The inspiration for my blog came from listening to journalist Maiki Sherman talk about questioning the then Prime Minister John Key about Māori representation on the proposed new flag design. She questioned him while her fellow journalists silently looked on.
Someone accused her of being an activist, as if that was a bad thing.
I then spoke to Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox for a story and asked her about activism and she used the term ‘provocative action’ and I knew I had the title for my blog.
I set up google alerts on a number of topics; Māori, activism, Waitangi, protest, Māori Party, activist, te reo and provocative action. It was interesting to see what was picked up by these alerts. Some alerts gave a lot of international items while others were generally specific to New Zealand. They gave me a picture of how protest and activism are commonplace around the world.
I attempted to break the blogposts into three categories; historical, present day and individuals. This was both helpful and a challenge as I attempted to look at various topics. Some topics had a lot of source material in some but not all categories. Other topics I struggled to find many examples. Sport is one such topic. I am sure there are more moments than what I found but I couldn’t find or recall many examples.
Four things have stood out for me as I explored Māori activism in New Zealand and I offer a reflection on them.
Balancing the scales
Māori activism both historically and present day is driven by the inequality and displacement that took place through colonisation as the British Crown set up home in Aotearoa. There have been many instances of unjust and inappropriate behaviour towards Māori. This has affected individuals, whole families, communities and all Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand. The fight has been long and hard. It has been about land, language and identity to name just a few.
The Treaty of Waitangi was a watershed moment for our nation and I think its impact has permanently scarred our country. It does not mean New Zealand cannot recover but it does mean that we are reminded of where we have been and how far we have come.
We’re all in this together
An area of Māori activism that has been very evident over recent months is their willingness in both speech and action to support other indigenous cultures in their fight for restoration, protection and advancement. We saw it very clearly with the Standing Rock protests. It made news around the world as Māori travelled to the United States to join the protest by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over the threat to clean water and ancient burial grounds by the proposed pipeline.
Historically Māori were very vocal when the Springbok tour happened in the 1980’s. There are links with Australian Aboriginal communities and the native people of Hawaii. These links are forged through shared histories of abuse and alienation in their own lands through colonisation.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a document that recognises the special challenges and hardships they face. It acknowledges the importance of culture and customs for cultures who often struggle to be considered equal as persons with the dominant culture of their land.
Many of the activism that has taken place has been an organised effort. There have been organisations that have sprung up as a result of the call to action. There have been protest marches, hikoi to Parliament, sit-ins and land occupations. Some of the groups pre-existed and joined in the action while others were created specifically for that period of time.
Andrew Judd had a personal awakening which led to a 1000 strong hikoi for peace and the creation of an Andrew Judd Fan Club Facebook page which has over 10,000 members. Conversations around race relations, peaceful protest and a way forward have taken place since its creation.
Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson were school girls who decided that they had to do something no matter how small. Their idea developed into a 12,000 strong petition presented to Parliament.
There is a lot of power in a collective voice. A lone voice ‘crying in the wilderness’ is easy to ignore, but when 100’s or 1000’s shout the same rally cry, ignorance is much harder to claim as an excuse for not responding.
Ki te kotahi te kakaho ka whati, Ki te kapuia e kore e whati
Alone we can be broken. Standing together, we are invincible.
Everyday activists have been a lot harder to document simply because their provocative action happens from how they choose to engage with the world around them and it doesn’t always make the headlines.
Kane Hames made the headlines because of his position as an All Black but I’m sure many other individuals chose to stand alongside the community of Standing Rock without making the news.
I have no doubt that there are people every day who choose to take a stand to support the revitalisation of Māori culture and customs. Teachers, parents, coaches and others have opportunities to encourage the use of te reo, the valuing of Māori protocols and the diminishment of racist attitudes.
I am of Ngāi Tahu descent. I grew up in a Pākehā family and culture. It wasn’t until my young adult years that I really began to explore my own heritage. I had to combat the mind-set of fear towards Māori that I had grown up with thanks to comments made by a family member that sowed a seed of fear and mistrust into my heart.
It is very easy for me to go incognito into the Pākehā world. There is nothing about my appearance or name that would suggest any connection to Māori. And yet I cannot sit comfortably in that place because in my identity I have the heritage strands of both my parents. To embrace one at the expense of the other is to deny part of what makes me who I am.
I know that there are many Māori around the world who, like me, feel a sense of loss at the lack of cultural immersion and the disconnection between our lives and our whakapapa.
If it were not for people taking provocative action throughout the decades, there may have been nothing left of Māori culture except that found in museums. If it were not for activists continuing the fight today, Māori would be getting weaker and our nation would be worse off because of it.
We still have a long way to go. But I see that every one of us can be active in the pursuit of change. Provocative action comes at a cost but how much greater the cost would be if we choose to stay silent.
I end with a quote from The Lorax by Dr Seuss. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”