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Augusto Alcalde interviews Marama Davidson

Augusto Alcalde interviews Marama Davidson


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Marama Davidson speaks at Occupy in Auckland, Aotea Square.

Augusto Alcalde interviews Marama Davidson to allow for a Spanish speaking audience to share struggles and visions with Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa.

Marama, please share about yourself and the struggles of your lands.

I am from Aotearoa, the country called New Zealand. My people are Tangata Whenua, the indigenous people of this land. We have come to be known as the M?ori people. I descend from two different kinship groups in the North called Te Rarawa and Ng?puhi, and also from the peoples of the East Coast region who are Ng?ti Porou.

I was raised mostly on my Ng?puhi homeland in the North, in a small rural valley called Whirinaki. Now I live in the urban city of Auckland with my husband and our six children. For the past nine years I have worked in my local suburban community speaking up on human rights issues. More recently I have sought to create more platforms for grassroots voices to be heard on issues facing us as Tangata Whenua.

In December 2010 I was part of establishing a group called Te Wharepora Hou. We are small and loose collective of M?ori women seeking a stronger collective voice. Our primary concern is for the wellbeing for our people and our environment. Te Wharepora Hou aims to offer an informed and distinctly women’s perspective on issues as we feel that our viewpoint is too often marginalised.

I am just one M?ori woman using my voice and I celebrate the many different perspectives that exist among us as indigenous women. The opinions I offer are my own. However I hope to reflect my ongoing learning and collaboration with the strength of those around me and who I am blessed to be in contact with. The ‘struggle’ for me is about all of us as humans needing to take better care of each other and of our planet. The lens that filters my aspirations is quite blatantly an indigenous one. It is a lens which sees me claim first and foremost my identity as a M?ori woman and as a mother.

 Could you say something about the true name of your Land, commonly known by the name of “New Zealand”?

I am not any sort of expert on my mother tongue so I am still learning about name origins also. The name “Aotearoa” is now commonly used as the M?ori name for New Zealand. One translation for Aotearoa is “Land of the Long White Cloud”. However I am not sure of the origins of the word ‘Aotearoa’ itself. Some say it was the name for the North Island only. There is some suggestion that the use of Aotearoa in reference to the whole country only happened post-colonisation. We have other original names for the South Island, also known as Te Waipounamu (The Greenstone Waters) or Te Waka o Maui (The Canoe of Maui) – and the North Island also known as Te Ika a Maui (The Fish of Maui).

 I liked your writing on Real Revolution. Can you share more about the revolution you were referring to and how you see your people in this particular conversation?

Our women’s group Te Wharepora Hou put out some articles about the Occupy Movement. The Occupy Movement has seen cities around the world rising against oppressive neo-liberal capitalism which for me resonates hugely. I wrote one of the articles “What a Real Revolution would look like: (http://tewhareporahou.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/what-a-real-revolution-would-look-like/) asserting what I thought would be a great revolution for humankind. I proposed how we might all benefit if the rest of the movement would firstly acknowledge that they are fighting what indigenous people have been fighting for centuries. Any lack of putting this issue to the forefront for me felt like a gap in the movement’s analysis and therefore a continuation of the status quo. It was important for me to call for the movement to remember the colonial imperialism that has destroyed peoples and their healthier structures, not just indigenous peoples either, around the world. This destruction has now seeped over into the breaking point of effecting far too many people and breaching our planets sustainability.

How is this sort perspective around a real revolution resonating among other people?

Many of these perspectives that I talk about are just echoing what so many others have been saying and doing forever. So many more people have been doing this work for all their lives and I am only just starting to negotiate how I can now play a part and contribute. I myself have only just awakened and become conscious to how the political environment has impacted on my whole life.

It goes without saying that when you elect to take on the public platform of speaking out, you are ultimately up for any attacks and criticisms. I will never be comfortable with that part of speaking up – but instead I am learning to let it be a reflective tool for ongoing improvement.

But there has definitely been support and resonance coming up in the feedback too. That affirmation is essential in order to know if the messages we put up are on track or need refining. I have learnt that speaking up publicly is not for everyone. Speaking up is only one small way of contributing to an ongoing conscientising process for our people. Building up a profile to get our messages out there is absolutely the hardest thing to overcome. Around the world the voice of the indigenous woman, while always strong, has not been the voice to be amplified by masses or by the media.

In terms of the ordinary people struggling – a personal goal of mine is always to be seen as relevant to us ‘ordinary people’. And it is the work of ‘ordinary people’ which I hope to give an extra platform to. For example I often highlight the work of some local elderly women of my suburb who form relationships with those families who we might consider hardest to engage with. Their approach to supporting families to stand on their own feet is huge and important work. I am not qualified or experienced or skilled in doing that sort of work. But I can easily talk about it to a wider audience and share the success stories and use their learnings to stir debate. A public platform used in this way has seemed to resonate hugely with ‘ordinary people’.

 How are your People dealing with the issue of communication, in this era of cyber and informatics struggles and wars?

I think M?ori have always been resourceful and innovative. In many ways we have embraced the technology that is in front of us and we adapt it and even improve it for our own style – such is the outreach of our diverse talents. There is still the ongoing battle to counteract things like mainstream media offerings. Biased, prejudiced and sensational reporting has been so damaging to our people and has furthered ill-informed and polarising debate. But on the same hand we have established our own streams of media and are constantly seeking ways to get across our own perspectives and our own stories. 

In one of our conversations you mentioned that you also are involved in poetry. I remember you saying “I’m also dabbling in poetry too, which is most fun.” How do you see the role of poetry as a liberation tool?

Our mother tongue, as well as functional and conversational, is also poetic and sexy. Whether someone is currently a fluent speaker or not, the M?ori language runs through us collectively so I say we absolutely have the gift of poetry running through us collectively too! Poetry must be one of many tools that we are open to utilising alongside our other creative energies. My only claim to being ‘involved’ in poetry is that I am just starting to dabble in it a bit and have written a few pieces. But in finally sitting down and experimenting with words in my own head, I can now acknowledge the way poets all around the world and definitely M?ori poets have inspired us and awoken us. A piece of awe-inspiring poetry can be politically engaging in a way that other writing may not. This is where poetry has the ability to connect and enlighten us to our road ahead. 

Your question to political party representatives on the Native Affairs Tamaki Makaurau live debate was:
“Increasing poverty and unemployment are having harsh impacts on M?ori wh?nau. Many of our wh?nau are headed by M?ori women. I know of many informed and confident Maori wahine who have no confidence in any political processes. Despite some outstanding women leadership, many women feel that our voice has largely been trampled on for too long.
HOW will your party show support to wh?nau and encourage M?ori women to be engaged in decisions that affect them?”

I want to ask you to share more about how poverty and unemployment are impacting in your extended families, especially on women. How do you see the role of M?ori women in traditional politics as well as in the Real Revolution you talk about?

Poverty and unemployment have always impacted more harshly on Maori women. We are disproportionately represented in many statistics that tell us we are poorer, more unemployed, less healthy, more domestically beaten up, more single, more pregnant at a young age and so forth. The way that information is used in a deficit manner is a whole extra topic. But what it does mean is that when regressive neo-liberal policies are shoved through it is our women and therefore our families that will suffer the most and I will add, alongside Pacific communities and some ethic minority groups. This has certainly been the case since the liberal economic policies imposed in our country since the 1980’s.

Our involvement as M?ori women in our ‘traditional’ politics is also ever evolving. I have always said that our own hap? and wh?nau need to reflect on what parts of our tikanga (customs) are authentic to our status as M?ori women. We have to ask the hard questions of ourselves about what parts of our own tikanga have become colonised in a way that we do not even realise. What parts of our own tikanga must we enable to evolve, so that we are still able to protect our principles but in a way that works for us.
There is no denying the staunch M?ori women throughout the history of my people and through to today.  We are and have always been leaders in all areas of life and continue to improve on our representation at all levels. But cementing our roles in both modern society and post-colonial M?ori infrastructure has been hugely challenging also. Hence our over-representation in the sort of negative statistics I firstly mentioned.
It also means that M?ori women collectively have more barriers to negotiate in reaching our full potential as members and leaders in our own wh?nau. We have been doing an absolutely stunning job on all fronts, despite these challenges. But we should all be concerned about those wh?nau that are not at their best. And we should all understand the complex dynamics that contribute to that dysfunction.

Marama, could you say something to us about the situation of Tuhoe’s guardianship and self-management of their own iwi lands that they are living on?

This is the fundamental struggle facing our country I believe – the imbalance of power. M?ori do not believe that our ancestors envisaged for us to lose our stewardship of the land the way that we have.

I am not from of Ngai Tuhoe. But the story of the Tuhoe people is one that highlights ongoing colonisal oppression and staunch resistance and strength in the face of such hostility. Tuhoe have had their autonomy continually denied. Their ancient relationship with their traditional lands has been undermined with unjust land confiscations by the Crown. Their ongoing resistance to such Crown wrong-doings has been met by even further Crown atrocities.

Successive governments continue to subjugate Tuhoe’s self-management and authority and so our infrastructure continues to prop up such power imbalance. The worst thing is that it denies our whole country an opportunity to learn what benefits their might be for us all, in affording Tuhoe their rightful sovereignty. Their connection to their traditional homelands brings with it specialised knowledge of survival and sustainability in a ‘harsh’ environment. As the human race looks more and more towards long-term sustainability, we would do well to honour such experiences of people like Ngai Tuhoe living as Ngai Tuhoe on their own lands.

In different ways, but with the same underlying principle of power imbalance, this same story can be echoed around all of the different iwi of Aotearoa.

Can you please share on the Deed of Settlement for your people of Te Rarawa? Do you think that now it can begin the process of consultation called ratification?

The Te Rarawa people of the far north are one of the groups of peoples I belong to. The ‘Te Rarawa Deed of Settlement’ aims to be a full, final and comprehensive settlement for Crown wrong-doings to the Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa iwi. The settlement deed sets out how redress will take place; it includes such things as Crown apologies, financial vesting and co-management agreements.

The deed is now being taken back to the iwi peoples to be ratified and accepted.

Some of our grassroots people have fought long and worked tirelessly to achieve as restorative an agreement as possible. The challenge of working up something acceptable is huge because authentic justice may never be achieved. Most of our iwi lands will never be returned and the ongoing negative impacts of a people losing their spiritual, economic, social and cultural base have been devastating. Such impacts will take generations to undo.

Regardless of what the deed entails, I am always saddened by the initial wrongdoing in the first place. From that initial Crown wrongdoing follows the onslaught of a messy process. Our own people brutalise each other around the semantics of any agreement and smaller iwi groups of people feel overlooked by larger iwi groups. Our traditional groupings have long been destroyed by urbanisation and the challenge to engage all the descendants is insurmountable. Often a ‘mandate’ with a final vote can be in reality mean less than a 25% voter-turnout. As a participant and voter with three iwi claims processes in the past year (Ng?puhi, Te Rarawa and Ng?ti Porou) I have been torn every time between accepting a deed that can never come close to justice while at the same time knowing it will probably be the best deal we can ever get.

I would love to see positive outcomes from each of the settlement deals that continue to be negotiated. However I do not think that we can rest our hope or our laurels on such settlements. It would be great to see our economic base established and the power balance restored but any settlement is only the beginning of further slog. Examples of our people exercising their care for lands and waters already offers glimmerings of us regaining our rightful status as people of the land. This has often happened in the face of hostile power structures. Removing that hostility would go a long way to benefitting our whole nation.

 It seems there is a deep crisis in the neoliberal oppressive capitalism that has damaged life and our Mother Earth. Together with this, movements of resistance are active around the planet. What is the view of your people about this struggle?

As with any of these questions you have asked me, there is no such thing as one view of my people. I can only offer my own view while strongly claiming my identity as a M?ori woman.

The resistance to neoliberal capitalism is a movement that I have supported in principle. My own involvement in the Occupy Movement in Aotearoa has been specifically to engage hearts and minds of that movement to the need to decolonise Occupy – and therefore the need to decolonise the planet.

I have talked about decolonising ourselves as humans and restoring our human values of looking after each other and the earth collectively. I have talked about how the Occupy Movement must first acknowledge that it has set about ‘occupying’ land that has already been stolen. I have asked that a deeper analysis happen where we remember that land has been removed from the indigenous people by the very forces that the movement is opposing. There are indigenous people in every place where the movement is happening, calling for this accountability and acknowledgement. In Aotearoa there are certainly some of us keeping that message to the forefront.

I have tried to raise awareness within the Occupy movement to the different struggles that my people face around the country. I believe there would be great benefit in non-indigenous people understanding how they have so far benefitted from the colonial imperialism that has rocked the world. If more people can get behind the different struggles of iwi groups and begin real solidarity in practice, I think we would be able to overcome the forces that are finally being proved redundant in a progressive world.

Thank you for your time Marama.

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