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.
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.
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?
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.
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