Reappropriation 101


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.