Oi, you got a booger on your lip.

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And other political reflections….

I know I depart from a good many peeps I care a lot about in the shape of my anger over this. I’m not gonna slate anyone for their opinion in fact I’m pretty proud that, for the most part (bar a few), the points of difference amongst my friends and relations have been held respectfully and up front with each other.

Kinda like when a good mate tells you up front that you got a booger on your lip. Or when they smack you upside the head for making them worry.

I was once a paid Green member and that was the FIRST time I paid for any political membership but that feels like a long time ago now. Still – even though I cancelled my Green membership over a year ago, for the most part I considered them political mates.

So I yelled at the screen when I saw Metiria’s admission. What pissed me off the most was that, at 12%, (at the time) they seemed to genuinely be doing well. I really thought this was the year for them. I was seeing Greens, Mana, Māori reining in a Labour government and was genuinely optimistic about what we could achieve for the next few years, maybe even push for Treaty based constitutional reform that could eventuate in long term, sustainable justice (rather than 4-8 year bouts of policy that gets undone when the swing and roundabout cycles around).

I yelled at the screen the same way I do when I see someone I have expectations of do something damn honourable and damn reckless not just for themselves but for many. And even though I saw our peeps in droves saying “yes, I’m in poverty and THANKYOU for what you’ve said” what I still wanted even more was for Greens to be IN POWER for them.

(And before anyone even thinks to utter privilege stfu I’ve slept in a skate ramp, by the side of the road, on a bus bench, on public transport, had $2 to my name and no job and no roof over my head enough times to know that reality).

I also yelled at the screen cause I remembered all the studies done on representations of Maori in media and how we are hounded and the feeling inside my tummy was foreboding. I hoped that they knew what they were doing and had some ace up their sleeve – but I feared they didn’t, and with every media attack that foreboding turned to anger.

There were elements of white saviourism and indigenous risk that I couldn’t get past with the Greens, so my vote was leaning more towards those that could help them more in that area. For that same reason didn’t care much about two less OWM on the green waka but when they left I was angry again because I knew what that meant for the baying media hounds.

And I was angry not just for the diminishing opportunity to provide better care for those in poverty – but because Greens have always had the most robust environmental policies and we so need them… We bloody need Denise Roche and her waste policies. We need Marama Davidson and her baby gooeyness and messy couch realness. After so many years of swimming against a right wing tide our arms are TIRED (I should be a bloody size 10) and I think, with Greens, Mana and Māori in govt we could have had some real gains for Papatuanuku in exciting ways. I was angry that this was slipping away. Angry that it was even placed at risk.

And when it clicked that Greens had betrayed their MOU… I felt weirdly gutted. “Weirdly” because it was Labour they betrayed and Labour has betrayed us so often. But still – gutted. Because integrity matters and when you enter into a partnership you honour it, not use it to bleed your partner (regardless of who it is).  That triggered memories of every time a well-intentioned green organisation screwed indigenous people over – and it actually got me to the point where I didn’t even feel like voting. I’m going to vote, and then I’m going to get straight back to working on reducing whanau vulnerability to this system. We have survived a lot, we will survive even the worst outcome (and can still pray/vote for the best).

But for now… I’m STILL angry. I’m feeling for those who have had hopes dashed tonight. I’m angry that the media won. I can’t possibly blame you for putting your whanau first now that it’s come to this, Metiria.

But someone in the Green camp is giving shit campaign advice. If we ain’t gonna call that then we ain’t good mates.

Dear NZ Human Rights Commission and Maori Television – You’re Failing Us.

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I’m writing this as an open letter to NZHRC and Maori Television in relation to Maori TVs  decision to air the series “Jonah From Tonga”. It will also be submitted to the Human Rights Commission as a formal complaint.

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Even the damn font is offensive.

Dear Human Rights Commission,

I’m writing to formally complain about Maori Television’s decision to broadcast the program “Jonah from Tonga”. It is my position that the programme discriminates on the grounds of race. I also wish to express my disappointment at your own current response to this issue, and call upon you to reconsider this issue, and take a stronger public position on racist forms of humour.

The programme “Jonah From Tonga” is no stranger to controversy. It has been widely criticised by Tongan, and international, communities for its racism.


The Tonga Herald has covered the problems with this show extensively:

Chris Lilley on Causing Harm: “That’s the fun bit for me”

“I just thought, it’s going to provoke people, it’s going to be headlined — and certainly everyone in Australia fell into that trap. It was all over the place, like, ‘Blackface! He’s doing it!’ … I think I wanted to do it because I thought it was a challenging, new, interesting idea, and mostly I just thought it was a really funny character.”

http://tongaherald.com/chris-lilley-on-causing-harm-thats-the-fun-bit-for-me/

Air New Zealand Pulls Jonah from Tonga from In-Flight Entertainment

http://tongaherald.com/air-new-zealand-pulls-jonah-from-tonga-from-in-flight-entertainment/

Major US Civil Rights Organizations Slam ABC/HBO’s Jonah From Tonga

“As ABC’s show Jonah from Tonga airs on HBO in the US and Canada, enormous support has been voiced for Tonga and Tongans. A range of major American civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, National Hispanic Media Coalition, American Indians in Film/TV, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities and The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (which itself includes the Asian American Justice Center, Asian Pacific American Advocates, Japanese American Citizens League, Media Action Network for Asian Americans, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, and more) have written to HBO expressing their “deep concern” about the show.
This groundbreaking show of solidarity with Tonga and Tongans has been an important counter to the show’s racism.”

http://tongaherald.com/major-us-civil-rights-organizations-slam-abchbos-jonah-from-tonga/

Japanese Americans urge HBO to pull “racist” ‘Jonah from Tonga’

http://tongaherald.com/jacl-urge-hbo-to-pull-racist-jonah-from-tonga/

As mentioned by the Tonga Herald, the show has also been decried as racist from a raft of minority organisations, and Tongan communities overseas. Air New Zealand received so many complaints that they were forced to pull it from their entertainment system. Tongan communities began a an online campaign headed by the hashtag #IAmNotJonah. A petition to HBO calling for the programme to be taken down gathered over eleven thousand signatures. A simple internet search on the controversy this programme has caused outlines its clear problems. The racism has been repeatedly, and articulately, identified.

So it therefore came as some surprise that your position on this was to call upon Maori Television to simply consult Tongan communities on this. Of course the Tongan community should be consulted on all matters that impact upon them – but to leave it at this rests your position upon the dangerous logic that racism is a matter of opinion. Painting your face brown and mocking races is racist, and it is your job to take a position on racism, not abdicate that decision to the community at hand. That is problematic for a number of reasons:

1. This type of humour, if permitted, sends the wrong message to NZers about accepting racist stereotypes. This is completely at odds with your own campaign to “Give nothing to racism” that urges us to take racism seriously and, specifically, to challenge racist humour. This does not just impact upon the Tongan community but all marginalised communities who have to deal with bigoted humour.

2. The racism is also directed at other groups. During this series racial slurs feature as humour devices including “fobs” “wogs” “curries” and “ching chongs”. I cannot believe that I am even having to write to you to ask you to call this type of humour out, given your current campaign.

3. These discussions, if they are to be fully informed, should not just be held with the communities at hand, but should be held within the context of racist humour, its history, and its impacts. To not do that is to expect communities to be experts on the impacts of racism simply by virtue of being of a particular race themselves – which is, in and of itself, a problematic and racist assumption.

4. Furthermore, given the earlier points about the broader impacts upon marginalised communities, the opinions of marginalised communities should also be taken into account.

5. This recommendation clearly overlooks the already significant history of opposition to this program, both from Tongan communities and marginalised groups at large.

I expect so much more of you than to simply recommend that the Tongan community be consulted. If we cannot rely upon you to demonstrate leadership in identifying racist humour then what is the POINT of your “Give Nothing To Racism” campaign? If we cannot look to yourselves, and Maori Television, for racial acuity, then how can you possibly expect it from others?

Already, even as those of us who model the behaviour you encourage in your campaign, refuse to laugh at this humour, we are being told we simply don’t get the joke, and lack humour, and need to “lighten up”. Well I think Maori Television have “lightened up” plenty enough for all of us…. And ironically I would also say that your own lack of action on this issue has compounded the problem for us who choose to take the issue of race seriously.

I therefore ask that you reconsider your position on this, and formally request that Maori Television reconsider their decision to continue airing this program.

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Appropriation, Volcano Bay, and Us.

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So a little while ago – some of our very best, and brightest, stars from Aotearoa gathered with other relations from across Te Moananui a Kiwa, and together, in a visual, musical extravaganza, launched a new tourism venture at Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida.https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/662V4GRhf04Exciting. Entrancing. And for some of us… concerning.

I struggled, over that week, to figure out why this was not an issue for so many other people. At times I wondered if WAI262 was actually a thing, or maybe it was a figment of my imagination. At one point I pondered at what point appropriation wasn’t an issue any more, and why I missed that memo.

I think before we go any further, it’s helpful to unpack this issue a bit – not least because some of the media exposure around it has been unhelpfully confusing. At least one media source edited my comments to make it seem as though I was focusing upon the performers who supported the opening. Some seemed to assume that I was accusing our own of appropriation. Editorials like this one missed the point entirely and were unhelpfully misleading.

By far and away – the issue is the park, itself. That’s not to say that having our own perform at the park is not problematic – but in order to determine that, you first need to consider whether there was any appropriation going on in the first place. So let’s unpack.

What is cultural appropriation?
Well as even the experts note, it’s not easily summed up in one sentence – it’s much more than simply using someone else’s cultural property, and definitely involves a relative power relationship. Usually it involves one group, who exerts dominance over another, taking from that culture and using as they see fit. More often than not it is a one-sided (or at least severely imbalanced) transaction. It is often defended as being “a homage”; “honoring”; “paying tribute” and “a cultural exchange”. It is, of course none of these things. It is a colonial exercise in entitlement and privilege. It is an act of colonial violence, an extension of the theft of land, brutalizing of bodies, and generations of legislation and policies of cultural erasure and replacement. Appropriation sometimes occurs when people are trying to look like a specific culture, and sometimes occurs when people blend cultures for a particular exotic look. Probably the most comprehensive collection of essays, blogposts and research on cultural appropriation can be found at http://nativeappropriations.com/

Is it a problem?
Short answer: Yes.
Which is why indigenous leaders all over the world are gathered right now searching for ways to halt cultural appropriation.

appropriation article
More often than not, appropriation is borne out of one of two drivers (sometimes both): Fetish or Profit. This is largely because non-white culture is seen as exotic – by virtue of its other-ness. In being the “other”, the non-white culture is conceptualised as edgy, unusual and different. This is what makes it marketable, and desirable. The two, together, is what leads to hypersexualised, eroticised depictions of indigenous women that contributes, in no small part, to the sad statistics about the frighteningly high rates of abuse, abduction and murder for indigenous women around the world.
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As a part of the “packaging” process, it’s not uncommon for the colonizing culture to take bits and pieces from one, or a number, of indigenous cultures, and meld them together. Cultural distinctiveness doesn’t really matter, what matters is achieving the right amount of otherness, in order to achieve peak exoticism. The removing, and displacing, of cultural markers is a problem because it forms a part of a larger process of assimilation – and because the very act of one group defining another, reaffirms who is the alpha, and bolsters the power relationship.

Straight up, it’s theft. We can go on further with all of the damage it does – you can also google studies or get books out on it, there is a wealth of information out on the issue.

Is Volcano Bay appropriative?

What we see for sale in Orlando is classic “tiki lounge” culture.

tiki-bar-with-mugs

Tiki lounge was borne out of the post-war era, where US servicemen returned from their time in the Pacific wanting to recreate some of what they experienced during wartime. Tiki lounge is a deliberate blend of real cultural markers to create a false culture – it looks something like Hawai’i, something like Tahiti, something like Rapa Nui, but isn’t quite. It even blends in Caribbean, African and Asian culture – ‘cause hell all non-whites are the same right? In tiki lounge you may find yourself drinking out of a mō’ai (mōkai in Māori – let’s all think for a moment on what that references). Or you may find yourself drinking out of a Tiki head. Poor old Tiki – one of the most important cultural symbols of our ocean and at the same time one of the most belittled. From plastic pendants to boozy vessels, Tiki has been dragged through the mud and back again by western capitalism.

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Volcano Bay merchandise and bars

Importantly – Tiki lounge culture was borne directly out of militarised settler colonialism in the Pacific. It was an example of white men, taking what they wanted from our region, and using it how they saw fit – in this case it was to create an exotic drinking culture, which eventually became a pop-culture subset.

It is not just appropriation, it is an entire genre borne out of appropriation by military settler colonialism in the Pacific.

What impacts does that have?
There’s a word for when one culture imposes itself upon another, occupying its space and taking what it wants, in a onesided transaction. It’s called Colonization. I think we can all agree it has impacts.

In particular, appropriation feeds a mentality that is not helpful. Not when you have daughters who will eventually have to untangle who loves them, and who loves the idea of an exotic brown girl. Not when you’re too embarrassed by your “otherness” to maintain your own cultural practices. It’s not helpful with the young boy with fetishized ideas of brown girls grows up to be the policeman across the desk when your niece has to report a sexual assault.

So what about our own supporting it?

So having established what cultural appropriation is, that it does do damage, and that YES this theme park is appropriative, we’re in a much better position to consider the worth of involvement. Like they say – context is everything. Do I think the performers deliberately set out to support appropriative industry? No, I don’t. This is a group of people who dedicate their lives to celebrating indigenous culture and peoples. Either they don’t agree that it’s appropriative, or they are unaware of the appropriation. Perhaps they haven’t even seen the park in its entirety. This doesn’t change the value of the discussion.

At one point in the ceremony, there was the gifting of a mauri stone. I have seen it mentioned a number of times that the indigenous community from Orlando were invited to receive it – although the only reference to this that I’ve found is a Māori Television interview where Puerto Ricans were invited as an indigenous people to receive the stone (Puerto Rico is 2000 km away in the Dominican Republic, and the indigenous people there are the Taino).

This is nearly a whole nother article. My head filled with questions about this. Mauri wai in an area with so many water burdens (both in terms of chemical additives and allocation), mauri whenua when it is placed in a context of thieved lands and culture, alongside appropriative plastic merchandise, and when that land is built on the bones of indigenous slaughter and oppression. Anyway – all of that to the side – yet still many, many others have asked – where are the indigenous people that were supposed to receive it?

And this last part needs to be said because it is a formative part of First Nations history. In 1830 Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act – and it resulted in the mass displacement of thousands upon thousands of First Nations peoples from the South East of Turtle Island, across toward Oklahoma. In Orlando – they resisted, and were hunted down and slaughtered.

JacksonIndians
Survivors were force marched for over 1000 miles – nearly 4000 of them died. It became known as the Trail of Tears – and it is one of the most well known genocidal acts in the world. This is important so I’m going to paste a screengrab for those that don’t like to follow article links (from website History.com).

trailoftears

The Seminole today are resilient,  awe inspiring, and still, (like many of our indigenous brothers and sisters of Turtle Island) marginalized in their own lands. And while much has happened between 1830 and now, you know what hasn’t happened? They haven’t been given their land back. It’s still occupied. In this case, by Universal.

Now to place this in the context of appropriation – all of our cousins in Turtle Island face huge challenges with appropriation. After being forced off their own lands, stripped of their own culture, denied their language, their cultural practices criminalized – they are consistently mocked, mimicked and belittled, by the very people who stole, and continue to occupy their land.

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They are turned into mascots, and costumes. The Florida Seminoles are one such example.

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To expect a people to participate in a ceremony that positions Universal Studios as culturally sensitive – when they are clearly so given to rampant appropriative behaviour – is, probably, a bit much.

So there you have some of the reasons the opening ceremony were concerning. Was it beautiful? Without a doubt. Breathtakingly so. As always, our stunning culture, in the hands of the very best, captured the hearts of multitudes around the world. But what was missed (for whatever reason) was an opportunity for solidarity, and to confront and address one of the key challenges that face all indigenous peoples. One thing’s for sure – appropriation isn’t going away. It won’t fade into yesterday. The only question left is how will we choose to respond to it.

 

 

Te Reo Māori WON’T Fix Moana.

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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.

 

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Oh great/Ah rawe 😐

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.

IMG_5265 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.

The Power of Stepping Back

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So I’m at the UN at the moment, and I wanna say this:

If you are white, and want to be an ally – then please consider that possibly the most powerful act you can make as an allly is to NOT do something.

Like… NOT take up a spot on a panel for Asia-Pacific women.

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Original clip here

Check your own sense of entitlement. You don’t HAVE to inject yourself into the space. If you think your presence allows for “balance” then stop fooling yourself. Your presence is the default. It saturates your own, as well as our, existence. You get every other space, so occupying a space defined for us, even alongside us, only perpetuates imbalance. We will only ever START to get NEAR balance when you stop occupying our spaces and make way for us to FILL spaces with our bodies, our faces, our realities and our experiences and solutions.

Even if you’re asked to enter a space you can refuse, you know. You can do it. Don’t be a slave to your genetic disposition to colonize spaces. You have two legs, just use them to step back rather than forward. You have a mouth, you can use it to say “thankyou but I think it’s more appropriate that non-native women take a back seat here and I’m just thankful that I can listen and learn from the native women who are more than capable of filling these spaces”. That would be a powerful ally act.

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And understand that when you take a forum titled “Asia Pacific Women Heal the Ocean” – you are referring to an indigenous region steamrolled by settler colonialism so when you use it to talk about white feminism framed as “gender issues” it is another act of colonization. Don’t look now but you may as well be a white man to me – there’s NO DIFFERENCE in a white woman colonizing my space than a white man. There isn’t even a sense of betrayal because I’ve come not to expect a form of sorority from you now anyway. I’ve been colonized by you so many times that my default space is to expect it and when that DOESN’T happen I’m happily surprised. When it does (again) I just see it as your genetic disposition, a byproduct of your role in the colonial patriarchy.

When you position these discussions in your own white feminism framework you erase our indigeneity, because our struggles are DIFFERENT to white womens struggles. They’re not the same. They’re not. Some of our struggles are BECAUSE of white women. Like, you know, when they OCCUPY our spaces. Our struggles are distinct. Our strengths are distinct. Our solutions are definitely distinct so don’t title a panel “Asia Pacific women…” and spend the whole time talking about “gender issues” but meaning white feminism as if we are all the same. That’s not just racist it’s heteronormative. BIG fail.
And wahine ma – we need to step up and into these spaces too. When we sit back, our spaces get occupied and we have to stop allowing that to happen. Get in there. Get heard.

Young indigenous women are watching and learning what it is to be a leader.

Show them.

The Reconciliation Lie

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Exploring the Logic of Achieving Sovereignty Through Celebrating Cook.

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Many questions have been raised about the impending 2019 Cook Commemorations, and the various activities associated to the commemoration of Cook’s arrival in 1769. From the very outset, the idea was challenged at Gisborne District Council level, and has continued to be a contentious issue amongst our Tairāwhiti communities.

Still our government has thrown significant resourcing towards the commemoration of Cook’s arrival, and have, some would say, graciously allowed Maori to utilise some of this resourcing, along with supportive relationships, all launched under the banner of the commemorations in order to try and make this a positive experience for us all. Discussions have included the potential reconfiguring of our landscape, which is currently very Cook-centric (to date Cook’s arrival is immortalised through 2 Cook statues, a statue of his crew member, 2 statues of the Endeavour, a memorial of the landing site, a plaza, three streets, a park, an observatory, a hospital, various references through town, and of course through the name “Poverty Bay”). Relationships have been set up to facilitate the return of taonga from the extensive Cook collections held overseas. Waka hourua have been recruited to support the return of the Endeavour, and potentially to escort the Endeavour around Aotearoa in an apparent maritime version of “he iwi kotahi tatou” – a project which itself has already had millions of dollars pledged to it by the NZ government.

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Of course, such support, and funding, for kaupapa Maori is novel in a region where we have traditionally struggled to fund such ideas. Which begs the question – why is the government so willing to fund and facilitate these endeavours (excuse the pun) under the mantle of the Cook commemorations, but not at any other time?

Is the overarching interest here an actual honouring of dual heritage, or is this an exercise in social licensing – where the government recognises the power of indigenous support, and more importantly, the damage of indigenous objection? So much so, in fact, that it will go to great lengths to secure that support. More importantly – is there something more at stake here than historical perspectives? What is it that they, and indeed we, stand to gain or lose in these transactions? In order to fully explore these questions we must consider the upcoming Cook Commemorations through a range of contexts. The common position seems to be that this is a historical event, the commemoration of which holds positive impacts for local hapu and iwi – but I would like to extend this discussion out, both in terms of time, and distance.

In the first instance – although this is seen as a historical event, there are a number of aspects to Cook’s arrival that can be seen to still exist in a contemporary setting, and certainly still impact upon current indigenous realities.

When the Royal Naval vessel HMS Bark Endeavour was commissioned to sail to the South Pacific, with Captain James Cook as its Captain, the ostensible purpose of the expedition was to observe the transit of Venus. Other, sealed orders were given to Cook but he was under strict instructions not to open them until after his work was completed in Tahiti. It’s important to remember at this point that many other European countries were vying for opportunities to strategically annex parts of the Pacific – and the British Crown were very careful not to alert other nations as to their intentions. Upon completing his work in Tahiti, the secret orders were opened, and they instructed Cook to locate Terra Australis, the great southern continent encountered by Tasman, chart its coasts, obtain information about its people, cultivate alliances where possible, and annex any convenient trading posts in the King’s name.

Cook's Secret Orders

Cook’s secret orders

This activity of “strategic annexation” is a part of what historians relate to as the “Age of Discovery” – the time range of which reaches from the 15th to the 18th century, and was characterised by European imperial expansion. European nations would fund “voyages of exploration” – and where new land and resources were discovered, they would be claimed in the name of the discovering nation.

From where did these many explorers, from different European nations, over three centuries, all derive the right to claim land and resources for themselves? How is it that, across such a wide expanse of time and distance, so many acquired this mindset of entitlement? Well it wasn’t a coincidence, it was in fact declared an activity sanctioned by Pope Alexander in a 15th century papal bull which came to underpin an international legal concept called the Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine declared that lands occupied by non-european, non-christian populations were able to be claimed as the property of the colonizer, as could all the resources within, and the indigenous populations forwent all rights of sovereignty.

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The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, which shaped the Discovery Doctrine and incepted the “Age of Discovery” – which, as Moana Jackson notes, is probably more accurately described as the “Age of Genocide”.

The act of taking possession of lands through the Discovery Doctrine was carried out through the ceremonial raising of the flag. It is broadly accepted by historians that Captain Cook’s journeys fall within the age of discovery. It is also well accepted that his primary (albeit secret) orders were actually to “discover” the great southern continent (including Aotearoa) and “claim” it for Britain. It is also accepted that he raised the British Flag in Whitianga, and again in Te Waipounamu, each time claiming the land for Mother England.

Now even though Cook was under orders to, as much as possible, befriend the locals, one must remember that this did not mean that he was not permitted to kill them, and that he did. He and his crew killed them when he saw something of theirs that he wanted, like in Australia when he fired his musket at local indigenous people, then tracked them as they fled to steal from their homes, or here in Turanga when he decided he wanted a waka and so chased it down, and shot everyone inside it in order to seize it. He did when he thought he was under threat of any kind (whether he actually was or not remains to be seen) such as was the case for October 9th when Te Maro was killed by the coxswain in the first encounter.
Was this normal behaviour for Europeans? Did they kill each other with such ease when back in their homelands? Well no, of course not – but it WAS permitted behaviour under the Discovery Doctrine. Under this doctrine, Cook was able to take what he wanted – and this included not only other people’s property, but also other people. In fact, throughout his own journals, and those of his crew, and through indigenous accounts, we have reports of Cook and his men killing, stealing, and kidnapping their way around the Pacific. Of course, even here in Turanga Cook kidnapped 3 young men during his failed theft of the waka.

So we can see that in very nearly every sense – Cook was very much operating under the Discovery Doctrine in claiming lands and resources for England by raising the flag, and the manner in which he carried out his activities. It was this very first act that paved the way for the arrival of further settlers, and their own sense of entitlement. We must resist the concept that Cook was a noble explorer – and accept the fact that he was deliberately sent out as a military naval captain, with a naval vessel, as the vanguard of British imperial expansion – armed with the Discovery Doctrine to claim indigenous lands and resources. This was not unique – the military has always been the front foot of imperial expansion (and still is used as the front foot of corporate imperial expansion).

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From Standing Rock to West Papua to Honduras and indeed here in Aotearoa – military forces are utilised to facilitate extraction from indigenous territories.

Importantly – while it is the Treaty that compels the Crown to consult with us – it is the Discovery Doctrine that enables our government to consistently ignore those consultations. It is the Discovery Doctrine that enables them to ignore their obligations under very document that validates their occupation.

And that is how we find ourselves in the contemporary context of the Discovery Doctrine. For if we accept that Aotearoa is, in fact, indigenous land – then the questions, very soon, begin to mount up:

  • Why, on indigenous land, does our government get to ignore our voices?
  • Why, on indigenous land, do we find ourselves looking to the likes of Maggie Barry for funding?
  • Why, on indigenous land, do we get such little say about what happens to our land?
  • Why, on indigenous land, do so many indigenous people die so soon, so often, and so tragically?
  • Why, on indigenous land, can we not protect and effectively promote our own indigenous language?

Again – some may well say “well this is because the treaty gets violated” – but then the question remains “so how do they get to remain in power, after they violate their own treaty?”

The answer is the Discovery Doctrine.

The very legislation that established the settler government, and paved the way for countless unjust legislative violations from then, until now, and onwards into the future, are reiterations of the Discovery Doctrine again, and again, and again.

And because Discovery Doctrine reaffirms the power structure of the “discovering” people, and the subjugation of the indigenous people, it is, of course, something that the discovering nation likes to reaffirm through celebrations, commemorations, and the creation and support of “hero’s tales” that, in totality, aim to “move past unsavoury pasts” in order to cement one’s place in the colonised country. Cue Columbus Day; cue Magellan celebrations; cue the Cook commemorations.

In fact, the social licencing of the Discovery Doctrine grows more difficult for governments to carry out every year. In the 1969 Cook Celebrations, Maori validation and support was inconsequential – pre-Waitangi Tribunal, pre-Maori Language Claim, pre-indigenous rights – the sixties were a time when indigenous erasure was commonplace.

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Cook Celebrations 1969 involved another military invasion, complete with aircraft and naval vessels.

Indeed it’s only in recent years, thanks to much work from the likes of Moana Jackson, Linda and Graham Smith, Leonie Pihema and Aroha Mead, that colonial history has been exposed for its fallacy, and damage. Thanks to this groundwork, any history that marginalises indigenous peoples can be viewed as racist, and archaic.

Can you see, now, why it is so vital for our government to court indigenous approval for their festivities?

Now that we see what they stand to gain – let us now consider what we have to lose.

Of course we have heard of various benefits being channeled through these commemorations – the return of overseas taonga, the funding of voyaging events… and perhaps most interesting are the “opportunities to tell our version of the story”. Implicit in this statement are a number of assumptions – firstly that we cannot tell our truths in other ways, which of course is patently absurd. Second is the assumption that through telling our truths, we will find healing and reconciliation. Certainly this is lauded as a pathway to bicultural harmony – the languaging around the celebrations is deliberate in its continued reference to the event as a celebration of “dual heritage” and a way of “coming together”.

Yet given the disproportionate power system set up by Cook’s arrival and maintained by the celebration of that event, just how realistic is it to expect actual reconciliation?
While it may “feel good” to have our versions placed alongside other versions that heroicise Cook – is it still relevant, in this day and age, to be thankful for allowing that to happen, when this is now the minimum standard anyway?

Again, I must return to the concept of ground – for another position of the Cook promoters is that, in presenting 2 different versions of history, we reach a “middle ground”. This is reminiscent of the suggestion that Treaty principles are a fair middle ground between the differing versions of the Treaty and Te Tiriti.

But as Ani Mikaere points out – they’re not a fair middle ground- because we did not sign the Treaty – we signed Te Tiriti.

This tactic is known as creating a “false middle ground”. There is no middle ground here. There is only indigenous ground. The pakeha version of events has been repeatedly embedded in the nation’s consciousness for 200 years. It has dominated history. It is the default position for most of Aotearoa. Setting it alongside the marginalised indigenous version does not create a middle ground. There are also aspects of this version that have been challenged and disproven throughout much of the Pacific. Placing falsehood next to the truth does not make the falsehood any more truthful.

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Actual reconciliation cannot be said to occur without fundamentally challenging the power systems which drive the continued oppression of our people in our own lands. This much will not happen as a result of these commemorations – we know that because this much is not even able to happen WITHIN these celebrations. Just look at who is holding the purse strings, who dominates the decision making, and (of course) whose anniversary we are basing everything around.

In Canada, our indigenous brothers and sisters face the same struggle. The banners of “truth and reconciliation” fly strong and high in the era of Trudeau. Yet still indigenous communities are robbed of their lands, and literally poisoned, by the Alberta Tar Sands giga-project – and we bear witness to instances where treaty promises are consistently broken every single day – all the while indigenous communities are asked to stand and smile for the cameras in the name of truth and reconciliation. Indigenous journalist Steve Newcombe writes:

Reconciliation is a false-word that makes it appear as if something positive is being done without once addressing the persistent and ongoing process that is causing the problems experienced by Original Nations of Great Turtle Island in the place now commonly called “Canada.”

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Photo by Brian Encas – original article here

He couldn’t be more right – just how much “reconciliation” rhetoric should Sylvia McAdam be expected to swallow while she continues to fight the theft and ruin of her lands and oppression of her people on a daily basis?

This brings me to the next context within which we may consider this event – the global indigenous context. For as much as we must consider the benefits for our own hapu and iwi – we also enjoy membership of a global indigenous community. We regularly celebrate our indigenous relationships, we gather together and stand by each other by virtue of our many shared experiences – and in many spaces, we share a strong bond of solidarity and even alliances. When we consider what Cook meant to us – it makes sense to also at least consider what he meant for our indigenous brothers and sisters who encountered him after he left our shores.

As I mentioned earlier, Cook’s three voyages around the Pacific, Captain Cook managed to leave a significant legacy and impact with indigenous peoples – and not a good one.
Indeed – the fateful first 48 hours of Cooks time in Turanganui a Kiwa, which featured theft, kidnapping, and murder, are roughly representative of his modus operandi around the Pacific in general. In addition to those that he and his crew shot and killed, Cook also knowingly brought infected men with him and allowed them to sexually transmit their diseases throughout indigenous communities – which had devastating consequences for multiple generations.

For many, many other indigenous relations across Te Moananui a Kiwa, Cook’s exploits represent one more hurtful, destructive page in history where indigenous people are the unfortunate footnote in the story of European imperial expansion. Some of them are very much still trying to wrestle their own identity from the aftermath of Cook’s “discovery” (if Poverty Bay is not difficult enough consider being called the Cook Islands) – let alone pursue a platform for their experiences of encountering him. In providing a platform for Cook to be celebrated, we cannot absolve ourselves of the impacts this will have upon those who are also a part of Cook’s story.

And finally, for the broader indigenous community, the issue of the Discovery Doctrine continues to impact them, as it does us. Not only through the domination of history – but also through continued seizure and occupation of indigenous lands by settler governments and corporations. Even though it was Christopher Columbus who was famously credited with “discovering” the USA – it was in fact England’s recognition of the doctrine that was famously cited by the US Court of Law in removing the sovereign rights of First Nations peoples – and in fact it was acknowledged that the Discovery Doctrine formed the basis for US law. The doctrine has subsequently played a direct and indirect role in the theft of first nations lands, the theft of first nations children, and more recently, it has played a role in the sale of indigenous assets to corporate interests. Indeed, every year, still, indigenous nations stand before the United Nations and cite the continued use of the Discovery Doctrine by member state nations to pave the way for corporations to abuse our rights, and alienate our lands and resources.

The very curious, and human, condition of exceptionalism, exhibits as a tendency to think that we are the exception in the case – that racism is something that happens in other families, that other nations have experienced colonisation so much worse than us, and in fact that our experience is negligible in comparison. Yet – the discovery doctrine has underpinned legislation which has stolen much of our land, and displaced generations of our children, has robbed us of our language and forced the vast majority of us off our ancestral lands, into the cities, and away from each other. In failing to call out the Discovery Doctrine for its contemporary role in our own oppression, and that of our brothers and sisters, we perpetuate a power relationship that continues to set us back in the struggle for full sovereignty in our own lands.

Importantly, in the case of the Cook commemorations – if we are not willing to consider the role of discovery narratives in maintaining a system of domination over ourselves and other indigenous peoples, then the vision of mana motuhake will remain a distant mirage.

Peace through Justice

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Auckland Peace Action

uss-go-home-stay-homeIt has been an amazing ‘Week of Peace’ action here in Auckland. The things that we have achieved collectively during this campaign – culminating this week – will go a long way towards building a stronger and more focused peace movement.

Building bridges
One of our main goals at Auckland Peace Action is to “Build solidarity across movements by recognising the interconnected and disastrous consequences of war, colonialism and capitalism for the majority of people in NZ and the world.”

The presence of a huge number of allies at our blockade of the arms expo on Wednesday demonstrates the possibilities of combining our power to tackle the root causes of modern warfare: the use of extreme violence by those who hold power to protect and enhance their power and to steal the resources of the powerless.

Friends and comrades from the Pacific Panthers, No Pride in Prisons, Auckland Action Against…

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