Collaboration and Whanaungatanga – Murngkiji Murkur : a conversation on a 20 year journey of Aboriginal-Māori solidarity.

A conversation at He Manawa Whenua 2017

Teanau Tuiono ( Ngāpuhi / Ngai Takoto / Atiu ) and Jason Daylight ( Garrawa / Barunggam ) have been working together for over 20 years. These collaborations have focused on creative actions and expressions of solidarity manifested across a broad spectrum of Art and Activism. They met at Law School where both of them were studying International Environmental Law and have been working together ever since. Here we talk with both of them about some of the key moments within the 20 year trajectory and highlight the strengths of asserting Indigenous self determination within creatively relational spaces.

Tell us a bit about where you are from?

I was born in Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia, I am Garrwa and Barunggam through my mother but I was ‘adopted’ (under oppressive circumstances) as a baby and was taken as a toddler to Aotearoa/NZ, so I kind of grew up eastside Tamaki Makarau and ended up getting a law degree there. When I returned to the family it was a very profound experience and over the years I made strong connections with the Garrwa side of the family there in the township of Borroloola and around the South West Gulf NT. I am proud to be learning my language slowly and traditions and law and through that I now follow our rebel Elders & family in our homelands struggle with research & communication strategies towards self determination. The region has a strong resistance history there was a 30 year guerrilla resistance and now like others round the world we are facing greater threats from massive mining companies, oppressive state policies – same old.

The McArthur River crossing was ONCE a place of abundance and full of families - let's clean it up for all
The McArthur River crossing was ONCE a place of abundance and full of families – let’s clean it up for all

My father migrated here from the Pacific Islands and my mother was part of the 1960s urbanisation of Māori communities. I am Atiuan, Ngāpuhi and Ngāi Takoto with connections throughout the Taitokerau.

The first protest I went on was the Springbok tour in 81. I was in primary school. But I remember it vividly. We were coming down Khyber Pass, down to Queen St in Auckland. We were living in the belly of the beast – by the Duke of Edinburgh, which was a punk rock pub. My parents ran a takeaway bar there – the neighbourhood then was very culturally diverse our communities it has now been gentrified with most us having moved out to South Auckland.

I remember all of us kids marching down Queen Street chanting “Amandla!” A lot of the conversations I heard as a kid were about Māori Land Rights and the Māori Language. This was due to my mum. I didn’t really make much of it all back then. But as I got older it began to make sense. My mum sent me to a wānanga reo to make us learn Māori; but I think it was also to keep us from hanging out on the streets at night.

It was at the wānanga reo that many things began to click into place for me. Why most Māori didn’t speak Māori; why so many of the previous generation had Pākehā names; and of course the compounded racism I experienced growing up brown in Aotearoa. I experienced racism. It was common, it still is. Cops, teachers etc. When you’re a particular age and brown, the police would pull us over for a random check. They’d go through all our shit. Being stopped by the cops was regular, it was normal.

Stop the Shut Down of Aboriginal Communities in WA
Stop the Shut Down of Aboriginal Communities in WA

Can you tell us what Murngkiji Murkur means to you?

The Elders described this to me as ‘countrymen’ you know, your people and the best way to articulate the extended family, along the lines of our kinship way and also in line with roles and responsibilities attached through that to the land and all the relations. It does not just limit itself to direct family ties but extends beyond Garrwa and out to all of our relations. Despite the impacts of invasion there is still a strong sense of connection throughout NT through skin names too and also in terms of by way of marriage and very important relationships held in that. Part of this is recognised through our in laws and my oldest son who is Māori through his Mother – so when say brothers like Teanau come through we all fit in that way too.

Can you tell us what whanaungatanga means to you?


Firstly a dictionary definition that I just got from the internet:

1. (noun) relationship, kinship, sense of family connection – a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging. It develops as a result of kinship rights and obligations, which also serve to strengthen each member of the kin group. It also extends to others to whom one develops a close familial, friendship or reciprocal relationship.

For me in my activist practise I see whanaungatanga as a way to bring people together to work on a political kaupapa. Having agreement on a political theory or a way of thinking is not enough for me, you have to walk the talk. Because a lot of political organising requires a high level of trust ensuring whanaungatanga happens is essential whether it is having a talanoa with kava or some other process it is important that people connect.


What is one reflection you have on cultural difference?

One of things that stands out for me is the the whole idea of communal house and the important and powerful role the marae plays for Māori. In my mind there is not really the same idea of having a built structure that takes that role for Garrwa, as an example over here. There were some quite epic bark style humpys, beautifully crafted and various large seasonal camps that I have seen in old photos and caves and ceremonial spaces and things. But that struck me as something of significance especially when we host people from Aotearoa or the Pacific. It kind of hints at the different way of being in the space too say of welcoming into a place and also the concept of coming into being, finding place in relating to land and travelling through someone else’s country.


I have found that perspectives on time and space are different, Aboriginal country is big country. I remember driving into Borroloola on this long red road as straight as an arrow for hours and hours nothing but us the occasional animal hopping by and red dust and dirt and bush. In Aotearoa we would have probably have run out of road by then. On that visit one of Jasons uncles had been waiting for him at one of the camps he had been there a week or so he was waiting for Jason to take him for a ride up the road. A ride up the road was like 2.5 hours. In my fathers country – the largest island, Rarotonga only takes 35 minutes to go right around. I remember thinking these large spaces and the distances between places must shape culture and understandings of the world.


When your crew came over for Outback Down Under in Aotearoa how did that build understanding of Māori issues for your mob?


Outback Downunder happened in 2003. It was a powerful trip for all of us I think and on a few different levels. For me it was good to represent as part of a strong Aboriginal crew and i think it was refreshing to see how heaps of my old crew and family in Aotearoa connecting with that. Obviously hip hop and reggae are two massive connectors for our peoples and fusing it with some strong solidarity politics was a real moment. That is where Te Kawau Maro was at and Tauni and Moana Sinclair and brother Teanau. Learning more about the reach of Tino Rangatiratanga, as a revolutionary grassroots movement that is grounded in Māori ways – you know that strong kaupapa approach, I think it kind of shifted some of the perceptions we held about Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


I think everyone was kind of blown away with how strong and similar our issues were at a youth level and how different the experience of hanging out was. Sure the others would have few different reflections – Local Knowledge made up of brothers Abie and Wok Wright (now Street Warriors) and Joel Wenitong Rios aka Dj Weno (now the Last Kinnection) and Ray Kelly aka freeB and Astro Brim’s band Gudabah with Allan and Mo (now in Zennith). Doing the gig in celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1835 was also like, hang on a minute – so this was signed in 1835 recognising the independence and sovereignty of tribes and the way relations were supposed to roll out. This was not just a political exchange. It was not just a cultural collaboration. It was not just a musical coming together. It was much more about – hey this is us, we honour each other’s cultures and our long history of political solidarity between our peoples. It was just a new chapter where solidarity was street wise and lyrical and grounded in strong respect for culture.

I know that you collaborated with Aboriginal activists and artists here in Australia to put together an album against the Northern Territory Intervention, that had Māori, Pasifika, Aboriginal and Torres Strait artists on it. Can you talk a little bit about that initiative?

Solid Territory


The call came out with the NT Intervention in 2007 and we thought that one of the best ways that we can build solidarity is to use art. Solid Territory came about from us wanting to connect and express solidarity through music. It was done in the spirit of Indigenous self-determination and unity.

We went over to Australia to support the mob that were going through the NT Intervention. When we got home we had some heavy raids happening here. There was an armed lock down of the Ruatoki village and right across the country activists that support Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe had their homes raided or were arrested under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

We had gone over to support our brothers and sisters in Australia facing military intervention and I get home and the same thing was happening here. It was ironic to say the least.

There was some great solidarity coming across from that side of the ditch as well. So again, we can try to connect our struggles because sometimes it’s exactly the same sets of circumstances and in that case it was exactly the same week.

Dj Exile and Mau Power

Can you talk to us about the relationship between art and activism?

There is a lot of freedom in art and i think from that comes in part from its ability to harness transformative power. The idea of creative combat came about through our experience of seeing transformative connections grow into a more conscious understanding of shared struggle. Art builds strength and is a marker for the that way we move forward. Speaking up through a Indigenous self determination lens involves challenging the status quo and sometimes it can be interpreted as holding too much counter force and that’s when you start to feel and see the full force of state violence. This took full effect I guess in 2007 with full force enacted by the NZ state with the Urewera raids on Tuhoe and the fabrication of terrorism charges and subsequent imprisonment of activists. I know that shook everyone up and was another moment where we realised that the the colonial project still holds violence in the heart of its system. Art is able to mark these occasions of violence and resistance in a way that also reveals the illusionary nature of the so called democratic society. Our Elders sparked a whole new movement of art in the Gulf country of NT – a movement that is determined to retell stories of frontier violence and a 30 year resistance and heroic feats of our ancestors. These kind of art movements also bring in that transformative power – one way we call it is ngirakar – you know the power that comes from fighting for important things like the land and sacred sites and how that grows when we come and act together as one. Art is also a language that is able to transcend boundaries and cultures and be fun. Unlike say academic disciplines and discourses which I am often stuck in – it’s like wading through thick muddy waters. My thing is video & storyworlds and yeah it’s been a powerful shaper of how I be part of our storytelling tradition. As we strive for greater understanding we are now reaching new audiences and levels of knowledge sharing through collaborations we would never of thought of years ago. This worldmaking potential speaks to notions of renewal within stories of the land and I am really committed to continue integrating this with my research practices as a strategic way for communicating sustainable autonomy.

Reflecting on this in an academic sort of context (like at this years He Manawa Whenua) was cathartic, especially when considering how we are taking up what Moana Jackson articulates as a reclamation of the truth in our own power (Jackson 2017). Relational collaboration then offers us a way to orientate our shared experiences and enact powers and processes that counter dispossession and conceptualise meaning within our own culturally deployed worldmaking practices.

Can you tell us about the struggle against extraction industries in Borroloola?


Elders from all four tribes and clans around Borroloola have been in a long struggle to stop mining. From Red Bank mine in Garrwa country from decades ago until more recent disasters like the McArthur River Mine (MRM) on Gunanji lands – the idea of mining I think has always been fought against. The campaign to shut down Glencore’s MRM facility sparked up again in 2013 when the huge man-made tailings mountain ignited into a massive burning waste rock that they could not put out, spewing toxic sulphuric fumes into the sky. The leaching clearly had impacts on the river systems and the air quality, and even to the point that exported cattle from the area were slaughtered due to high levels of toxins in them. But it is not just the impacts of current mines but the huge push for development happening in the NT especially for oil and gas exploration and fracking. I think one of the issues is just having the right information to make informed decisions about what happens on your lands and in and around your community or town. Through Elders directions for solidarity and combined efforts of activists there has been good information and support for traditional owners to say no.

This has come about also through some of the great grassroots work done through grounded environmental organisations and collectives. Over 85% of the NT has approved mining exploration licences and that basically means if they find something it all good to go. The only title with enough strength to say no to this development rampage is Aboriginal Land under the Land Rights act, and so far it is proving to be a last bastion against the complete extraction and destruction of some of the most pristine areas left in Australia. There is a new pipeline about to be constructed that everyone is worried about as it will open up NT and yet the new Territory Labor govt is still pushing this development open for business way forward for the region. So I think one thing that alot of on the ground mob are doing is trying to unify the clans, tribes and organisations around more of a protect country ethos and offering up a just transition strategies for a more sustainable and renewable world in the future. We are now moving beyond the bounds of the colonial project and are more mindful of the need to no longer submit or legitimise colonising power regimes.

How do we build solidarity and where to from here?
Solidarity seems to have most meaning when it is founded on creating a relationship of substance. Say with our clan it has involved really long term strategic relations of shared visions for healthy lands and strong kids and keeping those important cultural values and ceremonies going. Building trust and being true to your word say in action has been a big one for me and sometimes a personal connection can forge powerful trajectories for change. Talking about Murnjiki Murjku the Elders would say our countrymen or all of our relations that very important. Our extended family is growing and in the same old fashioned way it used too, over time and with purpose, trust, responsibility and reciprocity. Working hard, like doing the dishes and paying the bills, and sharing the space of collaboration generously and with humility. In this highly mediated world of social media that solidarity has come to mean more in the moment things and perhaps that is building upon a greater understanding of our shared universal values that we are all working towards.

But in the long term what has come out of the last 20 years of collaborations and solidarity actions. I think one of the most exciting things is seeing all the connections coming through over the years, through the generations and this is a new era because these are now meaningful international connections. I mean it’s quite amazing how most people know each other in this space or have some connection (yeah I crashed on your couch etc) and i think that international family vibe is a key to a new style and form of solidarity within a journey of resistance. Where to from here? A few things. It is important to stay grounded in a realm of creative potential but do some deeper collaborative work around protecting the whenua in climate crisis. This may take the form say of shared knowledge projects that build upon relational experiences of our peoples in different spatial contexts. But in saying that we will be keeping a focus on creating educational experiences and things for our tamariki as a key part of the sustainability of outcomes and grassroots actions. Those moments will hopefully help us flesh out relational collaboration as a fluid and responsive action based way to meet some of challenges we all face. This also means we still all get to hang out, and that’s ultimately what it’s all about, family.



De Santolo, J. Conceptualising research and consultation within a creative doctorate,
Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, Conference Proceeding, International Indigenous Development Research Conference Proceedings, 2015, pp. 16 – 23 (7)

Moana Jackson He Manawa Whenua Keynote 2017

A Pasifika Doctor talks about the Junior Doctor strike – an interview with Dr Maria Peach

Kia orana kotou katoatoa

Dr Maria Peach is a part of the Pacific Panther Network and was on strike as a junior doctor. #PPN asks her some questions about why she was on strike and how this issue impacts our Māori and Pasifika communities.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Our mother comes from the Cook Islands, our grandparents from Mangaia, Rarotonga, Atiu and Mitiaro. Our father is from the U.K, our grandparents from England, Ireland and Scotland.
Our Cook Islands grandparents were part of the migration to Aotearoa in the 60s and lived initially on Franklin Road in Ponsonby, where they have all the Christmas lights now. They were part of the move out south, being offered state housing so the inner city, could essentially be gentrified. Our roots are centred in Ōtara, Papatoetoe and Mangere. We have connections in Ōtāhuhu and further south to Manurewa and Papakura. Basically Manukau City is home.
After a number of years working in hospitality in Australia, I came home to do medicine and have just returned back to Tāmaki Makaurau after living in Whangarei and Ōtepoti . It’s awesome to be home.

Dr Maria Peach
Dr Maria Peach

What is the junior doctors strike about?
Its about keeping hospitals safe for people. It’s the 2nd strike, lasting 3 days for our union members, who range from doctors in the first year out of medical school, to up to 12 years experience.
We want to reduce a 12 day roster to 10 days and 7 nights to 3, around all hospitals in Aotearoa.
We work these rosters in an environment that has changed over the years. The population has increased, cases have become more complex with people having many health issues. The political environment has also changed and hence health policy has changed. We are asked to work these rosters in conditions that are tailored to suit the market and not the needs of people. Some rosters around the country have already been changed but many haven’t.

Why are these issues important to you?
The main reason is safety. Working 12 days in a row and 7 nights in a row, takes its toll. The quality of care we give patients, isn’t the greatest under fatigue. Making decisions when we are tired can lead to mistakes and none of us like giving that kind of care. We want to reduce the days we work, to reduce the risk of harming people we care for.
How does this impact on Pacific and Māori communities?
Many of our people use public hospitals and this is the quality of care they are receiving. They are being cared for by overworked and tired doctors when already having difficulty accessing healthcare in the community due to expense and the costs of living. To come to hospital and to be treated by fatigued doctors who have an increased risk of making mistakes because we are tired, is unacceptable.

How has neoliberalism impacted on health services for our communities?
Neoliberalism, the idea the market rules and there should be less government responsibility and more individual responsibility for health choices, has a huge impact on the well-being of our Pacific and Māori communities.
For example the impact of factors like gentrification, poverty, racism and funding cuts to services, are largely ignored under neoliberalism.
Governments have a responsibility to ensure good health for people as well.
Many of our communities are experiencing gentrification, so wealthy investors can make a buck off the land our homes are situated in. Whānau are losing their homes they have had for decades. This is destructive to their well-being.
In the GP setting, Māori are discriminated against and are less likely to be referred to specialists care than non- Māori. This means they are treated less quicker than non-Māori. Neoliberal philosophy holds individuals responsible for health choices, but this is clearly not an individual choice to be referred less by GPs to specialist care.
Many of our Pacific and Māori communities contributed to building companies like Fisher and Paykel. Recently there has been restructuring and in an effort to save money, jobs were cut at the East Tamaki factory leaving over 100 whānau jobless. The decision to let people go, was not an individual choice but a company choice. The health and well being of these whānau will be severely impacted with the loss of incomes.
Neoliberalism pumps out health messages about individuals taking responsibility for their health, while neglecting all the structural factors.
It’s not good enough, that our people internalise these messages on health while governments ignore their social responsibilities. There is no place for neoliberalism in health care.

Catching up with the Kava Club – ( an interview with Leilani A Visesio )

Kava Club is a Pacific and Māori arts collective based in Wellington which holds monthly arts events in the capital for artists and community. Kava club creatives work across different artforms including music, dance, theatre, inter-arts, film, visual arts and multidisciplinary. The events take place all over the city at various venues, from art galleries to open spaces to bars and the street. I like to think of them as my peeps in Wellington. They look like me, sound like me and are interested in the same things I am interested in. I also love an excuse to get together with good folks to eat island food. They have gatherings called chop suey hui that explore themes relating to our lived realities. Themes like ‘$25 and a dream’ and “Ten Guitars – celebrating Pasifika & Māori Musika”. They’ve even let me, an islander from the bogan outlands drop some knowledge at a couple of gatherings. Here we talk with one of the originators, Leilani.

Hey you the chop suey crew

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Leilani Angela Visesio. I was born in Tamaki Makaurau, later we moved down to Welly and moved around a bit until we settled in Strathmore, where my Mum and brothers still live in a 3 bedroom state house overlooking the airport and Lyall Bay from one side of the hill and behind them Breaker Bay. My Mum came to Aotearoa in 1966 when she was only 20 years old because she had a broken heart. The love of her life contracted tuberculosis and she nursed him until he passed. She continued her training as a nurse when she settled in Wellington at Bowen Hospital but had more babies besides me and momentarily stopped as life started to get in the way of her career. She’s my inspiration.

What inspires your community organising?

In Samoan culture we have a concept called ‘tautua’, where you serve your family, village and so forth. If you are a leader then ‘to lead is to serve’. My first exposure to activists on the fringes outside the mainstream was when I was a member of a Wellington punk band called Loosehead , I was in my mid 20s. I encountered anarcha fems amongst other things and met cool people like Lyn and Ross, Kieran aka Mr Sterile Assembly. Then I had my tangata whenua mates like La, Carmen and Marz who were all pretty staunch in their Maoritanga. I joined a takataapui kapa haka group called He Manu Ano for a bit and so forth. I watched my mum and her interactions with our immediate community as I was growing up. Anything she had to give to somebody who needed it, she did it – without question or expectation of reciprocation. If she thought something or somebody was being ethically fucked she’d call it. Even if it meant losing a friendship over it. She could not stand injustice.

Is there a crossover between your DJ work and community organising?

Definitely! I’ve been doing it for 20 odd years now and it’s a tool in my bag of tricks that I’ve always used for community. I was a founding member of Box Events (now Box Oceania)and we use to do parties and would choose a non-profit to give the proceeds to. I thought it was a good way to one-up capitalist gay stream and privileged queers, but also to challenge other Box members, rather than complaining about the lack of spaces for brown queers, and the lack of creativity in the queer scene we can create things for ourselves. My Mum comes from a place where butter and bread are considered a luxury, so I think what it’s instilled in me is this unwavering belief that you can create something out of essentially nothing.

50 Shades of Brown at 17 Tory Street
50 Shades of Brown at 17 Tory Street

How did the Kava club come about?

Partly me challenging Herbee to focus his energy outside of his job at the time, because I know it was hard for him dealing with the institutional racism where he was and partly me being a hustler, but it really started to develop with other people present at our very first meeting at 17 Tory St in the city about two years ago. Kava Club began to be fleshed out of ideas that had come from people who had turned up to an ‘open meeting’ we held.

What do you love most about working with the Kava club crew?

Not having to always take the lead, hearing other people’s ideas and opinions on stuff and just genuinely catching up when we haven’t seen each other in aeons. Also, seeing what everybody is doing with their own art practice or community engagement. They’re like family.

February 2015 - The Brave at Hannah Playhouse.
The Brave at Hannah Playhouse.

How do ya’ come up with the different themes?

Art Not War

It’s really spontaneous sometimes or somebody may have an idea they’ve been working on for a bit and need other people to help develop it. Or somebody has a firm idea and we all support it…it changes all the time but I love how Kava Club is 100% most of the time open to whatever.

Native Shit

Ya’ll won a Wellington Airport Regional Community Award could you tell us a bit about that?

We won up and coming new group, I think because we are ‘Arts’ based some of us felt a bit shallow in comparison to some of the other community groups but hey we worked our butts off and what we do is important. One of the main goals from our inception was to create ‘brown’ spaces in the inner city where Māori / Pasifika artists, students and community can hang, while providing a platform that allows us to inspire and teach each other. I think we’ve achieved some of those goals, and some of them changed due to Kava Club being a developing entity, growing organically as we mosey along. We really did want more youth on board but what’s happened is that they come and go which is cool too, currently Kava Club is a core group but we’re always open to new people joining. I guess it’s healthy.

photo credit: Mishelle Muagututi’a

What sort of projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m happy to be supporting an initiative led by Kassie called Paiaka. Paiaka is a community project starting up in Te Whanganui-a-Tara this year that aims to connect people with the whenua, with knowledge and tools, and most importantly, with each other. It’s cool to see younger people trying to refine the art of resistance and what that entails.

Kava Club is also currently working on a Creative NZ funded six month program which will take us into 2017. We recently just finished doing a reading of a play called Fale Sa for actor/director Nathaniel Lees which was a first for us, considering none of us are trained-actors, it was a pretty cool exercise. It deals with christianity and pre-missionary beliefs, and I look forward to seeing it debut in the not too distant future.

Luisa Tora, Ana Te Whaiti and Molly Rangiwai McHale are bringing down an exhibition to coincide with Pride next March, 2017. I’m helping fellow Kava Club member Jamie Berry to host and support those guys. Luisa talks about that exhibition in the Pasefika issue of Fightback. Plug, plug lol, there’s also an interview with Teanau in it hahaha. Oh and that’s the first time I’ve put the ‘editor’ hat on. I’ve got a few other things on the back burner for the new year also which I can take my time developing and for 2018 I will be putting on a ‘new’ hat but I’m not allowed to talk about it beyond that lolz.

How are our struggles connected? How do we build solidarity?

I recently watched a documentary on Gully Queens in Jamaica. The transphobia and homophobia there is mind-blowing but there was a guy in there advocating on behalf of the gully queens who was a rich queen, and he was asked by the interviewer why was he doing it because he was financially okay and deemed socially acceptable by society by Jamaican standards, and he said the Gully Queens were the touchstone of how far the LGBTQI movement had progressed in Jamaica and that as long as the Gully Queens were treated like scum then rich queens like himself are not and never will be truly free.

Isn’t solidarity something that is inherent in people of colour around the globe?  I have my culture and who I am to always guide me it’s interesting to see how everybody relates with each other and helps each other out on things that matter to them. Sometimes I think it’s a bit bald headed and clinical the way some groups work but I guess they can’t help that because of who they are.

Can you tell us about a moment of solidarity (between communities of colour in Aotearoa) that inspires you?

I find this hard to answer because one, I’m partly not aware of all the groups that are out there and two I’ve never visibly seen many communities of colour working together for eg ‘upping the refugee quota’, but first and foremost my go to is well what do tangata whenua think and feel about an issue, and I let that be my guide on whether I can put my hand up to help or whatevs. Somebody mentioned to me ‘Standing Rock…’ but all I’ve seen is people saying they support the movement, I haven’t actively seen groups working together towards a specific goal. The last cool thing for me was the Polynesian Panthers and Bastion Point, just cool to see Pacific peeps not buying into the bullshit and supporting our natives here.

Panthers @ Coconut Grove 2016
Panthers @ Coconut Grove 2016

How can people connect with the group?

Come to one of our monthly Chop Suey Hui events, PM us on FB, email us Most of us are quite approachable lolz.


Talking Tiriti with ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga’ ( an interview with MZ on politics and solidarity )

It is Waitangi Day at Waitangi – the usual banners are flying supporting various Tino Rangatiratanga aligned kaupapa. Among them a banner with ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiranga’ is attracting attention. We sat down with MZ to talk about the group, activism and building solidarity between communities.
Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga with Marama Davidson at Waitangi 2016

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you into activism?

Ko Panshan te maunga
Ko Haihe te awa
Ko Tianjin tōku rohe
Nō Haina ahau
Ko MZ tōku ingoa

Da jia hao, I was born in northern China, migrated to Tāmaki Makaurau with my family in the mid 1990s. My grandparents are from Southwest China and central East, they were also migrants who left their hometowns for the big city to be factory workers and teachers. I’d say my grandparents are an indirect inspiration for my activism, learning from them about contemporary Chinese history – the famines, violence and poverty they survived from Japanese imperialism to civil war/revolution and then a state communist dictatorship.

In Aotearoa, I got involved in activism around 2005, first through anti-war, environmental and animal rights movements. I was in 5th form at the time and I also had a really good history teacher who talked about her involvement in the Springbok Tour and we were learning about Black Civil Rights, so understanding some of that history made me see that change through collective direct action is not only possible, but necessary.

How did Asians supporting Tino Rangatiratanga form?

This is a bit of a long story and I can only tell part of the story. I want to start by acknowledging the older generations because we are not the first Asians to be supporting tino rangatiratanga in Aotearoa. There were Asian treaty workers, people in Asian communities pushing for treaty education for migrants since the 1990s. Farida Sultana of Shakti was one of the people to challenge Pākehā treaty workers to make this education more accessible for migrants and incorporate this into migrant settlement projects. This history is still something we haven’t fully learnt about, and I’m not sure if it’s even written down, but luckily these people are still around and we’ve been fortunate enough to have met them now.

Then there were people like Mai Chen, Tze Ming Mok and Wai Ho, Ruth DeSouza, Manying Ip who have written about the treaty and colonisation or Māori-Chinese relationships in Aotearoa that encourages more Asian engagement and support for indigenous rights.

Tze Ming Mok one of the organisers of an anti-racist march organised in response to racist attacks in Wellington. (2004) “Do you know why some of us dread election year? Māori, Pacific and Asian people, refugees, people of the middle East and Africa, we’ll all undergo a miraculous transformation – from human beings, into political footballs. “
The march coincided with a New Zealand National Front demonstration against Asian immigration.

I had been exposed to the struggle for tino rangatiratanga through Māori activists I met from being involved in social justice, union and environmental movements.

When I was involved in activism in the early years, it was super rare to see another Chinese face around. So when I read Wai’s writing in the first Mellow Yellow zine talking about being Chinese on colonised land, I really connected with that and later connected with him. He used to do stuff with ARC (not sure if it’s Anti-Racist Crew or Aotearoa Reality Check), which was a mostly Pākehā group and they were mobilised around the Foreshore and Seabed Bill in 2004.  In 2007, he was part of organising a conference called “Sweet As?: Ethnic and Pākehā NZers talk identity and dominance on colonised land” and asked me to speak about activism and being Chinese on colonised land. I made some really important connections from that conference including Moana Jackson who has been really supportive of our rōpū.

Space, Race, Bodies II Conference, Ōtepoti, May 2016

After that conference, in 2007, the “anti-terror” raids happened. That was real in-your-face in terms of demonstrating that colonialism never ended.

I think in 2008, I went up to Waitangi just after the October 15th “Anti-Terror” raids with my Pākehā friends as we were doing solidarity stuff around that. They had a banner that said “Pākehā stand with Tūhoe” and asked if I wanted to hold it. I think I didn’t, but stood with them at the end but it just felt really lonely, like “where are my people at?”

Waitangi 2008
Waitangi 2008

Then in 2009, I went for a visit to see my family in China and brought this book that my friend gave me Jade Taniwha: Māori-Chinese Identity and Schooling in Aotearoa. That book gave me a better understanding of the relationships between Māori and Chinese in Aotearoa and how colonialism operated in Aotearoa. When I was in China, I contacted Wai about going up to Waitangi in 2010, ‘what do you think about going up with an “Asians supporting tino rangatiratanga” banner?’ He was keen, and he drafted a leaflet about why Asians should support tino rangatiratanga. We got in touch with the two other Asian people we met through activism, Shasha and Tania and we went up together. The response was mixed at that time, a few Pākehās being like, “good on you.”

We persisted in the groups and movements we were part of, mainly Asian feminist spaces to connect up people of Asian backgrounds interested in social justice activism, to examine the ways that we are also complicit in colonisation as settlers despite experiencing other forms of oppression. Thinking back, we spent a lot of time on building relationships and connections, organising hui, events and supporting in actions.

Fast forward to 2015. This is a kind of comical meeting story. I was at Waitangi on Waitangi day, on the hīkoi with my flatmate and her family who weren’t Asian, and I had the Asian Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga banner but nobody to hold it with. So I literally went up to the first person in the crowd that looked Asian and said, “um, I don’t mean to be presumptive, but would you wanna hold this banner with me?” and I showed her what it said. She then called over a friend who was also Asian and it turned out they were going to the Network Waitangi hui as well and were feeling weird about being asked to hold a “Pākehā against raupatu” banner. So this all started because of the Pākehā banners lol. Then we started talking and had a wee caucus at the Network Waitangi hui about how our backgrounds differ from Pākehā when it comes to treaty work and relationship to tangata whenua.

It wasn’t until this year that we became an actual group rather than an informal network. This year, about six of us Asians, including Amenda and Julie who I met in 2015, went up to Waitangi to be part of the Network Waitangi hui. Each person has their own story of how they got to this kaupapa. Most of us already knew each other before and had conversations about the limitations of Pākehā treaty work for migrants of colour but we connected up again up there. But another catalyst was when Marama Davidson made a post about us that went viral. It was encouraging to see that we’re on the right track with the amount of support from Māori. We suddenly started getting people contacting us for interviews and we were like, “okay, let’s get together and form a group.” There is still a lot of work to do in our communities and we never had the capacity or this many people together to work on this kaupapa before and felt like it was time to get more organised. So that’s how the group started.

In Aotearoa, “Asian” is often used to mean East Asian, but we use it more broadly to cover all of Asia from parts of Turkey to Indonesia. It’s a hugely diverse continent and Asian peoples cannot be homogenised. We all have very different histories of colonialism as colonised and coloniser countries. We really encourage all migrants from Asia to join us, or start your own group for supporting tino rangatiratanga.

Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga Panel at Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change conference, Wellington, September 2016

How are our struggles connected? How do we build solidarity?

I guess we’ve been connected through already existing relationships between communities. The struggles of Asian migrants especially around discrimination, marginalisation and scapegoating in Aotearoa needs to be understood in a context of colonial capitalist white supremacy locally and globally. Our struggles are connected through the structures created by colonial capitalism and our lived understandings of racism and white supremacy. But I think it’s really important for people of colour settlers to understand that systemic racism affects tangata whenua differently to migrants and we are still complicit in colonisation living on colonised land.

The dominant culture loves to play indigenous peoples and migrants of colour off against each other so they can maintain their system of power. An example is when Pākehā talk about “Asian invasion” and more recently, “Chinese colonisation” of Aotearoa and thinking like they know what it feels like to be Māori, appropriating indigeneity to spread xenophobia. This conveniently distracts from the systemic and structural problems that create conditions of inequality and divisions, so we’re too busy fighting each other and inscribing blame on the bodies of visible migrants for all the problems of colonial capitalism than uniting to dismantle their system that oppresses the majority of the world. On the other hand, for Asian migrants learning anti-Māori racism and anti-Pasifika racism is a huge part of assimilating to whiteness/the colonial culture and accepting the model minority myth. We are often by default entrenching settler colonialism.

If we look at the history of immigration policies and the history of prisons in Aotearoa, the colonial state was simultaneously trying to keep Asians “out” through the poll tax and other discriminatory policies and keep Māori “in” through the prison system.

Another way our struggles are connected is through global colonialism because many of the places we have come from has been under colonial and imperialist occupations or been colonial occupiers as well. For example, my hometown was occupied by the Eight-Nation-Alliance. British imperialism through the Opium Wars in the 1800s led to the Qing Dynasty being forced to sign unequal treaties that included concessions to imperialist powers such as Britain, US, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Germany and Japan. The concessions were between 1860 – 1947, around the same time Britain was confiscating Māori land in Aotearoa.

In terms of solidarity, I’ve been really grateful to learn from Māori activists about the importance of relationships and whanaungatanga in building solidarity. I think this is really important for long-term sustained solidarity.

As a practical strategy, I think one of the ways we can support is by taking responsibility to engage and mobilise our own communities to stand with tangata whenua against ongoing colonisation. We’re also open to suggestions on what else we could do to contribute.

Can you tell us about a moment of solidarity (between communities of colour in Aotearoa) that inspires you?

After the Albert Park attacks on Asian international students earlier this year, some of the members of UoA Feminists of Colour organised a public forum that brought together Asian, Pasifika and Māori speakers and communities to hear an alternative analysis of what’s going on and tackle the issues of racism, policing, education exploitation and safety.

This was organised after another forum where politicians, police and head of education institutions spoke about the importance of Asian international students safety (with the undertone that they need protection because they are good for the economy), but did not address racism at all. In fact, some of them made racist remarks about the offenders, blaming their family for their violence, proposed harsher penalties looking to prison and more police solutions.

In an effort to bring communities together in solidarity to address this, there were speakers that addressed the lateral violence happening between Asian and Pasifika communities. It was inspiring to see Asian, Māori and Pasifika communities bridging that social distance and having a dialogue. This event was also translated live in Mandarin.

I have heard many other stories of and seen visible Māori support for migrant and refugee rights in Aotearoa, and it’s really heartwarming to see that kind of generosity and solidarity.

We need more people from migrant backgrounds standing up for indigenous rights too. We wrote an open letter to Don Brash about his little Hobson’s Pledge project, hopefully to nip his leveraging of multiculturalism for anti-Māori racism in the bud. This is like the visible political support, but the relationships built through being involved in movements – the friendships – are ultimately what has the power to shift things.

I am really optimistic that recently groups/networks like Pacific Panther Network and Racial Equity Aotearoa have come together and have been doing amazing work on mobilising communities of colour to stand in solidarity against injustices happening in the Pacific and worldwide. These groups and how they do solidarity really inspire me, the cross-cultural and intergenerational respect, sharing and care is really beautiful to be part of. #PolyAsianUnity2k17 lol

Pacific Panthers 2016

How can people connect with the group?

We have a Facebook page, Twitter and an email list where we send out irregular newsletters. You can sign up by emailing

We are always looking for people who can translate to non-English languages so we can communicate better with Asian migrant communities.

Most of us are based in Tāmaki Makaurau, but there are a few people in Pōneke and Te Wai Pounamu part of the wider network. Please feel free to get in touch!

Rapping with REA – Racial Equity Aotearoa – ( an interview with Aaryn Marsh Niuapu )

Today we sit down with Aaryn Marsh Niuapu to talk about Racial Equity Aotearoa a group committed to Indigenous mana motuhake and the dismantling of systemic racism in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you into activism?

‘He whatitiri ki te rangi, ko Te Arawa ki te whenua, tihei mauri ora’. My mother is from Ngāti Whakaue (Tunohopu) and Taranaki; and my father is Samoan from Nofoali’i and Leulumoega.

I didn’t grow up in activist circles, not because I didn’t think activism was important but because I grew up with constant dysfunctional whānau dynamics, and I struggled with mental health issues in my teen years.

It wasn’t until I met a strong wahine toa, Alesha, who gave me the confidence to strengthen my identity and the courage to stand up for what I’ve always believed in: social justice.

Essentially I grew up with an awareness of oppression, injustice and systemic racism but it was my now hoa rangatira who both challenged and guided me to action that awareness.

Alesha comes from a long line of strong wāhine toa, and the mana of her tīpuna is evident in her passion for mana motuhake and her engagement with our people.

How did REA form?

The formation of Racial Equity Aotearoa occurred early this year, around the time when Tawha and Leef were given jail sentences for getting Trout for their whānau but a group of Pākēhā stole $80k of private property and got a slap on the wrist. I think the blatant racism in this case plus the omnipresent reality of our own experiences with racism and police harassment, just boiled over one night. Alesha turned to me and said, “we need to do something and make a stand in our generation.”

We had started the bare bones of a community-centred policy project called Mana Tangata a couple of months prior (after feeling encouraged to ‘do something’ after listening to an inspiring talk by Sina Brown-Davis at a March hui honouring the wāhine of the Polynesian Panthers). Come end of May we decided to re-focus our passion on mana motuhake and social equity.

Around the same time Alesha and I went to this awesome performance at the Basement Theatre, it was called ‘White/Other’ and it would change our lives forever. That night we connected with some tūmeke people, leaders in their own right, and essentially this group ended up being the original core whānau of REA.

We came up with the name Racial Equity Aotearoa, quickly made a FB and Twitter, and then things just started snowballing. We went live on May 28th, the anniversary of the English Laws Act 1858, as an initial protest against colonial violence and white supremacy in Aotearoa.


How are our struggles connected? How do we build solidarity?

Whether it be locality like Aotearoa and Moana-nui-a-kiwa or economic like late-neoliberal-capitalism, we are all connected in some way to certain contexts of struggle. Something that really stood out for me this year was the power of Indigenous whakawhanaungatanga and tikanga in regards to Standing Rock. It seems like solidarity cements through building community by whakawhanaungatanga, manaakitanga, and holding onto what is sacred. It’s about connection. Strengthening relationships and friendships might not seem like revolutionary things but they are. Solidarity is about meaningful relationships not organising events.

Can you tell us about a moment of solidarity that inspires you?

There was a rally organised by Indian Students facing deportation, it was outside Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi’s office in Papatoetoe back in early October. It was awesome to see the students voicing their disgust at the immigration system, the exploitative visa agents, as well as National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi. One of the students did this mean as street performance and even though I couldn’t understand the language I picked up the mauri of his message. We ended up giving a few tautoko speeches and did the REA haka to manaaki the students in their campaign. What really stood out though was the connecting. There needs to be more whakawhanaungatanga between communities, to dismantle systemic racism and lateral violence together. Though these should always operate within the wider goal of mana motuhake and constitutional transformation. It’s exciting really, thinking about the strength and potential solidarity between Tangata Whenua and PoC Tangata Tiriti.

What sort of actions or campaigns are you working on at the moment?

At the moment we’re working on a couple of kaupapa heading into 2017.

We’re slowly building whakawhanaungatanga with more community-driven actions, like the whānau out at Ihumātao. Part of REA’s values is to make sure that we never talk on behalf or dictate community movements. So as of present we’re forming links of solidarity with whānau and offering tautoko to their fights for social justice.

Part of our ongoing mahi with dismantling systemic racism centres on building meaningful relationships with and between communities. A facet of this is acknowledging both Colonial-State oppression towards Mana Whenua as well as the impact of border imperialism upon our migrant, especially migrants of colour whānau. I think this is a very delicate kaupapa, because the government and media stoke negative stereotypes that can fuel narratives of lateral violence between Tangata Whenua and PoC Tangata Tiriti.

This leads into another ongoing kaupapa of REA’s which is more or less a call for constitutional transformation by the year 2040. We’re not setting out to reinvent the wheel, rather seeing how we can play our part in bringing to fruition the dream set out in the ‘Matike Mai’ report released earlier this year. We see a reconfigured political scene that honours tikanga, He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi as pivotal in the fight to dismantle systemic racism. We’ll be voicing this whakaaro as part of a shadow report to the U.N ‘Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’.

REA is also organising a grassroots wananga at the Auckland CBD Library, the Saturday after Waitangi weekend, which will centre on ‘Tino Rangatiratanga today’. There’s been significant re-narrating of mana motuhake over the past 10 years, even the last couple of years there’s been interesting community developments. For me, movements like ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga’ epitomize the courageous re-narrating of our generation’s activists and community organisers.


How can people connect with the group?

Whānau can connect with us on our Racial Equity Aotearoa Facebook page or flick us an email at
We’re always keen to kōrero and whakawhanaungatanga.

From Arctic tundra to Pacific ocean: Talking story with Sámi Activist Jenni Laiti

“As the ice melts under our feet we think of our brothers and sisters fighting for climate justice in the Pacific, today we all stand together!” – Jenni Laiti

We are standing in a circle at Notre Dame, Paris – which is on the ile de cite – (the city island in french) – we are occupying their islands because of the impact of climate change on our pacific islands. The metaphor is appropriately poetic particularly for three of the indigenous factions organising on the streets of Paris. Sámi, Pacific and our brothers and sisters from Turtle Island. The Sámi have brought with them a stone from the Arctic tundra to give to us. The stone has arrived in Paris as a part of the ‘Run for your life relay’. A relay about climate justice timed to coincide with Cop21 – the Paris Climate Change conference. I envision that the stone has a mauri, a life force, an essence, a story perhaps imbued in its core telling us the different ways the Arctic tundra is a relative of the Pacific ocean.

Take a stone in your hand and close your fist around it until it starts to beat, live, speak and move – Nils-Aslak Valkeapää

The protest is not legal. A ‘State of Emergency’ has been called in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. On the evening of Friday 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated attacks occurred in Paris. The attackers killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre, where they took hostages before engaging in a stand-off with police. Another 368 people were injured, 80–99 seriously. As usual the State uses this as an excuse to shut down political dissent. Sports games continue to be played despite one of the bombs going off at Stade de France, a sports stadium.

occupying islands - occupying notre dame
Île de la Cité – Notre Dame

We get our local French speaking friends to tell the big goons with machine guns parading the area that actually we are good friendly catholics ( we aren’t), on a pilgrimage to pray to Jesus. We figure that will give us enough time to have our ceremony before they start getting annoyed. To be fair we have a pastor from Tahiti with us so I figure Jesus wouldn’t mind, the banners and subsequent chanting are however definitely not biblical.

Pacific oceans and Arctic tundra are invoked and our collective ancestors respected; along with the knowledge that our struggles are an intimately connected eco-system. The ceremony ends around about the time the goons with the guns start asking where our permit is from the Church.

Photo credit: Allan Lissner – Indigenous Environmental Network

Among the Sámi is Jenni Laiti an indigenous anarchist. My partner in activist crime, Sina says – hey bro someone like us. Cool.

For some anarchism is more than just a series of theories and strategies on dismantling capitalism, it forms the core part of their identity. For some it sits alongside a primary identity along with some others, I’m a bit that way myself. Meeting Indigenous activists that use the organising tools that are typified with anarchism is like meeting an old friend from your hometown.

How did they get there? Did they travel on the same roads to arrive here in this the same ideological place at this exact time?

I thought it would be good to talk with her a little bit about indigeneity, anarchism and Climate Change.

Photo credit: Kristian Buus

How did you come to anarchist style of organising?

Well I had worked for the Sámi Parliament for a while and we would write a lot asking the Government to listen but they wouldn’t and it was very frustrating. All of this writing and no action. They wouldn’t listen. There was a protest in Gállok resisting against an iron ore mine that was on our traditional territories. I felt like the land was calling me to be there. The site is near Jokkmokk, an important Sámi town just above the Arctic circle.

There were a lot of people from all over the world. We were protesting the owners of the mine a British company, Beowulf Mining PLC and its Swedish subsidiary, Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB. When I first got there there were environmentalists there. It was about protecting the river and the environment but within a month it became an Indigenous rights issue. If the mine is opened, the migration route and utilisation of winter pastures will be endangered for three Sámi reindeer herding communities. Our traditional way of living would slowly die out and the land would never recover. We have seen it in other places. We made Gállok a Sámi rights issue, there was a lot of violence from the police with a lot of media and people could see how Sweden were treating Indigenous Peoples. The environmentalists were like ‘we don’t represent anyone we are anarchists.’ At the time I just wanted to organise so I would get pissed off at them but when I look back they were right. We had these groups to support the Sámi reindeer community, local environmentalists and the sweden national environmentalists – so a lot of different people.

So we went there and I said hey should we do some Artivist thing – we could do this blockade with Art. A lot of cool things happened, many people established themselves as artists for example. It was the beginning for many of us.

I became an anarchist there. People ask if I want to be an artivist or an activist but I say right now – I call myself an anarchist. This allows me to be free. A lot of what we achieved at Gállok was because of anarchist ways of organising. To decolonize and indigenize we need to destroy the colonial structures and anarchism is a powerful way to do it.

Gállok Resistance Movement is self-organizing movement – it´s like an ecosystem. In our ecosystem we have small groups who are working inside a bigger groups. We have good alliances, coalitions and networks of different groups. The movement is free and anarchistic. It doesn’t have a leader, organisation or campaign, the resistance is rising from the grassroots. In our ecosystem, when something happens, it has a snowball effect. It´s growing, gathering, affecting, spreading, continuing, reaching, changing.

Sámi protestPhoto credit : Daniel Voskoboynik

Tell us a bit about where you come from?

Where we come from in the arctic we communicate with the trees, the rocks and the earth. The environment is very sensitive so we have learn to listen which means people tend to be quiet. We have a special connection with reindeer without them we would not have survived here for 10,000 years, because on the tundra nothing is growing. Reindeer gives us everything, clothing, food, eating the stomach gives us much needed minerals. we use every part. My grandma made even her own soap with reindeer bones. We do not own them instead we say they are owned by the wind. We do not farm them because they are free grazing animals who are meant to wander. We migrate with them. It is a colonial way to see animals as lesser. Animals are equal to people. They are our first priority, when they suffer we suffer.

I think the main reasons why our movement has achieved so much in such a short time is that Jokkmokk is a strong Sámi centre, with lot of Sámi and many Sámi reindeer herding communities, who have good collaboration and resources. In Jokkmokk there are also strong individuals who take the fight and they have good networks.

How do you think we can decolonise the Climate Change movement?

On one hand there is a lot of talk acknowledging that Indigenous Peoples are on the Frontlines of Climate Change particularly by big personalities like Naomi Klein who have inspired the movement to say that we Indigenous Peoples should take our place at the front of the climate movement. On the other hand I feel pressure from the NGOs who I have been working with – they say well yes you are on the frontlines and you should go first – but can you share your solutions with us. I feel that they don’t get it. They are in some ways exploiting us and using us as photo opportunities. They need to first respect us and to listen to what we have to say with integrity.

It some ways it is delusional to be in Paris we were there for this big moment. Having a local struggle like what is happening in Gállok makes the struggle real because it is hard to connect global ideas like climate change

It is great but it is disconnected with the reality of our people back at home. When I come home to my village I see that we as a people need to gather as a herd. People are not yet awake but the issues are so urgent we instead need to be running. There is this saying that the movement cannot go faster than the people.

How can indigenous peoples connect on anarchist perspectives?

It seems to me to a natural fit we are made to act it is really important in our culture to do things collectivity – it is also a big process of decolonisation, how do we decolonise together even with us here in the Indigenous world. If we want to decolonise if we want to build a new world we have to destroy these structures So that we can build something totally new. We do have these organisations like the Sámi parliament but they are too weak to destroy colonialism. So we must do it.

Photo credit Mona Caron

An interview with Ghazali Ohorella a Human Rights lawyer from Maluku

In the build up to the Week of Peace we sat down with Human Rights Lawyer Ghazali Ohorella to talk about the impact of militarism in his homeland of Maluku, a group of islands in the Pacific.

Ghazali Ohorella

Could you tell about yourself?

Well, to know me, is to know my heritage. I’m a proud descendant of the Alifuru people, the Indigenous Peoples of the South-Maluku islands, home town of my dad is Tulehu and of my mom is Aboru/Hulaliu.

I can’t blame you if you don’t know where it is. We’re an archipelago comprising of 999 islands in an area of almost 75000 sq kilometers located between the Philippines and Australia, with around 2 million souls living under military Indonesian occupation as they took over our islands right after we became independent in 1950. Since the 16th century Maluku was known as the “Spice Islands” as cloves and nutmeg grew only in our area, which is also the biggest reason why Europeans came to our neck of the woods. The spice trade created enormous wealth for the Arab world, and the colonial powers from Portugal and the Netherlands, last mentioned colonized us for more than 300 years until 1950.
A bit about us. The Alifuru are originally Melanesian in origin like our relatives in for example West-Papua, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Norfolk Islands, and we have over 100 indigenous languages on the islands, mostly Polynesian related, just to give you an example here’s how I count from 1 to 10. “Sane, Rua, Toru, Ha’a, Rima, No’o, Hitu, Waru, Siwa, Husae”.

Whereas our lands and waters are the core of our Peoples, our language our strength, our ancestors our guides, the promotion and protection of the Alifuru heritage for future generations is my goal. That is why I have been advocating for Alifuru rights and rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world in international fora since 2003, with some interesting roles like co-chair of a round table of the UN General Assembly on the occasion of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples held in September 2014, legal expert to Indigenous organizations, board member to Drumbeat Media and the International Organisation for Self-Determination and Equality.

Can you tell us about how militarism has impacted your people?

Colonialism and militarism go hand in hand in a Maluku context, like I said before the Maluku islands has been colonized by the Dutch for more than 300 year, first by the Dutch East-Indies Company (VOC), which was often described as the first multinational corporation in the world. Mind you, this was no ordinary “company”, better said it was everything but a company, it behaved like a State.

The traders were politicians, bureaucrats avant-la-lettre, surrounded and supported by a strong military apparatus to implement the decisions they made. This Dutch trading company controlled a large area of the world, politically, militarily and economically it made its mark on the world.

The main purpose of the VOC was to colonize, obtain and retain control over the trade in spices from primarily South-East Asia, amongst others the Maluku islands. To date the world knows the VOC by its core business, however as a so-called trading company it excelled at the political and military level, with penetrating implications for millions of Indigenous Peoples, including the Alifuru.

The VOC was very aggressive, it used its vast navy and army to establish a powerful trading network by destroying not only competitors, for the Alifuru peoples, if one did not cooperate or if people simply got in the way, the VOC did not hesitate to exterminate entire communities, their lands, territories, livelihoods, the use of violence was their “ordinary business”. That regime lasted until the 1800 when we became a Dutch colony.

Now, fast forward to the early 1900s, just like I said we were a Dutch colony called the “Dutch East-Indies”, and over the years a lot of men joined the colonial army to be able to sustain their families as decent paying jobs were artificially scarce. The impact of militarism became even greater when the Dutch East-Indies decolonized in 1950. On that occasion we proclaimed our independence of the Republic of the South-Moluccas.

We didn’t do that just for the fun of it, our council was very concerned with the future of the State of East-Indonesia which we were still a part of, mind you Sukarno was mobilizing to invade all the other States and declare a Republic. Not wanting the roughly 4000 Maluku soldiers to be around to defend their newborn Republic, Sukarno asked the Dutch to ship all the soldiers and their families to The Netherlands. The Dutch promised to Maluku natives to be returned to their Republic after 6 months. Once they arrived in Holland the soldiers were demobilized and the 13,500 souls were left hung out to dry in former Nazi camps. The promise was never kept, 6 months turned into 60 years, and meanwhile we have grown to around 50,000.

Can you tell us about the relationship between militarism and colonisation?

So, as you can see militarism and colonialism are inseparable forces which have shaped Maluku, whilst currently that military-dominated regime rules Indonesia came to power with Sukarno and since then has been ruthless in repressing opposition. That the military mainly serves to maintain internal control, and to run the government proves that Indonesia is built upon militarism and cannot survive without. Militarism of Indonesia fosters also an aggressive nationalism, which in practice means state domination, colonialism and repression of Indigenous peoples which try to regain their independence.

Mind you, throughout Indonesian history, the military has recruited, trained and supported militia and quasi-military groups to do its dirty work. I think Von Clausewitz said “To achieve peace, one must prepare for war”, a creed that Indonesia is about to follow aided by these quasi-military groups. Last year Indonesia launched a program compulsory for all Indonesians under 50 years old called Bela Negara, it is a program which is more about politics and maintaining the colonial areas rather than any effort to establish a national defence system. Bela Negara aims to recruit over the next 10 years over 100 million militant cadres across its archipelago. Consisting of two components: a general program for citizens who have not had prior training, and a special refresher or advanced program for people who have already been trained, to allow them to reach national defence standard.

There is a significant risk and fear that the program will increase the frequency of human rights violations that are already occurring. However, it is hoped that this militarism feeds the desire for fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples, that they become more determined than ever before to continue their struggle for freedom, dignity and the right to self-determination.

How important is solidarity between Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific?

Look, if you consider that our region comprises ⅓ of the planet, most island States are established by Indigenous peoples, and be proud of the fact that there are many language cognates and we share common history, you can see that there’s much that binds us and can take us forward.

I’ve seen the insides of the UN for some years now, shown support for Pacific Indigenous Peoples inside and outside the security zone, have roamed the halls with many of our island delegations, and often together burned the midnight oil writing collective statements. 

But there is an undercurrent, most times I see that the Pacific indigenous meetings are attended by no more than a handful of people (mostly because of lack of funding), solidarity often disappears more quickly than it appears, there’s a bottleneck on some urgent processes but little to no advocacy on all the important ones.

More than often we are proud of the pre-existing solidarity, the whakapapa or genealogy that we all share, yet we should be conscious that pride can be a pitfall for solidarity. More than often we face challenges into finding that solidarity again, we are already a force to be reckoned, imagine what we can achieve when our solidarity is robust.

There is so much we can achieve as a region, Indigenous peoples worldwide are fighting for their rights, at every process imaginable, with solidarity amongst Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific, as a region, we can lighten the load of the entire movement, be more spread across the board, and make the Indigenous movement more stronger than ever.

Karanga Tangaroa – A pasifika callout out for action

Kia orana, Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Faka’alofa lahi atu, नमस्ते, Ni sa bula Vinaka,Taloha ni, Namaste, Kam na mauri, ً ابح, Halo ola keta, 你好, Kia ora.

Calling all P.O.C, Pasifika, Māori artists and activists that support a nuclear free and independent pacific. Stand with us as we call to Tangaroa in a spirit of resistance against those that use our island homes to wage wars.

From West Papua to Mauna Kea, from Tamaki-makau-rau to Rapanui, from Moruroa to Manus we as pacific peoples must continue to make a stand for a nuclear and military free independent pacific.

Between Nov 16th and Nov 20th the NZ Government will be holding a week of War.

  • Over 30 navies, including the US, Russia and China, have been invited to NZ to take part in the “International Naval Review”. In response to this extravagant display of war making, war resisters will take to the water to show opposition to the foreign warships coming into Auckland’s Harbour, and conducting war games in the Hauraki Gulf.
  • The world’s top weapons manufacturers and over 500 arms dealers are coming to the Viaduct Events Centre, to view and buy new weapons.
  • Our Government (& Opposition parties) have agreed to spend $20 Billion dollars on weapons over the next 15 years. This money could be better spent on housing, education and health.

Join us or get your own collective or crew out there to stand for a peaceful pacific.




Stone in Our Shoe: The Military Co-option of Indigineity and Protection Exposed

You know when you got a stone in your shoe, and even though you keep intending to work it out… you never get around to it until at some point you just can’t walk any further and everything has to just wait while you deal with that one, annoying, stone. That one stone that just won’t go away.

I have a stone in my shoe, and I gotta get it out.

I’ve written, already, about the links to plastics and warfare. The fact that plastics, the golden child of convenience – mass-produced so cheaply, and with so many applications, was a natural feature of wartime economies. A material that allowed our governments to save metal for the purposes of weapons production. A material that, post world-war, has continued to shape our economy – one that is characterised by rapid, and rabid consumption. An economy that continues to wage war on our environment, on our Atua, regardless of the presence or absence of human conflict.

I wrote that piece, and reflected on those issues, prior to my journey to Hawai’i – and since then, I have had much to reflect upon and observe. It’s kind of hard not to reflect on the experience of militarisation in Hawai’i, it is everywhere you look. Military installations dot the landscape – (there is something in the order of 180 of them in Hawai’i). Sacred sites are desecrated over, and over again while the military carry out their war games, using illegally occupied lands and waters to train their own forces for further oppressive military action overseas. The constant threat of the military rotor blades pound the air above you, in case you ever dared forget who holds the cards. If you get a moment – I would highly – HIGHLY recommend that you watch the award winning documentary “Noho Hewa” – by Anne Keala Kelly – which so clearly draws important lines between desecration of our sacred ways and places at the hands of military occupation and rabid tourism. It’s incredibly sobering, but critical, viewing.

To add to matters, I encountered a perplexing and awkward moment when I wandered through the IUCN exhibition hall, and found myself surrounded by military stands. After some enquiries I learnt about the interesting process through which many marine protected areas, both in the Pacific and around the world, do NOT preclude weapons testing and war-game exercises. In fact, many military installations have had conservation (marine and land based) areas established around them, and thus provide the military with a measure of seclusion to carry out their activities, and also provide conservation portfolios and profiles to the armed forces.



Please see THIS very informative blog by Craig Santos Perez which lays out the connection between marine protected areas, military occupation, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, in order to understand that this arrangement is anything but an altruistic exercise.

And yet these apparent contradictions are audaciously presented to us – the military as conservationists, as well-resourced and responsible custodians of our natural resources. Of course, we know that the industrial military complex is responsible for the largest portion of the planet’s pollution. We know that they are as brutal to landscapes in their weapons testing and wargames, as they are to the people and places they devastate wherever they are sent. But we are expected to place all of that knowing to the side and simply accept the surface evidence of “Hey look at this marine protected area that the navy look after” and “but wait look at this conservation work that the marines carry out”. It’s a clear conflation of contradictory values – those whose core purpose is war, presented as beneficent agents of care and protection. I was then keenly aware of my other lens upon this phenomena – that of indigeneity. For just as the military were presented as carers and protectors of the land and waters – our message to the IUCN was that 80% of the world’s biodiversity rests within indigenous territories, and us, the indigenous protectors of those areas, are consistently labelled as terrorists, and persecuted at the hands of military, and police, who are mobilised against us by the very state that bargains away the wellbeing of our territories to multinational corporations.

That’s right – the military gets to bomb these zones and defend rampant extraction, and call themselves the protectors, while we, the actual descendants of these spaces, are persecuted for standing in the way of their destruction, then we are called terrorists, and arrested by the military “protectors”.

Ain't it?
Ain’t it?

So how do we wind up in such a perverse situation? Well, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s an incremental process where our rights are eroded at multiple spaces, in multiple ways. There’s a process in Aotearoa that unscrupulous corporations use in order to get past our resource management processes – it’s called “unbundling”. When there is a large activity that, when viewed in its entirety, would undoubtedly cause concern, corporations will break the activity up and apply for consent applications for each constituent activity – and with each application is the inference that “well you have approved THAT activity (e.g. building a ford across the river to the drilling platform) – it would be unreasonable not to consent to this next activity (e.g. erecting the drilling platform) – and then the next application will do the same. In this way, the actual impacts are shrouded within a more drawn out, convoluted process.

Assessors, and the community, are incrementally lulled into accepting a state of affairs that would be absurd if originally assessed in it’s entirely.

That’s how I feel about this situation with the desecrators claiming the notion of protection, and the protectors being persecuted as terrorists/disruptors. We see it happen everywhere – Mauna Kea, Standing Rock, Río Gualcarque, West Papua,, – and here, in Aotearoa. In fact next month, the government has pre-empted indigenous resistance to the nuclear vessel by passing the “Maritime Crimes Bill” that criminalises protest action on our own waters. Around the world, they jail us, disappear us, and murder us, for defending our sacred spaces.

maunakea berta-caceres   west-papua

But that isn’t the stone in my shoe – it’s appalling, and unjust, to be sure – but that ain’t the stone in my shoe. You see there’s another tactic employed that distracts and disguises the agenda of armed forces. That agenda being to serve the Crown/Colonizer/State. They don’t just co-opt the notion of protection – they co-opt indigeneity. THAT’S THE STONE.



And it’s been in our shoe for a long time… and it’s not easy to remove you see, because we have to go back a while in order to look at this phenomena, and I particularly have to look at my own whakapapa. You see – my family line is associated with a long-held tradition of loyalism – that is, fighting for the Crown. My great Uncle Apirana Ngata was responsible for largescale drafting of Maori into the World War 2 Maori 28th battalion. His father, Paratene, was a runner for the Crown forces in the East Coast Wars. Paratene’s uncle, Rapatawahawaha, was a famous loyalist who utilised his alliance with Crown forces to settle local scores and protect the lands of the East Cape from Crown confiscation. I still have many whanau in the military who I love very dearly – and I think most Maori do.


It is very easy to look back at these times and speculate on the whys, and what ifs. Some of this story belongs within our whanau only. Other aspects I know have very little to do with our whanau, and more to do with hegemonic profiling – like the fact that much is made of Papa Rapatawahawaha – much less so (outside of our whanau) his hauhau brother in law (and father to Paratene) – Wi Tito; and also much less so their other kingite brother in law Hoera Tamatatai. Three men, married to three sisters, all on separate sides of the war – and he on the side of victory enjoys the profile spoils (or the kupapa sneers, as the case may be). Would Papa Api have recruited so many had he known the transactional “Price of Citizenship” we paid would not be honoured by our Treaty partners – and that generations later we would still be fighting, tooth and nail, for our rights on our own land? That we would still be dragging a resentful Crown to the Treaty table while trying to address the social fallout of war-borne PTSD and its multi-generational assault on our communities? Would he still make the same choices in retrospect of all this? Who knows. He was a man with heavy burdens – a man ahead of his times in many ways… and a man of his times, in many ways.

What I do know is that he made his choices based on what he knew from what was around him. It was a different world from that of his own tipuna – and choices required a triangulation of whakapapa, aspirations, and contemporary contexts. That helps me a lot when I feel conflicted about the armed forces – I don’t have to agree with the choices made, but I can understand that they were made under great burden, and in a specific cultural and political context.

That helps me when I have the task of telling the armed forces to back the hell away from my indigeneity.


General Rommel once said “Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world”. They’ve always known we were great fighters. Passionate fighters, strategic fighters, considered fighters. That these soldiers were also farmers, gardeners, artists, poets, parents, and sons… that didn’t figure. But our fighting prowess – that stuck. The Crown liked that. The fact that when we fought for them, we were less likely to fight them… they liked that, too. Who wants to bite the hand that feeds you, right? After all – the army offers you a future. Training. A house. Income. A way out of the shit-pile you inherited from… well, from colonization. And often, from the effects of war two or three generations back. All you have to do – is obey. Nope no doubt about it – the armed forces love us – and many of us love them right back. We consider our allegiance the maintenance of tradition. A way to ‘honour’ our Papas that went to war for the British monarch, for this nation (and more often than not to get away from the farm). We adhere to a tradition that conveniently and arbitrarily blends precolonial, colonial, and post colonial battlegrounds. We enable and allow our Atua to be used as marketing and recruitment tools. We join in the droves. We also maintain the traditional drinking culture of the military, drinking heavily together while on military bases. We raise our families on base. We even have – drumroll – military marae.

And herein sits the foundations of indigenous co-option by the military. Because according to the forces, military Maori families deserve to at least ‘feel’ at home while they are in service. They deserve to maintain their customs, traditions, and practices even when fighting for the Crown.

Yet there is a tension there – a white elephant that, for my years of looking, I have yet to see anyone address. The co-option of the term “Ngāti Tumatauenga” (a pseudo-tribe without ancestral genealogy that the Army translates as “descendants of the God of war”) perpetuates a problematic stereotype of the “Maori Warrior”. It is a stereotype that is compounded by New Zealand tourism in much the same way as “lovely hula hands” operates for our Hawaiian cousins, and in no small part contributes to our mischaracterisation as brutish, fearsome criminals, well deserving of the high incarceration rates. It exacerbates the one dimensional stereotype that plays itself out in the policy and social sphere, resulting in inadequate health services, resulting in the removal of our children, resulting in lower employment.

We are not an ethnically harmonious country. The socio-economic injustice experienced by Maori, at the hands of the colonial complex, accounts for a significant amount of the disparity that many seek to escape when they run to the bosom of Crown military servitude. Even though, in more recent years, the army has sought to “decolonize” itself by providing Maori nomenclature, and pseudo-tikanga and cultural education, and defends this practice by saying that it provides for a better experience in service – what it also does is provide an easy, accessible escape from the reality that you are serving a destructive, brutal, and ultimately imperial force. You can no more decolonize the army than the monarchy itself.

Serving the Crown military is more than just a job – it is a blood oath to live, die, and kill at the command of the corporate controlled government. In Aotearoa means service to a government that has continually violated the Treaty to which it owes its existence – and a government that has bargained away environmental, indigenous, and human rights for power and money. A part of a broader global machine that seeks to consume, pollute, and devastate, on mammoth proportions. The military serve this government, and they serve the governments that they are loaned to, through trade relationships. Trade relationships that again are responsible for large scale poverty, injustice, and stripping of ecological resources. Any care for the land or communities is not done because you depend upon the land and live in harmony with it. It is not done out of a responsibility that descends through your ancestry. It is done because you are ordered to do so, by your Master, the Crown. Who may give completely different orders the next day, to destroy lands, waters, and communities, and you will equally be expected to obey.
The military are, literally, the vanguard of extraction and destruction. Standing Rock is a prime example. While Obama told them they “are being heard” – police were mobilising in military fashion and dogs being released upon them.


WE – INDIGENOUS PEOPLE – are holding the frontline in the defence of this planet – and time and time again, it is the military that faces off against us. Are we paid to be on that front line? No – we are not there because the front line offered us a future, and training, and a house, and stable income. We are there because we are descendants of Mother Earth, and we remember that that comes with responsibilities. We are there because we honour our relationships to Papatuanuku, to Ranginui, to Tangaroa, Hinemoana, to Hineputehue and to Tumatauenga. That is our duty – it is not the Crown’s duty, and the Crown cannot carry out this duty while it is ultimately in service to the forces that commit to the desecration of these Atua.

So while they provide these cultural trappings, that shroud their true colonial agenda, in order to provide comfort (read: compliance and less attrition)… there is another impact upon the actual indigenous defenders of these spaces. Not only are we forced to face off against our own in these spaces – but we must also contend with the cultural confusion created when the armed forces co-opt our own sacred terms and ancestry.

Case in point: The New Zealand Navy will soon be conducting wargames with the US and other navies in the Hauraki Gulf. The title for these war games? Operation Mahi Tangaroa. The use of live munitions will undoubtedly have an impact upon the surrounding marine environment – and of course the entire exercise is a demonstration of the military strength the governments have at their disposal, to be utilised in the defence of multinational corporations who wish to continue their agenda of resource extraction.

Yet any indigenous water based protests against these activities has been criminalised by MP Simon Bridges’ Maritime Crimes Bill, founded in anti-terrorism doctrine, signed off in September, and applied to these wargames. That’s right – Operation Mahi Tangaroa will get to bomb Tangaroa – while Tangaroa’s descendants and defenders will be labelled terrorists and jailed for trying to oppose it. The US Navy will be sending their nuclear war vessel – the first in 35 years in NZ waters, to “celebrate” the New Zealand Royal Navy’s anniversary celebrations – also timed for the NZDF international weapons conference in Auckland. Again – our protests against these abhorrent industries that blast Papatuanuku to smithereens, that wipes out vast swathes of Tangaroa, our protests against this industry that creates more pollution than any other industry in the world, our protests against the most brutal facet of a machine that murders and displaces entire populations just to get at their resources – these protests will be criminalised, with protestors jailed, and said military forces mobilised against them.

These forces that have purposefully conflated this dichotomy and courted the patronage of Maori dignitaries like Te Ataairangikaahu. These forces that provide a false space of cultural safety within a machine bent on the ruination of our tipuna. These forces that have the audacity to call for Maori to ceremonially welcome their presence into our space, while they actively subordinate our mana as descendants and protectors of these spaces, relegating our mana beneath ultimate Crown authority.

And now the airforce has a marae too. No doubt, in time, they will also co-opt an Atua, perhaps Ranginui, to make their personnel feel more comfortable. Well this is what they do – whatever it takes to make you question less, and follow more. I’m inclined to think that those who allow these cultural consolations to enable their continued subordination do so because it is much easier than the difficult task of trying to resolve their servitude with the notion of rangatiratanga.

I, for one cannot resolve this – because it is unresolvable.

I would much rather their discomfort remain, and be examined, and understood for what it was. I would rather the military cease this disgusting co-option of our Atua, and tikanga, that creates confusion over who ACTUALLY holds the whakapapa, responsibility, and mana to maintain and defend these spaces. I would rather those who serve in the military understand completely who they are in service to, and what systems they are defending, and who they disempower along the way. I would rather they directly face the fact that they actively engage in the desecration of Tangaroa than allow themselves to believe that this is in some way, ANY way, in honour of our Atua. I would rather they sit in that discomfort, on their boat, with a pākeha name, a name to suit the agenda, to suit the boss. Maybe call the boats variations of “HMS StatOil”, and “HMS Rockefeller”. Better call the exercise “Operation Simon Bridges” or if they must use our Atua then be honest and call it “Operation Bomb Tangaroa”.

I would rather they carry the discomfort of honest contradiction, than rest in false cultural comfort.

Maybe one of them will read this, and it can be the stone in their shoe.