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A Good Death

A Good Death

 

We all knew, as our mother got older that she wanted the “plug” pulled when the time came. In her view of the world, if she couldn’t have a drink or a smoke under her own steam, as her saying went, it was time to go. Hers was a position of utter belief in the worth of independence and autonomy. Anything other than an independent life was not worth living. At the age of 78, robbed of her precious independence by lung cancer and dementia, she smoked her last cigarette in the smokers’ yard at the Bethesda Rest Home & Hospital and left us a couple of days later, in 2015. As I cleaned out years of yellowed correspondence from her house a few days after her death, there were dozens of newsletters from the End of Life Choice Society. I felt sad for my Mum at the frustration of her beloved choice. I don’t think she ever knew how utterly dependent she became, in the end. But then again, as I have written elsewhere, her tiny life at the end still had beauty in it.

There is much to admire in my mother’s stance on end-of-life choice, one shared with at least some of her friends. They wanted, and still want, the power and the right to determine their lives’ ends. The scenario to haunt their dreams and to avoid at all costs, is one of being tethered to machines, with life’s pleasures stolen away, and intolerable pain, all signalling the worst thing of all: utter dependence. The dependent life, on this view, is no life at all. There is a great value placed on the idea of freedom of choice. Its antithesis, the absence of choice, is something to be feared and avoided. On this thinking a chosen death is a noble and compassionate death. An unchosen lingering death is ignoble and cruel.

Of course, there is much more to that debate.

There are all kinds of factors that play into the debate on assisted dying in New Zealand at present, lately manifested in response to David Seymour’s private member’s Bill still awaiting its second reading as at the time of writing. Often, the entry into the debate is by way of stories. The story of Lecretia Seales, and her fight in the courts to enable her doctor to assist her to die was compelling. There is no shortage of compelling stories that provoke our pity and fear for those caught up in those narratives, like Peter and Patricia Shaw, an Australian couple who killed themselves in October 2015, or the terminally ill 9 and 11 year old Belgian children who have been the youngest to be euthanised in that country in 2018. But a law on euthanasia needs more than the most compelling narrative.

I sometimes get asked what the “Māori perspective” is on assisted dying. I can’t pretend any expertise on this or to speak for Māori communities. There are many perspectives, although only rarely expressed in the public domain. However, some of those whakaaro have been reported by the Justice select committee on the End of Life Choice Bill. So I’ll let the Committee report back:

Although not all submitters who identified as Māori oppose the bill or consider it inconsistent with Māori tikanga (values), others have several concerns. Submitters described a Māori worldview where people are part of their whānau, hapū, and iwi, where care, respect, and reverence are shown for the elderly and terminally ill, and life and wairua (spirituality) are valued. Some believe that assisted dying would breach the tapu (sacredness) of the person and have spiritual consequences for those involved. Some submitters consider that the bill would breach the Treaty of Waitangi. In particular, they cited the Treaty’s underlying principle of tiaki (protection) of Māori values and, under Article 2, the concept of the taonga (treasure) of life. Other submitters consider that the bill would contravene holistic models of Māori health, such as Te Whare Tapa Whā, which sets out four equally balanced foundations of Māori health: physical, spiritual, family, and mental.

It is possible to imagine an assisted death taking place in the context of a warm and loving whānau environment. The range of viewpoints suggest that Māori are not of one collective mind in regards to how tikanga Māori may or may not fit with the idea of assisted dying. However, there are pragmatic concerns of more urgency. Many of the submitters on the Bill were just as concerned that racial inequities already existing in the New Zealand health system will be magnified with the introduction of assisted dying:

Some submitters believe that assisted dying would further contribute to discrimination and prejudice that already exists in the health system. They consider that Māori and Pasifika are less likely to be able to pay for health care, and that they receive lower standards of care and have less access to palliative care. Therefore, they believe these groups will be disproportionately more likely to request assisted dying than other groups. Submitters also believe that these groups are less likely to be treated by health practitioners of their own culture or those who understand their world view. They regard it as important that health practitioners understand the correct procedures for tāngata māuiui (sick people), their transition to death, and the treatment of tūpāpaku (the deceased).

The position described above is supported by  research by the Kia Ngāwari study (2010–2012) funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, a study of 27 whānau Māori that reveals how important collective processes often are for whānau Māori at end-of-life and how Māori are less likely to be able access sufficient palliative care. Rangatiratanga is vitally important for dying Māori too, but being able to exercise rangatiratanga fully means that whānau must be resourced properly:

…the economic and material ramifications of colonialism impact on Māori hugely at the end of life, directly influencing the ability of whānau to identify and access much needed resources and palliative care support. Generally, only whānau who had a family member with a tertiary qualification or employment within a health or related field were well placed to identify and access much needed statutory support, palliative care and resources. Knowledge of the health system, or previous use of specialist palliative care services, increased the likelihood of some whānau accessing palliative care support and resources. When combined, these things strengthened whānau to provide the best care, frequently under difficult circumstances.

One of the greatest questions about the prospect of assisted dying being enacted in New Zealand law arises because the proposed legislation establishes a process that presumes an individual can make a true choice to die. Many of the submitters opposed to Seymour’s Bill cite the problem of the vulnerable person being pressured or coerced to die by others. Dr John Kleinsman identified 5 types of vulnerability as an expert witness to the High Court in Lecretia Seales’ case.

communication vulnerability, represented by persons who are impaired in their ability to communicate because of distressing symptoms;

institutional vulnerability, which refers to persons who exist under the authority of others;

differential vulnerability, which includes persons who are subject to the informal authority or independent interests of others;

medical vulnerability, which refers to those with distressing medical conditions; and:

social vulnerability, which includes persons who are considered to belong to an undervalued social group.

While Lecretia Seales absolutely denied that she was in any way vulnerable as described in any of these categories, whānau Māori with dying members are likely to fulfil some or all of these vulnerability categories. As pointed out by Dr Hūhana Hickey Māori are also more likely to be experiencing disability, and thus more likely to be considered vulnerable in that context as well. As noted by the Disability Commissioner, the priority should be that disabled people should be enabled to exercise the choice to live:

Before the country legislated choice in death, it needed to work towards ensuring, to the greatest extent possible, all people had the same freedom of choice in life.

In any event, what would be the nature of the choice to die for any person in any of these categories?

Often to be found at the very heart of our general Western legal system is the notion of the freely choosing individual, the individual rights-bearer. The person who, when faced with a choice of courses of action, is capable of choosing one of those courses of action. Such individuals must have free will in order to exercise a real choice; an idea that is powerful and optimistic. Thousands of years of philosophical and religious thought have also upheld this idea, particularly in the West, that humans can, for example, choose obedience to a deity or a principle, or a moral.  Why not assisted dying?

At the heart of much opposition to the End of Life Choice Bill is a denial that all choice exercised under such legislation will truly be free. Those who oppose the legislation on a vulnerability basis will identify that there is no level of security that the Bill can offer that will reassure them that the choice to die in every single case will be freely made. Those who cannot truly and freely choose should be protected by the state, not exposed to greater risk of death. An open letter signed by more than 170 lawyers put it this way:

We believe that the mark of our civilised society is measured by the manner in which we treat and protect our weakest and most vulnerable members. While the Bill purports to be targeted to a “small but significant group of competent adults who are not vulnerable and who wish to die without unbearable suffering and pain”, we consider that it will in fact place many vulnerable members of our community (whether terminally or chronically ill, disabled or mentally ill) at greater risk of premature death by homicide or suicide as a result of neglect, coercion and other forms of abuse, as well as misdiagnosis or prognostic error and uncertainty.

I would count myself in that camp. Well, I should do. I signed the open letter. At present, all that stands between a vulnerable  person making a decision to die and the enactment of such a decision in the Bill, are a set of criteria. A qualifying person must be one who, on the current form of the Bill:

(4) […]

(c) suffers from—

(i) a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months; or

(ii) a grievous and irremediable medical condition; and

(d) is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; and

(e) experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable; and(f) has the ability to understand—

(i) the nature of assisted dying; and

(ii) the consequences for them of assisted dying.

At present, to ensure coercion does not exist, the certifying medical practitioner must:

8 […]

(h) do their best to ensure that the person expresses their wish free from pressure from any other person by—

(i) conferring with other health practitioners who are in regular contact with the      person; and

(ii) conferring with members of the person’s family approved by the person; [..]

David Seymour, responding to submitters’ concerns, has proposed significant changes, including deleting the option under s4(c)(ii). In that case, only those facing a terminal condition would be eligible for assisted dying. He has also proposed strengthening the protection against coercion so that a certifying medical practitioner must be “satisfied” that no coercion exists.

I suspect though that even with these changes, little will change between the entrenched positions of this debate. Few on this side of the maunga are ever likely to accept that any caution or protection that may be inserted in the legislation can ever bring about true protection of the vulnerable, whoever we conceive the vulnerable to be. For many, I suspect the opposition lies more deeply than that and depends on a particular vision of humanity. We tend, I think, to divide into those two great camps; those for whom the idea of the autonomous individual is supreme, and those for whom human interconnectedness is the greater vision. The dividing line between these positions can be porous, it’s true, but the camps exist, and don’t neatly align with political concepts of left and right.

An additional and often unspoken factor in the public discourse is that many like me who have a religious faith have an understanding that we are dependent on what we conceive of as the Divine, as well as on each other, for our existence. This understanding of dependent existence will always make an assisted dying regime difficult (but not impossible) to accept. For others, such a position can be utterly offensive and even a denigration of autonomous individual personhood.

My mother and I resided in those two different camps and respected each other’s position. Perhaps the more salient point is that my brothers and I, because of excellent palliative care, were able to come together, in love, to accompany our mother to the veil, but not beyond, at the close of her day. Equitable and free access to excellent palliative care and a good death, as far as it is possible, should be upheld by law and policy for each one of us. The truly terrible thing is that it is not. assisted dying legislation represents an absence of hope that it ever will be.

[Please note, this column was first published on E-Tangata]

Photo Credit: Gina Smith.

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Standing still in the whirlwind

Standing still in the whirlwind

[A column published on E-Tangata on Sunday 17 March, 2 days after the attack on our Muslim whānau in Christchurch]

Haere e ngā mate kua hinga i te toki o Aituā, haere, haere  haere atu ki te wā kainga, te kainga tūturu. Rātou ki a rātou, tātou ki a tātou, Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

The day. In the depths of darkness and fear, it was hard to write. It seemed arrogant somehow, as if death and horror had swallowed our words whole, permitting us only to reach for cliches and empty phrases. So many rocks continue to lie on our hands as we try to type, or in our mouths as we try to speak; to say something that truly means anything.

In the depths of that darkness and fear, it was hard to comprehend that normal life goes on for those of us outside the cordon of atrocity. People still laughed in the staffroom that afternoon. I made three batches of fudge. The kids still played Last Card and fought over the Playstation. It was fish and chip Friday. We ate fish and chips. Did the kids not know what death is, yet? They seemed undisturbed. Did they not give a damn? How could they? But how could they not? How did I laugh? Would sleep ever come? It came.

I was afraid to know any more. I was afraid of the leaping, lurching numbers. My eyes felt hot and tired. I wept many times, in between the “have a nice day” moments with kind strangers, my face a rictus of sorrow at traffic lights. I started to ring home at one point to check on the kids, and dialled my dead mother’s number instead. I hung up.

When I did begin to read, and watch, and listen, in those first few hours, my mind skittered from fact to fact; never settling, never quite believing. I know those streets where people ran for their lives, metres from my old high school, but my mind still skittered away from imagining those people’s faces. I could not.

I saw the lady on the news, the one who looks like my friend’s mum, a woman with flyaway white hair and her story of men shot on each side of her car as they fled; one who lived, one who died. The man who lived tried to call his wife. The woman took the phone and told his wife to go to the hospital and wait. Is she waiting still? Is the floor slick with blood? My mind must skitter again, away from that image; forbid it to dig in and wait behind my eyelids.

The next day. Whenever my skittering mind stills for long enough, I grieve for those I do not know. Those individuals, those families, those children, those mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, those simply living their lives, those who love and were loved in return, victims, survivors, whānau pani. Auē, auē.

My husband and I fight even before we get out of bed, an ugly screaming of invective at each other based on nothing but horror. Then we realised what we were doing. And we stopped. We cannot afford to be infected by another man’s hate.

The hangi are prepared at our local marae. Our church fair carries on. Some of us worry if the fair should have been cancelled like so many other events had been in Wellington. Yet somehow, carrying on and being kind to each other seems a sane response to an insane time.

I don’t know enough of what really happened to describe it or understand it. I get that white supremacy is at the base of it. At some point during the day, I let out a harsh bark of unsmiling laughter. After all, surely this is the very terrorism for which the Terrorism Suppression Act was envisaged, not whatever the powers-that-be thought those Māori mā, Pākehā mā, who were subjected to the Operation Eight raids,were doing back in 2007.

The comparison, of course, is both obscene and absurd, as was the extent to which our police and government then failed to understand our own communities.

We are all failing now, too. My own preferred version is that a marginalised malcontent attacked this country and murdered our people while they prayed. Our people. It suits me best to think of this terrible massacre as something akin to an act of war by a foreign aggressor. I am afraid of learning that such a person could ever have been grown here. In truth, of course, they could, and I fool myself.

We haven’t “lost our innocence”, as so many have said. We never had any.

New Zealanders commit banal evil on a much smaller scale every single day. We know this to be true. Smaller evils don’t inoculate us against larger, grander ones.

We are not immune from atrocity, and our own history tells us this. Even if our national ethos is generally good and peaceful, it doesn’t save us. We are not special.

Victor Frankl, as he reflected on his time in concentration camps during World War II, understood that not one of us is immune from evil, no matter the label we bear or group we belong to.

… decent and indecent people are found everywhere, they penetrate into all groups of society … mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing … we must not try to simplify matters by saying these men were angels and those were devils.

There is no nationality, status, gender, ethnicity, or income bracket that is essentially good or bad, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that there may be — such is the quality of our online discourse as it once more, after a bipartisan blip, settles into its comfortable camps of mutual loathing.

Ah well. There is no point in flagellation, either of the self or of others. We can draw all the conclusions we like from our discourse and subcultures and so-called national characteristics, and still not understand the massacre any more than we do already. Is there any point, I wonder.

As a collection of peoples, we are good, we are bad, we are racist, we are tolerant, we are bigoted, we are peaceful, we are extraordinarily punitive, we are progressive, we are narrow-minded and parochial. All of these statements about us are true. We contradict ourselves. We are large. We contain multitudes. (Apologies to Walt Whitman.)

The days after that. In our broken world — and what more evidence do we need that it is so — the only logical and deliberate response to evil, no matter where or how it was grown, has to be love, if we are not to succumb to it. Not a feel good, convenient, heart-emoji-on-Facebook. Instead, reach for a love that requires us to act kind and be kind, even when we sure as hell don’t want to be. Even when all we want to do is retreat.

And for those of us with faith, and in the season of Lent, as we lay open who we really are, these words can matter:

     E te Ariki, meinga ahau hei kaihohou i tōu rongo;
     tukua, kia whakatōkia e ahau i roto i te ngākau o te hunga mauāhara
     he purapura nō te aroha;
     i roto i te hunga i whara, he whakaoranga;
     i roto i te ngākau āwangawanga, he whakapono
     i roto i te ngākau taimaha, he tūmanako;
     i roto i te hunga noho i te pōuri, he māramatanga;
     i roto i te hunga tangi, he mārie, he hari.

     Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
     Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
     Where there is injury, pardon.
     Where there is discord, union.
     Where there is doubt, faith.
     Where there is despair, hope.
     Where there is darkness, light.

 

The Empathy Gap & Me

The Empathy Gap & Me

 

A little while ago, I was driving a car down State Highway 1 and I was howling. Actually howling, snotty tears and all. Then I’d pull over for a bit, recover myself, move off again, and then something would catch in my throat. Then I’d be howling again.

Such car-cocooned moments are not unheard of for me in recent years. Ever since my mother died in 2015, I can get caught by grief, unawares, and find myself sobbing, or at least leaking, at traffic lights because something set me off. Last time that happened was when RNZhad the temerity to play Air Supply. It helps to have a supply of tissues on the ready.

These tears were not due to my mother on this occasion, though. I’d just left a house where a whānau had been sharing their history with me for a cultural report I was writing for a sentencing hearing that was coming up in the new year.

My howling was borne of inarticulate rage, and helpless misery that any family in New Zealand had to go through the utter trauma that they’d had to go through in their past and present. My hūpē and tears were never going to make a damn bit of difference to that whānau history, nor to the pain of the victim in that case, but they came anyway.

I think, too, there was some recognition that what they’d been through was not entirely disconnected to my own family history. I think some grief for our own family trauma was in there too — trauma far beyond my own direct memory. My empathy gap had been well and truly plugged.

It’s easy to have an empathy gap. In fact, it’s unavoidable.

By comparison, compassion, or the feeling of sympathy for others in misfortune, is, for many of us, not that difficult if we care to exercise it. And, of course, our society and its communities also suffer from a fairly healthy compassion gap, too.

But feeling compassion is probably less problematic, perhaps because compassion can be as much about what we don’t want to experience ourselves as what we feel about the lives of others.

Empathy is slightly different, though. Empathy is understanding and sharing the feelings of another person. Perhaps, by definition, to empathise with another person we have to be able to feel what they feel. Perhaps we must have been through what that person has been through, or something similar, in order to empathise with them.

A lack of true empathy doesn’t necessarily mean a person can’t truly help another. Humans have resources to call upon other than just empathy. But it can help to understand a person well enough to be able to help in a way that makes sense.

Generally speaking, social welfare and criminal justice case-workers will usually (but not always) have some form of empathy gap between them and those they are supervising or processing or writing about — or judging.

This is not necessarily a moral failing. Many of us simply can’t feel or imagine the life of another. We can’t walk in their shoes. We might even lack the mental imagery and hardware to do it.

And although we can more easily feel for others, pity them even, if we allow ourselves to, often we can’t truly understand them, if our lives haven’t already somehow prepared us for that moment.

It’s possible to learn empathy, but I think that would be hard. Not impossible, but hard. Moral failing, including racism, may exist in the refusal to try.

Or there’s something more complicated. Sometimes we can bend over backwards to quash or deny our empathy for others. Merely sharing experiences is not enough. Sometimes we can view others only through lenses that just reflect us back to ourselves: “I went through what she went through, and I turned out okay.”

Perhaps also, some Māori who’ve come from traumatic backgrounds may not want to empathise or have compassion for others with similar backgrounds.

Denied empathy is one thing, pretend empathy another. I remember years ago, as a 20-something probation officer, having a young Pākehā guy come and visit me at the office. I was supervising him. But he didn’t want to be there — he had better places to be.

I was trying to establish some kind of rapport with him. It was the uncertain start to another new relationship neither of us really wanted. I had some wise point to make (for his own good, of course) that I now forget. I leaned forward in my chair, keeping earnest eye contact, and said: “Listen, mate …” as if I was going to impart something unprecedented to the lucky soul. He reared back as if I had spat in his direction. “Don’t call me mate! I’m not your bloody mate!”

He was right. I had presumed some kind of connection, but I was merely pretending that we were on the same team, that there was some kind of fellow experience between us. In short, I was trying to pretend that I empathised with him, and he called me on that bullshit.

I never forgot it. I try not to manufacture empathy. I try to feel it if I can, allow the seeds of it to grow, but I can’t pretend it exists when it doesn’t. Where it doesn’t, I have to call on other things, my compassion and aroha, my instincts, and my morality.

How do we make connection and offer support or help that makes sense if we don’t try to plug the gap?

I think what had happened, on that day in my car, was an upwelling of compassion but also the shock of empathy — one I hadn’t been faced with for a while, for whatever reason. On the surface, this whānau’s experience looked nothing like my own. Theirs was a story of extraordinary poverty both of love and money. An intergenerational story of gang affiliation and of repeated escape attempts. A story of loneliness, rejection, despair and some hope.

But, actually, that story had a similar point of genesis to my own whānau story. At the bottom of it all was war with the same enemies: land deprivation, urbanisation, fractured histories, and self-loathing leading to sexual abuse, violence, substance abuse and bad decisions.

Tempered, of course, by collective agency, individual resilience, ambition, sheer bloody-mindedness and some better decisions. We also shared a common Māoriness. We could lob the same words into our conversation, trusting each other to catch them. We knew some of each other’s family names. We could follow an unspoken tikanga of how to speak with each other. We had never met. We were from different parts of these islands. And yet.

Thus, my empathy was not predicated entirely on nice and chummy fellow feeling and understanding with another individual or two. It was predicated on the certain knowledge that my people and their people’s experiences were recognisable, connected, and of like substance.

Recent psychological research has suggested that there is such a thing as cultural empathy. We simply are more likely to empathise with those who are more like us than not. Well, duh.

That, and other experiences led me to question (as if any more questions are needed) the role of culture in criminal justice — in particular, the usefulness and role of cultural reports that can be called for at sentencing. After all, that was what I was doing in that family home that day: asking questions to write a cultural report.

I think I wrote a better report because of my empathy. That was of some help, I think. Small in context, but something.

But beyond that?

We all know the stats are bloody appalling. Within our criminal justice system generally and the prison population specifically, we know Māori are over-represented in comparison to the general population.

According to the Ministry of Justice, in May 2018, the total prison population was 10,435. Māori made up 50.7 percent of all sentenced prisoners in New Zealand, despite comprising just 17.5 percent of New Zealand’s population. Of all sentenced male prisoners in New Zealand, 50.4 percent are Māori men, while Māori women now make up 63 percent of all sentenced female prisoners.

An even bleaker and worsening position is occupied by Māori youth. Māori comprised 65 percent of all youth in prison in 2017, up from 56 percent a decade before. (See this report at p 11.) There are now more than 5,000 Māori people in New Zealand jails.

This over-representation extends well beyond the jail cells into the experience of being a victim, the exercise of administrative and police discretion, charging figures, bail decisions and prosecution figures (pick a colour, any colour, oh, here’s one teeny example). We all know this by now.

That’s where the reports do fit in. Parliament decided as far back as 1985 that such growing over-representation of Māori in the New Zealand prison population could, in some way, be addressed at sentencing, by way of the introduction of Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 1985 (now repealed).

That provision was originally enacted in order to encourage the use of alternative sentences to imprisonment. However, the provision wasn’t well understood by counsel or the judiciary, and as a consequence was completely underused.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and now we have Section 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002. This section was built on the idea of the original Section 16 from 1985, and now allows judges to gain insight into the cultural backgrounds of all offenders generally.

But it can be used to focus on Māori offenders specifically, with the overall goals of reducing imprisonment rates and, like its predecessor, encouraging more use of rehabilitative and community-based sentences. Until recently, Section 27 has also been significantly underused.

Under Section 27(1) an offender due for sentence may request the court to hear any person or persons called by the offender to speak on the following matters:

(a) the personal, family, whanau, community, and cultural background of the offender

(b) the way in which that background may have related to the commission of the offence

(c) any processes that have been tried to resolve, or that are available to resolve, issues relating to the offence, involving the offender and his or her family, whanau, or community and the victim or victims of the offence

(d) how support from the family, whanau, or community may be available to help prevent further offending by the offender

(e) how the offender’s background, or family, whanau, or community support may be relevant in respect of possible sentences.

Note that this is not aimed solely at Māori, but there is no doubt that Māori over-representation was at the heart of the design of the section. Section 27 is part of a code that also relies on Section 8(i) in the Sentencing Act which provides that the court must take into account “the offender’s personal, family, whanau, community and cultural background in imposing a sentence or other means of dealing with the offender with a partly or wholly rehabilitative purpose.”

Although an interpretation of Section 27(1)(b) on its face appears to require a causal link between the offender’s individual and specific cultural information or background and the commission of the offence — “the way in which that background may have related to the commission of the offence” — interesting and very recent developments in New Zealand courts appear to echo Canadian approaches that simply don’t require the demonstration of such a specific and individualised causal link. The permission has been given to look further afield at systemic deprivation.

In particular, in a recent decision in the High Court case of Solicitor General v Heta, Justice Whata accepted that, while sentencing does not on its face, require any discussion of the systemic deprivation faced by Māori, the operation of Section 8 in combination with Section 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002 certainly allows for the court to hear such material.

An important thing to grasp here is that the Māori experience of colonisation, disease, war, urbanisation and deprivation within this country is unique to Māori in this country, and is not shared with any other ethnic or cultural groups in the same way.

This realisation was part of what lay behind my tears on that road trip. We were alike in our culture, and part of that culture has been now recognised to include the intergenerational experience of trauma.

At long last, the courts are catching on, even if at a glacial pace, to what Tariana Turia was on about nearly two decades ago. And now, with the release of Every Four Minutes, a report on family violence, we have the Chief Science Advisor laying some of the impetus for family violence at the feet of the trauma of colonisation.

We’re beginning to understand that the modern experiences of Māori individuals can’t really be fully explained by reference to one such individual’s immediate and siloed history alone.

Of course, it’s not enough for us to have the emergence of yet more reports, more bad stats, and cultural reports being used more often in the way they were intended.

Māori being sentenced to shorter sentences of imprisonment on the basis of fuller cultural information being brought before a judge is hardly going to change the world. The young men and women that have cultural reports written about them aren’t going to be walking into courtrooms where the inevitable empathy gap has magically been eradicated.

We can and must push for better information to be put before judges in sentencing. We can demand improvements to the Bail Act. We can push for better programmes in prison, for more therapeutic jurisprudence, for something better than prisons. All of that.

But we can’t expect institutions to be empathetic and compassionate to the thousands of Māori in the system now, and to the Māori children who are going to be sucked into it in the future. That is our job on a daily basis.

And, if we just can’t find the empathy for whatever reason, then we use compassion, aroha, instincts, smarts, and all the rest to close the gap and keep our people out of the system.

Maybe then …

Maybe then.

 

 

Please note, this post appeared first on  © E-Tangata, 2018

Papatūānuku, Pan, and a lonely kid in Christchurch

Papatūānuku, Pan, and a lonely kid in Christchurch

 

I was a funny kind of kid. A lonely one, even. While I had older brothers, they were teenagers — too old to hang out with me. And I had few friends. I look at my own kids now and marvel at their ability to let new children into their lives. To not be as hesitant and aloof as I think I probably was.

Yet, I missed connection with others. I remember going to the house of a girl I went to school with for some reason I no longer recall. She lived several doors down from me on Papanui Road in Christchurch. It was Christmas time — they were wealthy and had a real Christmas tree. I’d never seen one before. I was nine, I think.

As I left their house, I remember having this sense of yearning for something. Connection. Belonging. Pine-scent, maybe. So I hid in the bushes of their long, sweeping driveway and pretended I lived there. Eventually, the girl’s mother came out and saw me. She told me in a gentle but very firm voice to Go Home.

Yeah. No wonder I didn’t have many friends.

I can blame some of my loner tendencies on a period of a couple of weeks around the same time when I had scarlet fever and rubella together. I was bedridden for a while, and someone, perhaps my Pākehā nana, gave me a copy of Thomas Bulfinch’s Age of Fable to read. Well, I had nothing else to do. So I immersed myself in this book, written in 1855, telling the stories of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology.

This, not any church, not Māui or Tāwhaki, or any of the stories of Māori mythology, introduced me to images and ideas of the divine. I read and reread that book many times. The language, so dense and allusive, gradually became clearer and clearer to me, and more and more beautiful.

I read about Prometheus and Pandora, Cupid and Psyche, the Sphynx, Orpheus and Euridyce. Thor, Phaeton, and Pan. I imagined a world peopled with these creatures. I think these stories made me feel a little less lonely.

Each story in that book included snippets of poetry from famous 19th century English poets. Here I got my first taste of Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, among others.

After the story of Pan, the goat-footed god of woods and fields, flocks and shepherds, there sits a poem by Barrett Browning. This poem broke my heart, and it still does. The Greek and Roman old gods, she told my nine-year-old self, had been swept away, and something new, Christianity, had taken their place.

     By your beauty, which confesses
     Some chief Beauty conquering you,
     By our grand heroic guesses
     through your falsehood at the True,
     We will weep not! earth shall roll
     Heir to each god’s aureole —
     And Pan is dead.

     Earth outgrows the mythic fancies
     Sung beside her in her youth;
     And those debonair romances
     Sound but dull beside the truth.
     Phoebus’ chariot-course is run.
     Look up, poets, to the sun!
     Pan, Pan is dead.

She was triumphant — I was desolate. How could this be? These gods and goddesses had … died. Replaced by something that meant nothing to me, at least back then. They had left me with nothing to imagine.

Sensitive kid, I was.

I was reminded of this sadness that I felt as a lonely kid when I was challenged this week by a young woman to explain how I, as a Māori woman, forty years on from being that lonely kid, could still profess to be a Christian and yet acknowledge atua Māori, and wairua Māori, as I do.

I don’t have any particular issue with that. Personification of nature and culture as Māori aspects of the creation is not difficult for me, or for most other Māori Christians I know. I had to learn to be Māori in my teens and twenties, long before I learned to be Christian, and those personifications and understandings came with the territory. Bishop Don Tamihere has spoken about this tension/not tension, and I’d recommend a read of his whakaaro.

But this conversation has reminded me of just how present ngā atua Māori remain in modern Māori life and practice. Of course, they are in pōwhiri and tangihanga, as we cross the boundaries between tapu and noa, between the realm of Tūmatauenga, god of war on the marae ātea, and Rongo, the guardian of peace inside the wharenui.

I expect to hear Rangi and Papa acknowledged in whaikōrero. I expect to hear our dead being acknowledged and then farewelled again beyond that impenetrable curtain, to the night, to Hine Nui i te Pō, the great goddess of death.

Reference to these denizens, however we conceptualise them, tells me we live still, as a people of shared language and concepts. Not all of us understand and use those concepts equally or with the same degree of importance or respect, but they do comprise a shared knowledge.

And then there is the use of atua Māori as emblems of political identity and survival. I’d say that, of all the atua Māori, the unparalleled atua of Māori political identity has been Papatūānuku, the earth goddess, partner of Ranginui, forever separated from him by Tāne Mahuta, forever yearning for connection again.

While Papatūānuku was spoken of in 19th-century Māori oral literature, only very rarely, as a physical earthen foundation point, she is now more often granted her own personality and actions. An early example of focus on Papa as a political emblem is provided by Hone Tūwhare, in Papa-tu-a-nuku, which was inspired by the Māori Land March of 1975.

     We are stroking, caressing the spine
     of the land.
     We are massaging the ricked
     back of the land
     with our sore but ever-loving feet:
     hell, she loves it!
     Squirming, the land wriggles
     in delight
     we love her.

Then there is the poetry of Roma Potiki:

     i am Papatuanuku
     giving them completely i hold strength in its upright form –
     my base maps the pattern of mottled life,
     rain and rivers.
     when the rest is gone
     you will know me –
     you who press on my skin
     tread the body you do not recognise.
     with my face made of bones
     my stomach eternally stretching
     i need no definition
     i am Papatuanuku, the land

Largely silent since the creation of the natural world, and always spoken of by others, in modern Māori poetry and art, Papa was able to speak for herself, no longer just one of two. This new voice accompanied the upsurge in the consolidation and recreation of a viable political iwi identity, of Māori sovereignty — tino rangatiratanga.

Instead of the eternal Rangi and Papa, the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s gave us a new coupled image: Papatūānuku and ngā atua Māori in a nurturing and embracing relationship on the one hand — and rootless tauiwi bent on destruction of the land on the other.

     Papatuanuku

     You worked hard
     raping the belly of Papa
     slashing fern
     exposing inner fertility
     burning seeds
     raging fires
     across brown breasts
     – greed
     gleaming
     aborted tapu
     rooting ancient coverings
     bringing to Aotearoa
     ragwort gorse
     and new words:
     lazy black Hori –
     sowing money crosses
     across barren earth
     stripping Papatuanuku bare
     stamping your queen’s head
     on the land
     You worked hard.
     We are working,
     Covering our naked mother,
     Regenerating the earth,
     Nourishing with love,
     Unclasping greed shackles,
     Reshaping body beauty,
     Singing growing songs.
     Working still.
     (Hinewīrangi Kohu in Ihimaera, 1993)

In the fight for recognition of the foreshore and seabed, Sean Ellison and Angeline Greensill retold the story of Papa and other atua Māori before the Waitangi Tribunal in 2004:

Tangaroa still embraces Papatūānuku. Ranginui still embraces Papatūānuku. The foreshore is the space where one can clearly witness the movement and exchange of energies, and the preparation, bustling and adaptation made by the divine influences of the gods as they perpetually seek to express the inherent universal balance and harmony, one with another, within the ever-changing reality of the physical world …

Jessica Hutching, Rose Pere, and Tagan Paul, among others, have also identified Papa as the protector and progenitor of mana wahine:

Mana wahine is uniquely Māori in that it is grounded in Papatūānuku, with roots in tikanga Māori. Māori women, who form the fibre, are at the centre of this approach.

Papatūānuku is also the vanguard of climate change action and care for the environment. She has been co-opted, too, in national party political strategy focused on climate change and environmentalism. In 2008, a vote for the Māori Party could be described as a vote for Papatūānuku. Papa makes it into the Māori Party constitution, just as she was included in the Mana Motuhake manifesto more than 20 years earlier.

Kaupapa Māori is the foundation of Māori culture and is derived from this Māori world view. Growing from within the kaupapa are our tikanga, like the trees that spring from Papatūānuku. The tikanga are the policies, practices and organisational structures of the Party that are aligned to and consistent with the foundation kaupapa, and will benefit not only Māori but all those people who lay claim to this country as their homeland. (Māori Party Constitution, ratified on 20 February, 2016.)

In 2017, lawyer Kingi Snelgar argued for legal recognition of Papa:

Things like Papatūānuku as a concept should be recognised as part of our legal framework. And, if we’re going to flourish as a human race, we need to embrace our indigenous thinking and not rely on individual, corporate minds.

In July this year, an idea was publicly announced to erect a massive pou of Papatūānuku in Auckland, at Wynyard Point or Bastion Point. The role and authority for Ngāti Whātua in supporting the idea, pushed by Ian Taylor and Animation Research Ltd, has now been hotly disputed.

The idea caused a bit of a stir, not least because the pou is intended to speak to, and for, all New Zealanders, not just to Māori.

For others, perhaps, it is jarring to think of an enormous pou of Papa rising above the earth. What are we supposed to do when we utter, or hear, those words, “ki a Papatūānuku e takoto nei, ki a Ranginui e tū ake nei” — to Papatūānuku lying there, to Ranginui rising above — referring to the separated nature of our modern world, with earth and sky forever apart? Do we now say, “ki a Papa e tū mai nei”?

But, really, the idea is not all that startling when we see it as just another moment in more than a century of the development of Papa as a focal point, a personality, and a presence that serves to underscore and protect a broad Māori political identity.

Time will tell what happens with that pou, and whether we will ever see Papatūānuku as our great “statue of liberty”, rising from her very own … ground.

Perhaps it doesn’t really matter in the great sweep of Māori cultural history.

From person to person, and from collective to collective, amid conflicting ideas of the divine and the transcendent, Māori exercise very different conceptions of what atua Māori really are.

And yet, such differences fall away. In short, we have imagined and recreated, in our modern and various understandings of Papatūānuku, our very cultural survival.

So, unlike Pan, Papa is not dead. She is not a quaint cultural artefact overcome by the brute force of modernity, who left us bereft and lonely. Our poets still sing of her — looking not to the sun but to the ground on which we all stand

Beyond the Bubble ep 2/2!

Beyond the Bubble ep 2/2!

Yay, part two of the first ep of our web series is up. Things get a teeny bit testy as Dion, Wendi & Maryan consider if we really can be certain that laws enabling euthanasia will have no effect on people who are vulnerable or even suicidal. How do we balance hope of a good life with the right to die, particularly for younger people? Watch & share whānau…

Beyond the Bubble: conversations across the divide. Ep 1/2!

Beyond the Bubble: conversations across the divide. Ep 1/2!

Something a bit different on this blog, episode 1 of a new web series I have been involved in. The topic of this first ep is euthanasia and assisted dying. Various people get exercised about the issue, but civilly so, including Wendi Wicks, Dion Howard and Maryan Street. Big issue, lots to say, we only get to some of it here, but better than a kick in the head as my Mum would say. My oath! Please watch here and share!

Kia ora!

Why is God and sexuality so bloody difficult?

Why is God and sexuality so bloody difficult?

Content warning. This column may contain half-pie, untrained theological musings, so will probably be bad for your health.

Sometime after my 30th birthday, I gave in. All my life, there has been something I recognised, if I truly slowed down long enough to listen to the world around me.

Francis Spufford describes one of those moments of recognition in Unapologetic:

It feels as if everything is with light, everything floats on a sea of light, everything is just a surface feature of the light. And that includes me. Every tricky thing I am, my sprawling piles of memories and secrets and misunderstandings, float on the sea; are local corrugations and whorls with the limitless light just behind. And now I’ve forgotten to breathe, because the shining something, an infinitesimal distance away out of the universe, is breathing in me and through me … someone, not something, is here.

And, despite the long and depressing history of colonialism around the world that I was very well aware of, and the torturous history of the relationship between Māori and the various Christian denominations that arrived in this country, I became a Christian that year.

Or, more accurately, I took my first wobbly Christian steps then. It is taking me many years to work out what being a Christian really is. I started attending an Anglican church, and there I remain.

Ah, church. The ultimate programming tool, right? Why bother? I could just go down to the beach to talk to God (whatever I perceive that to be) and feel good.

The god of sunny days, waterfalls, and puppies is not a very demanding atua. In fact, I can mould that kind of entity into anything I need it to be. I could have a permanent spiritual mascot with all the right political beliefs and all the right cultural characteristics, and I would always be right and never be wrong. My faith need never be on the “wrong” side of any political, cultural, or moral issue ever again.

Why then choose a belief system that imposes any kind of orthodoxy, one not birthed in tikanga Māori, for example? The simple answer that any door-knocking God-botherer will tell you, is the Person of Christ, the guy who died on the cross and was resurrected, cracking the universe into “before” and “after”.

The framework is secondary to the Person. But without the framework, most of us haven’t a chance of seeing the Person at all.

Actually, what many people, including many Christians, don’t get, is that Christianity doesn’t impose a rule book as such. No Leviticus memes to live by. No clean and unclean divisions of behaviour and objects. No “good Christian” check boxes that we can fill in and then face the unknown future confident that we have Done What We Had To Do To Get In The Club.

Well, hang on. That’s not quite true. There is a paragraph or so of stuff Jesus chucks out there that we are supposed to do, mostly cribbed from the Ten Commandments, but missing a few.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

“‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’”(Matthew 19:18-19)

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

So really, it’s all there in the last bit. We are to follow. To direct our feet and our lives, and our innermost beings, towards Christ. Along the way, we are to shuck off those things that would divert us from that journey. Apparently, that’s how you become perfect.

Except following perfectly is bloody well impossible. Thanks, E Hoa.

According to the stories Jesus told, and the life he led, we have to give up those material things that matter to us, like status and money. Turn the other cheek to those that abuse us. Feed the hungry. Love the outcast. Forgive every bastard that does us wrong. Go after the sheep that has strayed. Risk everything for the child who has let you down and probably will do so again tomorrow.

And, above all, love.

And WE HAVE TO MEAN IT. There’s no getting away with going through the motions, because the light behind everything knows us.

And so we fail.

And fail again.

And fail again.

Christianity is a religion of failures and dropkicks, hypocrites and losers, because most of us are goodish, but not one of us is good enough. We all know this regardless of belief, right?

Every one of us breaks things, be they relationships, promises, principles, or other people’s bodies. On one level, admitting the truth of this is terrifying, and goes against everything we think we know in this modern world.

Our failure is not softened by our individual skill set and general awesomeness, nor by Tony Robbins or inspirational posters with sunsets and cats and little quotes that say things like: “You are the best YOU you need to be right now!”

Self-improvement, while it can and does help us Do Life, will never mean we stop breaking things.

We will always break things.

But that hononga, that deep connection between all of us who break all the things, is also immensely comforting. We are never alone, thanks to the whanaungatanga of the fucked-up.

We will keep breaking things and each other and we will still suffer. But if we keep turning back to God and acting accordingly, we are rescued from our broken state again and again. And we are loved no matter what.

But Israel Folau reminded us that Christianity includes the notion of judgment. Furious struggle over what counts as brokenness (“sin”) and as turning back to God (“repentance”) and as following Christ (“righteousness”), has caused, among us inadequate humans, exclusion and bigotry and countless deaths over many centuries.

Sexuality, cultural practices, cultural autonomy, the rights of women to their own bodies, the rights of slaves to freedom — all of these things have proved, and still prove, to be battlegrounds. Human sexuality is just the most recent of these.

At one level, judgment is pretty easy to understand. We do it all the time ourselves, discerning what is the right thing from the not-right thing. We can only “judge” something properly when we know enough about that thing or that action.

I am judged right now by God because I am utterly known right now. There will also be judgment to come. I don’t know what that looks like. But now, or then, everything I am is known, good and not — regardless of my careful construction of who I would rather the world see “me” to be, that construction that secrets away my overuse of porn many years ago, my tendency to lie to myself, my subterranean arrogance.

It doesn’t matter what that “thing” is. What matters is that it draws me away from following Christ.

One of my favourite passages that explains how our “things” get in the way between us and God comes from Jane Eyre. This 19th century novel by Charlotte Bronte is often thought of as a simple, if wonderfully told, love story. You know, poor smart girl meets rich man with a dark past, they fall madly in love, and are about to tie the knot when she discovers he has a wife locked up in his attic all along. As you do. She flees, and realises in retrospect that her obsessive love for her would-be husband was the problem

My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol.

Heterosexual love here was the broken “thing”. Jane and Mr Rochester did eventually marry, once they got each other off their idolatrous pedestals and put God back in the centre of their lives together. (Don’t hold your breath for this aspect of the story to appear in any BBC production).

So is homosexual practice itself one of those “things” that prevent any person from living a Christ-following life? The short answer is of course it can. Anything in the human condition that may be bad, benign, or even a positive good, can morph into “an eclipse [that] intervenes between man and the broad sun.”

“Ah!” say the eagle-eyed scriptural traditionalists, “you are copping out. What about Romans 1: 26-7 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11?” Indeed. We can’t gloss over these kinds of passages or wish them away, although there are way more passages condemning poverty.

The Romans reading looks back to the old story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as the quintessential story of Screwed-up Humans Who Lost the Plot And Forgot God:

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Verse 24 is the important one, actually. The sexually immoral behaviour stems from the worship of the creature (themselves) instead of the creator. The behaviour is a symptom of wrongness, not the cause.

So what about the Corinthians reading:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Drunkards, thieves, and those who pursued sexual immorality in all its forms are to be treated the same. Sexual immorality was a big deal for Jesus, too. Merely looking at someone wanting to commit adultery with that person is enough to knock you off the path (Matthew 5: 27-28). He never mentioned homosexuality, but he made his position clear — sexual immorality would get in the way of those who follow Him.

Many orthodox Christians, I think, would probably say that there is, in these verses, a clear condemnation of homosexual practice, even though it’s no more serious or trivial than any other behaviour. Being habitually drunk is just as sinful. Therefore, homosexual practice (and by extension, for many, homosexuality itself), on this view, is one of those “things”.

For me, though, the question is not “what are the forbidden behaviours we must not do”? Remember, this is not a rule book.

Perhaps it would be more fruitful to identify the sexual behaviours that bring us closer to God. We know covenantal relationships do: marriage, for example, that places Christ at the centre of the relationship. Sexual practice within the context of truly covenantal relationships then becomes rightly irrelevant.

The very notion of the possibility of same-sex covenantal relationships is relatively new (in the context of a 2000-year-old religion), hard, and confronting. And one day it will need to be faced, despite the existence of Matthew 19, Jesus’ condemnation of adultery:

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Traditionalists assert that all arguments end here. Marriage simply cannot be between men or between women. On this view, God cannot “join together” same sex couples. ‘Nuff said.

The Anglican church in 2014 affirmed that traditional definition of marriage. And yet, the 63rd General Synod (flash word for church parliament) of the Anglican Church in New Zealand and Polynesia, decided to allow for the blessing of same-sex relationships in New Plymouth in May 2018.

The vote was not about allowing gay couples to marry in a church. That debate for now is closed.

What was decided was to allow church blessings of gay relationships in this corner of the worldwide Anglican communion. To cut a long story very short, a recommendation was  made that bishops may authorise the use of:

a service blessing the relationship of two people, regardless of their sex or sexual orientation where the minister has satisfied him or herself that the relationship is loving, monogamous, faithful and the couple are committed to a life-long relationship.

Nothing about this blessing will be compulsory for Anglican clergy. The rights of members to take different positions on same sex relationships has been preserved.

Nevertheless, and regardless of the definition of marriage, this s a clear step towards recognising that all couples can enter into covenantal relationships, and therefore that sexual orientation and sexual practice are not merely, by definition, “things” that get in the way of the journey to follow Christ.

It is fair to say that people were be torn. And some walked away, and may yet still walk away from our communion.  The 85 million-strong Anglican church worldwide will probably experience some degree of schism as other countries wrestle with the very same issue.

And we, the equally broken, will continue to break ourselves and each other, until we return to the road we must travel, and whatever that requires of each of us.

Ka aru mātou i a te Karaiti

Tui, tui, tuituia mātou

Tuia ki te tumanako

Called to follow Christ

Bind us together

Bind us in hope.

[Please note this article has also been published on E-Tangata. This article has also been amended slightly in the wake of the 2018 General Synod vote]

Something about stories.

Something about stories.

One evening, a few months ago I found myself sitting on the couch opposite my son.  We were both filling out a Harvard University online test, testing our unconscious biases.  These tests , which make you hit specific keys in response to images of faces and words, are fun, and maybe not very accurate. At any rate, it turned out that I had a moderate unconscious biases against African-Americans and women. Oh bloody marvellous. All my carefully nurtured social liberalism and bleeding heart centre-leftism (with dashes of deep orthodox conservatism, truth be told) was rent asunder and I was left with the fact that, underneath it all, I remain a bundle of automatic reactions I can’t control. As are we all, I guess.

My son though, showed a moderate unconscious bias towards African-Americans. He couldn’t be bothered with the gender test and loped off to play Fortnite with his teen male mates, but still, he gives me hope.  A hope that something in his growth and development, and in the images and people that he sees around him in his teen world has gifted him better soil in which to nurture a more open view of people that look different to him.

Perhaps my (almost) relentlessly Pākehā-centric upbringing in 1970s Christchurch gifted me a different kind of soil. One that grew me into a person who has had to learn to not be afraid of difference. Hell, let’s not beat around the bush, of course it did. It took years of very conscious effort for me not to be afraid to walk into a room full of people darker than I was. Despite my strong matriarchal upbringing and all-girls state education it took years too, to realise that male leadership and breezy male authority in all matters are not written in the stars. I still have to fight to over-compensate, even today, the day I turn 48, for my own simple sexism and racism.

I think background is one thing, but also what really matters are the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we hear or read. When I think back on the stories I immersed myself in as a lonely bookish kid, they were the staples of what I imagine a 1960s English childhood would be: Famous Five, Secret Seven, Billy Bunter, the Hardy Boys, Bullfinches’ Greek myths, Narnia, Corrigan, and the occasional AW Reed story. My imaginary friends all had English accents and said “My hat!” a lot. We watched a lot of Queen’s Christmas Messages when I was growing up.

My movie memories are largely the black and white and sometimes colour ones I’d watch with my mother on Sunday afternoons while she did hours and hours of ironing. I just don’t remember, in the main, any stories with brown or black faces, unless they were the occasional Louis Armstrong or Sidney Poitier moment. I don’t remember female book heroes either (except for George in the Famous Five and Lucy in Narnia). I lived in a Pākehā visual bubble, with occasional Māori guest appearances from Prince Tui Teka and Billy T James. There was simply no narrative of Māori life that I ever saw until I was an adult, and my own post-urbanisation family story was simply too remote to create images in my head.

Things are different for my boy and I think his assumptions are different. He knows, very early in his life , where he comes from and that he is Māori, which is just how it is. The predominant mode of visual story surrounding him is still a Pākehā one, but Boy,  Dark Horse are (boy-centric) stories that he will watch again and again, even as he pretends to do his reo Māori homework for school. Neither film reflects his own life really, but to him, they are just normal stories, just part of the Great Story of Everything. Perhaps his openness to diversity won’t last. Who knows. Part of my job is to make sure he continues to see the world outside the bubble we have no doubt created for him.

So ever since he heard about this year’s Māoriland Film Festival up in Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga country in Ōtaki from 21-25 March he’s been keen to go. Actually he’s not that interested in going to the movies of this festival, in its fifth anniversary year, the ‘most significant indigenous film festival of the southern hemisphere’, according to the blurb. To him, stories made by and about Māori or by and about other indigenous peoples perhaps don’t sound all that different to anything else, really. I think he wants to go because he’s just never been to a film festival before; his uncle and aunty run it, and his Aunty Hinemoa will be down from Auckland. That’ll do. What more do you need?

So after work today (Friday, as I write) we’ll drive in. There’s a doco on late this afternoon, Defending the Fire, that promises to be a layered look at what we mean when we speak of a ‘native warrior’. Maybe we’ll sneak in to catch some of the Ookie-Spookies short films, perhaps the one about the Stállu a Sámi monster who is an outcast in society (Slincraze Stállu) or about a young Aboriginal tracker hunting down criminals on the Australian Western frontier (Blight).  

Actually we’ll probably dine out on ‘Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a feature documentary about the role of Native Americans in popular music history. The funny thing is that this movie will no doubt be revelatory to me, but not for my seriously musical son. My guess is, he’ll be utterly unsurprised that there has been such an extraordinary Native contribution to popular music. He’ll just enjoy the tunes, and effortlessly add this information to what he already knows is normal. We probably won’t be there for the closing day on Sunday, but the programme, with 100 movies in total, is full and rich right up until Sunday night.

Knowing my luck and his personality, my son will probably declare himself absolutely bored at some point and go find somewhere to hang out on his phone, while I’ll continue to bask in images and sounds different to the ones I grew up with. Normal, but enhanced, transmission after all, then.

[This post has already appeared in a very slightly edited form on E-Tangata.]

The marae and the long shadow.

The marae and the long shadow.

The kuia and I trade calls, our voices wreathed in the morning mist. The house before me, rooted in the earth, pushes up against the grey sky, creating space for us. The group advances with me. We pause. I remember my mum — two years passed. Her throaty chuckle echoes in my mind. Tears fall, again. We move on across the marae ātea.

The last of the calls fade into the air, and we shuffle into the house to find our place, our seats, trying not to be seen but still wanting to see. We negotiate parking spaces; we sit. We watch our breath floating on the air, we listen to the heat pump on the back wall straining to warm the winter void between carvings, weavings, people.

They sit, in the darkened corner, the four of them. An old, lean man with a piece of paper in his hands; a younger, slightly rounder man, both on the front bench. On the back bench sits the silver-haired kuia, smiling at no one in particular. The blonde girl perches off to the side. Knees pointing to the direction she really wants to take, as if she has been press-ganged into these cultural duties — while she was on her way to work, to her mate’s place, to anywhere but here. Yet here she is.

Facing them, we sit. Our single speaker holds his smartphone in a tight grip; the words to his whaikōrero glaring from its tiny screen. Like me, he’s been practising in the car on the way up. Women sitting around me hold pieces of paper, creases bisecting the words to our single waiata. In this pōwhiri it seems okay not to know things off by heart. No shame, but also little quarter given. What must be done must still be done, depletions and dwindlings be damned.

Tikanga, the Correct Way to Behave, carried us along in our willing conformity. Above all, the house holding us within it cannot be left to speak for itself.

Each kaikōrero stands and speaks as they must. As we all need them to. They pay just the right deference to God and gods, to land, to water, to sky, to us and to all our dead. Words ebb and flow between us, some of them in English. When the time comes, we join to harirū, to “how-do-you-do”. Our 25 souls to their four. Us and our heavy footsteps on their marae and in their whare. Within the hour the four leave us, and we fill up their space with noise, chatter and our business.

In the two warmth-filled days I spent there it was hard to shake off the sense of foreboding I felt when I looked around me. It felt as if this place were under a shadow, ever-lengthening across our landscapes, falling over many of our marae.

More than 770 traditional marae complexes like this one, usually incorporating a wharenui or whare rūnanga (meeting house) and marae ātea (ritual space outside the house), are embedded across Aotearoa, at least 743 of them in the North Island. Dozens more pan-tribal complexes have grown in cities.

These documented structures don’t tell the full story of our marae-claimed lands. Many of the traditional complexes are likely to be still unknown to researchers, given that there are more than 1300 marae reserves registered under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these often tiny built spaces are increasingly vulnerable to demographic change. As kaikōrero and kaikaranga in remoter areas decline in numbers, some paepae, or speaker’s benches, simply empty. In some places, too, the karanga is no longer heard.

We have known about this danger for a long time. My awareness of the lengthening shadow has been further provoked in recent weeks by a worrying series of events. A month or so after I returned from the marae hui, Bruce Stewart died at his beloved Tapu Te Ranga marae in Island Bay, Wellington. An extraordinary man with a vision to match, Bruce left his people to remain as kaitiaki of an urban marae, hewn by hand out of recycled and scavenged materials, dug into the hillside.

Haere ki ōu mātua tipuna.
Haere, haere,
okioki ai . . .

That marae is also vulnerable, as a result of a fraught relationship with the Wellington City Council and with some in the community. Building-compliance demands hang heavy on this idiosyncratic, 10-storey structure, described by council spokesman Richard MacLean as a ‘death-trap’. Parts of the complex have been closed up and barricaded off from use.

Almost a year before Bruce’s death, his son Hirini acknowledged the shadow lying over their marae:

It’s the proverb he always told us — those who build the house are built by the house. And so all those people will come down with the house, if it comes down.

Well. We all have much to lose if our houses come down. The marae complex, no matter how plain, enables the iwi, hapū or urban collective to have a point of foundation in the world, by affirming the links of the people with ancestors, land, guardians and waters. The spaces of the marae ātea and the whare rūnanga make us cross thresholds: between the worlds of the living and the dead; between descendants and ancestors; between this world and other worlds. If such places can survive demolition, that is. For the very earth within which marae are embedded has been shifting and seething.

Rū ana te whenua.Whati ana te moana . . .

From 1 July 2017, every wharenui or whare rūnanga has been counted as a “building” under the newly amended Building Act 2004, unless it can show that it is a “building used wholly or primarily for residential purposes”. Arguably, most marae whare are not usually wholly or primarily places of residence, so will likely have no exemption under the amended legislation.

Exemption from what, you ask?

Local councils will need to determine whether such “buildings”, including marae complexes, are earthquake-prone. If they are, the councils will issue notices requiring seismic work to be done by a deadline of the council’s choosing. Given that at least 70 per cent of existing marae structures are estimated to be over 50 years old, the number of marae needing work done could be large indeed.

In brutal summary, marae deemed earthquake-prone will need to be upgraded or replaced, or face demolition. While marae complexes must be safe for all people, the potential financial, spiritual and emotional costs are likely to be huge, if not insurmountable, for poorer Māori communities.

In early 2016, the MP for Te Tai Tonga, Rino Tirikatene, unsuccessfully sought an exemption for marae under the Act, and tried to draw parliament’s attention to such complexes being more than mere buildings:

[In] te ao Māori a wharenui is more than just a building. It is representative of our tūpuna. If we look at all the various parts of a marae, they are the parts of the body of our tūpuna, so there is more than just a bare-boned, inanimate-type object that we are referring to in this legislation. I think that is what this legislation fails to do — it fails to address the extra spiritual meaning that is applied to buildings.

Other events have also prompted me to sense the shadow over our marae and their futures. During 2016 and 2017 there has been unprecedented coverage of the role of marae complexes as the providers of welfare and emergency assistance to anyone in need. Such media stars have included Takahanga marae, which helped people after the 2016 earthquakes in Kaikoura, and Rautahi marae in Kawerau, which opened its doors to flood victims after the April 2017 Edgecumbe floods, among others.

There were Te Puea and Manurewa marae, housing the homeless in 2016 and 2017 as an emergency extension of government services in response to the housing crisis in Auckland. Marae complexes have become, more publicly at least, centres of emergency welfare. These activities push the marae beyond their usual functions.

In something of a cruel irony, the new building laws may stretch further, to these marae, too. Councils will identify and prioritise “buildings” likely to be used for emergency accommodation. Such buildings are more likely to be assessed earlier. If they are found to be earthquake-prone, such marae will be required to have the remedial work done more rapidly. Marae such as those I have just named could well be “rewarded” for opening their doors to those in emergency need by being subjected to even greater scrutiny and earthquake compliance requirements than other buildings.

There was generous public praise of the marae which helped their communities in times of need. But praise is a fickle creature. During the same short passage of weeks in which Bruce Stewart passed and the new legislation was enacted, Awataha marae in Northcote, Auckland, became the focus of an unprecedented political attack. The attack showed not only how Māori institutions and people can easily become political pawns, but also how marae can end up out of sync with their own communities.

In the run-up to the 2017 general election, the Labour Party established a scheme to attract young people from overseas to buy return tickets to New Zealand, so that they could participate for three months in an internship scheme that would give them valuable electioneering experience.

The scheme got too big for its boots, and the decision to house the interns at Awataha, an urban marae not designed for housing such a large number over such a long period of time, caused an outcry. Marama Fox, Māori Party co-leader, compared the interns to “slaves”. Some media described the marae itself, and the temporary sleeping structures it put up, as “slum accommodation” and dubbed it “the sweatshop marae”.

Although subsequent reports downplayed the culpability of the marae, mud sticks — and filth sticks even longer. Awataha marae faced reputational ruin over a situation for which they were largely not responsible. It is a well-known axiom among Māori that any marae that abuses visitors will lose its own mana and become dusty from its own neglect:

Tangata takahi manuhiri, he marae puehu.

In fact, Awataha had already been the target of street protest weeks before the internship story broke. Some Māori, represented by Te Raki Paewhenua Māori Committee, felt excluded from the marae, which was designed to be used as an urban foundation point for local Māori communities.

They claimed that the marae was instead hiring itself out to other groups, severely limiting the use of the marae for tangihanga and other cultural celebrations and commemorations of local Māori.

While it is anyone’s guess how this long-simmering stoush will end, it is certainly true that a marae cannot, and perhaps should not, stand if the home people don’t support it.

The threat of disconnection between people and a marae leads me to yet another June 2017 event that forms part of the shadow in my mind’s eye.

This time, the story occurs in Greystanes, Sydney, Australia. Three organisations — Ngā Uri o Rāhiri Inc, Te Aranganui and the Sydney Marae Appeal — had the dream of establishing a marae complex on leased land at the Hyland Road Reserve in Greystanes. Like all attempts to realise dreams, it took a lot of time, energy and fundraising — and then, at the last hurdle, the local authority, the Cumberland Council, rejected the proposal, seemingly without a backward glance. In the sometimes cruel and bloodless language of power that erases years of hard work, it was simply:

Moved and declared carried by the Administrator that Council:
1. Abandon the current process relating to the proposed leasing of the subject land.

The main reasons given were (broadly speaking):

  • lack of sufficient cultural connection between the immediate area and the local Māori population
  • issues of due diligence
  • questions about the amalgamated groups’ ability to fund the project.

Those backing the project disagreed. For now, at least, that dream sleeps.

This was not the only marae project in Australia. There’s one in Melbourne, one in Western Australia, and probably others in the pipeline, too. It is hardly surprising, in a way, that such plans are afoot. From 2006 to 2011 the number of those recorded in the Australian Census as having Māori ancestry grew 38.2 per cent, from 92,912 to 128,434. Historian Paul Hamer reckons that Māori in Australia now comprise at least 18 per cent of all Māori.

Tā Mason Durie reckons that this kind of development was bound to happen. As he points out, there are already overseas marae. I presume that he is referring to places like Hinemihi in London, and the highly successful Aotearoa village at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu in Hawai’i. It’s just the next step in what Tā Mason calls “sustaining the Māori Estate”.

Marae have been constructed in overseas countries where significant Māori communities now reside and as global travel increases, it is likely that overseas marae will be part of a world-wide network of marae, some based around hapū, others around communities of interest, and others still around global travellers who seek to retain a cultural anchor in an otherwise assimilating environment. — Ngā Tini Whetū: Navigating Māori futures

And certainly Māori have spread overseas. For example, Māori have had a couple of centuries of deep connection with Parramatta in New South Wales. In 1811, while staying with Reverend Samuel Marsden, Ruatara established a small farm near the banks of the Parramatta River (originally the territory of the Burramattagal clan of the Darug people).

Marsden, having purchased the land, used the area to set up (briefly) a Māori seminary, supported by other Northern Māori rangatira such as Kāwiti Tiitua and Hongi Hika. This area is known still as Rangihou. Tūpuna are reportedly buried there, and if there were to be a place with a strong claim for a marae, quite possibly this is it. Accordingly, those trying to establish the marae at Graystanes sought to show connection between that project and those historical roots at Rangihou, a mere 8 kilometres away.

And, surely, setting up a marae complex deep in overseas soil can make sense, right? Maybe. Except… it doesn’t quite feel right. In particular, I wonder about the cost to the indigenous peoples of Australia of Māori creating such permanent foundation points in that country.

I was astonished to find no mention in the Greystanes proposal’s heritage report of the original Darug peoples of the area. While the proposal had the oral support of David Williams (of the Holroyd City Council Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee), a Bundjalung man from a different tribal area to the north-east of the Darug in New South Wales, there were no publicly available accounts of other Darug support for the proposal.

This absence of a Darug voice troubled me. I know that my own knowledge is imperfect: perhaps those conversations never took place, perhaps they did. Regardless, the notion that marae complexes should be embedded in Australian soil disturbs me. When we dig into that soil to create places or points of belonging, no matter how well we think we have consulted with indigenous peoples, that soil is not ours and will never be ours.

When I raised a similar issue recently, one woman responded by saying, “Māori migrated to Aotearoa and built our marae there… never were we trees to plant ourselves in one spot. A marae is more than just the land it stands on.”

That’s true. And we know from the settlement process that long-standing claims and cross-claims to land and mana whenua are still being quarrelled over today. But I don’t think that history allows Māori or any other people to ignore and therefore to denigrate the peoples belonging to other lands that we would like to live on.

This doesn’t mean we can’t be Māori on that soil. How can we not be? We should guard and protect and develop our cultural expressions, even in little ways. But perhaps we should be careful to resist the tempting call to entitlement. Like birds drawn and fooled by the hunter, we might just end up in the pot.

E kore e rongo, he manu ka pakia pepetia.

The shadow that has troubled me over the past several weeks won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Some of our marae are cold, and some of our houses have been left to speak for themselves. More will now struggle under the threat of earthquakes and the financial, spiritual and emotional burden of compliance, and the changes to tikanga such compliance might require. Urban marae are increasingly agents for social change and yet also pawns in political point-scoring, and some run the risk of moving beyond the reach of their own whānau.

And sometimes our people overseas are caught in the no-man’s land between needing to be Māori, and needing to belong to overseas places, but being ever the manuhiri on the soil of others whom we should not supplant.

For many of us the carved gate, the barely glimpsed tekoteko or the peeling paint on the side of what looks like a shed barely warrant another glance. Perhaps the very word “marae” conjures up fond memories of a school visit in decades gone by. Perhaps these places only exist for us in the abstract, in the absence of an invitation across that threshold. For others of us, marae might re-ignite fears, memories of felt exclusion.

Regardless of our connections or otherwise, this marae-studded geocultural dimension of New Zealand society needs attention, protection, words and warmth. Like the language, marae may not survive as we currently know them, unless more of us tread them, sleep in them, call on them, fall in love in them, declaim and weep for them, and maybe even stump up our readies for them.

And thus, just maybe, we can push the shadow back.

This essay is extracted from The Journal of Urgent Writing 2017 edited by Simon Wilson, and published by Massey University Press, 2017 (RRP $39.99). Also published, with permission, at E-Tangata.

 [Image: ko Moetonga te whare tupuna, ko Te Rokekā te waharoa, e tū mai ana ki Wainui (Ahipara)]

Rā Maumahara…Just what are we really commemorating?

Rā Maumahara…Just what are we really commemorating?

This post also features, in a slightly edited form, on E-Tangata.

I have a jaundiced memory of going to ANZAC day parades when I was an Air Training Corps cadet in 1980s Christchurch; events that were dreary, cold and ill-attended. Small crowds would attend, outnumbering the veterans, but not by very much. I remember a few more over the last couple of decades in Wellington as attendance at such services has swelled, and as solemnity has deepened. And always, my throat would tighten, and my vision would blur with unshed tears. There is something very powerful in these observances – perhaps it has been a deep sense of belonging to same old tapestry as everyone around me – a warp & weft stretching back innumerable generations. But then, I’m a sucker for solemnity and ritual that creates meaning, even if the meaning is not always true.

And I’m not the only one. This State-sponsored national identity-making now reaches an ever-increasing cross-cultural emotional crescendo at such times every year, even if only temporarily. In our secular society Anzac Day observance has surely replaced, for many, the public role once played by churches. On this day above all, commercials stop in the morning, we stop, we bow our heads, reflect, and sometimes we even pray. In a country where the bare majority no longer holds Easter Sunday or Good Friday sacred, ANZAC Day has become perhaps the national sacred day of the year.

This phenomenon seems to be a welcome antidote to the usual self-induced and frankly, deliberate, historical amnesia of the majority – that any New Zealand history becomes a focal point of civic ritual is good.  On the other hand the strength of this relatively recent shiny narrative of togetherness has served to hide other less known and perhaps less palatable parts of our history.  For longer than any of us now on the planet have been alive we have paid no national attention to the blood spilled and the stories dug into our own landscape and buried in our own shared genealogies from New Zealand Wars, that tumultuous and bloody period of civil war, hard on the heels of the Musket wars of the 1820s and 30s, that periodically convulsed large swathes of the North Island between 1845 and the mid 1870s.

Officially at least, that has now changed and the 28th of October this year marked the first official day of national commemoration of the New Zealand Wars, the new ‘Rā Maumahara’, the date also marks the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1835.  Conversations and advocacy only apparently began in 2010/2011 to expand local commemorations, such as for the Battle of Ōrākau, to a nationwide event. Such efforts concluded successfully when Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson and 12,000 others presented a petition to Parliament seeking the establishment of a national day of commemoration of the the wars in 2015. While those efforts were successful, the wars are still not to be included as a compulsory subject in the school curriculum.

As a part of Rā Maumahara  the Ōtaki community has the current opportunity to rewatch the 1998 New Zealand Wars documentary series over the course of several weeks at the Māoriland Hub. Watching this series again has reminded me that just as much as our ANZAC story, the land wars too gave rise to a powerful set of stories that has done much to eradicate or twist understanding of Māori history in this country beyond the truth.

Here’s one small example. The first episode of the series deals with the Northern War, comprising a series of battles, including Puketutu, Ōhaeawai, and Ruapekapeka, kicked off by Hone Heke felling the flagstaff four times at Kororāreka in 1844-5.  the end result of which could not arguably be seen as a decisive and true Imperial/British victory over the Māori. What this war did do, was provide a petri dish for the development of colonial and Imperial propaganda. Governor Grey was able, after Ruapekapeka use new newspaper media to claim that he and the 1300 Imperial troops (aided by some 400 Māori allies) had brought peace and safety to the North. The reality was different. As the settler F. E. Manning put it in 1846:

“… anyone to read Despard’s despatches would think that we had thrashed the natives soundly whereas really they have had the best of us on several occasions. I really begin to think that it is perhaps all a mistake about us beating the French at Waterloo. I shall always for the rest of my life be caution how I believe an account of a battle.”

So should we all be. In the year 2017 when ‘fake news’ made Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year, it pays to remember how quickly wars become as instruments of propaganda.

One aspect of the accounts of the Northern war is the extent to which this particular conflict was a war of symbolism. When Hone Heke was chopping down the flagstaff he was, as is obvious, attacking the flag itself as a symbol of British sovereignty. It therefore matters, when peace broke out, that the flagstaff was not re-erected by the colonial regime at all, as the missionary Henry Williams noted:

“The flagstaff in the Bay is still prostrate, and the natives here rule. These are humiliating facts to the proud Englishman, many of whom thought they could govern by a mere name.”

It wasn’t replaced until 1858 when Kāwiti’s son Maihi Paraone Kāwiti erected ‘Te Whakakotahitanga’ which stands still.

It also matters that Grey and the rest of the ‘government’ of the day didn’t punish the ‘rebels’ as was to happen with increasing ferocity in other land wars. Simply put, in the 1840s there probably wasn’t the kind of deep infrastructure and buy-in from Northern Māori that could enforce any such punishments. It took many decades to persuade Māori, eventually, of the relevance of new courts and other legal institutions, including Parliament, to Māori life, a project not complete arguably until the late 19th century, or even well beyond. The Northern wars reveal something of the mere beginning of that mission. Subsequent wars reveals even more.

***

There’s a scene at the end of the movie Utu that says something very profound about the nature of the conflict that those Wars conducted over law, including tikanga, that I never noticed in all the other times I have seen it. If you haven’t seen this film, by the way, find a way. Essential bloody viewing.  Have a read of Danny Keenan’s excellent essay here on the way this movie tells the story of our ‘reel’ history as opposed to our ‘real’ history.

In summary, the story is set in the 1870s, at the tail end of the major conflicts of the New Zealand Wars. Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace), who had been fighting with colonial troops  comes upon his home village, shortly after it’s been attacked by the Armed Constabulary.  Te Wheke commences a campaign of destruction and murder of Pākehā settlers. The Armed Constabulary then pursues him assisted by Wiremu (played by Wi Kuki Kaa). Anyway…to the scene in question. Imagine, if you will….

Te Wheke faces a supposed court-martial at the very end of the film. He has been captured by the Constabulary. He is being ‘tried’ for his crimes. Proceedings take place by firelight, in the bush, in the back of beyond, in the wops. Five people are present who want to deliver justice upon Te Wheke, the prisoner.

First to step forward is Corporal Jones, the last ranking officer standing; the young man who believes he has, in 1870s New Zealand, the authority and might of The Law behind him. He believes that he, of everyone present, has the right to execute Te Wheke. Except…he doesn’t. Not out here. In this wild place he’s just a callow youth in a grubby uniform.

Matu (played by the extraordinary Merata Mita) then claims the right, by way of utu, to execute Te Wheke because he beat her cousin Kura to death. Then Williamson, the farmer (Bruno Lawrence), steps forward to claim the right to avenge the death of his wife caused by Te Wheke.

There is an impasse, so many competing claims to ‘rightness’ and due process of ‘law’. Until Wiremu steps forward, removes his cap and reveals himself to be the brother of Te Wheke; shocking all but Te Wheke himself. One by one he discounts the others’ spurious claims to authority. The corporal, he mused, was Kura’s lover, and thus has no standing,  no impartiality and no privilege of position. So much for him. Matu’s claim is spurious, she’s not even a member of Te Wheke’s own tribe, and a woman to boot. Williamson, as the wronged husband similarly could be no bringer of justice to Te Wheke.

Instead the only person with a legal claim to execute Te Wheke was Wiremu himself. Te Wheke had created a circle of death that could not be resolved by Te Wheke alone, or any exercise of spurious colonial law. Only Wiremu could break the circle. Blood of Te Wheke’s blood, with no hatred or grudge, but with mana sufficient to see Te Wheke take the final journey of all spirits, only someone of Wiremu’s mana and bloodline could uphold his brother’s mana, and bring matters back to equilibrium and completion. The two hongi. Wiremu carries out the execution, as was tika, correct in law. Equilibrium returned for that moment;  and credits roll.

This is one of the few scenes I can recall in any New Zealand movie that teases out so subtly and truly, the nature of the conflict of laws between Māori and Pākehā, albeit through the lens of a Pākehā director and scriptwriter. A conflict that was, as much as anything else, at the heart of the New Zealand wars.

***

So as we grow into our annual civic commemorations of the New Zealand Wars; what exactly is it that we will be commemorating? Whose understandings, which symbols, which meanings will rise to the top in this new civic project? I would hope that we could commemorate the Wars with a degree of understanding about the ambivalence and multi-layered complexity of these conflicts. There can be no safe and singular interpretation and we should resist the temptation to create one. These Wars were not a simple matter of good vs evil, our ancestors come from all sides of the blood shed.

Kia maumahara.

 

[image courtesy of Arteis]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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