An analogy: bio-engineered salmon

Recently I tweeted that “As an indigenous person, I’m feeling a little like a bio-engineered salmon”. This may seem a little random, but while attending the recent World Indigenous Lawyers Conference this made sense, to me at least.

Let me explain. In the very first seminar, Rebecca Tsosie gave an example about the backward way in which we approach a crisis. Instead of taking a precautionary measure to preserve the environment in its natural state, we intervene. She spoke of an example where salmon populations had depleted because of climate change. The waters were warmer and became inhabitable for the salmon that had a history of breeding in those waters. This affected not only the salmon migration patterns, but also affected the availability of a food resource for the indigenous people in that area. The suggestion (and I am unclear on whether this actually happened or whether it was simply a suggestion or merely a hypothetical) was to bio-engineer the salmon to adjust to the warmer waters. The consensus is that climate change is a result of excessive carbon emissions. The peculiarity is why we would bio-engineer a species to adapt to worsening environmental conditions, when we could simply change human activity that adversely affects the environment. Prevention or precautionary measures are more sustainable and therefore, better in the long term. 

How does this relate to my statement? Well, the example stayed with me throughout the whole conference – in every seminar I attended, whether it be about education, politics, banking and so on.

Lets talk about the banking seminar. The issue was: Do we need a Maori bank or do banks need to be more Maori? It was claimed that a key factor in accelerating Maori success in business was overcoming issues of access to finance. The suggestion was that the banks need more Maori in banking roles and to be more Maori – this being more Maori was about ‘pastoral care’ of whanau and Maori enterprise to improve the Maori experience of banks. Personally, I seethed throughout the whole seminar. My view was: in what ways was it conducive to tikanga Maori to promote capitalist structures to trap Maori in a fake credit system? Encouraging Maori to take on debt in order to fit within the structures of a society that has a different modus operandi so to speak – where success is measured by the profitability of a business or personal wealth is not particularly tika in my view. I am not here suggesting that business and profitability are negative in all aspects. 

My view is that as indigenous peoples, Maori should be very careful about conforming to an economy that conflicts with Te Ao Maori (the Maori worldview). So here’s where the salmon analogy comes back in. Prior to colonisation Maori had a very productive economy. It may not have been capitalist, but it functioned in a way that was beneficial to all its members. Since colonisation, Maori have been forced to adapt to the ways of the colonising empire in all aspects. This adaptation is analogous to the bio-engineered salmon example. Instead of recognising that Maori had an economy, that they had rights and interests in natural resources and allowing them to continue to operate in that way, a way that was sustainable and a way that every member was cared for, deculturating Maori prevailed.

Additionally, instead of educating Maori in Te Reo, in an environment that was suitable for their learning and in subjects that enabled individuals to find their own talents and roles in Maori society, the education system assimilated Maori. Maori were and predominantly are taught in English, taught subjects important to those in power and are taught to behave according to the norms and values of a foreign culture.  Bio-engineered salmon. Suffice to say when sitting in the politics seminar on the last morning of addresses, I realised that we Maori, as indigenous peoples, enable the deculturation. The status quo is that the key is to be at the table. My opinion, this buys into the bio-engineered salmon. The disharmony at the moment over consultation as to water rights and interests shows that while the government can divide Maori, Maori will remain politically modified to fit within a system that refuses to recognise Maori indigeniety and the rights, interests, duties and obligations that come with that indigeneity.

The conference also helped me make sense of a reading that I had done prior to the conference. It was from an International Environmental Law paper I am doing, the chapter comes from a book called “When two worlds collide” written by my lecturer Klaus Bosselmann. In this particular chapter, Klaus sets out a planetary calendar from the beginning of time to the possible moment of the extinction of the world in which we have to make a radical choice to prevent the decimation of humankind . It is very dramatic but reminded me of the presentation given by Justice Joe Williams, who told a similar story but more specific to Maori about there being two scenarios in the future for Maori which depends on a common vision within and between Maori. Those scenarios were a dystopia and a utopia, with the former being a world where our indigeneity was simply seen as an experiment and has no value in that world with Maori continuing to dominate the negative statistics, while the latter is a world where Maoridom is embraced by all New Zealanders and is integral to national identity (I will discuss this further in a later post).  

While the bio-engineered salmon analogy impacted how I understood and interpreted the seminars I attended, another statement also had a profound effect on my thinking. Bentham Ohia shared a statement made to him by Bolivian President Evo Morales: “I am not a capitalist, I am not a socialist, I am Indigenous”. Bentham shared this with the audience because it resonated with him. I am pretty sure it resonated with every indigenous person in the audience. 

The key ideas, that I took away from the conference are as follows:  

(i) Recognising the struggles of indigenous peoples as being analogous to struggle of the salmon and the foreign solution – to bio-engineer; and  

(ii) Acknowledging that I am an indigenous person and that I need not subscribe to a dichotomous political spectrum that does not appropriately recognise my idigeneity. 

NOTE: The World Indigenous Lawyers Conference 2012 was the first ever held and was hosted by Te Hunga Roia o Maori Aotearoa. I will write more on these seminars when time permits. My understanding is that Maori Lawyer Joshua Hitchcock intends to do a write up on this conference so keep an eye out: 



  1. Interesting read. I always find myself flailing about with internal conflict when ever whakaaro turns to Maori economy or Maori and business. The whole idea of an economy with capitalistic structures that is "Maori" seems oxymoronic; at the same time it also seems that in the current setting a strong economic base is essential to Maori society and walks hand in hand with cultural revival and development. I think there is a dangerous line between working with/within the colonial system and becoming a part of it and Maori need to be reminded of that.


  2. Nice post Ellipsister; a meaty topic."Maori, as indigenous peoples, enable the deculturation"I agree to a certain extent. In avoiding what I consider a 'responsbility' to holdfast to those cultural institutions and language, some of us are guilty of this; however, there are some mitigating factors.But what of our adaptation? It's not simply assimilation. We use tauiwi concepts, technology etc but not necesarily at the expense of throwing away our own culture, it's simple additional to our own and we use these things in a maori context and a maori way. A stagnant culture is one soon to perish, I'm not suggesting in anyway that pakeha products/ideas are superior, but rather that our own culture is one which has always been evolving and changing over time. It was not that long ago that Indigenous and Migrant first met in Aotearoa; trade followed not long after."The disharmony at the moment over consultation as to water rights and interests shows that while the government can divide Maori, Maori will remain politically modified to fit within a system that refuses to recognise Maori indigeniety and the rights, interests, duties and obligations that come with that indigeneity."I don't question that the government has incredible leverage, but they do not dictate all movement within maoridom. We divide ourselves – the same as any other nation. While I agree that there is a shared base of interests for indigenous people – not all of maori interests line up so nicely – perhaps water is a good example. Where there is no concensus amongst Maori then we should revert to tikanga and the rangatiratanga of iwi to consult with their people to figure out the next step. We also must be realistic and pragmatic about leverage in the treaty-partnership. If we are unable to successfully litigate, sometimes concessions must be made. Sure, it doesn't help when governments pass legislation to block our right to be heard – but this doesn't mean concessions preclude the overall growth and development of maori. Holdfire on Dystopia – I don't think it will be delivered so simply!With your last sentiment about indentity – I agree, but I also think that the identity of all peoples (migrants & indigenous) is more than simple subscription to modes of political or economic interaction. Nor is identity purely about culture.


  3. Thank-you for your comments 🙂 Absolutely, I haven’t expressed some ideas as well as I could have, and you are right to point out that some of the ways in which we have adapted our culture and use ideas and technologies has been very beneficial. I get mostly frustrated by the assumption held by some non-Maori that Maori would not have access to any of the technologies and ideas that we currently enjoy had colonisation not occurred. This is where I see the Maori struggle. Maori were already trading and interacting with foreign cultures and learning new ways of doing things and how to be more productive within our own economy and were hence willing to adapt, such is the fluidity of tikanga Maori. But for those few to imply that Maori should be grateful for colonisation and should therefore adapt to be a part of it, is no solution and I agree with what Tyrone says above about working with/within it but not becoming part of it, but I do absolutely agree that we do not dispose of our own cultural values simply by accepting the benefits of technology and ideas and perhaps my account was overly-simplistic and didn’t properly consider the mitigating factors you identify. I disagree about the leverage of the government not dictating all movement in Maoridom since any challenge Maori wish to take to the government is within a legal context that is pre-determined by the government through parliamentary sovereignty. The nature of the partnership must change because in my view, the current partnership is more akin to a parent and child rather than two consenting adults, so to speak. You are absolutely correct about identity having multiple facets, the reason the statement made so much sense to me, was because while I identify as indigenous on a social and cultural level, I had never considered myself as ‘politically indigenous’ and this was really empowering. I hope this response makes sense!


  4. Compare your:"I seethed throughout the whole seminar. My view was: in what ways was it conducive to tikanga Maori to promote capitalist structures to trap Maori in a fake credit system? Encouraging Maori to take on debt in order to fit within the structures of a society that has a different modus operandi so to speak – where success is measured by the profitability of a business or personal wealth is not particularly tika in my view. I am not here suggesting that business and profitability are negative in all aspects."To my own:"… my advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism – noting the crony capitalism we have is to capitalism what sea horses are to horses, that is, nothing similar at all – has never been about money; it's only ever been about that wonderful, evolutionary thing that capitalism, and only capitalism, is based on – the voluntary transaction. I'm a freedom freak: peace baby, the true sixties legacy, not those suited communists in the Greens Party whose every policy is the advocacy of state force. Only on the voluntary transaction can there be a voluntary, free society."Do you differentiate between our current crony capitalist (Keynesian socialist) systems – Orwell called it state capitalism – and laissez faire capitalism?I, as a classical liberal/libertarian advocate only the latter: noting those of us that promote a laissez faire system are in the main against fractional reserve banking (I support Free Banking), and certainly all are against the central banking system which is part of the planned economy and thus planned society which is anathema to us. As you correctly say, Maori have always been traders, and that's all laissez faire is: a market is simply the expression and voluntary working out of the complex pattern of individuals desires being resolved, via trading, nothing else. Maori were doing that before Europeans got here, then were doing that with Europeans almost immediately after they got here. But the market is destroyed first philosophically, then economically, when politically a state (is voted by a tyranny of majority) power over it, and then thrusts its coercive fist into every individual transaction, as happens under our social(alist) democracies.Reading your blog, I reckon you would be better off – and I'm being serious – voting for Libertarianz than any current party in parliament promoting Maori special interests. A libertarian minarchy advocates the state only as arbiter of the rule of law, namely, property rights, and the non-initiation of force: Maori self-determination sits easily within that, surely (?), because, ironically, there is no 'inside' – individuals and groups can do what they like, so long as they don't initiate force or fraud on others, or breach property rights.The areas where you and I (and that's all I'm qualified to speak for) differ are 'huge', but that is precisely why I work and write toward a constitutional minarchy, because under that, our differences don't matter. We're free to be ourselves.Mind you, as far as living in ideal of a free society, I'm a fish out of water completely.


  5. Forgot to mention in above, under true laissez faire, there is nothing in principle, against private entities, including Maori tribes, or whatever, issuing and controlling their own money supply. All you need to do is ensure it is backed by value, to give traders the confidence to use it (and it takes the politicians and their fiat money (a sheer confidence trick) out of the money supply equation, and rightly so, because look at how irresponsible they're been with it: the West is being destroyed because of just that.


  6. I agree about your comments re; fractional-reserves, but I don't think a move to a more de-regulated economy (given NZ already has one of the most de-regulated economies in the world) is the right move. You might agree with Nozick that all taxation is illegitimate and impinges on your property rights, but some of us are willing consumers of public goods that markets wouldn't provide and as such are willing to pay the taxes to fund them. We expect good value for money, and are responsible for ensuring we vote in a government that can spend/raise revenue efficiently – but the idea that the state shouldn't be spending/taxing at all is nonsense. Maybe it comes from a fundamentally different approach to determining the good society. I am a firm believer that a minimum standard of living, education and healthcare, as well as access to public space are essential for the individual to flourish – not every individual could provide the means to ensure access to all of these things by themselves – but the collective purchasing power and economies of scale the state has makes it possible. By providing these services, we also ensure our society is a happier, healthier and more productive one. So while I may have incurred the cost of these through taxation, at least I am less likely to be mugged etc.


  7. Hi HI've not got a lot of time, so briefly:We are far from a de-regulated economy, or even 'the most' de-regulated economy. IRD have all the powers of the police state to collect taxes from a complicated mish mash of tax policy and we have one of the most vicious international tax regimes of any Western country. Then there's RMA, et al. We are way over-regulated from macro matters down to the minutia of our lives, including euthanasia (if I contract a disease that is such I want to die with dignity, I have to send my wife from the house, and then die with a damned plastic bag over my head, rather than humanely, while I'm staring at the wallpaper). Our lives are regulated and planned.Regarding your second paragraph, I can do no better than refer you to my post on why it is democracy that has now become the enemy of my freedom. And I'm sorry to post links, Carrie (but it's quicker), if you are referring to the welfare state, then it was always an economic – a cruel one – illusion, dependent on the tax slavery of your children: this is provable by dint of the fact since Michael Savage taxes were never enough to fund it, there has always been the necessity of governments to borrow, and borrow to the extent now that entire Western nations are in the debt trap Carrie speaks of: indeed, most of Europe, and the US are broke and there is no option other than austerity. And that's without going into the immorality of redistribution, and of welfarism as anything other than the 'safety net' that Savage originally envisaged.Regarding your last paragraph, for me the 'good society' is the free society, and the West now is far closer to the planned societies of the Soviets than to that. The state has no economies of scale, because it is a) incompetent and susceptible always to unintended consequences, and b) no central planner can ever know enough about your desires and mine, and how they intersect, to intervene between us without destroying the value and freedom we can get by trading with each other. Finally, you are no more (indeed less) likely to get mugged in a libertarian minarchy than our social democracies: libertarians are not anarchists – we recognise the role of a small state (small 's') to enforce the rule of law, via the non-initiation of force principle, but this could be funded by a voluntary charge. And just in case you think that pie in the sky, well I'm happy to pay insurance without bureaucrats bending my arm, so of course I'd be happy to pay for the rule of law.Cheers.


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