Grieving As One.


“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war and until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. And until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war. And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained… now everywhere is war.” Haile Selassie I

I te tuatahi, te tika ka mihi aroha ki a ratou kua riro atu ki a Hinenuitepō. Rātou ngā ringa tū i te rangimārie, ehara rātou ngā toa pakanga, engari ka hinga tonu i raro i taua kaupapa. Ahakoa ko wai, ahakoa nō whea, ka tangi te ngākau mō koutou kua hinga, mō o koutou whānau i roto i te whare mate e noho ana, e tangi ana. Nō reira haere, haere, haere atu ra ki o koutou tīpuna, okioki ai.

I was given the honor yesterday of conducting karanga, in order to bring our students’ families into the pōhiri space for their end of year conference. It’s always an honour, and often a last second one. On this occassion I recalled one of the first karanga I was ever taught by one of my Aunts:

“Mauria mai o koutou mate, ki te taha o o mātou mate, kia tangi tātou katoa… haere mai”

Bring your dead with you, and lay them beside ours, so that we can grieve together.

Indeed, in our pōhiri processes, and even in our less formal greetings for groups, we acknowledge those that they may be grieving for, we offer them our love, and a space next to those we are grieving for. If it is very recent, then we specifically mention the tragedy – and we will often go out of our way to check if there is a tragedy that should be acknowledged for them.

And we do – we grieve for them all.

And today I’m absolutely grieving for our world. I’m grieving for those lost in Paris. I’m grieving for those lost in Kenya. I’m grieving for those lost in Beirut, and in Baghdad, for all of those who have never sought battle but have fallen to it anyway, and for a world that is torn apart by greed, manifesting as war.

Mauria mai o koutou mate, ki te taha o o mātou mate.

Bring your dead, and lay them beside ours.

I’ve never appreciated this aspect of our culture more than now.

Now, when those experiencing such immense loss around the world are feeling as though they just don’t matter.

Now, when those who ask to be joined to the grieving process, are being told to just “back off and let us grieve for this right now ok”.

Now, when lines are being drawn, and emotional hierarchy applied, because some people just seem more like “us”.

Now, when it feels, more than ever, that we need to be taking more notice, and connecting from a deeper place, to the grief, and suffering. of those who are NOT like us.

During the pōhiri, there are two distinct groups – the US and the THEM. It is a welcoming ceremony, but importantly it is one where we acknowledge each other’s different space, and our commonalities, and in doing so bridge our distance. Like the kaikaranga, the orators will also speak to those that have been lost for the visiting group – they will acknowledge the losses of others across the land, those that we know and that we don’t know – and we join our grief to theirs. There are also times that we will draw the lines of commonality between ourselves, and sometimes there are also lines of commonality between those that have passed as well.  Challenges are laid, solutions are sought, but always, there is a space for, and acknowledgement of, those lost.

The pōhiri process is one of navigating difference, of formalizing our separate spaces, and purposefully working towards a common space of trust and sharing.

Sometimes there is much common space.

Sometimes all we have in common, is our loss.

And that acknowledgement is often all that is required to bridge that distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It feels inherently MĀORI to me, to acknowledge the losses of everyone. Not only because it is a part of the Māori experience to be marginalised by state and media… but also because this is something we are taught to do. Out of aroha, and out of practicality. Because for our tīpuna, the loss of human capital held great consequences – and so we MUST consider the broader context of loss – if only to mitigate its recurrence.

We cannot hope to have a healthy Mother until we are in a healthier space ourselves. So I will continue to grieve for all of us, I will continue to speak to the continued grief of the marginalized, and that is not to detract from your grief, but to invite us all together to grieve, as one.

Mauri ora.

Busting the Top 3 Fossil Fuel Industry Myths


***This opinion piece was originally written for the Gisborne Herald, the newspaper for our region – which is currently debating the potential costs and benefits of allowing fossil fuel exploration off our coastline – at first I was asked for the references that informed my opinions, and upon supplying them, was told that I draw too long a bow. Rather than edit what I genuinely believe to be fair conclusions from the available science, I’ve opted to blog instead.
Self-censorship has never been my strongpoint.***

(image from Climate Justice Taranaki)

Although climate change has been discussed and debated for a number of decades, since 2009 the scientific community have managed to reach consensus around a range of climate change facts.

Like many other issues, it will often take a little bit of time for that consensus to reach a similar level of acknowledgement among the general populace, who are more susceptible to economic and political bias. Nonetheless, when faced with the economic ‘opportunities’ of fossil fuel extraction in our region, we must take full stock of the scientific findings, and actively dispel the myths. So let’s start the list:

MYTH ONE: The fossil fuel industry is well monitored and regulated to avoid environmental risk

The New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found in her 2014 report that our regulatory system is NOT adequate for managing the environmental risks of oil and gas drilling. This is exampled in Taranaki, where consistent, multiple consent breaches by the oil industry has resulted in considerable environmental damage.

Our inability to effectively respond to oil and gas crises was perfectly exampled by the highly criticized response to the Rena oil spill. Since then, we have experienced a further 363 spill related events, largely contributed to by offshore exploratory drilling, resulting in almost four tonnes of oil spilling into New Zealand harbours and oceans.

MYTH TWO: Investment in the fossil fuel industry is safe, and ethically permissible

The unavoidable obvious question being: “Is investing in the fossil fuel industry a reasonable, ethical move?” The scientific community is clear: NO.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), informed by thousands of scientists, are equally unambiguous: Nations must immediately begin the process of reducing carbon emissions to zero.

The current level of investment already poses too much risk, and further investment is suicide. Whatever carbon resources exist under the ground MUST stay there in order for us to keep our planet survivable.

If we consider the risk equation offered by the ESR crown research institute:

Well obviously the level of risk detailed above from our own Parliamentary Commissioner on the Environment, the multiple consent breaches, and the high level of oil spills, means that the likelihood = HIGH
Oil spills have long term devastating consequences for marine environments, killing off bird life, fish life, marine mammals, algae and plantlife, and aquatic microorganisms, In addition to killing many sea dwellers, oil spills can also impact the health of those that survive. Oil can modify invertebrate feeding habitats, disrupt their shell development, and cause slow suffocation. Oil polluted environments have high carcinogenic consequences for all animals that are connected to that environment including humans. So consequence = VERY high.

Of course those are the immediate short term risks, the long term risks (which may be beyond the moral scope or capacity of some) of contributing to climate change are not just likely, but definite – and the consequences are irreversibly disastrous.

It is quite obvious, therefore, that investing in this activity places our region at high risk, and is therefore unethical.

Is it financially risky? Well, would you want to invest your money in the industry that is experiencing historically unequalled divestment, has an increasingly poor financial profile, and that the Governer of the Bank of England himself labels a huge risk? Which brings us to….

MYTH THREE: The fossil fuel industry will provide beneficial economic outcomes for our region.

Science has again spoken on the matter and it is clear: We cannot continue to invest in the fossil fuel economy, whilst entertaining the idea of a future. It is one, or the other, and the two are very much mutually exclusive.

The further risks involved in this investment include increased intensity and regularity of drought/flood events that will devastate our farming economy, extreme loss of species upon which the broader ecology (and economy) depends, loss of seafood and fish stocks, and the loss of water recreation sites upon which our tourism depends.

We cannot be guaranteed that these risks will be outweighed economic gains – and of course the long term damage can never be accounted for by short term economic gains. To take the economic example of Taranaki, according to the NZ deprivation index, the Taranaki region continues to experience extreme levels of deprivation. The rise in regional GDP and median income levels, when placed next to the rising levels of unemployment in Taranaki, indicates a concentration of wealth for a very small number. The increase in poverty for Taranaki corresponds with the general effect that fossil fuel investment has on other economies.

Fossil fuel investment is not the answer to our region’s economic deprivation. Next month the world’s leaders are gathering in Paris for crucial talks on climate change – NOT to consider the reality of the climate crisis, for that much is already agreed upon. Rather they are meeting to consider HOW to improve our responses to the crisis, at all levels.

To permit the growth of the fossil fuel industry in our region flies in the face of not only scientific opinion, but global, and local need – the only ethical response of our council can be to stand against it.

***To sign the petition asking GDC to OPPOSE oil and gas mining in the East Coast and Pegasus Basins, click HERE***

It’s About Us


Along my path I’ve often come across people who question why I’m doing what I do – or they may admire the task of going plastic free and picking up plastic from the beach, but they admire it from a slight distance.

The common phrases are:

“Oh good on you – I’ve considered doing that but then I thought what difference can I realistically make? The problem is so huge”.

“Oh I take care of my own rubbish, you should really target the litterbugs – if they know you’ll pick it up they’ll just keep littering”.

“This is the responsibility of the businesses. Why should you clean up their mess?”

And my personal favourite:

“Why do you bother doing that? More rubbish will just wash up tomorrow”.

Now, all of those queries can be answered individually, quite easily – because my personal experience has shown me that one person’s journey CAN make a big difference, litterbugs DON’T suddenly get a conscience just because you stop picking up their litter, beach clean ups DO make a difference and we DO have a collective responsibility to address waste.

There is one fact that, for me, overrides all of these, though – and it’s one that’s often overlooked:

Picking up litter is, actually, much more about you than anything around you.

It’s not about whether you think you are, solely, fixing the problem. It’s not about whether the rubbish is yours or not. It’s not about whether you will influence wide change. It’s not about the change you make ‘out there’ at all.

It’s about the change you are making inside of yourself, and continue to make inside of yourself every time you take responsibility for our collective impact upon this planet. It’s understanding that we are in an abusive relationship with Mother Earth, and we are the abuser – and regardless of what the law says, we can, and must, do better. Not just for her, for ourselves.

Picking up rubbish is an act of self-redemption.

I had roughly 20 years of irresponsible consumption before I kicked my consciousness into high gear. That’s 20 years of investing in polluters by purchasing their goods, 20 years of creating unsustainable levels of waste, 20 years of treading heavily on Papatūānuku.

I have a lot to atone for.

But every time I make a better purchase, every time I repurpose, or reuse, or recycle… and especially every time I pick up a piece of litter, I feel like I’m getting a little bit closer to where I need to be.

Reappropriation 101

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I’m not going to get too deep into the NZ flag debacle. Essentially – our PM decided it was time for a new flag. The process for deciding it has been fraught, highly criticized, undemocratic, overly expensive, and, many feel, poorly timed. The entire issue has been quite damaging for the National Party (haw haw).

After reducing the pool down to four entries, an online campaign pushed for a fifth option – and they’ve been successful (here’s the summary). People have their opinions about the pool, and the process, still, and that’s fine. I’m not here to argue with that.

What I am here to do is call out this kind of bollocks:

peak engineering


Ok so pay attention. THIS is niho taniwha:

Our ancestors have been using it since… well… forever. It’s even older, as a pattern, than our koru (spiral). I’m talking Lapita old:

The colours red, white, and black – are also old as the hills – no I mean literally as old as the hills, they’ve been used by our tipuna since they had access to red clay deposits, and charcoal, and white clay deposits. So yeah… since forever.

So whatever your opinion on the flag – keep it, change it, silverfern, southerncross, red peak, whatever… that’s all cool.

But STOP saying that this very basic pattern “belongs” to someone else. Our tīpuna were using it well before Peak Engineering, AND Aaron Dustin.

Looking After Our Own


A word on refugees. You know – quite a few people I greatly admire have written, very eloquently, on this topic, but I feel I need to speak to it, from the perspective of a Maori woman with refugee whakapapa.

There remains here, in Aotearoa, a significant number of us who voice concern over accepting more refugees, even accepting any refugees, for a raft of reasons – more often than not it is characterised as a priority-based position to “look after our own” first. You’re whom I’m speaking to.

First of all, like many things I write about – let’s look at our whakapapa to this issue. New Zealand’s acceptance of refugees has not hurt us in the slightest before –  they are wound through my genealogy, and probably that of the majority of people who are, today, refusing we should take more. We accepted refugees from an unstable central and south-east Europe in the First World War and they were my great grandfathers. We took in refugees from the politically unstable countries of Asia during the second world war and they’re also my whanau. Likewise, as a nation, we took in many refugee whanau from across Europe during and after the second world war as well. Dalmatian, Czech, German, Jewish, Cambodian, people from all over the world have come our way, and we have benefitted from it. Keeping in mind that refugees are proven to provide more for the economy than economic migrants, our nation’s relatively anal position on accepting refugees has done us more of a disservice than good.

Iranian-born New Zealander Golriz Ghahraman – image from this article

Refugees are woven right through whakapapa Maori and while we can all speculate why that is – I’m quite sure that it’s because we all wound up in the same space, socio-economically. In the market gardens, in the factory lines, in the forests, in all the hardworking spaces – our people came together. I don’t need to judge them – my tipuna did that already, and we have such a rich interwoven whakapapa to speak to their approval. We were never rich then… but in coming together, we became stronger.

Nobody can convince me that we are now worse off than our whanau were 50 years ago. My nannies and papas set the standard for manaakitanga and I intend to follow that. In referencing them – I’ll point out that they opened their doors and welcomed those in need, whereever they were from, during The Great Depression. If you’re whining that we don’t have enough money or services to go around now, I’m telling you – we’re spoilt.

Caring for others IS what we do. It’s what our nannies and papas have done since forever, regardless of what we’ve had.

This reductive idea of caring for “our own first” is so severely flawed I hardly know which flaw to approach first.

Let’s get one thing out of the way nice and early. If, by “our own”, you are referring to those in need, in our own country – I hate to inform you, but this government could not give the slightest toss about those in need. Perhaps you’ve been in a cave for the past few years, but we’re living under a neoliberal government, with neoliberal policies that favour the rich and ignore the poor. The underpriveleged are not waiting at the bottom of some imaginary economic “to do” list that our government is going to get around to. They’re NEVER going to get around to taking care of those in need  – it’s simply not what they do. So if you’re that pissed about those who are missing out – the beast you’re after is called “unequal distribution of wealth”, it will continue regardless of us caring for refugees, shutting refugess out won’t make a blind bit of difference, and incidentally it’s also the same beast that caused the refugee crisis.

Here’s another way to consider this notion of “our own”. How about the fact that more than a few of the refugee issues are a result of our own actions? As Alan Gamlen so deftly pointed out – New Zealand, through our own military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa (since the First World War), have played no small part in creating the refugee crisis. If there’s one thing we’re being consistent with – it’s not taking responsibilty for the mess that we help create. Likewise, per capita we have appalling levels of energy consumption and waste production – both significantly contributing to the climate crisis that is, quite literally, flooding our whanau across Te Moananui a Kiwa – washing away their homes, their whenua, and our own ancestral whenua. The vast majority of our energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, our climate change targets are internationally scorned – yet our government continues to ignore our responsibilty in this situation to provide care for our neighbours that suffer from our actions? In the most bizarre of turns, our Immigration Minister responded to Green Party MP Denise Roche’s demands for better responsiveness as “paternalistic, colonialist, white person’s guilt“.

Yep that gets a WHAT THE ACTUAL F….

Sigh – so while we’re on the topic of climate change – Let’s also not forget that the refugee crisis of the Middle East and North Africa is also in no small part contributed to by climate change.

It astounds me how consistently blind we insist on being in relation to our own blatantly paternalistic behaviour alongside absolute paternalistic colonialists such as England and the USA. We STILL… to this day don the fatigues and faithfully serve the Crown, and her allies – and this draws from a long tradition of serving the Crown as it used the First and Second World War battalions to help draw the borders which underpin the North African Crisis, a tradition that includes assisting the Crown and its ally the United States in continuing to draw and maintain the borders and tensions that underpin the Middle East crisis, and of course faithfully serving the Crown and it’s allies even as they drew and maintained the artificial boundaries that seperate us from our whanaunga across Te Moananui a Kiwa.

And let’s talk about those allies, shall we? Because that’s another way in which these people are “our own”. By allies, I don’t just mean states, because let’s be real – states are simply extensions of corporations these days. Our whanau, our tipuna, in the market gardens, factory lines, whereever – they came together with refugee migrant populations because they related to each other. Why did that happen?

Because the systems of greed and corporate exploitation of resources that disadvantage and displace them – are the SAME systems of greed and corporate exploitation of resources that disadvantaged our tipuna, disadvantage us and will eventually displace us.

Oh we have something to be worried about for sure – but believe me it’s not the battered, weary families arriving on our shores. It’s the monster that drove them here. These wars are funded and resourced by the same corrupt, greedy, power-hungry system that caters to multinational corporations. Those same multinational corporations are the ones that threaten our own rangatiratanga through multinational trade pacts, and our own ability to care for ourselves, and our ways of being, and our whanau. THAT’S who I’m worried about – not some poor whanau who have been through hell and back.

Our world is most definitely in crisis – and it’s a crisis of morals. This is reflected in the international efforts to try and curb our own self destruction, whilst simultaneously ignoring the fundamental role of capitalist consumerism and the global corporatocracy. We are consistently challenged by our own inability to frankly, and transparently, address our own roles in the crises we face. It affects how we treat each other, it affects how we treat other species, it affects how we treat the land, and the waterways, and it affects how we are treating our future generations.

Do we really think that the answer to this crisis is to respond by blindly adhering to these artificial borders and imposed superficial values?

Honestly – those of us who are continuing to cast blame and close the door to those in need – I’m telling you – you’re not only fighting the wrong beast, you’re validating the individualistic mindset, and perpetuating the problem. It’s not an opinion, but a fact, that human conflict, climate change, gender disparity, poverty, food crises, all of these things go hand in hand, led by the crisis of the human mindset. It can change, but not while you continue to refuse to be that change, yourself.

Ironically enough – a great many of us in New Zealand will eventually be displaced through this mindset and it’s consequences as well – Here,  thanks to Jonathan Musther, are the maps that detail the impacts of the 10m sea level rise our grandchilden will likely experience in the next 75 years, and the following 25m and eventual 80m sea level rises that are predicted by most scientists.

And even as I look at these maps, I still cannot imagine permanently losing our ancestral lands – yet this is the reality our grandchildren face through our actions (and our whanaunga in Tuvalu, Kiribas, Tokelau, and other motu face now). Further to that – I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of witnessing our beautiful land be ravaged by war and being forced to leave our pakeke behind while we risk our lives for the sake of our children and the safety of our whanau.

Our ancestors honoured manaakitanga, they honoured our relationships and community-centered thinking. They honoured caring for people. Sadly, many of us have been lulled into abandoning these principles.

I hope when our grandchildren come looking for new homes, they are not met with the same level of disdain.

Tēnā tātau katoa.

Whakapapatia to korero – Connect your talk to the Earth.


That was a beautiful saying my Uncle Rātū came out with one day, when we were at Maraehako talking about a particular speaker on the marae. Their oratory was lovely, all the bells and whistles – but it wasn’t relevant to the context, or the space, or the people. It couldn’t be applied by anyone listening, other than to perhaps replicate those pretty bells and whistle to sound equally lovely anywhere else.

Whakapapatia te kōrero – kaua e whakarangirua

Connect your kōrero to the Earth, lest you cause uncertainty.

Whakapapa is about relationships – it encompasses family but stretches far beyond conventional genealogy. Whakapapa is about joining oneself to Papatūānuku – our Earth Mother who we all come from. Whakapapa is about layers, and layers, of ancestry. Layers of lifetimes spent growing into you. Whakapapa is about authentic connectivity – to space, to place, to the themes or issues that sit before us.

Whakapapa is, so often, the root of a problem, and the source of a solution.

Last year I was honoured to attend the UNESCO World Conference on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) in Nagoya, Japan. I found it incredibly inspiring in many ways – but also very concerning – and that was reflected in the Secretary General’s address, who noted both the incredible stories that herald a global movement – as well as the heightened urgency, and lack of progress, in too many other spaces. I  found myself often listening to speakers and considering the connection, or lack thereof, to the space and the cause, and hearing Uncle Rātū in my ear  “Whakapapatia te kōrero…”. I wrote a long (as in… 30 page) report to UNESCO on my experience of the conference – and here is my summary conclusion.

The world stands at a precipice, where the coming decade may define the survivability of our planet for the following generation. In a time where the world is consumed by economic crises, and our quality of life is defined by financial market forces – the requisite values for sustainable development – peace, love, understanding, good will – will often take a back seat. Action must be taken, it must be taken immediately, and it must be bold. If there has been an overriding unspoken theme for this conference – it is one of disconnection. There is a disconnect between our heads and our hearts. Involved in the development and implementation of ESD at global and national levels, are many great heads. Heads of state, heads of agencies, heads of fields of study. Each of these people – and indeed you, reading this, will also have a hearth that burns at home – your ahi kaa, that is fed by, and feeds, your family. You will have your home, your special place from your childhood, your precious place of retreat. These places, these people, are our heart. There is a disconnect between our heads, where we are making decisions, and our hearts – the effects upon these places and people.

We speak of the need for innovative means
and heartfelt commitment to reaching a new
space of communication, of principle, of
belief and subsequent action..
Yet we speak of this in distant, third person terms
in a policy, advisory, or conference space. We
present cold, lacklustre powerpoint or prezi
presentations that externalise what we know,
inherently, is an internal issue.
We advocate for sustainable practices to be
manifested by practitioners, students, and the
wider community.
Yet we still create unsustainable waste ourselves.
We advocate for grassroots mobilisation, green
economies and earth‐centered thinking
Yet our economy and governments continue on
increasingly neo‐liberal trends and are a hostile
climate for such ideals.
There is an observable growing divide between
what our governments agree must be done in
the interests of sustainability…
And the allocated funding and service support to
achieve these goals
We understand that those who hold tertiary
qualifications are more likely to participate
politically in advocating for sustainable
And yet the same group are also most likely to lead
the least sustainable lifestyles.

There is, in short, a great disconnect between what we want to see happen, and what we, ourselves, are prepared to do. We cannot hope to protect and provide for our landscapes, whilst avoiding the discussion about our own internal landscape that requires attention. Therefore, let us be bold, and open in our communication. Let us also be honest and frank in our own self‐assessment.

Often the consequences for these unsustainable lifestyles will be felt most keenly by those in low socio‐economic situations, especially the people of the land. As a Māori, I have the privilege of a cultural framework that links me, genealogically, to our Mother Earth. So when I say that I pray for us to restore our inner landscape, I speak of progress being achieved through a re‐membering of our role in nature, and nature’s role within us. An internal restoration project that begins with deep personal reflection – and yes this includes you. If, as policy advisors and developers, we cannot personally and intimately connect to this cause – then we cannot hope to inspire the level of change required to achieve our goals.

Restore your inner landscape

This is not new knowledge, in fact it is ancient, and was well understood by indigenous ancestors, who hold the longest running record of sustainable practice. They who learnt directly from the source, our parent, Mother Earth. This knowledge system has been damaged by the oft‐times destructive education and social systems, but still it survives. I know where you can find it ‐ but we must not seek to drag this into the classroom. We must, instead, bring ourselves to this already existing knowledge system and make all adjustments necessary to receive that which the Earth waits to teach us.

Communications from the Earth abound – whales beach in record numbers, our native species are on a rapid trajectory to imminent extinction, our access to freshwater is declining, while our sea levels and temperatures are rising, and so too are levels of ocean acidification. The most profound harbingers of this message are indigenous – the stories of the people of Kiribas and Tuvalu have attracted a great deal of international attention.


Our waka hourua, ocean voyaging canoes, have circumnavigated the Pacific Ocean, and now seek to circumnavigate the planet, carrying the cry of the oceans, along with potential solutions centred around education, innovation, relationship building and traditional indigenous knowledge. The culture with the longest history of sustainable practice is in Far North Australia. These communities are potentially the world’s greatest resource on sustainable practices – yet they are distracted and burdened by barriers such as access to education, health services, resource depletion, structural racism that extends from a policy and legislative level right down to the classroom, and across to police and justice sectors resulting in high levels of incarceration.

All of this inhibits potentially the world’s greatest advisory resource on sustainability. To return to my own cultural background – the arts of my ancestors clearly articulated our close relationship to the environment, and so this is a discussion about access to our visual heritage. The language of my ancestors was rich in metaphors of nature and our surrounding environment, further underpinning us as tangata whenua – people of the land, and so this is a discussion about access and support for my ancestral tongue. The way in which children were brought into this world underpinned a mothers role as the manifestation of Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) and our dependence upon whenua as the placenta and whenua as the landscape – with the ceremonial practices surrounding this journey reinforcing the powerful role of women in connecting us to nature. And so this is a discussion about the protection, and restoration, of our pre‐colonial practices and perceptions around pregnancy and childbirth.

Robyn Kahukiwa “Te Whenua, Te Whenua, Engari Kaore He Turangawaewae” (Placenta, Land, but Nowhere to Stand)

So can you see, now that when we speak of ESD – for me, we cannot address this issue without speaking to the centrality of indigenous rights. This discourse may not relate to everyone, but if it is omitted, it will be to the detriment of everyone – for the longest running, most effective model of integrated, holistic sustainable philosophy is held by indigenous culture. This has been spoken to by many, many wonderful indigenous contributors in and beyond UN forums, and these contributions deserve a central, privileged space.

This has led me to the understanding that ESD is not being duly valued with an indigenous lens, a concern that was compounded by the lack of indigenous content throughout the conference,  the lack of concrete action to protect indigenous rights around the world, and the lack of consistent, privileged indigenous presence at the conference.

Our communities, of all kinds, are jaded and disengaged. They have seen and experienced the dissonance between our intent and our action. We MUST address our means of engagement. We MUST return with hearts open and minds ready to re‐assess what we think we know. Change is required by all levels, not just in the classroom, but right across institutions – change must happen in this government, in this economy, and most importantly, within ourselves. We must challenge ourselves to think differently, to talk differently, and to effect change in our own personal lives, if we are to advocate for this on a greater level.

River’s End.


Miscarriage, infertility, broken-ness etc (which isn’t half as scary as what some people can say).

I’m 7. Playing on the couch.
Dad comes home with baby doll number 3.
It blinks vacantly. It has a milk bottle that fits between it’s lips. It mimis.
I’m gonna be the best mum.

I’m 17. Doubled over in the car park of a Westgate Shopping Mall.
Retching bile into a shrub,
Bellyful of razors,
A slender red snake escaping down my thigh.

I’m 20. In the ultrasound room for my second appointment.
Cold runny jelly smeared across my surface.
Grinning at an ambiguous smudge on a screen.
“Is that it??”
That’s when I clock her expression. Serious. Sad. Pitiful.

I’m 21. Staring out the hospital window from my bed
It’s been two days. My first visitor arrives.
His mother.
She’s just so sorry. Let her explain.
He would be here… but it’s just too painful for him.
I blink, vacantly, then return to staring out the window.

I’m 23. Lying in a hospital bed. No window this time.
There’s a young woman lying across from me
complaining how she has to stay there for the entire final trimester of her pregnancy,
“3 is enough, this better be the last”
I’m consumed with envy.

White coats and stethoscopes crowd my bed,
A thin veil wrapped around us for my dignity,
It’s just us now.
Just us five, huddled in clinical intimacy.
I roll to my side for all to gaze up into me.
My pillow cold from hot tears.

I’m 30, paging through Wāhine Toa,
Image after image of mother
And child
And mother
And child
We are divine because we birth.

I’m 34. On a boat, with friends.
We’re into the deep and meaningfuls.
The sea will do that for you.
What’s it all about we wonder.
Having kids, continuing the whakapapa.
Yes, that’s why we’re all here.
(my silence goes unnoticed)….

I’m 36, sitting across from Doctor number 300andwhatever,
She’s exhausted all the tests.
We just… don’t know, she says
(what’s wrong with you, she doesn’t say)
I’m only half listening.
I guess time doesn’t heal all wounds.

I’m 39, more deep and meaningfuls,
This time with a wāhine.
“If you ask me”, she says,
“you’re never truly connected to whenua until you have a child”.
It hangs in the air between us
Thick and heavy, like a violent fog.
My words are stuck in my throat

Like every other careless, soft strike
“You’ll never know true love until you have a child”
“Childless women just seem cold to me”
“You’d be an amazing mother”
“It’s a mum thing”

I’m 40.
One last hospital.
One last Doctor.
One last procedure.
My whare tangata distorted by
Creeping lianas
Pou lashed to maihi
lashed to pare
lashed to epa
lashed to tekoteko
lashed to tahuhu
lashed to mahau

The Awa stops here.


In a few weeks from now I will have my whare tangata removed, and I have not had children.

What I have had, is seven miscarriages, 5 d&c’s (dilation and curette), 3 laparoscopies, abdominal keyhole surgery, and an ovarian cyst removal. And not one clear explanation.

Apparently something like a fifth of all infertility is termed “unexplained”. Other than two (one from being kicked in the abdomen and one from a burst cyst) there have been no other clear explanations, and of course there is no way of knowing if those two would have spontaneously miscarried as well. What I know is that even well before my first failed pregnancy, my relationship with my whare tangata has been strained. I’ve loved it… It’s not loved me.

I think, generally, when you reach 40, you start to consider your life’s journey with your whare tangata anyway – and this is largely because it starts to behave differently, as your potential for childbearing begins to close down. In my case – differently meant from bad to worse. From random pain to consistent pain. And all the predictability of El Niño. Another trip to the doctors, some tests, some serious discussions, a right turn, and here we are in Hysterectoville.

My childbearing potential was never great to begin with…. Maybe 1 or 2%, I’m told?

But it’s only now that it is about to hit 0% that I realise how much 1% matters.

My percentage has always been pretty low – low enough that I had to make peace with the strong likelihood of a childbirth-less life quite some time ago.

But still – maybe it’s the social engineering, from the dolls to the happily-ever-after stories and every image in between – but even when it’s only 1 or 2% – it’s enough to make you, in the quiet moments, wonder.

Wonder what your partner would react like. Wonder what that “amazing love” that everyone describes, is like (you know, the one that makes your own idea of love pale in comparison). Wonder about that first glance at your own genetic footprint, your immortality, your continuation of an act that was passed unbroken to you since time immemorial. Wonder about that first skin to skin contact. Wonder about names. Wonder what a “little you” would look like, would be like, and how you could love and nurture “little you” into an incredible being. Sometimes you catch yourself wondering like this – quite inadvertently, and admonish yourself, and shut it down. And then, perhaps a month later, perhaps a year – you will do it again. Yep, you can pack a whole lotta wondering into 1%.

I don’t get to “wonder” anymore, and as sparse as those moments were, I will miss that.

When I think back about my journey with my whare tangata – it’s largely hospitals and doctors’ offices that come to mind. Clinical white coats and expressions that somehow simultaneously span sympathy and distance. “Some women just aren’t meant to have children”; “It’s just bad luck”; “You know, the Public Health Service isn’t here to help your kind reproduce” (ok that last one wasn’t so sympathetic).

And years, and years, and years, of being told in well-intentioned tones “Oh your turn will come”.

Note to those who have not experienced infertility: That does not help. Not one bit. Nor the various other versions of:
“Oh I knew someone who thought the same for X years but then [enter miraculous conception story here]”
“You just need to relax it will happen when you least expect it”
“When it’s meant to happen, it will happen”
All of these translated to me as:

“We cannot, and shall not, accept the fate of infertility”

When people would offer these platitudes, I’d plaster on a smile, turn, and walk away – silently fuming at the fact that within moments, in spite of myself, I would start helplessly wondering, again.

But more than that – I sincerely resented the cumulative inference that not bearing children was unfathomable. For wāhine Māori the inference is compounded by the suggestion that our whare tangata – our ability to create new life – is the source of our divinity and strength. If there is one thing I would ask of you – it is to check this reductive notion. All women are sacred. All women are divine. No suggestion should be made otherwise.  My role and divinity as a wāhine comes from so much more than my uterus – and I will continue to be just as much a woman, without one.

No, my body was not created to have children.

It was created to forge change. It was created to traverse this world and carry me through a multitude of adventures, triumphs, and lessons. It was created to hold and caress those I love, to stand up to injustice, to burn up the dancefloor, to plant seeds, to care for our planet, to stand and speak up for myself and others who require it. That’s what my body was created for.

I will not birth a child.

I have birthed, and will continue to birth, so much of great importance. I birth new understandings, I birth change for the better, I birth pathways for wellbeing, I birth opportunities. That’s what I birth.

Maybe I will raise a child. Maybe I will not.
Maybe I will raise a righteous army.

And maybe, just maybe – we are not divine because we give birth.
Maybe it’s that we give birth because we are divine in our ability to navigate change.
Why else do we also sit charge beside the waka tupapaku.
Why else do we herald the spirits to oversee hui.
My Awa Atua began with Hineteiwaiwa – and has been a mark of that divinity.
A mark of divinity that has travelled down countless generations to me.
A painful, tormenting mark, but one that I honour, and now, farewell.

My Awa Atua ends here.