Looking After Our Own

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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.

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11 thoughts on “Looking After Our Own

  1. Once again a thoughtful gem of critical thinking. The tentacles of the neo-liberal beast are traced, and the connections made between the historical, the political and the personal.

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  2. A brilliant piece on why Maori (and all NZers) should support the refugees – thank you. But one thing I would add, which I think the left don’t want to accept, is that this crisis is in part brought about by radical Islam. I’m sure many of the wars in the Middle East are fuelled by western interests and interventions, but religion plays a part, especially for the Syrian refugees (who only make up a tiny proportion of the refugees flooding Europe now).

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    • Thanks Jesse, and while radical Islam is obviously a part of the current conflict, no, I don’t personally accept that the conflict was “brought about” by radical Islam. That is because radical islam is a relatively recent development, compared to western meddling, and in fact radical islam can be said to have been brought about by western meddling. Violent radicalism is a thoroughly predictable outcome from immersing a region in violence for over a century. Jihad movements didn’t even exist until the Cold War, when allied states were actively funding, resourcing, and training mujahideen groups in Afghanistan. By that time the US and allied nations had already been funding and resourcing coups and rebel groups, and carrying out covert operations, for at least 50 years, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WW1, with two ostensible goals: wipe out Russian allies and attain fossil fuel resources. You immerse any group in incessant daily ultra violence for a hundred years including bombings, gunfire and drone attacks and of course a radically violent element will grow. So yes, today, it’s a contributing factor, but as a causing factor, no way does it match up to Western meddling.

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      • Thanks Tina. That all makes sense. I didn’t know that radical Islam has only been around since the cold war, but I can see how the Russian invasion and other US/allied support for Mujahideen and other meddling in the Middle East, and the century of violence it’s brought about, would turn people radical and violent. So thanks for explaining that, and I’ll retract my “brought about” claim.
        But (put better, in your words) the Islamists are appealing to non-radical Muslims, and appear to be gaining some support (including some in NZ) and given that Jihadism is called for in the Quran (or at least by one interpretation of it) I think we need to accept that it’s part of the problem today, and the non-radical Muslim majority need to help solve it, even if it’s Western powers who initially caused it. And I don’t see much acknowledgement of this among the left, and that bothers me.

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      • I disagree. Non-radical Muslim communities have been incredibly vocal in decrying radical Islam terrorism – I can provide countless links for that but really if you wanted to you could google it yourself right now. Their supporters (if that’s who your’e referring to by “the left”) have echoed this sentiment and pointed out time and time again that it is NOT representative of the larger global Muslim community but that is not given the same platform or exposure as the messages of fear and xenophobia – largely because the major media outlets are directly linked to the same power sources that benefit from fearmongering, divisiveness, power imbalance, and sustaining conflict.

        Even in light of the current conflict in Syria, that claim doesn’t make sense. ALL of the sides involved in the conflict there are Islamic – the very people directly involved in physically fighting the Syrian National Army and ISIL are Islamic so how exactly are Islamic communities not helping to solve it?

        The issue is not that Islamic communities are not speaking out against these fringe elements – they are. The issue is the rest of us who are feigning deafness because we’re addicted to fear. In much the same way, Maori culture has been maligned as violent and gang centered. It’s taken generations for us to shift that misperception of what is, in fact, a fringe element of our society, and for NZ to finally begin to accept (and I MEAN begin) that this is an unfair way to perceive a broad, diverse group of people.

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  3. Nga mihi Nui, mahana hoki e Te tuahine! I have been following your writing for awhile now, having stumbled across it, like so many things- quite by accident!! I enjoy your korero so much, that it happens to coincide with my own whakaaro? Pai Ana Tera hoki 😊 Whether it does or not though, I admire greatly your ability to express yourself, and your beliefs and opinions in such a calm, respectful and assertive way. Niiti rawa koe 😁 I was discussing this take recently with some tauira, and likened it to a Post I had seen on Facebook. The Humans of Auckland Page had uploaded a photo, in this photo, taken at nighttime, a Homeless Person/Rough Sleeper was huddled on the ground, in the doorway of the Gucci Store. Being the evening the storefront was lit up, glittering and dazzling, shimmering away, and then your eye was drawn to the shop entrance….. The contrast was striking, it quite literally took my breath away….. Not in a good way either…… What was even more concerning- just as I felt able to ‘catch’ my breath again, were (some of) the comments. In short, it was the whole “Undeserving Poor” korero all over again. Some commentators were polite about it, others not so much. Basically it was the whole, “These people need to get off the Drugs and/or Alcohol” coupled with, “They only have themselves to blame” and, my personal favourite, “These guys should go overseas- people over there have REAL POVERTY, these people are just being lazy!” Quite…… What I mean, as in what I’m trying to say, in my long drawn out way (hehehe) is the (insert word here) of Capitalism has grown, and injected itself SO deeply, and widely that there are times when I really do despair….. Your korero, on this and so many other topics gives me great heart, and reminds me that although it IS hard, and it WILL be tough, we CAN keep trying…… I runga I Te aroha e Te tuahine……

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    • Nei ra aku mihi NUNUI ki a koe hoki, e Hinetiri. Thankyou so much for reaching out and for your kind words. I haven’t seen the image your describing but it sounds the epitome of “social waste” in our capitalist system. Human souls turned into mere byproducts of a government, economy, and society that revolves around money 😦 how sad that people respond so heartlessly to this issue. I’m glad to hear you are an educator – because when I see/read kōrero like that I feel the only true remedy lies with the teachers of the next generation – nō reira e te tuahine kia kaha koe i te whakatō ngā kākano aroha i roto i ngā whatumanawa o ngā reanga e tipu ana…. Hai pūāwai ngā rangatira mō apōpō. xxxx T

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