Introduction to panel on Tauiwi and Tino Rangatiratanga
Parihaka International Peace Festival, January 6 2007
Danny Butt – http://www.dannybutt.net
Tena koutou katoa and welcome to the panel “Pakeha/Tauiwi and Tino Rangatiratanga: A possibility for peace or a contradiction in terms?” I’d like to give thanks to Te Miringa Hohaia for inviting me to speak at the forum; to the superb forum organisers Jos, Te Aroha, Hinerangi and their team; to the people of Parihaka for their hospitality and inspiration, and to the panellists for supporting this kaupapa. We’re all a bit nervous but also greatly honoured to be presenting here.
It will be obvious to most of you that if, as a white Australian, I was delivering these opening remarks in te reo Maori that it would signal that New Zealand was a different cultural environment than it is today. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of indigenous cultural practitioners across the world, and one of the ironies of this international work is that people are so often working to overcome colonisation using colonial language, and this is frustrating because language comes with built-in assumptions abut how people exist in the world, it shapes how we think. I believe that the development of Maori language education is creating a sea-change in the cultural politics of this country.
I regularly give myself a hard time for not keeping up with my language education as much as I should – mostly because I am too often overseas – and I used to cut myself some slack with the fact that I grew up in Australia. But then 18 months ago I was at a conference in Christchurch with Teresia Teaiwa, the Pacific Studies scholar based in Wellington. She opened her talk with a mihi that included a couple of minutes of remarks in Te Reo Maori, and I think she’s lived in New Zealand for half the time that I have. So no excuses after that.
But Teresia said something very interesting in her talk that has stayed with me. Like many successful people of Native Pacific ancestry, she is often asked to represent the Pacific in largely European institutions on account of her “Pacific identity.” And this caused her to think that being born in Hawai’i, from Kiribati and Banaban descent, and having long periods of her life in Fiji, Santa Cruz, and now Aotearoa, that her Pacific identity was never quite “Native” to any of those places. A “Pacific identity” was less important to her than a Pacific *identification* – it was an active process for her to wake up every day and decide to identify with the Pacific. And her way of doing that in Aotearoa was to learn the language and customs of her Maori cousins in the place where she lives.
That resonated with me because my identification with international indigenous political struggles is obviously not based in my identity as a Pakeha. My identification is a choice that I have to take responsibility for, though my European heritage from England, Wales and Norway via Australia means that it is only appropriate for me to take some roles and not others in support of this struggle.
The indigenous political agenda is not one social justice struggle among many, as it is sometimes characterised among the white left, who constantly ask others to suspend their lived experience in favour of a “larger” political agenda like anti-capitalism. (And I think the exchange after Jane Kelsey’s presentation shows us that sometimes the global issues, while important, are only changeable through local situations and local people.) Why would I be interested in supporting indigenous self-determination? Well, from Maori I’ve learnt values such as whakawhanaungatanga, manaakitanga, and kaitiakitanga which – despite my very limited understanding of their true historical function – have become central to how I think about my life. And through my work with Maori I’ve developed working relationships with tangata whenua in the places I was born in Newcastle, Australia, in Awabakal country; and where I grew up, in Gombemberri country on Queensland’s Gold Coast. As I’ve developed all these relationships I’ve learnt more about what it means to live in a place.
So indigenous development and self-determination represents my preferred future at a personal level. It reflects the suggestion to white Australia by the Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson, who said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
However, for many Pakeha the prospect of Maori self-determination is not so appealing. I came to writing about these issues from teaching in an art school, noticing that when the discussion shifted from European modernism to issues of cultural identity, cultural politics, and appropriation of cultural property the Maori and Pacific students, who were usually very quiet, would become active in the discussions. The Pakeha students, who I often couldn’t get to shut up, would become very quiet or defensive. They felt that anything they said would be wrong, as if somehow that culture belonged to the brown people. They had a lot of anxiety, and it made me sad.
The feminist science studies scholar Sharon Traweek did some anthropological studies of strange tribes of largely male high-energy physicists. She described them as having a “culture of no culture”, which is a great phrase. They had a culture that required that knowledge could not have a place or knower. The idea that what we know might be affected by our social or cultural position was a massive threat to the entire system of hard science, and had to be avoided at all costs. European knowledge systems are often committed to describing the entire world, in their own image, with no exceptions. That’s why the Martinique-born writer Frantz Fanon suggested that in the battle between coloniser and colonised, the only outcome was the wrecking of colonial culture, rather than a happy bicultural accommodation. And when I think about stories like Parihaka, or the recent Foreshore and Seabed legislation, I think his pessimism was warranted.
It’s one thing to analyse the differences between Maori and Pakeha perspectives, and another to know what to do about it. For Maori, despite the long and complex struggle for survival, it is very simple to strike fear into the hearts of the ruling elite. To simply survive and grow while identifying as Maori, rather than only a “New Zealander”, is a political act. It gets Pakeha worried, and Hazel Riseborough’s presentation on Parihaka’s history showed how colonial cultures respond when they feel threatened.
But for we Pakeha and Tauiwi, natives of the “culture of no culture”, how to act in this political field is not so straightforward, because if I’m working with you, my own cultural power might be the problem in our work together, reflecting my culture’s dominance. Cultural power is a funny thing. I can’t put my cultural power on the table like a cake and divide it equally among us, and have everyone walk away with the same amount. No matter how much I want to give it away, I still have it. If it was a question of my land or money (if I had those :) ), it would be a different story.
I’m very skeptical of people who think these issues of cultural power aren’t important, that the imbalance can be easily fixed through goodwill or the right organisational structure. I’ve seen too many organisations committed to indigenous development where European workers or funders end up setting agendas through very subtle ways. Sometimes assuming positions of guilt or feigning a refusal of power is a way of getting these power imbalances off the table where they end up sneaking in through the back door. In any case, political struggle requires resources, so for Pakeha to marginalise themselves doesn’t necessarily help when we could be amassing more resources to support the self-determination movement. The activist-critic-philosopher Gayatri Spivak says that she “refuses to marginalise herself in order to gain sympathy from those who are genuinely marginalised”, which is a position which I think is important for activism generally.
So for us there is a constant shuffling between on the one hand, holding on to the utopian ideal that we can live together in peace and freedom no matter what our cultural background; and on the other being constantly aware of the constraints our lived experiences place on what we can practically do together. It’s a delicate balance and there aren’t really many guidebooks. So I thought that rather than you listening to me I’d try and bring together people doing this work around the country, and these people have responded to the call.
We have three panellists – Margaret Smith, Jakob Otter and Poneke 171, and Suzanne Menzies-Culling from Freedom Roadworks / Tauiwi Solutions who will each speak for about 10-15 minutes, and I’m hoping to keep them to time so that we can leave room for the experiences of both Maori and Tauiwi in the audience. No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.