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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re always keen to kōrero and whakawhanaungatanga.