told to “stick with the plastic stuff”… I’m guessing the inference here is that plastic consumption and indigenous rights are separate issues? I was hoping to be able to clear that up in this morning’s Radio New Zealand interview and though I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to create some connections there – we didn’t quite get to fully explore the genealogy that sits between these issues. Thank goodness for blogs.
When I visualise these issues in my mind – Indigenous rights, Sustainable Development, Plastic reduction, Sovereignty, Economic oppression, Hero worship, Colonialism, Social and Environmental Justice – what I see looks rather like the spiderwebbed whakapapa (genealogical charts) that my grandmother used to draw out. They are all linked in complex ways, and, just like when you’re studying your whakapapa, as you look closer, further, very interesting relationships reveal themselves – and one of my very favourite pass-times is to sit with my close cousin Rhonda analysing issues and whakapapa at micro levels, then macro levels, triangulating points of commonality to understand the various facets of what sits before us. When I do that with the list above – what comes forth at the nexus of these points is another very pertinent issue. I’ll get to that issue in a moment but first I want to just discuss the relationships between these other issues.
Let me first just point out that engaging in a plastic reduction journey is an act of resistance. The plastics industry lobbies aggressively to maintain a level of market saturation. The vast majority of plastics are made from petroleum, and so they are all associated with a raft of issues that accompany fossil fuel economies, including:
• Climate change
• Rising sea levels
• Species and Habitat loss
• Wealth/Poverty Gaps
Some of these are able to be monitored at a national level, but many of these issues are global issues, and the best approach so far is to get United Nations member states to ratify agreements where they commit to proactive measures in reducing emissions. Except in some cases, like New Zealand, our targets are less than inspiring, and our trade relationships actually account for more offshore emissions than onshore. Being offshore, of course, makes them very difficult to monitor let alone reduce. Probably the most problematic region is Factory Asia, who is responsible for producing over half of all the world’s goods. That’s all goods. Everything. In this sense, Asia is really emitting greenhouse gases and creating production waste on our behalf (and of course there are the added issues of labour exploitation and workers rights abuses). Of course the remedy to this is to buy local, but arrangements like the 2008 free trade agreement between China and New Zealand (set up by the Labour govt) flood our market with more affordable merchandise which – when we are suffering some of the highest living costs in the world – works against conscious consumption.
And in fact as many of us may already know – Global Corporatocracy – where borders are gradually being blurred and redefined through bilateral and multilateral trade arrangements that privilege transnational corporations and allow them to directly influence the governance of nations – really is the largest threat to human and environmental rights. Unsurprisingly the World Trade Organisation, tasked with regulating international trade, has administered it’s duty in a flawed, biased fashion and consequently been unsuccessful in providing a fair trade economy – resulting in large-scale conflict and political instability, environmental degradation and globalfood and water crises.
SO in light of such powerful, well established, ubiquitous economic and political odds – reducing your consumption, consuming consciously, sourcing your own food and minimising plastic consumption are very much acts of political and economic resistance – playing out at the most influential sphere you have – yourself, and your investment choices.
Of course this alone will not solve the problem but nonetheless a strong core is the basis of structural integrity, and if you can explore the challenges at a personal level it undoubtedly assists your approach to this at a public and political level. Other spheres of influence are your family, your community, your workplace, local government, national government and of course the global sphere of influence, like the UN.
So we’re clear – I’m NOT a member of any NZ political party and did not go over there as one (the media have largely not helped in making that clear). My duty in that space was to the global indigenous community first and foremost – and to those with valid, but suppressed voices in Aotearoa, who also wished (and had a right) to be heard in this process.
Appointment processes are not popularity contests. They involve thorough assessments of past performance. Performance assessment is based on the candidate’s success in a particular field. Any statement that “well that was the past, get over it” or even “she’s learnt since then” is really irrelevant because that’s not how performance evaluation works. You don’t hire a bus driver based on what he learnt from the many crashes he’s been in, nor do you simply say “well those crashes were all in the past now”. If the past didn’t matter then credentials and demonstrated strengths also do not matter.
So – UNDRIP matters (especially when it’s the theme of the meeting). Other key themes that arose at that meeting were the loss of indigenous land (also a core theme of the declaration) and the state persecution of indigenous defenders of land and waterways. Both of these are perfectly exampled by the F&S legislation and the police militarisation against indigenous families during the anti-terror raids.
In fact, the state use of police and armed forces to clear indigenous people away from the natural resources in order to facilitate natural resource exploitation and corporate expansion is not at all new. Sourcing resources and colonial expansion were the very causes that brought Captain James Cook to our shores. His assumed right to kill, abuse, and steal is not purely historical for us – it is merely one of the earliest iterations of what was to become, for us, a very common and regular aspect of our lived experience of colonisation – and it continues to this day.
It continues for us as Maori on Rekohu, Te Ika a Maui and Te Waka a Maui. It continues in the most brutal fashion for our relations in West Papua who are experiencing severe human rights abuses every day as the Indonesian Army continues to occupy their lands in order to exploit their natural resources. It continues for our whanau in Hawai’i who are also under illegal occupation by the US have their most sacred sites occupied by the government in the forms of military bases, telescopes, and multinational GM food conglomerates. It’s happening to our relations in Rapa Nui who have their leaders arrested and detained for trying to protect their sacred sites. It’s happened to our relations in the Marshall Islands, the Bikini Atoll, Mururoa Atoll, with nuclear testing.
And the militarisation of the Pacific is exactly the issue that I see sitting at the nexus of plastic consumption (which first boomed due to the second world war in order to reserve metals for weaponry); indigenous rights; and colonisation.
We, as Tagaloa peoples, as a nation of descendants from across this ocean, remain under attack. Our relative governments keep us apart with imagined borders – but our common struggles, our whakapapa, and our shared relationship to Tangaroa and Hinemoana brings us together. This is yet another reason why plastics matter so strongly to me, it is my genealogical link to the ocean that informs my obligation to its care and protection. The exploitation that is happening over land is absolutely happening over water as well.
Even as we speak preparations are under way for a nuclear warship to enter New Zealand waters, for the first time in 35years, in time for the international weapons conference being held in Auckland. That ship will traverse right through our oceanic territory – just as proposed trade agreements traverse right through our oceanic territory – just as the plastic waste of our socially engineered consumption habits traverses right through our oceanic territory.
And of course ALL of these things are driven by corporate greed – it controls the state, it is defended and facilitated by the military, it will push you into survival mode and sell you solutions based on dependency.
So there it is – the whakapapa between plastics, warfare, militarisation, governance and indigenous sovereignty. It crisscrosses back and forth in a myriad of ways – the cultural genocide visited upon indigenous peoples is absolutely a tool of economic oppression to maintain wealth and poverty gaps – to keep one group in servitude and another in power. The trade agreements are tools to maintain military occupation, and vice versa. The hyperconsumption drives resource extraction. All of this requires sites of resistance, from your personal choices – to the global halls of power, and everywhere in between. On sea, on land, and on the airwaves, you’ll find us.
We’re not going anywhere.
We are Tagaloa Nation.
There’s been a bit of talk lately about some of the people we label as heroes.
I’ve already spoken out a fair bit about these issues.
From Disney’s Moana, to Helen Clark’s nomination for Secretary General, to Captain Cook – our “ethnically harmonious” nation appears to be unwittingly flashing our racist panties by how we choose our heroes. I’m not particularly surprised (nor do I think we should be bothered) by the accusations of treason or treachery – no system of oppression was overturned without treasonous acts.
What I am tired of is being told what I should be thankful for. This expectation that I should be proud of our “bicultural” nation.
Don’t talk to me about biculturalism.
Biculturalism only refers to the presence of two cultures it makes no explicit reference to the balance of power in that equation.
In a country where colonialism is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe most would have no IDEA what it would look like to have an equally Maori and Pakeha world. So don’t throw your meagre brown crumbs at me and tell me to be thankful for biculturalism. What you think is an equitable notion is actually 90% of this reality being shaped by you and yours, with, at BEST, 10% shaped by me and mine.
Look at our “bicultural” health workforce. Shared by Maori who account for less than 7% of that workforce and Non-Maori who account for the remaining 93% – even though those stats are reversed for patient numbers.
When you have 10 memorials relating to a white man.
And offer to put up one for a Maori leader.
And the white guy murdered, stole from, and kidnapped Maori.
That’s not biculturalism – it’s imperialism.
When you want me to spend a year “celebrating” this painful event while you continually minimise and euphemise the Maori experience of that event – echoing the way in which our trauma is continually minimized and euphemized in the experience of colonization...
That’s not a “celebration of dual heritage”.
My people are not yet free. We are not free to live the lives that our ancestors did – nor are we free to secure the choice of which aspects of their world we carry forward for our descendants. We are not free to live on our tribal lands. We are not in control of our representations. We are not in control of our own wellbeing. We are not in control of our own healing, or our own governance.
So don’t talk to me about biculturalism. Talk to me about equitable power sharing.
Don’t show me your damn Disney representation of a Pasifika girl and tell me that’s empowering for wahine.
Not when the production and writing crew are still predominantly male, and predominantly non-pasifika (and there are NO wahine pasifika on that crew)
Not when the stories that have held our families together and helped us to understand the mana of our mothers, and grandmothers, and sisters and daughters – not only through the words but through the surroundings, the actions, the inflections, and language – have been ripped out of our hands while we are still in the process of reclamation. DON’T SELL THAT TO ME AS YOUR FEMINIST EMPOWERMENT – ESPECIALLY when you’re doing that to deal with your own history of gender representation rather than supporting our own knowings and perspectives.
NOT when you serve our Atua up for misinterpretation as witches.
Don’t tell me I should be proud to have a woman in a role of power, responsible for the wellbeing of indigenous people the world over.
Not when the children of indigenous mothers are still wetting their beds, and waking screaming with nightmares, and cowering from police, and violently self destructing because of acts inflicted under that woman’s supervision.
Don’t you dare tell me that this would be a step ahead for me, as a Maori woman in this world.
Not when that woman’s idea of a development solution is unfettered trade, even when it results in the abuse of our Mother.
And don’t fool yourself for a second that your idea of treason is relevant to me.
Because you have no idea of who I serve. In actual fact – if the power in our country were truly biculturally shared – then we would never be having this conversation, and this notion of treason would certainly be redundant.
You see, in my world Helen Clark is not one of “our own”. Disney’s Maui is NOT the Maui I descend from. And Captain Cook is anything but a founding father.
Keep your heroes. I have my own.
New Zealand’s Celebration of Cook’s Invasion Is Racist and Needs Revisiting.
Earlier this week, Australia surged ahead of us in culturally appropriate history.
The University of New South Wales’ “diversity toolkit”, which acts as a guide for appropriate language in respect of indigenous realities, came under heavy media criticism. The guide includes the most appropriate terminology for referring to the indigenous peoples of Australia, correct place-names, and, shockingly (for some) , the very factual reminder that:
“Australia was not settled peacefully, it was invaded, occupied and colonized. Describing the arrival of the Europeans as a “settlement” attempts to view Australian history from the shores of England rather than the shores of Australia.”
This includes the suggestion that Captain Cook’s arrival was an act of invasion. Naturally there was an indignant uproar, accusations that UNSW were attempting to “whitewash” and “rewrite history”, which as Alex McKinnon correctly points out betrays a profound misunderstanding of what the word “whitewash” means in historical terms.
First of all I should say that yes… history is being re-written here.
It’s called a correction.
It’s taken us a little while to be able to crack the vice-grip of the colonial lens on world history. It took marches and demonstrations. It took lives being laid on the line. It took many, many court cases, petitions, acts of civil disobedience and political resistance. It took legislative development, it took us demanding our own spaces for learning, for developing, and sharing, and promoting OUR truths, our views. Stan Grant has openly criticized the guide, saying universities “can’t tell students what to think” – he misses the fact that they already do, and this is the point of the guide, that language is embedded with inferred value statements and worldviews – and by labeling an invasion as “settlement” they are already telling people to think of it in a certain way – a colonially privileged way.
The colonizer insisted we were primitive and savage – and this has since been corrected. The colonizer insisted we were “peacefully” settled – and this has been corrected (even though nobody told John Key that). The colonizer insisted that “The Maori” killed all the Moriori (which must be super annoying to the Moriori people who are still very much alive) – and this, too has been corrected. Of course none of these lies are without agendas – they are all constructed to legitimise the colonially-privileged power frameworks.
We have fought, and fought, and continue to fight, for the right to speak our own truths, and resist the colonial voice that has tried to speak on our behalf, to whitewash our experience of colonial expansion. We have railed against, AND fought through the colonial systems and forums of knowledge, and through our infiltration, and continued, unrelenting demands for social justice, we have made ourselves heard. I BET that hurts colonial ears – it’s certainly not something that they’d be used to hearing.
So of course, criticism of the colonial golden-child, Captain James Cook, “Explorer of the Pacific” on his “Voyage of Discovery” is somewhat of an anathema for colonial sensibilities. Gananath Obeyesekere notes that Cook’s portrayal in history is a very typical colonial myth model of the “white harbinger of civilisation”, and that references to the invasion of the Pacific have undergone some kind of “silent conspiracy” to stifle work that harshly criticizes these activities. Of course, where one version of history has taught us to consider someone as the founder of a modern nation, displacing that notion, errant as it is, does not happen without a screech of discomfort. Lancing such septic, longstanding boils will naturally smart.
I applaud the University of New South Wales for their correction of the masses. And let’s be real about this – there is not one big dusty tome called “History” sitting somewhere on a shelf in Ankh-Morpork that faithfully writes itself as stuff happens. UNSW didn’t break into anywhere, grapple down a line and profanely deface those sacred self-writing pages. They wrote a guide. A guide that reminds students that the dominant worldview and social narrative is not indigenous, often offensively myopic, and should rightly be challenged. It’s reminding students to be critically self-analytical – and that absolutely IS the hallmark of GOOD tertiary institutions.
Likewise, I applaud those who have fought and successfully brought to light the true legacy of Christopher Columbus, another brutal invader, for so many years labelled an “explorer”. There is now a growing realization that the previously considered “founder” of the nation does not deserve a national holiday, and many institutions and local governments are now recognizing October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
So how is it, that while others are finally coming to terms with the injustice of celebrating colonial acts of violence, New Zealand, who purports to be the progressive nation of harmonious race relations – is about to invest many, MANY millions into a celebration of Cook’s arrival, a celebration that will last not just for a day but for an entire YEAR (Atua give me strength) – and labeling it the “inception” of our nation? If we are so ready to call out John Key on his suggestion that New Zealand was “peacefully settled”, and condemn mainstream Australian news outlets for not recognizing the indigenous reality of colonization – where does that sit with our own multi-million dollar investment in celebrating our own invasion?
Unsurprisingly there has been a rush to “indigenise” this patently colonial event, through recruitment of Maori interests, the acknowledgement and inclusion of “Polynesian navigation histories” and being sure to add the term “commemoration” in a vague acknowledgement that maybe this might not be something everyone wants to celebrate.
Of course, it’s a little hard to escape the fact that the entire event is centered on the day the colonizer arrived – Yet again, Maori are placed on the table as the relish to the main meal. Unsurprisingly, our own council can’t even hold true to their own brownwashing and revert back to calling it “celebrations” in their official records.
The very use of the term “Te Hā” is offensive. This ill-conceived name was proffered by one of our own to relate to the sharing of hā in the first meetings of Cook with Māori – and the inception of our nation. The sharing of hā is an intrinsically spiritual notion that relates to the first breath of life, given to Hineahuone – for the inception of TANGATA WHENUA. Not Tangata Tiriti as it has been co-opted for in this instance, but Tangata WHENUA. Hā is spiritual, it is meaningful, and it is MĀORI. Stop giving our stuff away.
So here’s what ACTUALLY happened when Cook landed in Turanganui a Kiwa:
“MONDAY, 9th October. Gentle breezes and Clear Weather. P.M. stood into the Bay and Anchored on the North-East side before the Entrance of a small River, in 10 fathoms, a fine sandy bottom. The North-East point of the Bay bore East by South 1/2 South, and the South-West point South, distance from the Shore half a League. After this I went ashore with a Party of men in the Pinnace and yawl accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander. We landed abreast of the Ship and on the East side of the River just mentioned; but seeing some of the Natives on the other side of the River of whom I was desirous of speaking with, and finding that we could not ford the River, I order’d the yawl in to carry us over, and the pinnace to lay at the Entrance. In the mean time the Indians made off. However we went as far as their Hutts which lay about 2 or 300 Yards from the water side, leaving 4 boys to take care of the Yawl, which we had no sooner left than 4 Men came out of the woods on the other side the River, and would certainly have cut her off had not the People in the Pinnace discover’d them and called to her to drop down the Stream, which they did, being closely persued by the Indians. The coxswain of the Pinnace, who had the charge of the Boats, seeing this, fir’d 2 Musquets over their Heads; the first made them stop and Look round them, but the 2nd they took no notice of; upon which a third was fir’d and kill’d one of them upon the Spot just as he was going to dart his spear at the Boat. At this the other 3 stood motionless for a Minute or two, seemingly quite surprised; wondering, no doubt, what it was that had thus kill’d their Comrade; but as soon as they recovered themselves they made off, dragging the Dead body a little way and then left it. Upon our hearing the report of the Musquets we immediately repair’d to the Boats, and after viewing the Dead body we return’d on board.”
That was the first meeting – it was not an exchange of sacred breath. It was an uninvited landing, and a murder. Here, you can read the journal entries of Cook, Banks, and Parkinson – Banks himself by day two “despaired” of ever making peace with us – and after killing a few of us they decided to “name” our land (which already had a name) “Poverty Bay” because of what little was gained from their time here.
By the time Cook had finished, only a few days later, by his own account, he had killed at least 5, and wounded at least 4 more (whether they died from their wounds is not known). This is not uncommon for Cook, who with his men, killed, wounded, kidnapped and stole their way around the Pacific. They did it in the Marquesas Islands, in Australia, in Tonga, in Tahiti… until finally Cook tried it one too many times in Kealakeakua Bay, Hawai’i, and was dispatched by locals (mahalo).
Cook was a thief, kidnapper, murderer and invader of indigenous lands and it is beyond inappropriate to encapsulate his actions with the sacred term “Hā” – it’s not unlike a broad cultural case of stockholm syndrome. His activity was not something to be celebrated – and it is not a date upon which to “hang” celebrations for our tīpuna. It is an event to be ashamed of, a vital tool of imperial expansion and the forerunner of the oppressive forces that were soon to follow. It’s amoral to me that our council is spending so very much on celebrating a murderer, when those funds could be spent on restoring the near-dead waterways of those who were murdered.
I realise the UNSW position is not one shared widely across Australia but gawd – at LEAST they’re having the conversation! Hawai’i is quite clear about the role of Cook in their history – it’s negligible. He was a lying thief who tried to get away with murder, and failed. The USA is swiftly abandoning it’s culturally inappropriate references to Christopher Columbus. Meanwhile, New Zealand – spearheaded by Gisborne’s own “Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust” – not only avoids the conversation – but hoists sail, drops the engine, and hurls itself in the opposite direction of major investment in celebrating this shameful practice.
The Governor General Jerry Mateparae launched the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust with a speech dripping with euphemisms that skirted about the brutal reality of that first interaction:
Governor General Mateparae: “I am delighted to be involved in launching the Te Ha 1769 Sestercentennial Trust, and initiate the official lead up to the commemoration and celebration of the moment when the destinies of Māori and Pākehā became intertwined.”
Captain Cook: “The coxswain of the Pinnace, who had the charge of the Boats, seeing this, fir’d 2 Musquets over their Heads; the first made them stop and Look round them, but the 2nd they took no notice of; upon which a third was fir’d and kill’d one of them upon the Spot”
Joseph Banks: “After some time Mr Green in turning himself about exposd his hanger, one of them immediately snatchd it, set up a cry of exultation and waving it round his head retreated gently. It now appeard nescessary for our safeties that so daring an act should be instantly punishd, this I pronouncd aloud as my opinion, the Captn and the rest Joind me on which I fird my musquet which was loaded with small shot, leveling it between his shoulders who was not 15 yards from me. On the shot striking him he ceasd his cry but instead of quitting his prize continued to wave it over his head retreating as gently as before; the surgeon who was nearer him, seeing this fird a ball at him at which he dropd.”
Joseph Banks again: “We had almost arrivd at the farthest part of the bay when a fresh breze came in from the seaward and we saw a Canoe sailing in standing right towards [us], soon after another padling. The Captn now resolvd to take one of these which in all probability might be done without the least resistance as we had three boats full of men and the canoes seemd to be fishermen, who probably were without arms. The boats were drawn up in such a manner that they could not well escape us: the padling canoe first saw us and made immediately for the nearest land, the other saild on till she was in the midst of us before she saw us, as soon as she did she struck her sail and began to paddle so briskly that she outran our boat; on a musquet being fird over her she however immediately ceasd padling and the people in her, 7 in all, made all possible haste to strip as we thought to leap into the water, but no sooner did our boat come up with her than they began with stones, paddles etc. to make so brisk a resistance that we were obligd to fire into her by which 4 were killd. The other three who were boys leapd overboard, one of them swam with great agility and when taken made every effort in his power to prevent being taken into the boat, the other two were more easily prevaild upon.”
Let’s just go over that last “intertwining of destinies”. Captain James Cook decided he wanted to steal a canoe – complete with unarmed people inside it. When they tried to flee – he ordered gunfire over them. When they resisted – he ordered that they be shot, and killed – and the remainder were abducted against their will. Can I get an “Arr arr me hearties”?
Mateparae goes on to talk about how the Sestercentennial will give us “an opportunity to inspire today’s youth. As tomorrow’s leaders, they need to learn about the beginnings of our nationhood, to appreciate our dual heritage and shared future. It’s an opportunity to look at how that relationship has grown and changed over time and think of how it will progress in the next 250 years”.
I don’t need a colonially centered story to inspire our rangatahi – In fact, I fully intend to inspire them to promote THEIR TRUTHS on THEIR TERMS. The truths of their ancestors – the truth of Te Maro and Te Rākau who were murdered by invaders upon their land. The truth of all those from Orakaiapū Pā who were shot and killed needlessly, and whose river lies abandoned and defiled, while their murderer is celebrated. Our relationship hasn’t grown nearly as much as it could have, certainly not to the point where we are challenging the storyteller in their rendition of the truth. And even though there are many more brown faces regurgitating the colonial version of the truth – that is not, in fact, a new story in the slightest, it’s simply the perpetuation of the dominant narrative, with a little brown relish dolloped on the side.
I’m going to describe a few scenarios – all of them are real, and all of them have happened recently, and all of them relate to each other.
I’m at the 2016 Pacific Climate Change Conference, as a member of a panel on Climate Change, Social Justice and Gender Rights. It’s the end of the first day. The entire panel is filled with other indigenous wāhine and as we bring people into the room I start to feel the emotion and it occurs to me that this is the first all – indigenous panel to speak at that conference. The bulk of the speakers, up to that point (and indeed the bulk of the speakers throughout the conference) were not indigenous – and at times I struggled with the dominance of the heavily christian, hetero-normative views espoused even by my own Tagaloa relations who seemed loathe to draw the connection between Christianity, colonization, and indigenous dispossession, and many who also seemed simply happy to be involved in the conversation.
So there we are in a large grey lecture hall, I’m staring at the walls and try to visualise tukutuku panels, and carved pou, to make myself feel more comfortable for what I have to say. When my sister from Kiribati gets up to speak, her voice is thick with emotion. She has come so far, and there is so much on the line for her people, for their way of life, and it is all so immediate for them… she had come here with such hope – and yet there she is, face flushed and tears of frustration rolling down her cheeks, because at the end of day one, she could barely understand one word of what had been spoken. The graphs, the numbers, the statistics… all of it was in another language. My heart breaks for her because she is so damn right.
I’m sitting in a meeting room in my town surrounded by industry interests and notables – councillors, businessmen, corporate academics, all non-Maori save for a handful of us. The proposal on the table? A regional research center that will create a sustainable “Bioregion” economy. I understand a Bioregion to be an ecologically distinct area that allows for safe translocation of species… but from the look of the crowd (not one conservationist, mainly corporate interests) I’m guessing they’re not talking about our native bats. So I ask three pretty obvious questions:
“Who is driving this conversation?”
“What do you mean by sustainability?”
“What do you mean by a Bioregion?”
The answers are quite telling –
The Bioregion is not clearly defined at all but the inference is that a set of production standards are to be set that will create a profile of sustainable practice for our region. Ok – still a little muddy but let’s carry on… Nobody wants to put their hand up and admit that they are driving the conversation. My warning bells start ringing. The response is that it’s been “organic” and has “driven itself”. Nothing drives itself for five years. Now the bells are clanging and the only driving I can see is in the direction of a very familiar cliff. The group’s definition of sustainability?
“To be able to get the same product from the same soil in 100 or 1000 years”. They all look quite chuffed at themselves, and I’m pretty sure they think they’re all being quite green and innovative.
Here’s where we come undone. You see, the bulk of the land they are talking about is not actually their land. SOME in the room have had a very concerning approach to land-lease – consuming, destroying topsoil and arability, and moving on. An approach I like to think of as “Monsanto-locust”. I’m trying hard to give them the benefit of the doubt but it’s looking more and more like market-model greenwashing than genuine desire for a healthy region. I take a big breath, stand, and point out the following issues with the proposal:
- It’s largely Maori land they are talking about, upon which the natural resource economy of our region is based.
- Maori experience the sharp end of the socio-economic challenges that we face in our region, including poor housing, ill health, education outcomes and joblessness. I see this as a clear result of a system that is not designed to meet Maori needs, and certainly not the distinctive Maori needs in our region.
- Our region is distinctive from everywhere else in Aotearoa (which has a 15% Maori population) in that our region ranges between 50% to 0ver 95% Maori population.
- Because sustainability and social justice go hand in hand – any discussion about sustainability in a colonized land should include one about indigenous rights , and so Maori futures hold a central role in this project – but that is not reflected in who is holding the conversation, or where it is being held.
- All of the points above mean that Maori should be at the center of this discussion, not the periphery – because essentially – this is Maori research they are proposing to do.
So I oppose the vote for endorsement, and the meeting concludes without the vote going ahead. When the minutes come out, my concerns are erased, and instead a happy picture of community endorsement is presented. I ask for my concerns to be noted. The corporate researcher for Massey University who was taking the minutes and the Dame who was seated at the same table both claim to have “no memory” of the concerns.
THIS is the group spearheading sustainability for our region.
(n.b. Their proposal was declined by the funders, but of course they have already committed to continuing “the journey towards a sustainable and prosperous region”).
Now we’re moving from little old colonial Gisborne over to big bright Los Angeles, and the #oscarssowhite campaign.
I fully support the stand made. Storytelling is probably the oldest form of social control there is – where we lay down acceptable behaviour, create the norms, define the heroes and condemn the wicked. Right now the dominant narrative system is white, and male, and that is whom it stands to benefit.I don’t see this just as being about actors, or writers, it’s the Hollywood system as a whole.
So I found it quite interesting that Taika Waititi commented publicly on this issue, given his relationship to arguably the granddaddy of cultural appropriation, Disney.
So I challenged him… the response? Well it moved from surprise, to solidarity, to defence, then Taika took a weird left turn and got personal, and stopped off briefly at “the pacific is too diverse to please everyone anyway” before winding up at “you do your thing, I’ll do mine”. Here’s the link to the whole conversation if you’re interested.
So what’s the binding thread that runs through all of these scenarios?
Well I’ll give you a hint at this point – it’s not the pakeha I’m talking to. In fact I’m kind of tired of talking to Non-Maori about these issues. I’d rather talk with my own, and I think we have a LOT to talk about. In a decolonized world – we can be the norm, we are robust enough to critically analyse each others’ work and decisions, so let’s have this discussion. So often the message to the colonizer is that indigenous people need to be involved in order to avoid appropriation. And yet here we are, in 2016, with The Rock telling us all that he’s playing Disney’s “MAUI – a big, brown tattooed demigod who tries not to screw it all up. Just like in real life”.
Here’s some real life for you, Dwayne. I descend directly down from Maui (I could even provide the genealogy but that’s not knowledge for general consumption – yep that’s a refusal). Maui’s canoe sits atop my sacred mountain Hikurangi. He is an Atua, a deity, he is not up for trivialization – not by you, and certainly not through you, by Disney. It’s not their property to take in this way – not even when you, and Taika, and whoever else wants to help them along their way. Sorry, but in this case indigenous participation doesn’t cut it, it’s still pakeha controlling the story, telling it in their way, in their forum, for their benefit.
There’s a story that I like to tell my research students at the beginning of our journey together, and it’s a story about stories.
Probably the best known early ethnographer of Maori was Elsdon Best. From the late 19th century into the early 20th century, Best published a number of texts, many of which are still utilized today, and as some of them are observations of Maori who were yet to be assimilated in any way – they have been, and are still, considered to be the authoritative texts on Maori realities before European arrival.
Here’s his observations on Maori as workers:
“I have known Maori bush-workers, when they had the misfortune to break a timber-jack, return to their camp in a state of despondency for the balance of the day. European workmen, under similar circumstances, would have condemned their luck, but would have worked the harder to make up the loss.
To sum up: in conditions of steady, continuous work, demanding strength, endurance, and steady application, the Maori is not the equal to the European settler. The discipline that produces these qualities is the product of more advanced civilizations, and is not a feature of the lower planes of civilization.”
So – it’s quite clear that Best has already established a hierarchical view, where Maori occupy the “lower planes of civilisation” and is merely commenting on whether we, on our lower plane, can match the work ethic of the “advanced” pakeha. It should be noted at this point that this man, upon whose ideas most of our current understandings of pre-colonial Maori were made – also volunteered in the sacking of the peaceful settlement of Parihaka.
What Best failed to note in his observations of Maori work ethic was the ancestral tradition of tohu. Our ancestors believed fervently in watching for signs, not only in the stars, in the waterways, in the winds, but also in daily phenomena. A broken jack was often seen as an ill omen, and continuing work for that day was inadvisable.
So of course, this is what happens when you have someone making observations who is unfamiliar with the nuance of the culture he is observing. But those assumptions, learned under a western lens, were then assumed to be the accepted FACT. These “observed truths” were then used by our government to legitimise repeated violations of indigenous rights. They were used to justify the theft of our land, the degradation of our language, the trivialisation of our beliefs, and the removal of our children from their families and communities. They were used to legitimise nothing less than warfare upon our people.
Do you see now the immense role that approaches to knowledge plays in our outcomes?
The perception of our women as promiscuous, of our men as lazy and barbaric, the continuous portrayal of the customs and protocols as “primitive” also laid the groundwork for legitimising the coercive assimilation into a more “civilised” society.
And here is the appalling part – as that assimilation took place over generations – as more of our kinship ties were broken through displacement of the body, mind and soul… the internal voice of our ancestors became replaced with the voice of the colonizer – and thus – this errant portrayal also became the way that many of our own people came to understand themselves. That is the true tragedy, and the mark of success of the colonizer. When he can sit back, put his feet up, and rest assured that his work will be perpetuated by his very own products. After all, who better to perpetuate your work than those who look, and walk, just like those whom you seek to convert.
At around about the same time as Best was traipsing around the land, Te Whatahoro Jury was collecting wisdom from the great tohunga, Te Matorohanga. This was one of, if not the, first time that tohunga wisdom was captured in writing – and there were many instances where Te Matorohanga threw him and the other scribes out, and openly criticized the process. Without a doubt, there was much that he refused to share. What was shared, wound up in the hands of Percy Smith… another pakeha – who translated, edited, and published those writings – and his translation and handling of those teachings has, again, been highly criticised.
See – our tipuna already KNEW the great damage that could be visited by knowledge. They understood that it’s not just about the content – it’s about who’s telling the story, how it’s being told, where it’s being told, and for whose benefit. They put rules and restrictions in place about knowledge, because they knew that knowledge is power. That in the hands of certain people, that power can, and will, be abused. That it must be accompanied with teachings about mana, about respect, and about safety. That it can be a forceful weapon, which can be easily taken out of your hands. That’s why we had wananga, that’s why knowledge had to be earnt, that’s why access was restricted, and at times refused.
I know there is a space for our solid allies to hold this conversation – and I value them – largely because they understand that the best of allies supports and promotes indigenous voices, not replaces them.
So when I see “knowledge” about our indigenous realities being reflected back at me in a voice that is not our own – that often screams injustice to me. Whether it is through a conference that has privileged the non-indigenous voice, whether it is a research center that seeks to continue the age-old tradition of dominating Maori realities with Non-Maori voices, whether it is the industrial storytelling complex assuming the right to portray our voyaging traditions – we need to get better at seeing the structural injustice of these spaces – and demand better than just “participation” – and that includes, at times, the refusal to participate, especially when it is used to validate the voice of the colonizer.
We need to stop putting our kai up on the table for them – and we need to stop being so thankful for being invited to the damn table, when it’s our table.