Why We Need to Look to Indigenous Communities

Guest post by Tuhi-Ao Bailey

In 2004 I was privileged to travel overseas as a small back-packing, hitch-hiking, dumpster-diving doco-making group, with whanau and friends back home and overseas guiding and supporting us. We crossed 33 countries on 5 continents looking at the best, the worst and the most inspiring of humanity at the time. We were after paths forwards out of the mess ‘humanity’ has created.

In the north of Thailand we interviewed a friend’s uncle, philosopher Mr Wangwinyoo. He spoke about how old philosophers in searching for the meaning of life came to a point of splitting the atom. While that lead to terrible nuclear bombs and energy, another discovery was also made that I don’t think is well known. They realised that while there is physical matter which make up the building blocks of life, it only exists within relationship. The relationship between electrons, neutrons and protons, the relationship between atoms and molecules and all things is what creates life. Mr Wangwinyoo had hence become a strong advocate of teaching communities how to dialogue. Not standing on opposing sides and talking at each other but actually speaking uneasy truths and hearing each other and seeking agreeable paths forward.

Unfortunately when our group returned home many of us tried for years to finish the doco but life and activism got in the way. (We only got it 90% finished and saved the blog [1]). It also led me to delve into my Māoritanga after realising that indigenous communities know how to live ‘sustainably’ but have been systematically crushed, across the globe.

Two weeks ago I found myself by accident in a workshop by Veronica Tāwhai in Wellington. That one hour on settler colonialism blew our minds. To summarise… a Doctrine of Discovery papal bull from the Catholic Church in 1493 basically ordered European christian nations to go out and slaughter non-Christians and take their resources as they had no souls and were therefore not human [2].

(The Christian faith was then corrupted by the Roman Empire which needed a tool like the New Testament Bible to control the Jews. The Roman Empire being perhaps the beginning of white supremacy.)

Anyway, this led to British navy Captain Cook ‘discovering’ Aotearoa and then the flood of boats here from Europe and elsewhere. The working poor and prisoners of hunger came first but they were without real community and tikanga which caused problems for Māori, who in turn asked Britain to do something about it. Eventually this led to Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a means of the British looking after their own and leaving Maori to continue doing their thing. (It was very clear that only kawanatanga over British subjects was signed off because the Bible was the most translated book in Māori at the time and everyone knew Pontius Pilate’s limited role as a governor.)

Māori far outnumbered others at that time but decades of unquarantined ships of sick people later and the tides turned dramatically. This is when England did the dirty in1858 and imported all their laws into Aotearoa, over the top of Maori who had never ceded their sovereignty, lands or taonga. (Darwin’s racist ‘survival of the fittest’ ideas were published the next year.) Te Tiriti was put in a basement and left to rot.

Jump several generations into the future, through years of setting up of governments, war, land confiscation, imprisonment, structural racism, protests, law changes, dismal settlements and colonised minds, and where do we find ourselves? Massive inequality and a planet on the brink of being uninhabitable very soon. It’s hard to see paths forward sometimes…

So here’s my ever optimistic ideas for paths out of the mess again. There are two major parts I see now:
1. transitioning our extraction economy to a regenerative economy (the infographic says it all really), and
2. reinstating indigenous people’s mana motuhake – sovereignty and kaitiakitanga.

The first has begun but more people need to get onboard and fast, like ten years fast, according to many indigenous and ecological experts who are monitoring the planet’s decline and what chances we have at turning things around.<

The second means the moral fight of getting Pakeha to hand over half or all power and trust Māori iwi and hapū to look after our communities and Taiao despite still being a minority population. Easier said than done you may say but it’s really quite simple I think, based on the partnership idea originally set out in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In central and local government there are now several joint management entities, formal agreements or ward arrangements etc that can do this [3]. New legislation like Te Mana o Te Wai and Te Mana Whakahono a Rohe for example, states it quite clearly: let Māori decide their role in the care of wai and resource them to do it – which to be honest I can’t believe the government actually agreed to. Protecting mauri and requirements for cultural expertise are also now required.

So while there are paths forward there are also rocks in the way that need traversing. This is just one current that I’d like to highlight from my iwi rep role in regional council. The brand new freshwater planning process aims to speed up and strengthen protection of wai. We had the Chief Commissioner speak to us yesterday about it and it all seemed okay-ish until it was clear our region’s freshwater policy was to be delayed now by another 2-4 yrs (on top of an already 10yr delay). And that once again the decision-making panel was to have 1 tāngata whenua representative and 2-6 council and government representatives. Yup ONE.

The commissioner said he just followed orders. Hence, we now have Ngai Tahu in court arguing for rangatiratanga over all wai in their rohe [4]. They have good grounds to win. More iwi and hapū need to join them.

[1] https://kotahiteao.wordpress.com/test/

[2] https://thespinoff.co.nz/…/the-right-to-conquer-and…/

[3] https://www.lgnz.co.nz/…/44335-LGNZ-Council-Maori…

[4] https://www.rnz.co.nz/…/ngai-tahu-takes-the-government…

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