Plastic, Indigenous Rights, and Warfare in the Pacific

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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.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=201810992

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
• Pollution
• 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.

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4 thoughts on “Plastic, Indigenous Rights, and Warfare in the Pacific

  1. … and with every new ‘invention’ we see the scientist/inventor hoping that his/her creation will be picked up by the military for a big quick profit, which then becomes a mainstream product poked out by multinational corporations owned by shareholders (“mum and dad investors”) who have the ‘disposable income’ for gratuitous investment and anticipated returns (gambling) to fund lifestyles of excess beyond their needs. There is no sense of proportion or restraint here, just gobbling up resources mindlessly.
    … and WE are guilty of going to the Warehouse to buy (often) sub-standard goods to appease our desire to HAVE ‘nice things’ that end up on rubbish heaps.
    You haven’t mentioned the mass factory farming projects currently underway for the exploitation of animals upon whose dead backs this ‘economic strategy’ is borne, an abattoir nation with every man and his dog trying to score fast-tracked ‘wealth’ without a conscience. The riches of this country were established on sheep, that most abused and mistreated of creatures.
    A ship is in Timaru port loading 15,000 dairy heifers for China. Is this what we have come to then? Not so long ago a ship took the same to Mexico. On what planet do members of one species strip the land of it’s wildlife and nutrients to exploit other species for short term profits in such a cruel and unsustainable manner? This one.

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  2. Pingback: Plastic, Indigenous Rights, and Warfare in the Pacific – The Pacific Voice

  3. Pingback: Stone in Our Shoe: The Military Co-option of Indigineity and Protection Exposed | The Non-Plastic Maori

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