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 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.

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