WARNING: I cuss a bit in this. Cause I’m upset.
Ok time for some real talk. I was still at the UN this week while the call for auditions went out for Te Reo Māori Disney Moana voiceovers.
To be clear. I was at the UN fighting for Indigenous rights over our moana. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was running around like mad trying to meet our obligations but was SUPER thankful that Leonie Pihama offered some sensible points of challenge to the DisMo hysteria that was re-infesting my newsfeed.
It’s an intense space there at the UN – filled with challenges for us as Indigenous Peoples – but probably my highlight is that I get to spend time with some of the strongest Native Women I know. And I wanna say I am SUPER frikken humbled. Like don’t even have the words humbled, and in absolute awe, of my First Nations sisters from Turtle Island/Abya Yala. Their strength blows my mind.
I am ALREADY outraged at the unacceptable levels of violence that indigenous women around the world suffer. I’m ALREADY outraged at the unacceptable extreme violence that Māori women experience and the systemic misogynistic racism that drives it, and denies us justice.
But it deeply, profoundly hurts my soul to reflect upon all of our missing and murdered indigenous women in Turtle Island and I’m haunted by the Highway of Tears and the numbers continue to climb.
This didn’t just happen either. It took generations of chipping away at the sacredness of Native Women. Centuries of being stripped bare by the colonial gaze that turned our sisters into things you can watch, things you can objectify, things you can own, and abuse, and rape. Things you can kill – and dump by the side of the road like a doll you just broke.
Nope, this doesn’t happen overnight. This started with young boys watching cartoons of “squaws” flirting with and “running away with” white men, and continued in the form of young men watching non-native girls sexualise themselves as “pocahotties” in order to get attention from, and seduce, non-native men. And is still continued when Native sacred items are turned into fashion accessories and fun souvenirs – stripping them bare of their sacredness and ripping them from their cultural context.
And I am downright EMBARRASSED to sit with Native Women that I respect, and who I know understand the links between these murders and our representations, women who are pouring their energy into trying to keep their sisters and daughters and nieces safe and alive, and not always winning… I’m EMBARRASSED to sit with them and talk about the entry of Disney into the Pacific and how we’ve welcomed them with open arms.
Not just because of how it perpetuates colonial myths and reduces our own dimensions in the Pacific – but because Disney STILL – to THIS DAY – perpetuates the squaw stereotype in the face of the evidence that this contributes to the problem. They know – they’ve had it pointed out – but they don’t give a shit about our sisters being murdered.
So when I sit with my sisters and relate how the murders make absolutely no difference to us in how we consider Disney… When I see them shake their heads quietly but respectfully. It HURTS. Hot-shame-in-my-belly-hurts. I don’t know if they’re angry at us or disappointed in us and probably they’re too dignified to say so even if they are but I’m gonna say – I am.
I would have HOPED that we could pay attention to what has happened to them and not just stand in solidarity with them but make it COUNT as a lesson to us. At least take it into account and talk about it!? But no – nothing. Apparently this isn’t an issue worth discussing and THAT hurts.
So don’t – DON’T come to me with “chill out it just a kid’s show” – ESPECIALLY if you’re a Native Man. I gotta say there is a special level of hurt when I see Native Men dismissing the murders of Native Women. If you’ve got counter evidence to the body of work that proves how representations matter – or a counter argument to how the commodified Pocahontas trope isn’t problematic for Native Women, how the one dimensional depictions haven’t fed a system that places Native Women at risk then let’s have that talk but don’t just chuck “Ok” up and get back to the incredibly inane “I love seeing us up on the screen and the kids love it” diatribe.
Of COURSE they love it! That’s because Disney has a bajillion dollars that they’ve made off (and continue to make off) sexualising native women to pay for all the technology necessary to make this attractive to children alongside years of practice at knowing what seduces children’s minds. It’s called grooming.
And secondly why the hell aren’t we taking more responsibility for what goes in front of children? This is the most formative part of their development, when they are most vulnerable to suggestion, and we’re gonna say “relax it’s just a kids show” THAT’S THE POINT! This is why we’ve fought for Māori children’s literature! Because what they are exposed to MATTERS.
And lastly – children may see the issue with some of the inaccuracies but they wouldn’t have a clue about the extremities of the consequences. They don’t know about how Disney representations feed into missing and murdered native women and nor should they. That’s our job to know and respond to. ESPECIALLY as indigenous people.
Don’t just say “I don’t agree they’re linked”. You’re denying the voices of actual Native Women who have worked on this issue and say that it DOES matter. Bring me the voices of Native Women who have worked on that issue if you want to respectfully disagree.
Or talk with me about what you think is so important that we can overlook this link, overlook this horrid truth. Admit that this is what you’re doing… and then help me to understand WHY. Because I’m being 100% when I say…
I really don’t get it.