New Zealand: Highest Per Capita Homeless Rate in OECD

New Zealand: A Place to Call Home

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about homelessness in New Zealand, which (as of 2017) has the highest per capita homeless rate in the OECD. The film mainly focuses on Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and the work of Auckland Action Against Poverty. AAAP has a primary focus of finding emergency housing for homeless Aucklanders. At present a minimum wage family Auckland family spends 70% of their income on rent. This usually leaves them two paychecks away from homelessness.

Although there are currently 14,000 Aucklanders on the waiting list for low income housing, our current government only plans to build 6,000 state houses over the next four years. This despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign promise to build 100,000 state houses over 10 years.

Last year despite expert advice to increase benefit levels (for single parents, the unemployed, disabled, and retired) by 50%, our coalition government spent millions of dollars on emergency motel accommodation for homeless families.

In Auckland, filmmakers interview a number of Auckland’s “invisible” homeless residents. Rather than sleeping rough, they are camped out in cars, garages, and the living rooms of friends and extended family.

Filmmakers also visit Northland, a rural area absorbing growing numbers of Auckland’s homeless. Owing to the scarcity of rental accommodation, many of Northland’s homeless families live in buses, sheds, lean-tos, and tents.

A Northland Maori leader talks about mortgage his to purchase for abandoned state houses he has relocated from Auckland. After rehabilitating them, he charges homeless families $275 a week to buy them. He has asked the Prime Minister to declare a Northland housing emergency to help his trust qualify for $11 million in funding. This cover land and rehabilitation costs for an additional 500 abandoned state houses.

Thus far she has declined.

Prime Minister Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods also declined to be interviewed for this documentary.

 

The New Zealand War: Divide and Conquer

The New Zealand War Part 4: Taranaki Prophets

Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)

Film Review

Part 4 mainly concerns the formation of the New Zealand Armed Constabulary (colonial troops assisted by Irish and Australian volunteers) after the British began withdrawing their forces in 1865; the formation of the Pai Mārire* movement in Taranaki in 1863; and the increasing involvement of kūpapa (Māori warriors) in the Armed Constabulary as British regiments departed.

This segment depicts the growing divide between Māori determined to fight British land confiscation and those who benefited from lucrative trade with the settlers. The motivation of the kūpapa was complex. First they tended not to see other Māori iwi as their own people. Secondly they demanded (and received) vastly better pay than European soldiers. Thirdly they were promised four seats in the New Zealand parliament in return for their military service.**

While the kūpapa were extremely valuable in several campaigns, they believed they were fighting the Pai Marire movement on their own behalf and balked at taking orders from European officers.

The fourth episode mainly covers battles in Taranaki and Whanganui triggered by a new government policy of “creeping confiscation.” Beginning in 1865, the New Zealand government arbitrarily declared vast tracks of Taranaki land “confiscated.” In one of the largest battles, Tītokowaru and 80 warriors defeated 400 New Zealand troops led by Prussian mercenary Gustavus von Tempsky to win back all the confiscated Taranaki land.

Following von Tempsky’s death in the battle of Te Ngutu o te Manu, Colonel George Whitmore rebuilt the colonial forces to march through south Taranaki burning all Māori land and reclaiming it for the government.

Tarananki resistance to government occupation collapsed at this point when Tītokowaru’s warriors abandoned him. Why they did so is a matter of conjecture – the prevailing theory blames an illicit affair he was having with another chieftain’s daughter.


*The Pai Mārire movement was a syncretic Māori religion or cult founded in Taranaki by the prophet Te Ua Haumēne. Opposing British land confiscation, it flourished in the North Island from about 1863 to 1874,

**This was during a period when Māori still vastly outnumbered the settler population.

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand Wars: The Failed British Effort to Destroy the Maori King Movement

The New Zealand Wars Part 3: The Invasion of Waikato

Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)

Film Review

Part 3 begins by describing an 1863 audience between 16 Mäori entertainers and Queen Victoria – in which she promises to let them keep their land. This meeting occurs, ironically, just 12 days after British soldiers invade Waikato.

By now Governor Grey’s main objective is to kill the Mäori king and destroy the King movement. Although iwi continue to be divided whether to fight or trade with the British, there is now sufficient unity under the King movement to assemble a force of 4,000 warriors.

By lying to British authorities about a fictitious Mäori plot to invade Auckland, Grey requests and receives several armored battleships with canon and thousands of additional troops.

Again vastly outnumbered (by 18,000 British troops), Mäori lose the Waikato War due to a strategic blunder – failing to allow for an escape route from Ōrākau pā. Although they successfully repulse all British attacks, they eventually run out of water and ammunition and leave the pā, facing overwhelming British fire power.

Following their victory at Ōrākau, British troops proceed to occupy one million acres of Mäori land in the Waikato. Over several decades, settlers convert it to dairy farms.

The British were unsuccessful in their goal of destroying the Māori King movement, which persists to the present day.

 

 

 

Maori Land Wars: Genocide New Zealand Style

New Zealand Wars: Part 2 Kings and Empire

Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)

Film Review

Part 2 of this series concerns the Wairau Valley War (1843), the Wellington War (1846), and the first Taranaki land war (1860-61).

The Wairau Valley War started when British settlers in the Marlborough Sounds (top of South Island) tried to farm land that still belong to Māori. After local iwi (tribes) drove out the land surveyors and set fire to their huts, 50 armed settlers marched to the Wairau Valley to “teach Māori” a lesson. Te Rauparaha, aka the Emperor of the South,* organized iwi warriors on both sides of Cook Strait to repel them.

Responding to growing fears Te Rauparaha would also attack unauthorized settlers, the newly appointed governor general George Grey marched British troops into in the Hutt Valley northwest of Wellington. Local Māori responded by killing the settlers who had illegally taken their land. During this fighting, Te Rauparaha was captured and imprisoned without trial, and settlers seized his former Māori.

The last segment of Part 2 is the most interesting to me as it concerns the first Taranaki War (I live in Taranaki). By 1858, there was a split in the North Island’s indigenous population.Two-thirds of Taranaki iwi supported the growing Māori king movement, formed with the explicit intention of solidifying Māori control over their own lands. One-third wished to sell land to the British for the purpose of facilitating trade.

The Taranaki land wars started when Te Teira sold the British communally-owned land in Waitara, and Wiremu Kingi and his followers turned settlers back when they tried to claim possession.

The major battle of the first Taranaki War took place at Puketekauere pā near Waitara in 1861. Although local Te Atiawa warriors were reinforced by other iwi belonging to the Māori king movement, they were still vastly outnumbered by British troops.

This first battle ended in a stalemate. In the truce that followed, Māori reclaimed more than £200,000 worth of property from New Plymouth settlers. However Wiremu Kingi lost control of coastal Waitara, which the British wanted for a seaport.


*Te Rauparaha held sway over iwi extending from Kaipiti Island near Wellington to modern day Nelson in the South Island. This would be the first attempt of iwi to consolidate their military efforts to retain control of their land.

 

 

The War Britain Lost

The New Zealand Wars: Part 1 The War Britain Lost

Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)

Film Review

The New Zealand Wars (between British settlers and Māori) occurred between 1843-72. Until the modern indigenous rights movement, which started in the 1970s, it was rare for our public schools to teach the history of these wars. In 2019, the NZ Parliament approved legislation requiring the compulsory teaching of this history in public schools by 2022.

This film is the first in a five-part series exploring the British-Māori wars. Part 1 covers early British settlement of New Zealand and the first war in 1845-46. The defeat inflicted on colonial forces was extremely quite a shock for the British, especially as they outnumbered the Māori (6 to 1), who (unlike the British) had rifles but no heavy artillery (eg canons and mortars).

The trigger for the 1845 war was the repeated destruction of the British flagpole overlooking Kororāreka (Russell) by the Māori chief Hōne Heke. The latter believed British forces were in violation of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which guarantees Māori full sovereignty over their own lands and people.

The victory of warriors led by Heke and his ally Kawiti is largely attributed to their superior military strategy. This involved a new form of fortified pā, a combination of deep trenches and primitive bunkers, in which flexible wooden fencing plays a similar role to the barbed wire used in World War I trenches, as well as their skill in drawing colonial forces into an ambush.

This new form of reinforced pā is viewed by military historians as the inspiration for modern trench warfare. It would spread to iwi (tribes) across the entire North Island for use in their own engagements with the British.

In 1846, colonists were forced to sign a truce with Heke and Kawati. They gained no new land in the three year war. The British flagpole would not be re-erected during Heke’s lifetime.

Tracing Ancestry Via Mitochondrial DNA: A Patriarchal View

The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry

by Bryan Sykes

W W Norton and Company (2002)

Book Review

This book is an account of geneticist Bryan Sykes’s discovery of the value of mitochondrial DNA in tracing the maternal lineage of all contemporary human beings to a few dozen cave women. Mitochondrial DNA is unique in that it’s only inherited from the egg (sperm discard their mitochondria once they penetrate the egg). It’s also far less genetically complex than nuclear DNA and only rarely undergoes mutation.

Sykes first used his discovery to establish that Polynesian navigators (including New Zealand Maori) originated from Taiwan or coastal China, and not south America, as claimed by Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl came to public attention after piloting the balsa raft Kon-Tiki from the South American cost to the Tuamotu islands near Tahiti.

Sykes also used mitochondrial DNA to settle a longstanding debate over the origin of Europe’s agricultural revolution. The old view was that Europe’s hunter gatherers had been overwhelmed and displaced by an “invasion” of Middle Eastern farmers. Sykes’s genetic studies revealed otherwise – only about 17% of current Europeans carry typical Middle Eastern mitochondrial DNA. This suggests that Europe’s hunter gatherers gradually learned techniques for domesticating plants and animals from a small number of Middle Eastern farmers.

I had real problems with the final section of the book, in which Sykes fantasizes about each of the seven “daughters of Eve” (aka clan mothers) who are direct ancestors of nearly all people of European ancestry. His reconstructions depart significantly from existing anthropological studies of hunter gatherer societies – especially his portrayal of males heading households of nuclear families, his minimization of women’s roles in domesticating plants and most farm animals, and his heavy emphasis on hunting as the primary source of nutrition among hunter gatherers.

His premise that hunter gatherer females nursed 3-4 year old children every four hours (resulting in natural birth control) is just plain wrong. Although hunter gatherer females typically breast fed children for fours years or more, after age 12-18 months breast milk became a secondary source of found as young children shared shared the same solid food their parents ate.

See Patriarchy: An Anthropological Study and Patriarchy: The Crucial Role of Women’s Unpaid Labor Under Capitalism

Racial Repression and Police Terrorism in New Zealand

An Innocent Warrior

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

In 2007, after spying on them over an extended period, New Zealand police arrested charismatic Maori leader Tame Iti and his supporters in so-called “anti-terrorist” raids. The saga began when a police SWAT teams launched an assault on the families in Iti’s small rural community and established a massive blockade preventing all movement in and out of the region.

Iti and three other people (the “Urewera Four”) were accused of running a terrorist training camp and of being members of a criminal group. After the high court threw out the “terrorist” charges as being unlawful, the group were ultimately convicted of unlawful possession of firearms.

Filmed over seven years, the documentary follows Iti as he fights to clear his name. In a surprising turn, the government apologizes to his Ngai Tuhoe tribe for historical oppression – and the police apologize to Iti and his family.

The video can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at An Innocent Warrior

The Movement to Abolish Prisons

Moana Jackson: Why Did Maori Never Have Prisons?

(2017)

At present, New Zealand has the second highest rate of mass incarceration in the world (after the US) – with the majority of inmates identifying as Maori. In the following presentation, Maori constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson makes the case for abolishing prisons. He cites the example of Norway, Finland and other Scandinavian countries, which decided decades ago that prisons were unsustainable and ineffective in reducing crime. In Norway, prisons are being replaced by open “habilitation” centers. In Finland, the number of prisons has been reduced from 100 to 20. The latter have mainly been replaced by mental health treatment centers.

Jackson’s main argument is that prisons are a direct result of colonization – that Maori had no prisons before European settlers arrived.* Prior to colonization, the primary Maori concern when people infringed on each other was the disruption in the net of social relationships. Different tribes set aside special facilities where victims and offenders could stay with their families to repair fractured relationships. In modern terminology, the process is referred to as “restorative justice.”** In New Zealand, we have no juvenile lock-up facilities. Instead offenders and their families meet with victims to make reparations.

Jackson also challenges the racist depiction of Maori as violent, naturally aggressive warriors. This stems from a European need to depict indigenous peoples as racially inferior to justify dispossessing. Stripping Maori of their true identity has traumatized generations of  young Maori men by providing them with a distorted image of who they really are. Peeling away this lie will be essential to abolishing prisons in New Zealand.

I was intrigued to learned that both Norway and Finland consulted with indigenous Sami (who also had no prisons prior to colonization) in devising alternatives to prison.


*Europeans also had no need for prisons prior to the Enclosure Acts that drove our ancestors off the commons. Deprived of access to land, they had no means of supporting themselves and the majority ended up in prisons and workhouses or “transported” by the courts to the US or Australia. See https://stuartjeannebramhall.com/2015/08/04/forgotten-history-the-theft-of-the-commons/

**South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another famous example of restorative justice.

 

 

New Zealand: Second Highest in Mass Incarceration

Locked Up Warriors

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

 

Locked Up Warriors is an Al Jazeera documentary about New Zealand’s mass incarceration of its indigenous people.

New Zealand is second only to the US in its rate of mass incarceration. Although New Zealand’s indigenous Māori make up only 15% of New Zealand, they represent half its prison population. This relates largely to political pressure for longer sentences – despite a host of studies showing long sentences significantly increase re-offending.

For me the most interesting section of the film concerns New Zealand’s gang culture and the longstanding rivalry between our two largest gangs – the Mongrel Mob and Black Power. It’s not uncommon for Māori offenders to be third generation gang members.

Oil and Gas Mining: The Devastating Effect on Communities

Sustainable Deception (Deception Durable)

Directed by Michelle Moore and William Ray (2017)

Film Review

Sustainable Deception is a bilingual documentary about the devastating effects of oil and gas mining at opposite ends of Canada. What I found most interesting about the film were the uncanny similarities with our experience with fracking here in Taranaki.

The French segments of the film cover the town of Sept Iles in Quebec and the English segments the massive tar sands project in Alberta. French and English segments are placed back to pack to highlight the parallels between the two regions:

  • Despite constant promises of jobs and prosperity, all the oil and gas revenue exits local communities, leaving them with a net decrease in income and struggling to pay for increased infrastructure costs.
  • Environmental destruction from oil and gas mining converts pristine forest landscapes into industrial brown sites, pollutes waterways and destroys organic farms, fishing and other local businesses. It also increases local cancer rates.
  • Fluctuating global commodity prices lead to boom and bust cycles, fueling higher rates of homelessness, hunger, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Oil and gas companies subsidize a succession of corrupt right wing governments who systematically deny local residents any input into planning decisions around oil and gas and other mining.
  • Despite treaty obligations, indigenous communities are never consulting regarding decisions to allow mining (likewise there is no consultation with local Maori here in Taranaki.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the film was a commentary by an Alberta activist about the need to transition from “extractive economies” that only benefit a handful of people to “value added” economies that rely on a diversity of businesses. Here in New Zealand, the Green Party is calling for a transition from an extractive economy – based on dairy, oil and gas – to a value added economy based on a renewable energy and information technology.

The most concerning part of the film was at the end, where one of the anti-mining activists is elected mayor of Sept Iles and talks openly about the enormous pressure the oil and gas industry (and the banks that finance them) put on elected officials. When they don’t get their way, these economic powerhouses have the capacity to generate economic instability that can bankrupt a small community.

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