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.

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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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An open letter to those supporting the US warship next week.

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It’s an interesting contradiction to me, when I observe the dichotomy of war and peace – that those who support war seem to want to portray the pacifists as idealistic, and out of touch with reality. As if those of us who oppose war are less realistic about the world than they are. As if their willingness to send people off to kill and die somehow makes them more pragmatic, more practical, than us.

I see it as quite the opposite. It’s precisely my understanding of what war does to people, to families, to communities, that underpins my opposition to it. It’s precisely my understanding of the visceral nature of what a bomb will do to a child’s body that informs my resistance. It’s precisely my understanding of how the military industrial complex affects my indigenous rights, and impacts upon the wellbeing of my own whanau, whenua, and moana that frames my absolute refusal to accept it. People will say that Maori have a strong history of working with and for the military and to that I say – it’s PRECISELY that debt, that is consistently ignored by our government, that drives me to say what I have to say. Our tipuna laid their lives down on the lines for this country, for this government – and the agreement was that we would get equal treatment as citizens and that is not now, nor has it ever been the case. We cannot carry on ignoring that unpaid debt.

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Earlier this week I read that there will be a waka taua paddling out to welcome the arrival of the US Nuclear Warship arriving in NZ waters. According to the Navy it will be manned by the Tamaki Herenga Trust. This is the first US war vessel in our waters since we banned them in the 80s, and we have prided ourselves on being nuclear free ever since. The US have used a loophole to re-enter our waters as a part of our navy’s 75 anniversary celebrations (by only bringing in nuclear weapons that area less than 5 kilotonnes) – and this is all timed for the international weapons expo as well – so our once proudly nuclear free, peaceful country is now hosting “The Week of War”. I will be there, protesting this abhorrent series of events – but I wanted to say something first.

To you – the hapu/iwi who have decided to send this waka taua out. To you, the kaihautu-waka. To you, the kaihoe who will be paddling out to guide this ngarara into our waters. I want to tell you that I ABSOLUTELY KNOW what you are doing. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW what you are participating in. And I’d like to know that you do, too.

WARNING – some of the images below are graphic and shocking – just like war. I’m sure those who claim to be “in touch” with the reality of these decisions will not be bothered by them.

RIMPAC 2010

1. When you send this waka taua out – you are representing us ALL.
It will be seen, and promoted, as Maori endorsement of this kaupapa. Not the endorsement of your people alone, but by MAORI. I, and many others, resent that. This is an international event. The breaking of this seal is a seal that was put over all of Aotearoa, not simply your waters. Once it is broken, it is broken for all of us. In fact that same warship will be taking part in war-games (tactical exercises) that will be using live munitions in the Hauraki Gulf. The mana moana for that area stretches across multiple hapu and iwi, and the fish populations that migrate through there come across to many more hapu/iwi. One of over 30 military warships coming to Auckland on 15 November, the USS SAMPSON is stacked up with next generation microwave weapons as well as du weapons, harpoon & tomahawk missiles, and more than likely with micro-nuke warheads (<5 kT).

The deck of a modern destroyer is unmanned because a person would be fried by the intensity of the microwaves in use. Marine biologist Terry Lilley who has been monitoring RIMPAC in Hawai’i said that they are called ‘destroyers’ because wherever they go, everything dies. These technologies are responsible for massive coral reef destruction off of Kauai and for kelp bed destruction off of southern California; this is the likely fate of kelp beds in the Hauraki Gulf after Mahi Tangaroa. The electronic waves also hold devastating consequences for sea mammals and fish life. 

 

Dead whales, blasted turtles, and dead coral reefs – all resulting from naval military exercises the likes of which will be carried out in the Hauraki Gulf next week. THIS is what you’re supporting.

The impacts of your decision extend well beyond your own mana whenua and mana moana.

What is certain is that the tactical exercises carried out in those waters prepare these warships from MANY nations to carry out acts of warfare against other indigenous groups and innocent communities around the world.

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Artist: Francisco de Pajaro, twitter handle is @artistrash

2. When you send this waka taua out – you are ACTIVELY supporting warcrimes against indigenous peoples.

“Exercise Mahi Tangaroa” is a brown mask placed over the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations) Defence Ministers’ Meeting – Field Training Exercise on Maritime Security. The ADMM-Plus countries include ten ASEAN Member States, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, and eight Plus countries, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russian Federation and the United States.

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Standing Rock Militarised Action – this is what you’re supporting

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Genocide in West Papua – this is what you’re supporting

This military exercise will then be utilised AGAINST indigenous defenders of lands and waters in state bids to access their resources. YOU CANNOT STAND FOR ISSUES LIKE STANDING ROCK and, at the same time, support the military forces that are mobilised, every day, against indigenous defenders of lands and waterways. Even within our own Pacific Oceanic territories, countries like West Papua are under ILLEGAL occupation by Indonesia, and Indonesian forces are carrying out genocide, using tactics that are supported by the training exercise that YOU are welcoming into our shores. Our own Hawaiian cousins are under ILLEGAL occupation by the US who use them as a military base to assert their power over the Pacific nation. In virtually all of the participating countries, the military forces are utilised to clear indigenous peoples away from resources for large scale extraction by corporations. THAT is what you are supporting.

While we are at it – OUR VERY OWN military is also utilised against us – kaitieki of Tangaroa and Papatuanuku, to clear us out of the path of corporate exploiters of our lands and waters. The Maritime Crimes Bill was passed this month for that express purpose and is built on the same international doctrines that the other countries use to case indigenous land and water defenders as terrorists. Do NOT come crying to us to support you when the oil companies come to drill your papamoana and frack your whenua. Those companies are a part of the very same military industrial complex that you are supporting.

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The Bombing of Mururoa Atoll – THIS is what you’re supporting

3. When you send this waka taua out – you are ACTIVELY supporting militarisation in the Pacific.
That militarisation has included the testing of nuclear weapons – which we as a nation have such a long and proud history of opposing. Do any of you admire and love our ocean navigating traditions? Do any of you aspire to travel on waka hourua? Do you know who we have to thank for much of what we see today in terms of ocean navigating? If you answered “Papa Mau Pialug” you’d be partially right. Papa Mau was a Micronesian navigator from Satawal. Micronesia also remains under US occupation, who utilise their islands as a naval base but most disgustingly, also test their nuclear weapons on their islands. The nuclear testing of past generations is still impacting upon new births. The radiation has stuck to their DNA. Grandchildren being born grossly deformed, with no bones, or born with cancer. Infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, high cancer rates across the population. If any one of you dare to tell me that I am out of touch with the reality of the situation then you need to LOOK at these images.


This is the reality of what is faced TODAY by these peoples. This is what you are supporting.

WATCH THIS – You owe that much to the people of the Marshall Islands.

Now, I said partially right because the other people we owe a debt to is our Tahitian cousins – Tahitian voyaging was also carried forth by Francis Cowan, who along with Matahi Brightwell voyaged across the Pacific to Aotearoa in the early 80s. Tahitian voyaging traditions are distinct and the peoples of this rohe of the Pacific ALSO have suffered nuclear testing at the hands of the French military and the militarisation of the Pacific is felt keenly by these areas (as well as Hawaii and I will go into that soon). THIS is how we repay the koha of Papa Mau and Francis Cowan… by supporting this continued hara upon their peoples?

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4. When you send this waka out – you are endorsing the US illegal occupation of the lands and waters of our Hawaiian cousins.
If Papa Mau is to thank for bringing us back the gift of ocean voyaging, our Hawaiian cousins are to thank for nurturing it. We, now, thankfully have a thriving waka hourua community across Aotearoa and the Pacific, but really it was our Kanaka Maoli whanau in Hawai’i that kept the fires burning, and invested time, money, and energy into nurturing this ancestral practice back into our lives today.


Yet here we are blatantly ignoring the debt we owe them for this – by supporting the forces that maintain Hawai’i as a colonized possession of the United States. The forces that occupy 30% of Oahu. The forces that have dumped so many biological and chemical contaminants on bases that that land could no longer be used by anyone EVEN IF they did the right thing and left today. The forces that have dumped millions and millions of tonnes of mustard gas bombs, agent orange canisters and hydrogen cyanide canisters into the waters surrounding Oahu. The forces that continue to bomb numerous Kanaka Maoli sacred sites every single day as a part of their own weapons testing and tactical exercises. The forces that, themselves, are located on STOLEN LAND. Forces that have kidnapped, tortured, and murdered indigenous peoples for peaceful protests against the use of sacred sites for bases and testing. The same travesty is experienced by the communities in Okinawa that endure continued military presence, military testing, and military dumping on their lands. Okinawa, incidentally, is yet another site for indigenous peoples of Japan who were wiped out through militarisation. DON’T TALK TO ME about employment for our peoples when that employment takes the form of KILLING other indigenous people and robbing them of their land and resources. Just as our kanaka whanau have faced off against military in the defence of their lands so too will I face off against the military – I will spend my final breath fighting their oppression and I don’t care the colour or the whakapapa of who I stand against. In that space I am defending my ancestral rights and you, on the side of the military, are defending the Crown, the USA, and all the corporations they front. How can we possibly maintain a space of rangatiratanga over our own lands, and fight our government for the return of our stolen lands, while ACTIVELY supporting the theft of the lands of our cousins?

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5. When you send this waka taua out – you are actively supporting the growth of US imperialism across the Pacific.

We once were proudly nuclear free. Our Tamaki hapu and iwi led the charge that decried the use of nuclear weapons in the Pacific. We still, to this day, sing Herbs’ songs “Nuclear Waste”, “French Note (letter to France)” and “No Nukes”. We declared our country a safe-zone, we were David, and the US was Goliath. What we conveniently ignored was the fact that our country continued to participate (either overtly or covertly) in offshore military activity. That was the crack in the doorway. That crack was opened a little wider with improved military relations between this national government and the US govt – resulting in the signing of the Wellington Declaration in 2010. THIS signing paved the way for US and NZ official co-training for the first time since US troops were banned on NZ soil some 30 years beforehand. It was followed by the US / NZ combat training announcement, and Defence Amendment Bill. From there came the participation of NZ in “RIMPAC” – naval military war games that are responsible for the deaths of many, MANY whales and other sea mammals, and contamination of Hawaiian waterways. Then came the training of US Troops on NZ soil. Now we have the breaking of the seal for nuclear war vessels. If you CANNOT SEE the trajectory of the path we’re on then you need to open your eyes.

HILLARY CLINTON HERSELF wrote that the next battlefield for global power tensions is NOT the Middle East, but Asia – and she, herself, pointed out the tactical importance of pacific military presence (really, read the article it’s scary as hell). It has never been more important for New Zealand to provide the US with a military base than now. Now go back – and read what US military presence has meant for our whanau in Hawaii, in Micronesia, and across the Pacific. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE USHERING IN TO OUR WATERS.

You may think you are operating on the mana of your people alone, but what you are saying, by sending out your waka taua, impacts upon ME, upon MY WATERS, upon MY LANDS, and upon the future of MY MOKOPUNA.

And SO YOU KNOW – I will be facing you DIRECTLY with this knowledge when you carry out this act. That look in my eyes will be disgust, hurt, anger – and RESOLUTION. Looking at you will be the full force of my own whakapapa behind me, out to the furtherest corners of Te Moananui a Kiwa, and forward to the mokopuna that are yet to come.

NOW YOU KNOW. Make your choice.

Stone in Our Shoe: The Military Co-option of Indigineity and Protection Exposed

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You know when you got a stone in your shoe, and even though you keep intending to work it out… you never get around to it until at some point you just can’t walk any further and everything has to just wait while you deal with that one, annoying, stone. That one stone that just won’t go away.

I have a stone in my shoe, and I gotta get it out.

I’ve written, already, about the links to plastics and warfare. The fact that plastics, the golden child of convenience – mass-produced so cheaply, and with so many applications, was a natural feature of wartime economies. A material that allowed our governments to save metal for the purposes of weapons production. A material that, post world-war, has continued to shape our economy – one that is characterised by rapid, and rabid consumption. An economy that continues to wage war on our environment, on our Atua, regardless of the presence or absence of human conflict.

I wrote that piece, and reflected on those issues, prior to my journey to Hawai’i – and since then, I have had much to reflect upon and observe. It’s kind of hard not to reflect on the experience of militarisation in Hawai’i, it is everywhere you look. Military installations dot the landscape – (there is something in the order of 180 of them in Hawai’i). Sacred sites are desecrated over, and over again while the military carry out their war games, using illegally occupied lands and waters to train their own forces for further oppressive military action overseas. The constant threat of the military rotor blades pound the air above you, in case you ever dared forget who holds the cards. If you get a moment – I would highly – HIGHLY recommend that you watch the award winning documentary “Noho Hewa” – by Anne Keala Kelly – which so clearly draws important lines between desecration of our sacred ways and places at the hands of military occupation and rabid tourism. It’s incredibly sobering, but critical, viewing.

To add to matters, I encountered a perplexing and awkward moment when I wandered through the IUCN exhibition hall, and found myself surrounded by military stands. After some enquiries I learnt about the interesting process through which many marine protected areas, both in the Pacific and around the world, do NOT preclude weapons testing and war-game exercises. In fact, many military installations have had conservation (marine and land based) areas established around them, and thus provide the military with a measure of seclusion to carry out their activities, and also provide conservation portfolios and profiles to the armed forces.

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Military Stands at IUCN

Please see THIS very informative blog by Craig Santos Perez which lays out the connection between marine protected areas, military occupation, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, in order to understand that this arrangement is anything but an altruistic exercise.

And yet these apparent contradictions are audaciously presented to us – the military as conservationists, as well-resourced and responsible custodians of our natural resources. Of course, we know that the industrial military complex is responsible for the largest portion of the planet’s pollution. We know that they are as brutal to landscapes in their weapons testing and wargames, as they are to the people and places they devastate wherever they are sent. But we are expected to place all of that knowing to the side and simply accept the surface evidence of “Hey look at this marine protected area that the navy look after” and “but wait look at this conservation work that the marines carry out”. It’s a clear conflation of contradictory values – those whose core purpose is war, presented as beneficent agents of care and protection. I was then keenly aware of my other lens upon this phenomena – that of indigeneity. For just as the military were presented as carers and protectors of the land and waters – our message to the IUCN was that 80% of the world’s biodiversity rests within indigenous territories, and us, the indigenous protectors of those areas, are consistently labelled as terrorists, and persecuted at the hands of military, and police, who are mobilised against us by the very state that bargains away the wellbeing of our territories to multinational corporations.

That’s right – the military gets to bomb these zones and defend rampant extraction, and call themselves the protectors, while we, the actual descendants of these spaces, are persecuted for standing in the way of their destruction, then we are called terrorists, and arrested by the military “protectors”.

Ain't it?

Ain’t it?

So how do we wind up in such a perverse situation? Well, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s an incremental process where our rights are eroded at multiple spaces, in multiple ways. There’s a process in Aotearoa that unscrupulous corporations use in order to get past our resource management processes – it’s called “unbundling”. When there is a large activity that, when viewed in its entirety, would undoubtedly cause concern, corporations will break the activity up and apply for consent applications for each constituent activity – and with each application is the inference that “well you have approved THAT activity (e.g. building a ford across the river to the drilling platform) – it would be unreasonable not to consent to this next activity (e.g. erecting the drilling platform) – and then the next application will do the same. In this way, the actual impacts are shrouded within a more drawn out, convoluted process.

Assessors, and the community, are incrementally lulled into accepting a state of affairs that would be absurd if originally assessed in it’s entirely.

That’s how I feel about this situation with the desecrators claiming the notion of protection, and the protectors being persecuted as terrorists/disruptors. We see it happen everywhere – Mauna Kea, Standing Rock, Río Gualcarque, West Papua,, – and here, in Aotearoa. In fact next month, the government has pre-empted indigenous resistance to the nuclear vessel by passing the “Maritime Crimes Bill” that criminalises protest action on our own waters. Around the world, they jail us, disappear us, and murder us, for defending our sacred spaces.

maunakea berta-caceres   west-papua

But that isn’t the stone in my shoe – it’s appalling, and unjust, to be sure – but that ain’t the stone in my shoe. You see there’s another tactic employed that distracts and disguises the agenda of armed forces. That agenda being to serve the Crown/Colonizer/State. They don’t just co-opt the notion of protection – they co-opt indigeneity. THAT’S THE STONE.

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And it’s been in our shoe for a long time… and it’s not easy to remove you see, because we have to go back a while in order to look at this phenomena, and I particularly have to look at my own whakapapa. You see – my family line is associated with a long-held tradition of loyalism – that is, fighting for the Crown. My great Uncle Apirana Ngata was responsible for largescale drafting of Maori into the World War 2 Maori 28th battalion. His father, Paratene, was a runner for the Crown forces in the East Coast Wars. Paratene’s uncle, Rapatawahawaha, was a famous loyalist who utilised his alliance with Crown forces to settle local scores and protect the lands of the East Cape from Crown confiscation. I still have many whanau in the military who I love very dearly – and I think most Maori do.

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Rapatawahawaha

Apirana & 28th Battalion Troops

It is very easy to look back at these times and speculate on the whys, and what ifs. Some of this story belongs within our whanau only. Other aspects I know have very little to do with our whanau, and more to do with hegemonic profiling – like the fact that much is made of Papa Rapatawahawaha – much less so (outside of our whanau) his hauhau brother in law (and father to Paratene) – Wi Tito; and also much less so their other kingite brother in law Hoera Tamatatai. Three men, married to three sisters, all on separate sides of the war – and he on the side of victory enjoys the profile spoils (or the kupapa sneers, as the case may be). Would Papa Api have recruited so many had he known the transactional “Price of Citizenship” we paid would not be honoured by our Treaty partners – and that generations later we would still be fighting, tooth and nail, for our rights on our own land? That we would still be dragging a resentful Crown to the Treaty table while trying to address the social fallout of war-borne PTSD and its multi-generational assault on our communities? Would he still make the same choices in retrospect of all this? Who knows. He was a man with heavy burdens – a man ahead of his times in many ways… and a man of his times, in many ways.

What I do know is that he made his choices based on what he knew from what was around him. It was a different world from that of his own tipuna – and choices required a triangulation of whakapapa, aspirations, and contemporary contexts. That helps me a lot when I feel conflicted about the armed forces – I don’t have to agree with the choices made, but I can understand that they were made under great burden, and in a specific cultural and political context.

That helps me when I have the task of telling the armed forces to back the hell away from my indigeneity.

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General Rommel once said “Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world”. They’ve always known we were great fighters. Passionate fighters, strategic fighters, considered fighters. That these soldiers were also farmers, gardeners, artists, poets, parents, and sons… that didn’t figure. But our fighting prowess – that stuck. The Crown liked that. The fact that when we fought for them, we were less likely to fight them… they liked that, too. Who wants to bite the hand that feeds you, right? After all – the army offers you a future. Training. A house. Income. A way out of the shit-pile you inherited from… well, from colonization. And often, from the effects of war two or three generations back. All you have to do – is obey. Nope no doubt about it – the armed forces love us – and many of us love them right back. We consider our allegiance the maintenance of tradition. A way to ‘honour’ our Papas that went to war for the British monarch, for this nation (and more often than not to get away from the farm). We adhere to a tradition that conveniently and arbitrarily blends precolonial, colonial, and post colonial battlegrounds. We enable and allow our Atua to be used as marketing and recruitment tools. We join in the droves. We also maintain the traditional drinking culture of the military, drinking heavily together while on military bases. We raise our families on base. We even have – drumroll – military marae.

Rongomaraeroa-o-nga-hau-e-wha Marae, Waiouru Army Camp

And herein sits the foundations of indigenous co-option by the military. Because according to the forces, military Maori families deserve to at least ‘feel’ at home while they are in service. They deserve to maintain their customs, traditions, and practices even when fighting for the Crown.

Yet there is a tension there – a white elephant that, for my years of looking, I have yet to see anyone address. The co-option of the term “Ngāti Tumatauenga” (a pseudo-tribe without ancestral genealogy that the Army translates as “descendants of the God of war”) perpetuates a problematic stereotype of the “Maori Warrior”. It is a stereotype that is compounded by New Zealand tourism in much the same way as “lovely hula hands” operates for our Hawaiian cousins, and in no small part contributes to our mischaracterisation as brutish, fearsome criminals, well deserving of the high incarceration rates. It exacerbates the one dimensional stereotype that plays itself out in the policy and social sphere, resulting in inadequate health services, resulting in the removal of our children, resulting in lower employment and higher incarceration rates.

We are not an ethnically harmonious country. The socio-economic injustice experienced by Maori, at the hands of the colonial complex, accounts for a significant amount of the disparity that many seek to escape when they run to the bosom of Crown military servitude. Even though, in more recent years, the army has sought to “decolonize” itself by providing Maori nomenclature, and pseudo-tikanga and cultural education, and defends this practice by saying that it provides for a better experience in service – what it also does is provide an easy, accessible escape from the reality that you are serving a destructive, brutal, and ultimately imperial force. You can no more decolonize the army than the monarchy itself.

Serving the Crown military is more than just a job – it is a blood oath to live, die, and kill at the command of the corporate controlled government. In Aotearoa means service to a government that has continually violated the Treaty to which it owes its existence – and a government that has bargained away environmental, indigenous, and human rights for power and money. A part of a broader global machine that seeks to consume, pollute, and devastate, on mammoth proportions. The military serve this government, and they serve the governments that they are loaned to, through trade relationships. Trade relationships that again are responsible for large scale poverty, injustice, and stripping of ecological resources. Any care for the land or communities is not done because you depend upon the land and live in harmony with it. It is not done out of a responsibility that descends through your ancestry. It is done because you are ordered to do so, by your Master, the Crown. Who may give completely different orders the next day, to destroy lands, waters, and communities, and you will equally be expected to obey.

The military are, literally, the vanguard of extraction and destruction. Standing Rock is a prime example. While Obama told them they “are being heard” – police were mobilising in military fashion and dogs being released upon them.

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WE – INDIGENOUS PEOPLE – are holding the frontline in the defence of this planet – and time and time again, it is the military that faces off against us. Are we paid to be on that front line? No – we are not there because the front line offered us a future, and training, and a house, and stable income. We are there because we are descendants of Mother Earth, and we remember that that comes with responsibilities. We are there because we honour our relationships to Papatuanuku, to Ranginui, to Tangaroa, Hinemoana, to Hineputehue and to Tumatauenga. That is our duty – it is not the Crown’s duty, and the Crown cannot carry out this duty while it is ultimately in service to the forces that commit to the desecration of these Atua.

So while they provide these cultural trappings, that shroud their true colonial agenda, in order to provide comfort (read: compliance and less attrition)… there is another impact upon the actual indigenous defenders of these spaces. Not only are we forced to face off against our own in these spaces – but we must also contend with the cultural confusion created when the armed forces co-opt our own sacred terms and ancestry.

Case in point: The New Zealand Navy will soon be conducting wargames with the US and other navies in the Hauraki Gulf. The title for these war games? Operation Mahi Tangaroa. The use of live munitions will undoubtedly have an impact upon the surrounding marine environment – and of course the entire exercise is a demonstration of the military strength the governments have at their disposal, to be utilised in the defence of multinational corporations who wish to continue their agenda of resource extraction.

Yet any indigenous water based protests against these activities has been criminalised by MP Simon Bridges’ Maritime Crimes Bill, founded in anti-terrorism doctrine, signed off in September, and applied to these wargames. That’s right – Operation Mahi Tangaroa will get to bomb Tangaroa – while Tangaroa’s descendants and defenders will be labelled terrorists and jailed for trying to oppose it. The US Navy will be sending their nuclear war vessel – the first in 35 years in NZ waters, to “celebrate” the New Zealand Royal Navy’s anniversary celebrations – also timed for the NZDF international weapons conference in Auckland. Again – our protests against these abhorrent industries that blast Papatuanuku to smithereens, that wipes out vast swathes of Tangaroa, our protests against this industry that creates more pollution than any other industry in the world, our protests against the most brutal facet of a machine that murders and displaces entire populations just to get at their resources – these protests will be criminalised, with protestors jailed, and said military forces mobilised against them.

These forces that have purposefully conflated this dichotomy and courted the patronage of Maori dignitaries like Te Ataairangikaahu. These forces that provide a false space of cultural safety within a machine bent on the ruination of our tipuna. These forces that have the audacity to call for Maori to ceremonially welcome their presence into our space, while they actively subordinate our mana as descendants and protectors of these spaces, relegating our mana beneath ultimate Crown authority.

And now the airforce has a marae too. No doubt, in time, they will also co-opt an Atua, perhaps Ranginui, to make their personnel feel more comfortable. Well this is what they do – whatever it takes to make you question less, and follow more. I’m inclined to think that those who allow these cultural consolations to enable their continued subordination do so because it is much easier than the difficult task of trying to resolve their servitude with the notion of rangatiratanga.

I, for one cannot resolve this – because it is unresolvable.

I would much rather their discomfort remain, and be examined, and understood for what it was. I would rather the military cease this disgusting co-option of our Atua, and tikanga, that creates confusion over who ACTUALLY holds the whakapapa, responsibility, and mana to maintain and defend these spaces. I would rather those who serve in the military understand completely who they are in service to, and what systems they are defending, and who they disempower along the way. I would rather they directly face the fact that they actively engage in the desecration of Tangaroa than allow themselves to believe that this is in some way, ANY way, in honour of our Atua. I would rather they sit in that discomfort, on their boat, with a pākeha name, a name to suit the agenda, to suit the boss. Maybe call the boats variations of “HMS StatOil”, and “HMS Rockefeller”. Better call the exercise “Operation Simon Bridges” or if they must use our Atua then be honest and call it “Operation Bomb Tangaroa”.

I would rather they carry the discomfort of honest contradiction, than rest in false cultural comfort.

Maybe one of them will read this, and it can be the stone in their shoe.

#Hands Off Our Tamariki : An Open Letter

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Te Wharepora Hou

An Open Letter to Whānau, Hapū, Iwi, Iwi Leaders Forum, Māori Members of Parliament, Māori National and Iwi Organisations

E ngā Pou Whirinaki o tēnā iwi, o tēnā iwi e whiri i ngā nuku, e whiri i ngā rangi tēnā koutou katoa. He whakaaraara tēnei mō te ture hou o te Kawanatanga e pā ana ki a tātou tamariki mokopuna. E kii ana te Kawana he ture tiaki mokopuna. Ehara! He ture huti rito, he ture pare awhi rito, he ture e kato rau tipu, rau rangatira i te pā harakeke a ka tuku ki ngā hau waho ki reira marara haere ai. Inā tipu pā harakeke kore a tātou tamariki mokopuna, ka tipu pēhea rātou otirā tātou. Ka mato, ka mate rānei?

Over the past months a number of Māori women have worked collaboratively across Aotearoa to raise issues regarding the documents released by the Crown related to the…

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Maui ‘Skin Suit’ Isn’t The End Of ‘Moana’ Trouble

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So Disney has pulled the most ill-conceived merchandise idea of the year (perhaps decade) — the Maui skin suit — and issued a “sorry-some-of-you-were-offended” non-apology. While the decision to pull the suit was obviously the best one given the circumstances, the non-apology and the decision to run with that merchandise choice in the first place …

Source: Maui ‘Skin Suit’ Isn’t The End Of ‘Moana’ Trouble

Disney in the Maara

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In Aotearoa we have a native praying mantis, te whē. Te whē provides us with a number of services, not least of which is keeping our maara, our food gardens, pest free. In order to have whē, we require a range of elements to be present, and in balance.

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Whē requires other whē to mate with, whē requires insects to eat. Whē enjoys native, leafy shrubbery to hide under. That shrub requires loose, aerated, rich soil. The soil has it’s own needs. Bacteria. Warmth. Aeration. The spiders and ants aerate the soil and allow for the spread of the roots. The ants and spiders in turn have their own needs. The shrub also requires clean water and sunlight to grow. The water also has its needs. The shrub will require birds to spread its seed across the forest floor. Those birds will also have their needs.

You remove one of these elements… the sunlight, the water, the other insects, the birds – even the bacteria from the soil – and the other aspects of that system will be impacted upon.

I guess that’s the point that I want to start this post on. The complexity, and interdependence of our systems. How beautiful that is. How sacred and worthy of protection. How right nature gets it (through millions of years of practice). You can take this model of complexity and apply it to many other contexts. That of water. That of politics.

That of culture.

As any storyteller of merit can tell you – storytelling doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is inextricably linked to other elements of our world, including language, protocols, values, sacred spaces, and sovereignty. Our representations are an inherently political issue to us. The mining of our lands, and the mining of our knowledge and culture through appropriation is one and the same act. The forced dispossession of our representations sits within a broader experience of forced dispossession of language, lands, and loved ones.

Muriel Rukeyser said that “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms”.   As a species, humans are constantly asking questions such as “what is this all about and why are we here”, and our stories are the answers to those questions. As indigenous peoples, our storytelling is bound within contexts and values that protect who we are, that protect the world we live in. It is symbiotic and its extraction holds consequences. Our tales are passed down within a context of language and meaning. Within a context of human, and non-human kinship relationships and protocols. A spiritual, political, and cultural context that recognises the power of the word, the power of the storyteller. A system that impels you to be responsible and accountable with this power.

I returned home from Hawai’i last week to see this:

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I knew the merchandising was coming. It was an inevitability… but wearing someone’s skin is just… next level, and it’s predictably creeped a LOT of people out (you don’t have to understand cultural appropriation to know that wearing a skinsuit is just plain wrong). I’ve blogged about the Moana movie a couple of times now and a part of me felt that I’d probably said everything I needed to say. And I’m SO thankful to the likes of Tēvita Ka’ili, Vincent Diaz, Keala Kelly, Karlo Mila, and Teresia Teaiwa for their articulate responses to this space.  Still –  looking at this image honestly shocked me to tears. This little tama, clad in impropriety, blissfully ignorant of the potent symbolism of his act. His beautiful smile in such stark contrast to the weeping I felt for, and from, our ancestors. I sat in my car, staring at that image, with angry tears spilling over my cheeks. I swore a lot in the following 24hrs. At random things. I’ve carried the rage around like a righteous prickly coat. It’s time I talk it off.

You see, Disney also sits within a broader system. It sits within a system of mass-appropriation. A system of warping cultural pillars to appeal to the humour of their dominant audience. A system of cultural subversion, where they get to redefine history, and everyone in it. A system that includes industrial mass-production lines of plastic merchandise sold within a hyper-consumptive system that compels us, and our children, to buy, buy, buy, and then throw away, throw away, throw away. A system that models the thoughtless consumption of collective property and is ultimately destructive of all we hold sacred. This is the system within which Disney – and the broader industrial storytelling complex of Hollywood – exists. These are the invasive species that have been introduced to our storytelling landscape.

And they have been planted by our own hands.

Our own hands who are only too swift to protest that “it’ll be different this time”.
You wanna tell me that the same company who still, to this day, perpetuates racist stereotypes in their merchandise and theme parks, have all of a sudden changed?
You wanna tell me that the same company who would wrap my child in this obscene mockery of our ancestor and Atua – that subverts not only the story of Maui but also the traditions of tatau and moko – that actively participates in cultural genocide through targeting our children – that THIS business is now conscionable?

This “Oceanic Story Trust“, in all it’s expertise, finds it acceptable for our children to dress up in a costume that mocks our ways for European humour, bound in a European construct, a cog of the European economy built on the exploitation of indigenous representations. And that’s ok to this “Oceanic Story Trust”. That’s authentic. A costume that will be used for probably less than a year before being tossed away, to bulk up land fill and increase the toxification of our lands, or wind up in our oceans, killing Tangaroa. The irony of this in relation to a movie called “Moana” is thicker than toxic sludge.

 

I cannot accept that this violation is beyond the groups who were approached by Disney to validate this process. The importance of storytelling cannot possibly be news to them – nor could the impact of cultural appropriation. They cannot deem to be experts in their field and be unaware of the interconnected nature of our stories, representations, and the political implications. All I am left with when I consider what they know,  is that they were knowingly complicit in this act of cultural mining. That they assessed the situation – and in an opportunistic and purposeful manner, permitted themselves to sell off our collectively held traditions to a known abuser. The hands that have planted these species in our maara are brown. Tragically… so will be the eventual pest species.