He uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi ahau, and I am urban

A short story first…

“Shut up you dick!” cried Hana. She’d had enough of the fighting and hostility playing out in her living room. She stormed off to her bedroom, collapsed on to her bed, sunk her face into her pillow and wept. She was only 10. Hana’s mum was killed the year before by a Pākehā man who ran her over following a racist encounter at the pub she worked. He’d waited until she finished up, then in his drunken rage ploughed his car into her, as she crossed the road.  After that, everything changed. Her Dad began drinking heavily and returned to the gang life he’d detached from when he met her mother. He’d get angry, then sad and then angry again. Alcohol and gang life comforted him. But Hana didn’t like it. She felt afraid and unsafe in this new life her dad had imposed on them.

Hana had made up her mind that night to stand up to them. But things took a turn following her outburst. Haki who had been teasing her, got out of his seat rushed over to her with a raised hand, poised to strike. Her Dad stepped in to defuse the situation. But trying not to look soft in front of the gang, he growled her for being disrespectful and meted out a punishment.  He made her clean up the lounge where they were all congregated – get rid of the empties, clean the ashtrays, clear the dishes, vacuum the floor and serve them beers and kai.  They watched, they laughed, they threw their empties on the floor for her to pick up fully exploiting the situation for their amusement. Hana was furious with her Dad. He had humiliated her.

She recalled how when her mother was alive, she was his angel. He would never have done that. He would never have humiliated her. Hana was a middle child, but the oldest girl. She had two older brothers, but they were never around because when her Dad gets drunk he gets angry and takes it out on them.

By the time Hana turned 15, her trauma began to play out in in unhealthy ways. She began taking serious risks. On one particular day, she stole a car and took it for a joyride on the country roads she thought she knew so well. Hana didn’t see the other car coming. She had been distracted trying to tune the radio. She crossed the centre line. The noise was unforgettable. The sound of metal colliding created a nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She thought the driver in the other car stood no chance. Hana broke down. At this moment she remembered her mum and how much she missed her. She knew that her mum would not want this life for her and that she would be weeping at the way Hana’s life was turning out.

Hana stood in the wreckage frozen in disbelief at the mess she had caused. She took in the surroundings as if she’d lost her hearing, the scene taking place in slow motion as if detached from her. Flashes of her Dad as loving then the monster he had become. Visions of her brothers once full of hope and energy now fully committed to their gang life. Her baby sisters about to be confined to the pathway of trauma she had experienced in the past five years. Hana felt helpless and abandoned. As the police and ambulance arrived, Hana returned to reality. She heard an old but familiar voice calling out to her “Kōtiro! Kōtiro, come here”. Hana turned to see a kuia she had once known. She realised that she had collided with, and nearly taken the life of someone whom she had loved as a child.

Hana approached the kuia, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” she sobbed repeatedly. The kuia looked into her eyes, grabbed her hand and said “Kōtiro, your wairua is not well. You must remember in all your pain that you are your ancestors and they are with you. I’ve heard what has been happening since your Mother passed. Only now, have I seen the depth of your pain”. Hana cried again realising she had a choice to make – stay, where life would continue to be complicated, unsafe and wairua unwell or go, create a new life, heal her pain so she could heal the pain of her whānau.

After the ambulance cleared her, and the police questioned her, Hana went home. She asked the Officer to drop her off a bit down the road, as she was worried her dad would lose his temper if she showed up with them. They agreed, but because of her age told her they would need to speak with him soon.

When Hana walked in the door, the house was silent.

This was unusual, as her dad and sisters were always home. And there was nearly always visitors drinking in her lounge. She searched the house, but no one was there. She went outside – maybe her sisters were playing out the back, as they often did.

As Hana stepped out the back door, she saw what looked like a shadow. She froze. At the back of her house is a large tree. It used to have a tyre swing. She began screaming. She couldn’t hear her screams, but she could feel them. As she drew nearer to the tree, she began to wail. It was her dad. It was his shadow, hanging from the tree. But beneath him, lay her beautiful baby sisters, lifeless. Some neighbours had heard her screaming and came over to assist. Heeding the words of the kuia, she called on her ancestors to give her strength.

Hana, now in her 60s lives in the city. She has never been home. It is too painful for her. However, her mokopuna have begun asking about their tupuna and their culture. Hana has lost much of what she learned as a young child. When she left, she consciously left it all behind. Today, she had a vision of that kuia – “You are your ancestors’ kōtiro”.

(Involuntary) Urbanisation of Māori

Not every urban story begins with trauma or pain as explicit as this story. The above, is not a biography of any person, rather it is a persona intended to illustrate the complex and devastating effects of colonisation and rapid and arguably involuntary urbanisation of Māori in Aotearoa. I wanted to highlight that adversity impacts people in different ways and that the outcomes can involve more complexities than what seems obvious. Escaping negative social and economic conditions is a complex choice, often made out of necessity about survival.

Urbanisation of Māori is the story of perpetual colonisation. That is not to say that urbanisation in itself is a negative. It has many benefits and opportunities particularly in our modern context provided the cultural infrastructure of indigenous groups is enabled to thrive through positive social attitudes toward our culture, inclusive policy and sufficient resourcing. However, the implications for Māori through carefully executed assimilation policies by the Crown has embedded intergenerational trauma that will take generations to heal.

The Crowns English-language manual-labour focused education policies for Māori eventually coincided with slowing rural but booming urban economic conditions, which left many whānau with little choice except to move away from the tribal rohe and migrate to the cities. As noted above, choice is complex in this context, and as such, urbanisation was arguably involuntary.  For many it was a decision made on the Crown’s promise of work, money and pleasure. Like other promises made by the Crown, the reality quickly began to paint a different picture. As highlighted by UN-Habitat, ‘both indigenous rural–urban migrants and long-time indigenous urbanites tend to be marginalised and discriminated against by dominant population groups’.

Urbanisation of Māori was sadly not the story of realising potential, accessing opportunity, and achieving a high standard of living. We know now from lived experience that as well as disproportionate representation of Māori across the lower end of socio-economic outcomes and low participation rates in civic matters that urbanisation is also a major cause of intergenerational whānau fragmentation, disconnection to our hapū, iwi, whenua, and culture and loss of mātauranga, reo and cultural identity.

Ngāpuhi and the urban and hau kainga discussion

The notion of urban Māori has become a prominent feature in Ngāpuhi discussions as we prepare for Treaty settlement negotiations. However, disconnection – created and perpetuated by the Crown, continues to fuel the rifts we are experiencing as urban and hau kainga descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi.

There is no consensus on whether urban Ngāpuhi should be included in the proposed negotiating structure. One of the reasons is that there is great discomfort in identifying a subset of Ngāpuhi as urban Ngāpuhi, in the sense that as urban they are distinct from their hapū. The reason for this unease, and in some cases rejection of the urban proposition, is that those who identify as Ngāpuhi do so as descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi and urban is not a hapū. As Waihoroi Shortland pointed out at a hui in Tāmaki Makaurau recently, Ngāpuhi is an identifier external to us, it is the consolidation of a number of hapū, who in their collective state form Ngāpuhi nui tonu.

I agree with those arguments. However, I also think there is a distinction between identity and experience in this context. For instance, in terms of my Ngāpuhi ancestry, my identity is as Ngāti Tautahi and Ngāti Rēhia. However, my experience as those identities is distinct from the hau kainga experience. My experience is urban. I was born and raised in Tīmaru (more than 1000 kilometres away from my tribal rohe), and have lived in Tāmaki Makaurau now for the majority of my adult life. My understanding of and connection to our whakapapa is much less than those who grew up on our marae with our kawa and tikanga, and on our ancestral whenua among our maunga, awa, and ngāhere.

My identity is not separate from te uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi. However, my experience, and the experiences of many others is unique to our particular lived circumstances. Our experience of colonisation is tied to our urban-ness. We speak to disconnection as felt from being separated from our hau kainga and all of which that embodies. We speak to our marginalisation in the cities and our direct experiences of institutional racism in an urban context.

Our experiences are as much a part of colonisation as the experiences of our hau kainga.

The urban experience is a direct result of colonisation, and parking our experiences in the settlement context allows the Crown to avoid or minimise the significance of the urban disconnection conversation that continues to shaft te uri o ngā hapū o Ngāpuhi who have only ever lived in our urban centres or outside our tribal rohe.

In my experience, those of us who have urban experiences do not consider our hapū or iwi at fault. We do not consider this an “us (urban)” versus “them (hau kainga)” kaupapa. It is about all of us collectively holding the Crown to account for the destruction its assimilation policies wrought on our communities and within our whānau over many generations. It is not about pointing the finger at specific individuals who represent the Crown today or our Pākehā whānau, friends or neighbours. It is about recognising that the system that people like Hon Andrew Little represents, as a Minister of the Crown, and the system that enabled our Pākehā ancestors to settle here, has been unkind, unfair and frankly destructive to our Māori ways of being across a range of social, cultural, political and economic intersections.

We must be clear: involuntary urbanisation is a very real experience for many Ngāpuhi and locating our experience in our context is not about severance from our hapū, it is about recognising our distinct experiences of colonisation. We are descendants of the hapū of Ngāpuhi and we are also urban in our experience. Not every person who lives in an urban area will or is required to define themselves in an urban context, but to deny those of us who locate our experiences as Ngāpuhi in an urban context is to marginalise our voices and perpetuate the colonisation of the Crown.

We are our ancestors and we are surviving but fragmented we cannot and will not thrive.

 

 

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Free speech is peace directed, refuse their act of war

Ignorance is not just not knowing stuff. It is also believing you have nothing more to learn. For instance, you choose to be racist and you can choose to not be racist because you can choose to do the work to unlearn the racist tropes and half histories you have chosen to be your truth. You can choose to share power or store power. You can choose peace or you can choose war. You can choose to understand free speech as something more than a right to say whatever you please without consequence.

Recently, I was asked what my position was on free speech and I was torn. I absolutely do not think any group whose ideology in practice engages in genocide has a ‘right’ to build or advocate that kind of movement under the protection of free speech.  The very real and imminent threat here is the potential of such groups to tap into people’s deepest fears and insecurities, play on their ignorance and mobilise them to commit atrocities that threaten the survival of a group or groups of people.

In saying that, ignorance is why I also consider there to be a place for deplorable worldviews. That is, how can we learn what inclusiveness looks like, if we suppress hatefulness? How do we reach ignorant people and help them to un-learn and re-learn if they don’t know what their ignorance looks like in contrast to inclusiveness? What if inclusiveness today creates unintended consequences that lead to different kinds of ignorance in future? We already hear discussions around transculturation, that is, the merging and converging of cultures into one homogenous group. There is a very real risk that inclusiveness passively morphs into its own white supremacy over time and how do we counter that if people cannot see that the white supremacy they have bought into is not inclusiveness?

I know I have more questions than solutions. But I think its important to start questioning things like inclusiveness and how we see that operating in future – what protections do we have to ensure it’s not a dangerously quiet transition into becoming the dominant culture?

As I see it, free speech is both theoretical and action oriented. Over time, societies frame and reframe it according to social norms, political beliefs and cultural practices. Many proponents of free speech often refer to western legal rights to justify hateful and challenging positions and liberal responses in turn use that same legal framework to justify limitations or restrictions on what we should allow or not allow people to say. In other words, we tend to fixate on the procedural elements (e.g. who, when, what and where) and legislative interpretation (e.g. rights, defences, exemptions) and subsequently lock ourselves in to a perpetual cycle of disharmony. But what if we turned our attention to its action oriented limb to understand the act of speaking freely, the act of actively listening, and the act of restoring harmony where ignorance and enlightenment clash?

In my view, neither of the arguments referred to above speak meaningfully to the mana and the mauri of people or peoples. One obvious reason is that the debate centres in western discourse. Arguably, the ‘public interest’ and the ‘autonomy of the individual’ arguments do embody elements of those concepts. For instance, autonomy respects the individual and therefore the mana they hold within themselves, and public interest speaks to the mauri of the people or peoples and protecting their wellbeing. However, because these are dealt with separately as opposing arguments, rather than as part of a whole story neither argument fully addresses – nor can it, ‘why and how’ free speech can operate harmoniously in our modern social context.

I think tikanga and kawa could and should have a major role in the free speech discussion in context of Aotearoa New Zealand because kaupapa Māori models provide a unique and balancing lens. These models help us to think about the issue differently and in a deeper and more spiritual context.

I’ve been delving into the stories of my tīpuna and their actions and corresponding kōrero in an effort to assert their rangatiratanga and to retain mana motuhake for their hapū and for Māori collectively.  Our tīpuna spoke freely, they spoke fiercely and by liberal standards today at times they spoke arrogantly, aggressively and derogatorily about the imminent settler government that threatened the survival of our people and our culture.

But lets clear something up here first, the threat to our survival as a peoples by the coloniser was and is not the same as the disingenuously propagated threat by white supremacists fearful of the erasure of their white-ness. Firstly, colonisation was the action-oriented part of a much larger political ideology that swept the globe, western imperialism. It was an act of white supremacy. Secondly, political power resides in white institutions through the militarisation of western nation states. The Molyneux’s and Southern’s of this world are using a pre-emptive war tactic appealing to the protections of free speech in an effort to hold onto white institutional power through the extermination of any peoples who they perceive as threat to that power storing. So when I think about speaking freely, and what it is intended to achieve through a tikanga lens, I am directed toward a state of peace and harmonious relations.

I think about the Māori context and how we deal with a take (issue) and the way the rākau is passed around so every person is allocated time to have their say, no matter how hard that truth may be to hear. The context within which these discussions or confrontations take place is one where the group affirm the mana of each speaker, and preserve the mauri of the people through a process of restoration – removing the tapu through noa. I love that our ancestors adopted a healing process so we could return to our lives with aroha in our hearts to continue the mahi of manaakitanga. This is the process by which they kept the mana of all intact and restored the mauri of all involved so the tribe could thrive as a collective. I don’t here claim that peace was achieved following every confrontation, we know that is simply not the case – in some cases, confrontations led to war (I’ll come back to this ‘war’ point below). If we can uphold the legacy of all our ancestors (Māori and non-Māori alike) in preserving our right to speak freely where our intention is directed toward peace and harmonious relations, then we can be clear about our expectations of each other and the process for managing conflicts, and helping heal ignorance.

This brings me back to current issues and my point of view on free speech:

Promoting and enabling movements and actions that threaten the survival of peoples, is not an act of free speech, it is an act of war because actions not seeking harmony and balance of power, threaten the survival of peoples.

When Mayor Phil Goff refused to provide a platform for fascism, he was refusing their act of war. When the Owners of the Powerstation revoked use of its venue for fascist purposes, it refused their act of war. When the people turned up at Aotea Square to challenge the arrival of fascists on our shores, they too refused their act of war. Similarly, when our ancestors signed He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi they refused the settler governments act of war. And as I see it, locking hapū and iwi out of Parliament, is an act of war.