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?
JD

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

TT
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?
JD

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?

TT

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?
JD

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.

TT

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.

Hikoi

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

JD

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.

OBDU

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

TT:

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?
JD

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?

JD

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?
JD
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.

TT
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.

 

References

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

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 kavaclublove@gmail.com. Most of us are quite approachable lolz.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/kavaclub/
Website: http://www.kavaclub.org/
Email: kavaclublove@gmail.com

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 asians4tinorangatiratanga@gmail.com

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 racialequityaotearoa@gmail.com.
We’re always keen to kōrero and whakawhanaungatanga.