Whenua ki te Whenua
Protests over the controversial area Ihumātao, have continued since the eviction notice was posted on 23 July. Just south of Auckland, the 32 hectare area of land was purchased by Fletchers in 2016, who have plans to build 480 homes.
Lillian Hanly spoke to Tina Ngata, an indigeous rights activist, about the relationship between the Ihumātao dispute and Oranga Tamariki. Ngata has been at Ihumātao since late last week and is also involved in Hands Off Our Tamariki movement
You can find the full interview here and the written transcript below. What follows is a write up from Angus Coker Grant.
The Ihumātao dispute is one that stretches back generations. Initially settled and farmed as early as the 14th Century, it was eventually acquired by Fletchers in 2016. This decision has faced opposition which has only heightened since the protesters, Save our Unique Landscape, were issued their eviction notice. Thousands of people have been visiting the site since, protesting the handling of sacred Māori land.
Activist Tina Ngata sees humanity and solidarity in the recent demonstrations at Ihumātao. “I have to say I think Ihumātao has been fantastically positive in the face of bleak intimidation. And you can see that the police are responding to that positivity as well.”
With such a deep and controversial history, the recent protests have resulted in some emotional scenes, Ngata adds. “It’s very chilling to watch the sun go down over the Ihumātao and see a line of police officers in uniform standing there”
When asked about Oranga Tamariki lifting infants from Māori mothers, Ngata is quick to identify it sharing an origin with the trade of Ihumātao. “Taking our babies and taking our land comes from the same place, it comes from the same mindset.”
Despite the controversies, Ngata is hopeful, and believes the public’s opinions are changing for the better. “I think increasingly people are seeing that these kinds of policies, these kinds of laws, impact indigenous people first and worst.”
Ngata elaborates, saying “people are understanding that this colonial and imperial mentality does not benefit any of us in the long run.”
Looking globally, Ngata is keen to highlight the issues humanity faces as a race, and what attitudes can be seen elsewhere. “Our largest continued hope for our climate is at the hands of the man who has absolutely no regard for indigenous lives and no regard for the climate crisis. And that is chilling.”
Aside from the looming climate crisis, Ngata reiterates her hope and her solutions to convincing sceptics. “Impacted us first and worse, it’s not going to stop with us and that’s the discussion and the line of discourse that’s help other people understand the value.”
By Angus Coker Grant
Lillian Hanly: How has it been at Ihumātao?
Tina Ngata: It has been so inspirational and uplifting. Often when you go out to support these kinds of kaupapa you know it’s what needs to be done. But I have to say it’s not only done out of a sense of commitment to our rights but literally uplifted in a way that I haven't been in a long, long time. The solidarity and the mana motuhake - y’know that was people living mana motuhake, there is not a spirit of capitalism [inaudible] ... There were thousands… by the people of Ihumātao there. And all through koha and aroha and hard work and commitment and solidarity and that is their hope for our entire [inaudible] is that I see us walking our dreams like that. I found it really inspirational and uplifting and positive. A lot of positivity as well, in the face of some clear intimidation, the presence of the police there. I have to say I think Ihumātao has been fantastically positive in the face of bleak intimidation. And you can see that the police are responding to that positivity as well, the police are responding to that positivity. They still have to follow their orders and they will follow their orders, whatever those orders are. Whether those orders are to remain in place or to crackdown. They will follow them, even the nice officers. Me, myself personally, this is a personal statement: I still see that police presence is being quite intimidating upon the land. And it’s very chilling to watch the sun go down over the Ihumātao and see a line of police officers in uniform standing there stopping people from entering their own land. It’s such a timeless image of colonial force paid for by whenua Māori. It’s quite linked to that... [inaudible]. And then when you compare that with the aroha and manaakitanga and the positivity of the people who are making their stand, it’s quite a stark contrast.
I’m ringing not to talk about the future of this issue, because this fight is ongoing, people are still there today and the police are still there today like you say. I wanted to draw attention to the longevity of this whawhai like you’ve just said, that colonial presence, it’s not a new one, and it’s not a new fight. Speaking in the context of this going on, as well as our recent issues around Oranga Tamariki, which are not necessarily recent either - they’ve just come into the spotlight. But with there being the Hands Off Our Tamariki rally tomorrow, could you just speak to those different kaupapa and how they might be not so different?
Taking our babies and taking our land comes from the same place, it comes from the same mindset. It also comes from the same power structure, where one particular group feels entitled enough that they can take the land off another group, and that they can even take lives or exert force, or take children from another group. So it comes from the same place. The stories that I spoke of Ihumātao yesterday (28th July), about this land, the story of this experience of colonial theft actually existed in Europe back in the 1400s. There were a series of laws that were delivered out to the constituencies [unclear] Europe. And one of those early laws that was passed, the Doctrine of Discovery, was actually for West Africa. It was against the Muslim, well, called them the Saracens, giving the rights to send people out to enslave and capture and kill the Muslims and Saracens of West Africa. And that is what began the West Africa slave trade. And then after that came another two papal laws that then broadened that scope out to what they called the New World and enabled people to go out and take land, and take lives. And they did that with women, with children, with babies. And this wasn’t just ‘you’re able to’ this was ‘your good Christian duty’ to carry these tasks out. So this was from the 1400s, late 1400s that these laws became what some people call the ‘Age of Discovery’, what others call the ‘Age of Imperialism’, and what can also be the ‘Age of Genocide’. Certainly imperialism and genocide never really went away. The entitlement that was fostered, the psyche of entitlement that was fostered from living with these laws over hundreds of years, specifically for those European nations still survive today and that’s why we see ourselves here. Obviously they [the Papal Laws] also included the ability for the British monarchs to send James Cook out to ‘discover land’, or to claim land for them. So that really is where the story begins that we see manifesting in Ihumātao today. That’s why it’s so important to understand our history if we are genuine about wanting to re- construct or construct a system of justice and understand the underpinnings of the system of injustice that we currently labour under. So those things now manifest as many different flash points in our history and Hands Off Our Tamariki is another really important flash point where we say ‘no’. That is legally, under international [law], legally this practice is a form of genocide. The genocide is still ongoing, through the theft of our children. We are saying ‘no’ to that now, and of course the land theft, as I described before is a classic, classic, theft. All of these things are still ongoing and it’s rooted in this idea of an imperialist entitlement that comes from the doctrine of Christianity.
These are both present-day acts of colonisation is what you’re saying. How can we get people who may not understand that, to understand that? That these are very linked kaupapa.
We have to declare that they’re acts of colonial violence. If you go up to Ihumātao you’ll see that there any many pakeke there, there are many mana whenua there. The whanau who live around Ihumātao, those houses are opening their front yards for people to park in because they’re thankful for those who have shown up. They’re welcoming them, they’re thanking them. There’s pakeke, there’s kaumatua there that are local mana whenua. But there are also many other people for whom this resonates with. And I think increasingly, people are starting to understand that this is not just about - we’re living in an age of global injustice, climate crisis, polluted ocean - and I think increasingly people are seeing that these kinds of policies, these kinds of laws, impact indigenous people first and worst. But they certainly don’t stop with us. They impact a lot of other people as well. And so it’s that same colonial mentality that is driving these corporations to rob our future generations of their ability to live on this planet. It’s the same corporate and managerial mentality that is ruining our fresh water systems and taking away the ability to swim in clean water for all of our generations - Māori-wise and Pākeha-wise. And so I think increasingly, people are understanding that this colonial and imperial mentality does not benefit any of us in the long run. Indigenous people had the longest running most severe experience on the knife’s edge of colonialism. I think when we talk about that, when we talk about the shared experience of the colonial mentality, especially at the hands of climate change, the polluted waters. We look at the way which indigenous people have maintained incredible resilience to even survive the onslaught of genocide for so long and have protected so much of this world through diversity, looked after our forests, and looked after our water, y’know, literally putting our lives on the line. I had a report in this morning of another indigenous land protector being murdered in Brazil by violence. It’s chilling. Particularly what’s happening in Brazil. You have [President Jair] Bolsonaro in charge of the world’s largest carbon sink. Our largest continued hope for our climate is at the hands of the man who has absolutely no regard for indigenous lives and no regard for the climate crisis. And that is chilling. And that is something that we all need to be worried and concerned about and invest in it. Because the impact of losing that carbon sink will fall upon all of our heads. Even though it’s impacted us first and worse, it’s not going to stop with us and that’s the discussion and the line of discourse that’s help other people understand the value.
So what are you hoping comes out of the rally apopo?
Oh look I think, I’ll talk about it politically in the first instance. The Labour Party really went in on the Māori seats last election, and they have very slick optic about being a kind government. So I really hope the show of people around this very sensitive human rights issue - this is a human rights issue, its not a small issue, this is about genocide. So I hope the government opens their ears, and realises what’s at stake for them politically, that you have these flashpoints happening all around the nation right now in relation to our children, in relation to our land. And they realise that, it’s no secret I’m not a huge of this government structure, and I think they tend to respond more to what’s going to keep them in power rather than any kind of altruistic [inaudible], that’s certainly what took it to this place where they would respond to Ihumātao. I’m hoping that will at least awaken them to what’s going on there. I want them to acknowledge that they are, and have been and are continuing to be complicit in acts of genocide of our people.They need to understand, technically, legally, factually there is no getting away from that. If they understand there is an excessive use of a flawed system that is extracting Māori children from Māori homes and community, and out of their culture as well, there’s not much getting away from the fact, and that they need to do some work to be accountable for that. Māori are very clear, that we are ready and able and capable to take the reins of looking after ourselves, looking after our whānau, placing our children in the safest place possible, and making sure that our own, I often think about this in relation to the way in which the Empire makes it unsafe for whānau to stay in their own home, and then you wind up with refugee and immigrant families who are forced to leave their homes and then you make them the problem. The problem is actually that they have a right to stay, they have a right to stay in a safe home, they have a right for that home to remain safe. So, the Empire, the crown, the government, they need to take accountability for what it is they’re doing to make homes unsafe as well, and look at this as a right to stay in a safe home. And where homes are unsafe, we as Māori have a right to determine what safety looks like, and where those nests or kōhanga need to be for those children. Those are just some of the things I would hope, that I would expect to come out of a kind government as they purport themselves to be. I absolutely support the stand being made by Hands Off Our Tamariki.
To wrap it up, and bring it back to this year, we’ve talked about Cook, but this idea that its been 250 years since Cook came, and there are celebrations around the country for this. What could people be doing this year to increase their awareness of the effects of that arrival?
The most important thing, the most important story to tell, it is a difficult thing to say because, it’s always important for Māori to tell their own stories, and celebrate our own heroes. But if we’re looking at this year being the anniversary of Cook’s invasion, the more important story to be reflecting on in terms of outcome is that of imperial expansion. I think the best thing for people to do is to take a step back from the stories being told and look at the connections between so many of those stories. It’s very common for the coloniser to try and individualise the stories, ‘this is what happened in Gisborne,’ ‘this is what happened in Mercury Bay’... but what we need to do is take a step back and look at those stories so you can see that he barely went anywhere - barely! Without shooting at or killing our people, and that is, if you take another step back, that’s also the case across the Pacific. He barely went anywhere in the Pacific without killing or torturing or abducting our people. So what we see today in terms of the land theft, that was done by Cook, everytime he claimed land on behalf of the Queen without consent, every time there was an abduction of a child out of a home, that was carried out by Captain Cook when he arrived, and as he went around the Pacific abducting people as he went. So all of those instances we are talking about today, that is the inception of when that came to our land back then. And that’s the inception of when it came to the Pacific as well, those instances were not individual - they were actually his MO as he travelled the Pacific. And it’s not even specific to the Pacific either, or to Cook. This is a template of imperial expansion, that has happened around the world, and if we aren’t able to call that out for what it is, and speak truth as the first step on a pathway to justice we’re going to be struggling to face and overcome any of these issues that are related to imperialism, like climate change and sick oceans.
Image credit: Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho