Ahhh Councils… they really know how to put the “settler” in settler colonialism. Maybe it’s the dominance of older white farmers. Maybe it’s the tantalising opportunity to directly manipulate land and resources within a region. Maybe it’s the finger sandwiches and savouries. Whatever the cause – Councils around the country can’t seem to help but fall prey to their own settler colonial mentalities, downplaying the issues that disadvantage Māori, like Institutional racism, Treaty responsibilities, and fair representation, to focus on “more pressing matters”.
There have been some very asute observations by the public around the way in which the recent issue of racism within local government in Gisborne have been handled, with recommendations that the Council requires basic governance training more than Treaty or race relations training. I can completely see where that line of reasoning comes from.
One thing I’ve noticed though, is how easily councils relax the rules for themselves, and how swiftly they buckle their process boots for others.
Case in point: When accompanying Meredith to her interview with the Code of Conduct board, I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (I didn’t). The reason given? “It’s just process”.
Was there to be a transcript taken so that any breach of the NDA could be proven? No.
The Chair Rehette Stoltz (who bears an extraordinary conflict of interest here by virtue of sitting on the trust that will oversee the Cook celebrations) offered to record the meeting. I accepted that offer. It didn’t get recorded.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, although the Code of Conduct Committee is supposed to be there to investigate breaches of the COC, it was stated repeatedly by Pare Keiha that the most important issue on the council was public confidence in Council. They should probably rename it the Damage Control Committee or something then.
While in the meeting it was suggested to Councillor Akuhata-Brown that “sometimes these affairs work out better if one or both sides simply apologise… you don’t have to say what you’re apologising for, but it can help smooth things over, would you consider that?”
So let’s pause to consider that statement for a moment. A committee put together ostensibly to examine a breach of the Code of Conduct, with a Chair who holds a distinct conflict of interest, redefined its own purpose in that meeting, and then suggested that the subject of the enquiry offer a non-apology.
Small coincidence then that the Councillor in question, Malcolm Maclean, met with the same committee, and then afterwards offered Meredith a non-apology for what she “thought” she heard. She accepted it at the time and then changed her mind, and while that has been again duly criticized, let’s have a look again at the council behaviour around that context.
The meeting, and a subsequent one where she was invited, where council called upon Meredith to meet with local media, was one where she was refused the right to a support person. She was effectively isolated in the face of her bullies, which is unacceptable and a form of coercion. Any acceptance offered by Meredith of what was offered in those meetings needs to be understood within that context.
Next case in point: The subsequent extraordinary GDC meetings.
So because Meredith, away from the isolated and intimidating context of GDC, rethought her acceptance of the apology, and again spoke to the media, an “extraordinary” meeting was then held by GDC.
And extraordinary it was.
Now, the role of ANY chair in a meeting is to provide fair and impartial guidance to a meeting, ensuring meeting rules are upheld, in a manner that is neutral to the issues discussed.
Rehette at first outlines the format of the meeting, where she, as the Chair of the Code of Conduct Committee, as well as the spokesperson for the Council in Meng’s absence, will give the Council background information in order to bring everyone up to speed, followed by a roundtable discussion and recommendations.
Except that’s not what happened at all. The “update” was loaded with judgemental language, addressed Meredith directly in a reprimanding tone, drawing clear lines of blame between the impacts, and Meredith’s acts, NOT the racist or offensive comment that was stated in the first place, and certainly fails any reasonable standards of neutrality.
My jaw was on the ground watching this. It is COMPLETELY inappropriate for a Chair to take this tone and make such statements. She continues on to call upon Meredith to explain “what it was you were hoping to achieve by playing this out through the media”.
It is a Clearly. Hostile. Meeting.
Throughout Rehette’s statement, people are paying attention.
Now watch as Meredith speaks after her. Both Rehette and the CEO are on their phones. Are shuffling papers. Are whispering to each other. Rehette’s tone and body language is cold and closed towards Meredith, with no real recognition for Meredith’s position offered. Compare it to her tone and body language to others.
The microaggressions abound.
So too the breaches of standing orders.
As does the denial.
And so does the self-centeredness.
Again and again we hear from Council how sad this is FOR THEM. How difficult this is FOR THEM. I responded because I just couldn’t, any more, with the “what about me”isms from our largely white/white passing councillors.
Institutional racism kills. If we are real about wanting to deal to it we must tackle it head on, in the open, in the light. There is NOTHING to fear from talking about racism.
Admitting to institutional racism does NOT detract from the great work carried out with Iwi Māori. In fact, it augments it and takes your relationship with Iwi to a new level because guess what…
We (Māori) ALREADY know GDC is institutionally racist! We’re just waiting to celebrate the day you finally admit it, so we can have honest discussions about how to deal with it.
So here we have the meeting the following day. More microaggressions. Note the big sigh Rehette offers when allowing Meredith to speak (17.34). Note how at 19.04 she actually gets up to walk across the room while Meredith is giving her statement. Note how Rehette allows Councillor Cranston to completely interject and breach standing orders to be rude to Councillor Akuhata-Brown, with no response from Chair whatsoever.
In this next meeting we hear from Councillor Maclean, who we now know is the Councillor in question. Again, note the body language carefully. Councillor Maclean has, by this point (some weeks later), constructed an alternative offering of what was said.
To be fair, the week of the Code of Conduct hearing, over two weeks after the incident, and two weeks before this meeting, Councillor Maclean had already inferred he did not say anything wrong though the non-apology for “what you thought you heard”.
We still have not heard why Councillor Maclean did not simply come out in the first instance with a clear denial.
And what about when it all first happened? Well, in spite of some councillors saying that they want to firmly put this behind us, shut the door, and “move on” (see the 2nd GDC meeting at 10.05 where Cllr Burdett asks for it to be shut down, and Cllr Rehette Stoltz states “It stops here”) – YOUR VOTING PUBLIC WANT TO KNOW. So much so, that we requested all councillor emails relating to the issue through the Official Information Act.
Councillor Maclean’s initial response to Meredith’s article, just 2 days after it was published, is below:
Now keep in mind:
The context of the statement was made very clear. There was no confusion as to WHO Meredith was referring to. There was no other councillor on hand, in the original incident, that spoke just after Mayor Meng Foon mentioned Cook’s murder of local Māori saying anything remotely similar to this. So it was only Malcolm that Meredith could have been referring to and he knew this.
He didn’t deny it.
What he called it was “a throwaway comment” and refused to take ownership for it, no doubt hoping it would at that point all go away without him having to take ownership.
Two weeks later he was inferring she misheard him entirely.
Council’s news release on the Code of Conduct meeting?
Let’s see if you can see who’s missing:
It’s like mean girls, in government.
No, Council – we do NOT want you to bury this, to close the door on it and pretend that this problem does not exist.
Yet STILL – knowing this, Council want to close the entire thing up, and carry on as if the Institutional racism coating this entire affair is not unfairly impacting Māori in this region. Councillor’s statements make it EXTREMELY clear that they have no idea what racism is, and how it operates.
But enough is enough. I cannot praise Meredith highly enough for sitting in there, amongst this ONGOING level of toxicity, bias, disregard, isolation, abuse of process and privilege, and continue to go to bat for us, the victims of Institutional racism in her region. Thankyou Meredith.
For the rest of Gisborne District Council. This WILL NOT go away. We will continue to insist that you, as a council, admit to your own racial bias, and work OPENLY to address it, for the betterment of everyone in our region.
We can do better, GDC.
(And in closing… Robin DiAngelo, Robin DiAngelo, Robin DiAngelo)
In 1981 Gisborne had something to say about racism
It was the Springboks tour of New Zealand. South Africa was still ensconced in the draconian and racist policy of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for speaking out against this regime (you see, that is what an actual denial of free speech looks like). The people of the land in South Africa were being oppressed, and Aotearoa heard their cry. Our government didn’t respond, NZ Rugby didn’t respond, but we did.
Isn’t it funny how things move in circles.
Move forward 37 years, we have a South African Gisborne District councilor leading a Code of Conduct Committee investigation into a complaint laid against a Māori councilor who heard her colleague make a racist, hateful statement about the people of this land, and decided to speak out.
All in the context of a national dialogue about free speech, and racism.
But perhaps I’ve jumped too far forward in our story, let’s take a step back and recap the past few weeks.
While Aotearoa was caught in the grip of discussions about, and protests against, racism, white supremacy, and hate speech disguised as free speech. Gisborne District Councillor, Meredith Akuhata-Brown was in the USA attending the Freedom Writers gathering. The Freedom Writers were made famous by the film starring Hilary Swank, which spoke to the power of courageous writing, the power of speaking your truth. Our ability to write our way to freedom. Our ability to write our way to justice.
Upon returning to Gisborne, it was the birthday of Nelson Mandela, and Meredith was in council chambers when she overheard a discussion about the arrival of James Cook in Turanganui a Kiwa. When the story arrived to the point where our ancestors were shot and killed – Meredith heard her colleague comment that “not enough were killed”.
What was Meredith to do?
She had become quite accustomed to racist comments in council. In one session alone she recorded, and wrote down, 15 racist comments which she took to the head of the ethics committee and was promptly told to forget them.
On that same day, the councilor column on the events in the GDC was due to be submitted, and it was Meredith’s turn to write the column. With the Freedom writers, Nelson Mandela, and her tipuna on her side and in her heart, Meredith wrote her way to freedom.
Freedom from complicitness with a hate crime. Freedom from the burden of hearing her people derided in the halls of decisionmaking, and her own objections being ignored. Freedom from the façade of racial harmony in Tūranganui a Kiwa.
In less than 24hrs she had a Code of Conduct complaint laid against her for bringing the council into disrepute.
This is the Gisborne we live in.
The Chair of the Code of Conduct Committee, Rehette Stoltz, is the current Deputy Mayor, an ex-pat South African who first came here herself in 2001, and a member of the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust, the mandated body for the impending events to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of James Cook.
Now let us again consider this situation. A member of the Trust responsible for promoting and profiling the Cook Commemorations is presiding over an investigation of the whistleblower on a fellow councillor’s racist perspectives of the Cook narrative. Did she declare her conflict of interest? No. And yet, of course, it is a flagrant conflict of interest. Nobody involved with the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust should be within a million miles of this issue.
The racist comment in question again casts a pall over the upcoming Cook Commemorations. How can a city possibly be mature enough to hold an event that is anything near sensitive to the taking of life and subsequent taking of land, waters, and coastline, while our own council members are not only unsympathetic but indeed believe more should have been killed. How can we expect any kind of growth and healing to take place when Council processes are utilized to suppress truth and defend racism rather than raising it to the light? Every councilor has a responsibility to care for the interests of all in Tairāwhiti. If racism is harboured in council through the ignoring, hiding and defence of racist comments then this makes the entire council complicit with those directly responsible for the comments themselves. As Dr. Cornel West points out in this recent interview on hate speech, racism and free speech, the cornerstone of democracy rests upon accountability for those who arbitrarily use power to oppress vulnerable populations (really this is an amazing interview I can’t recommend it enough).
When we consider the entirety of this story, from the quashing of Meredith’s previous attempts to raise awareness and responsiveness to racism in council, to the fact that the immediate response was to lay a complaint, it’s quite clear that we have a problem in our council (and of course this will undoubtedly be the case beyond our council, and beyond our region).
Hauora Tairāwhiti recently passed a courageous and timely resolution to acknowledge systemic racism within their organisation and commit to resolving it. Conversely, the immediate response of Council to Meredith’s testimony has been to attempt to shut the case down as swiftly as possible and make it go away. Anyone who has met Meredith Akuhata-Brown, should soon be able to ascertain that she will not simply go away – she has withstood years of bigotry and racism in council already. Her commitment to justice is as formidable as her love for her community.
When the Code of Conduct Committee met to interview Meredith, independent committee member Pare Keiha expressed that the most important outcome was for the public to maintain its trust in council.
I would contend that the majority of the Gisborne region, who are indeed Māori (our communities number between 50-90% Māori in our region), but are represented by a council who is majority pākeha and apparently racist, are well advised to NOT trust their council.
And in fact, there are much greater outcomes to aim for than simply maintaining faith in a flawed council. Hauora Tairāwhiti’s resolution to resolve institutional racism is a firebrand that all institutions and organisations in Aotearoa can take lead from. While it may be easy to get caught up in the details of dippy attention-seeking fascist Canadians, or ex-politicians who have become the racist old granduncle of the nation, the opportunity that lies within these events is to elevate our discussion to question the systems that provide them with a platform in the first place. GDC could have an expert on institutional and socialized racism review council meetings and feedback on their observations, with clear recommendations for addressing this issue. Te Tiriti o Waitangi certification could be a requirement for candidacy during council elections. GDC could champion a remit for Local Government NZ to acknowledge and commit to their obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi (they currently do not).
We owe it to ourselves to have this discussion, and not consider it as a chore of justice – but to think of what we could stand to gain, as a community, from facing our own systemic racism, and committing to addressing it. What promise could a commitment such as this hold for our children, for all of our mokopuna. I think we saw a glimpse of it in Aotea Square at the celebrations against racism. A multicultural country that upholds and celebrates Tāngata Whenua. A place that values relationships and a sense of service to the wellbeing of our community, lands and waters. A future where our mokopuna have the luxury to set and pursue their own goals unhindered by systemic barriers and having to put out fires of racial injustice.
No doubt Meredith also has many suggestions along these lines. I would say that given her leadership up to this point, she would be perfectly placed to lead this process for Council.
And yet – here we find ourselves in this curious reflection of 37 years ago, with a South African Deputy Mayor leading an investigation into a Māori councilor being persecuted for speaking out against racism. Undoubtedly there are those who would hope that if this is buried in council processes long enough, and smoothed over with some conciliatory media, the unsavoury problem will simply go away.
And perhaps they would be right, but 36 years ago, Gisborne had something to say about racism, and if the circles of fate continue to spin, we can expect Gisborne to have something to say about it again.
Whakapapa is enduring, and no matter the circumstances you find yourself in, your whakapapa will see you through – and it is never irredeemable. That’s the take-home message I received from The Standing Strong House, a new children’s book from Reina Kahukiwa and illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa.
Based around the story of hapū Ngāti Tū Māia, The Standing Strong house revolves around multiple generations, weaving our stories together in a way that celebrates tīpuna, mokopuna, Ātua, and kaitieki. This book provides learnings on our ancestral worlds, our survival of colonial interference, the Atua realms of the marae and wharenui, and our visual and performing arts. Reina Kahukiwa’s writing style provide easy interpretation of the reo in the book and therein lies another wonderful reo resource for all.
Robyn Kahukiwa treats us to a new vibrant, plaintive watercolour with every page. For those of you who, like me, came of age poring over Robyn Kahukiwa’s illustrations and artworks, introducing them to your daughters is a whakapapa experience in itself. I’ve read this book with my girls twice now. It spans centuries, with different phases to the story, and so we break the book up and read it over three nights. That way we also get to spend time looking at the artworks and practicing our reo as we describe them. My youngest enjoys touching the moko kauwae on the page, then touching my own moko kauwae, and it’s always my favourite moment.
We are seeds sown in the chiefly soils of Rangiātea. An immutable thread through time, and in our bones remain the minerals of the soil that our tipuna Hine-Ahu-One arose from. She, and all of our tipuna between her, and us, are carried within us. Colonial interference may distract us for a time, but whakapapa is a powerful thing, it will heal and it will re-weave. Sometimes it will take generations, but when the story of your people spans aeons, this is but a blink of an eye.
There are huge issues taken on by this book, just as there are huge issues taken on by us as a people. Colonial theft, urbanisation, homelessness, cultural desolation are all touched upon, as is our strength, beauty, courage, capacity for love, and resilience. As I consider the future for our mokopuna, I for one fully appreciated the honest and reassuring voice of The Strong Standing House, whispering to us as our own kuia have, that all hope is never lost, and no matter how dark the night, there will always be a dawn.
Korihi te manu, takiri mai i te ata. Ka ao, ka ao, ka awatea.
(The bird sings, the morning dawns, the day breaks through)
You can get your copy here.
Getting real about hate, genocide, and human rights.
What a month for White Supremacy huh.
The Aryan circus act Southern & Molyneux (henceforth S&M for so many reasons) were to appear in Auckland, then they weren’t (because they were declined a venue and required a specially granted visa), then they were (after deciding to organise another venue and getting their visa), then they weren’t (it became too late and they couldn’t find one), and now… it appears, after finding a venue… they are, once more, back on our horizon.
Like a recurrent STD, or a slow approaching, indecisive, and very dense methane fog, they’re making their way here to speak out of their methane holes, and feed methane suggestions to equally dense methane-hungry turkeys who are ever so anxious to gobble it all up and turkey-waddle back to their clans and bur-kurk to each other about how Mowrees killed all the Morry-orrys and they should all be thanking us for saving them.
All in the name of validating their own continued presence on stolen land.
If you ever thought Aotearoa was racially progressive – this is the week to relieve yourself of such imaginings. Essentially their show consists of Molyneux arguing in favour of white colonialism, while Southern argues against cultural diversity. Shall I break that down a bit more? White people may export themselves to other countries, because it’s an improvement, but coloured people must remain in their country awaiting improvement from white colonizers.
And for WEEKS, we have had to listen to the following:
- There’s no proof that what S&M are at all racist
- There’s no proof that what they are promoting is hate speech
- Denying them entry, or a platform for their rhetoric, violates their right to free speech
Seriously – you don’t have to dig too hard to find their hate but it seems that it wasn’t enough, the “Fuck Islam” selfy was apparently not enough; nor was Southern’s open disgust at the presence of non-white people in Paris; nor was it enough when she joined right-wing groups in Europe to block rescue vessels from assisting drowning refugees; nor was Molyneux’s open promotion of eugenics. It begged the question what people needed to see for them to identify racism.
And then Simon Copland live tweeted from their Australian event, publicizing vile suggestions that First Nations Australians should be thankful for the experience of colonization. Erasing, and denying, the hundreds of Indigenous massacres throughout Australian history.
Now, anyone with fingers and a keyboard can find the facts of the matter about their racism… but then, facts seem to matter very little to the likes of Molyneux, or indeed his supporters. They characteristically present themselves as intellectuals, whilst paradoxically clinging to a version of history and reality that is radically divorced from accepted fact. They recognise their exceptionalism – but misunderstand it as being exceptionally bright (rather than exceptionally absurd).
And yet, still, even the live reports weren’t enough. Supporters still felt compelled to patronise others with their misunderstandings that freedom of speech required us to provide a public platform for even the most vile suggestions. This is not a matter of opinion we are talking about here – the concept of Freedom of Speech is clearly outlined in both national and international law as having limitations. Still – you confront them with this and they will merely pretend they didn’t see it.
You see – many of these people are not in the slightest bit interested in the truth. They are not interested in justice, equity, or fairness. Indeed, they will see any scenario that does not retain, or increase, their relative privilege as an injustice upon them, the brave white martyrs. They will position themselves as the victims and play upon the notion of victimhood all the way up to, and including, inciting violence against the most vulnerable of our society.
And they are VERY well supported. They are well supported financially – and this should be no surprise, of course they will invest in protecting this system – it’s the one that has lined their pockets, and placed them in power for a long, long time. But they also have a broad social support base here in Aotearoa and this is important for us to talk about. Where the causes of Indigenous rights and environmental protection struggle to make their fundraising marks, the NZ Free Speech Coalition managed to raise $50,000NZD in just 24hrs (from how many donors is unclear but apparently thousands) for the likes of Don Brash and Cameron Slater to defend S&M’s right to present here in Auckland. Certainly social media comments seem to reflect a broad amount of people who support freedom of speech, and feel that it is being infringed by not allowing S&M a stage.
Many of the suggestions seem to carry over from the Make America Great Again campaign, that the “left” is broken, and unreasonable, and it is incumbent upon “good”, apolitical, middle-of-the-road folks, and the remainder of the left itself, to examine why so many are feeling disenfranchised and are turning to the right. Again, it’s the ‘reasonable’ thing to do.
And while certainly many Māori and Pacific Island whānau populate the ranks of the opposition – there are some who also support them having a stage, telling their story, who are happy to explore their perspective and have the debate – for the benefit of ALL. The suggestion from both sides seems to be that banning them, calling them racist, or using the term hate speech, is unfair, uncharitable, incorrect and short-changes the conversation.
First of all as I said it is NOT that difficult to understand how groups like this get financial support – they are generated by the recipients of privilege, and this is their primary interest group. Hyper-capitalism has also created huge wealth-poverty gaps in our communities so it becomes VERY easy to make scapegoats out of beneficiaries, out of refugees, and immigrants and cast them as a drain on community, as the cause of our lack of wealth. They then position themselves as victims and court those who consider themselves a-political, including the significant population of those who find it much easier to be validated by racist falsehoods than confront issues of race and privilege, particularly when they fear being cast as a part of the problem.
In short – they’re not getting support by virtue of a sound or just position. They are exploiting their own privilege and the gaps that THEY benefit from to grow their support.
Their victimhood is a sham. Their claim to reasonability is a sham. They rely upon tactics of popularism:
And false equivalence
You don’t need to find the golden racist quote to prove to anyone that they are *actually* racist and you know what even if you did – their supporters would simply overlook you anyway.
Because. They’re. Racist.
And if there’s one thing we can take from the broad support they enjoy in Aotearoa – it’s that, to quote a favoured NZ son: New Zealand is racist AF. It’s a truth that many have found hard to accept. A truth that people will deny, to the point where they will attack those who speak it.
How racist is it?
It’s so racist – that the immigration minister went out of his way to allow these white supremacists to bypass the laws that would have protected us from them, and allowed them into the country (whilst simultaneously withholding consent for human rights speakers of colour to enter).
It’s so racist – that racists can not only ascend to leadership roles in our communities, but, as councillors, feel safe to joke over lunch in council chambers that Captain Cook didn’t kill enough of our ancestors when he first landed (he only murdered 9 that time).
It’s so racist – that the government pours tens of millions of dollars into celebrating the arrival of Cook for a whole year – whilst ignoring the genocidal dimensions of his voyages, and ignoring that the event and funding itself is an affirmation of Indigenous subordination and Colonial dominance.
It is racist AF.
And while the government might like to pat itself on the back for funding Pacific voyaging, art, and heritage projects under the greater structure of Cook Celebrations – it’s still subordination. Muskets, blankets, and trinkets, 2019 styles.
And while the supporters of the Captain Cook celebrations may like to fool themselves that the celebrations will allow for “greater understanding” between our cultures and even allow for “healthy debate” – the truth is that people do not decide their positions upon logic alone. The mere providing of a platform validates a narrative. It’s not what is said in an event – it’s what an event says. The opportunity to “educate” our Treaty partners is completely undermined by the depth and breadth of our racism. People see what they want to see, and what is subtly (and not so subtly) reaffirmed by the systems that surround them every day – they will see that we are celebrating Cook, and therefore are celebrating, and validating white dominion.
And as much as the anonymous racist councillors, Don Brashes, Lauren Southerns, and Bob Joneses of the world make a fuss over the term racism – I’m much more concerned with the fact that so few are willing to recognise the erasure of historical genocide, and clear perpetuation of genocidal longing, being peddled all around us. We, as a nation, have somehow found ourselves in a place where someone who has repeatedly insulted and degraded Māori is able to carry a knighthood. We have somehow arrived at a space where even local politicians can lament in chambers that more Māori weren’t killed. We have arrived to a space where someone can seek to legitimise Indigenous murder, and still – it is not hate speech.
When our country seeks to defend the champions of Indigenous erasure and murder to this extent – you know we are very much living in an age of Indigenous genocide.
When Ani Zhou Black came forward on Saturday, with her live testimony on Facebook regarding her husband’s pedophilia – Te Ao Māori was rocked.
They were huge revelations. Not just of his own personal deeds, but implicating him in the leadership of pedophile rings, both local and national. Not often you see a totara fall twice, and there are many still struggling to make sense of it all.
When Ani Zhou Black came forward on Saturday – she did so to present victims far and wide, many who may be outside of her immediate contact, with an opportunity to speak about the abuse they experienced, with the support of Ani and her family. That, in itself, is an incredibly selfless, and courageous act.
When Ani Zhou Black came forward on Saturday – she presented all of US with an opportunity, and it’s that opportunity that I think we should all be talking about now. Because as much as I support Ani’s stand – for the vast majority, this is not about her, or Awa, it’s about us all.
This is an opportunity for us to talk about sexual abuse in our communities – because it’s been happening for a long time now and it’s quite literally killing us.
First and foremost – as communities, we need to be carefully considering, right now, what we can do to create a safe space for our people to discuss sexual abuse. I don’t mean flinging names because you heard about something that someone heard about. The last thing we need this to amount to is a climate of further fear, and unnecessarily feeding people into a “justice” system that offers all of us anything but justice, is certainly not restorative, and is administered by perpetrators as well. The entire system itself needs to be assessed and investigated for its ability to respond to these cases.
We need to be creating safe spaces in our communities to talk about sexual abuse, because this is how we claim power back. I can speak plainly about my abuse, and my abuser, because he no longer has power over me, and has not done so for a very long time. The fear they leave with their victims is a part of their toolkit, and allows not only for them to continue, but for all pedophiles to continue. For as long as a community is NOT talking openly about sexual abuse and sexual boundaries – all pedophiles feel safe, and will continue to carry out their acts.
We need to be creating safe spaces in our communities to have conversations about sexual abuse that include the dimensions of historical trauma and colonialism, of toxic masculinity and power abuse, of mamae and tapu. I’m not talking about anyone escaping accountability – what I am talking about is the need for us to fully understand the drivers of this behaviour if we truly intend to break cycles.
This is an opportunity for us to reassess our ideas of leadership, and mana, and power structures. Because I’ve seen, myself, instances where power has been abused to psychologically bully communities into submission. I know that there are pedophiles on paepae, and on runanga, and very probably in every other leadership space you can imagine. Pedophiles are power abusers, and roles of authority are very attractive to them. Sexually deviant behavior is also entertained through the misogynistic “boys club”, and this prevails in the police, in law, the military, in governance, and sports. It’s high time we started reframing the jokes, language, and behavior associated with toxic masculinity, from “just being lads”, towards an understanding that these are serious markers of harmful behavior that fall short of the leadership we need and deserve.
In fact, these questions are ones that we can all challenge ourselves with, as well, because this is an opportunity for us to talk, as a community, about what we can all be doing better, to put an end to these cycles. How are we unwittingly enabling this culture of silence, how are we maintaining barriers to open discussion? How do we respond when someone comes forward? Particularly when it relates to someone we all know and care about? Does your personal closeness with them count as evidence in their favour? Take it from me on that last question – no. Pedophiles are masters of deception. You can be the best of friends with them for many years and they will walk straight into your house and sexually abuse your child then walk out like it never happened. In fact they count on the skill of deception to acquire such opportunities. I’m not saying every allegation is true… but that statements like “But I’ve known him so many years and there was never any hint…” are completely irrelevant – because they are THAT good at hiding. Whatever other evidence there may be to support them – your personal knowledge of them does not count.
This is an opportunity for us to once again look at the narratives of sexuality that surround our children and youth. From our virtually non-existent sexual health education in schools to the complete lack of support for sexual health discussions in homes, to hyper-sexualised media and native costuming. The fetishizing of native bodies has been documented over. And over. And over again. It’s happening in the Pacific, it’s happening in Aotearoa, it makes targets out of native children and we need to knock it on the head.
There’s a lot we can do, and it will take us moving past being passive commentators to being active agents in our communities. We need to move beyond talking about what others should be doing, accept what others simply can’t (and won’t) do and start talking about what WE can do. We also need to move beyond the individual to talk about what we can do better as a community. Of course I support Ani – but I don’t agree with a hashtag campaign that centers this issue on Ani. Not least because these kinds of hashtags can have the unintended consequence of creating a target. This is not just about Ani, and it’s not just about Awa – it’s about all of us as a community. If we make it about individuals, spotlight them, and heroicize them (admirable as they are) – we are creating a context for other people to come forward for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t help genuine victims (in fact false cases make it much worse for genuine victims to be believed and supported). That doesn’t help us as a community, and it certainly doesn’t help the many whānau that are impacted.
I hope this is the time for us to start having some real conversations about what we can do, and what we must do, as well as what the government can’t currently do. I’m generally a cynical tart – but I really do believe in our communities to deal with this, and start some proper conversations. I was chatting with an Uncle about what has happened, just today… and he asked me, straight up: “Well girl, has this happened to you?”
So I answered, straight up: “Yep”
And matter of factly he responded: “Well same here…”
And then we both went on to chat about what it all meant for our lives, and I gotta say – it was so. damn. refreshing. No shame, no awkwardness, just two people who want better for our community, reflecting on our truth. I wish more people could talk from our truth that way, without the awkwardness. I hope more of these kinds of conversations happen in our communities, and I pray for healing, for all of us.
Nau mai te ao. Ko tēnei te wā.
Tīhei, mauri ora.
(ps adding this FB post because, well, read it.)
A text on exploitation.
I’ve just returned home from Fiji – I went to celebrate the wedding of a good friend to a lovely Fijian lad – and met with some of our voyaging and zero waste whanau to talk rubbish and solidarity… to experience some truly inspirational local sustainable tourism ventures, and to see friends.
It was my first time in Fiji. I sighed, a lot. Sometimes in awe – often in sadness, because what I saw, I see in so many places across our beautiful Moananui a Kiwa.
Fiji the beautiful, and afflicted. Look up at the beautiful sunsets and swaying palms….
Look down at the endless tides of plastic washing up on the sand.
Fiji, the one night stand of tourism hoards, descending down the ocean-liner gangways like a conveyor belt of consumption, all pink skin and loud shirts, overburdened infrastructures creaking under their weight.
Fiji, sweetheart of extractive, exploitative resorts, where beautiful local people – the true architects of your experience – are charged out for their services at $60/hr by foreign owners and paid just $3/hr in return.
Fiji, where people come to escape the problems of their lives, and ignore the problems of Fijian lives.
Fiji, playground for some, hunting ground for others… just like the rest of our region – 250 odd years of dusky Pacific maidens being leered at and preyed upon by predominantly older white men, with military backgrounds… our women, our lands, our waters, all things used to satiate their ingrained R&R desires.
It’s heartbreaking – but it’s also the Pacific, in a cowrie shell.
As a region, the Pacific has always underwritten the consequences of the West’s behaviour.
The RIMPAC exercises being held off the coast of Hawai’i, and held every two years, is possibly one of the most extreme cases of this. New Zealand has been participating in these exercises since 2012 (here’s a previous blog detailing the growth of the US/NZ military relationship in recent years).
Over a month, armed forces from 26 nations, including 25,000 personnel, 47 ships, 5 submarines, and more than 200 aircraft will engage in wargames that will be hosted by the US Navy, upon stolen lands and waters.
These wargames include live fire, missile launches, microwave and sonar weaponry that destroys coral reefs, sea mammals, turtles. Over 5 years of these weaponry tests marine ecologists tracked over 9 million instances of death or injury to marine wildlife.
The optics around the event are quite consistent – with the most common phrasing being that RIMPAC reinforces the US, and world, commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
But of course, the majority of the Pacific is not free. Hawai’i is not free. Guahan is not free. Aotearoa is not free. Tahiti is not free. Tokelau is not free. Australia is not free. Canada is not free. West Papua is certainly not free. And were we to pursue our right to freedom – it will be these very armed forces that are enacted against us.
In fact we should never forget that these are the same naval forces that are authorised by the Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill to attack us in defence of the oil companies that we would protest against. The same naval forces in Israel that kill Palestinian fishermen and block aid for Palestinians in need. The same naval forces that protect the immoral, genocidal occupation of West Papua, blocking support for Indigenous West Papua peoples with “lethal force”.
These armed forces are the brutal fists of imperial occupiers.
Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.
This is not about protecting the freedom of the Pacific. It is about the maintenance and extension of colonial agendas. It is about the defence of extraction from Indigenous territories, theft of Indigenous lands, and the continued exertion of power over Indigenous Peoples.
The men of these armed forces will come ashore between exercises and, as has always be the case, will be responsible for spikes in sex trafficking and violent sexual assaults.
The sexual exploitation of women and children has featured in a recreational, and functional sense, at the heart of the military in the Pacific from its very origins. The two are inextricable from each other. At every military base in the Pacific, you will find heightened instances of sexual assault – the Pacific has been hyper-sexualized for the pleasure of crews, troops and tourism hoards since… well since the days of Cook really.
That is because we, the Pacific, as people and place, are viewed as commodities by the West.
Our people, lands and waters are commodities – used and tossed aside once fantasies are fulfilled. Stolen out from under us and used as training grounds for conflicts instigated by settler colonial governments in pursuit of power and resources. Packed full with toxic nuclear and chemical weaponry waste. Overburdened with the rubbish of consumerist hoards that it simply cannot sustain. Hocked out to foreign tourism investors that economically expel the righteously outraged occupants, replacing them with temporary escapees – who will only look up at the swaying coconut palms and pretty sunsets. Tourism providers that capitalise upon the fantasy package, constructed from the R&R culture of the military. Providers that enable and protect the continuation of rape and theft through hypersexualisation and spiritual denigration of our culture. Time and time again, the Pacific underwrites the decisions and behaviours of the West, with our resources, with our worlds, with our bodies.
So when I sat at the bar, in Fiji, and watched the middle aged, pink faced, sweaty, sleazy ex-military man preying upon young women I saw all of us, and all of our islands. And all of our mothers.
When I looked at the plastic rubbish flipping about in the waves as they lapped against the shores, I saw all of our waters, I saw all of our shores.
And what is happening right now, in Hawai’i, is happening to all of us.
We must, we simply must, stand up to RIMPAC, just as we must stand up to all exploiters.
From the leery predators, to the foreign tourism providers that court, couch, and enable them.
And we MUST call out our own governments for their participation in these abhorrent wargames.
Because if time is up on the exploitation of women, then it must surely also be up on the exploitation of our region.