The Flag Conversation and Issues of Distraction

Over the past few months there has been an intensified promotional campaign for the upcoming ‘flag referendum’ due to take pace in just a couple of weeks. It has been an interesting campaign to watch and I remain skeptical about the intention and timing of the process. On the whole however most people remain uninformed about the positioning of flags in Aotearoa and that there are multiple flags, and versions of the current flag that are used. Also little is shared in mainstream media about the original flag chosen on 20 March 1834 by Iwi within the north. This blog seeks to provide information that has been shared about the history of flags in Aotearoa.

The call for a new flag is not new. There has been long term discontent with the privileging of our colonisers representation of this country through the current national flag.   The ‘Politics of Distraction’ have worked well over the past few months and have managed to move the debate away from a need to ensure the representation of Aotearoa in a contemporary context is relevant to our positioning within the Pacific, with Māori as Indigenous Peoples and which affirms our Treaty relationships. The announcement that $26million would be spent on the process has lead to much discussion about the worthiness, or otherwise, of spending such a significant amount of funds on a flag debate. That is distraction #1.

Where I agree that there are many kaupapa that should be supported with such funding, we need to remember that we have lived under a colonial image for many generations and we have been seen as an appendix to the British empire, a footnote to the colonial text. A change is well overdue. The issue of the $26million needs to be seen in the context of a right wing government that is cutting funding to those in need and that those cuts far exceed $26million. This debate could have been done for far less than $26million, however the key issue is that we need to get rid of governments that continue to privilege neoliberal economic profiteering over and above the wellbeing of our citizens.

The timing of the referendum aligns with the Rugby World Cup. Winning the world cup has meant the media and our lives have been dominated by two flags – (i) the current national flag and (ii) the silver fern on black. The Prime Ministers has consistently promoted the silver fern and timing around the Rugby World cup provided a means by which to motivate the national spirit. That is Distraction #2.

The flag debate has also provided distractions away from other critical issues of the time. Developing awareness of the TPPA and its implications for us, dealing with issues of growing poverty, the limited coverage of the fact that John Key has lied about the cost of medicines month after month, have all at one time or another been marginalised by yet another ‘flag issue’.

So what does the flag mean? Where did it come from? What was the original flag of this country? What is the position of the Māori flag in Aotearoa? These are all key questions that even after months of panel work many people still do not know the answers to. So how can people make informed decisions in the upcoming referendum?   What I would suggest is that we do not let rugby world cup fever or anti-$26million spend be the determining factor in terms of selecting a new flag.   We need to consider more strategically how we want to be represented into the future. It has taken 114 years to have this referendum so lets not just throw away the opportunity to make a change.

Making an informed decision is critical. Te Wharepora Hou provides the following information regarding a range of flags that have been a part of the representation of this country since the 1830’s.

The following discussion of the United Tribes flag is provided in the discussion of the history of the ‘New Zealand’ flag at:


Maori chiefs choose a flag

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On 20 March 1834, 25 Far North chiefs and their followers gathered at Busby’s residence at Waitangi to choose a flag to represent New Zealand. A number of missionaries, settlers and the commanders of 10 British and three American ships were also in attendance.

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Following Busby’s address, each chief came forward in turn to choose a flag, while the son of one of them recorded the votes. The most popular design, a flag already used by the Church Missionary Society, apparently received 12 votes, with the other two options preferred by 10 and three chiefs. Busby declared the chosen flag the national flag of New Zealand and had it hoisted on a flagpole to the accompaniment of a 21-gun salute from HMS Alligator.

The new flag was then sent back to New South Wales, from where – after some tweaking – it was despatched to King William IV. The King approved the rejigged flag, a drawing of which was circulated via the Admiralty with instructions to recognise it as New Zealand’s flag. It came to be known as the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the title adopted by the group of northern chiefs at subsequent meetings.

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Busby’s hope that the flag would encourage Māori to act collectively was partially fulfilled when many of the chiefs involved met again to sign a Declaration of Independence in 1835. To northern Māori, the United Tribes flag meant that that Britain recognised New Zealand as an independent nation, and thereby acknowledged the mana of their chiefs.

The flag continued to fly in various places around the Bay of Islands, and on ships trading with Sydney. Ships calling at other ports spread it around the rest of New Zealand. The United Tribes flag remains important to northern Māori.


The origins of the current NZ Flag is described as follows:


Maritime origins

The roots of New Zealand’s present flag lie in the United Kingdom’s Colonial Naval Defence Act of 1865, which ruled that all ships owned by a colonial government must fly the Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony on it. New Zealand at that time did not have an official badge or emblem, and so flew the Blue Ensign without a distinguishing badge. In 1866, the government steamers St Kilda and Sturt were reprimanded by visiting British ships for flying the Blue Ensign without the colony’s badge. This embarrassment prompted the government to devise an emblem for placement on the flag, in compliance with the Act.

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Initial ideas for the design of New Zealand’s emblem included the seal of New Zealand and the words ‘New Zealand’, but both were found to be too difficult to work into the design of the Blue Ensign. The four stars of the Southern Cross were also proposed, but were rejected as not being exclusively representative of New Zealand. In 1867, the colonial government settled on the abbreviation ‘NZ’ in red lettering with a white border to represent New Zealand on the Blue Ensign. In 1869 this emblem was replaced by the earlier suggestion of the Southern Cross, made up of four red stars with white borders.

The signalling flag

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Officially the flag with the Southern Cross was for maritime purposes only but it came to be used on land, even though the Union Jack remained the legal flag of New Zealand. Further confusion was caused by the introduction of an International Code of Signals, which led to the adoption of a signalling flag in 1899. The signalling flag displayed the red stars of the Southern Cross inside a white disc.

It too was for use at sea or in foreign ports, but it soon came ashore onto public buildings and commercial advertising. During debates in Parliament it was described as ‘mutilated’, ‘an abortion’ or more curiously, as ‘a Hennessy’s brandy capsule’. With the outbreak of the South African War in 1899 and its associated patriotism and flag-waving, confusion surrounding the flag was an embarrassment to Premier Richard Seddon.

Making the flag official

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Seddon’s response was to introduce a New Zealand Ensign Bill in 1900 to make the Blue Ensign with the stars of the Southern Cross the legal flag of New Zealand. The bill sailed through Parliament but hit a stumbling block in Sir Robert Stout, who was acting as Governor in the absence of the Earl of Ranfurly. Stout felt that the clause reserving the Act for Her Majesty’s approval cut across the Governor’s right to decide an appropriate course of action. Seddon refused to alter the offending clause, as he considered a constitutional principle to be at stake. In the end, the wrangling was irrelevant as the British Admiralty had other concerns about the bill.

The Admiralty objected to the proposed use of the Blue Ensign ‘for all purposes’, as set out in the preamble to the bill. In the United Kingdom, the privilege of flying the Blue Ensign was reserved for government ships and other distinguished vessels. It was feared that this distinction would be watered down should the New Zealand bill be approved, as all New Zealand-registered merchant ships would then be granted the right to fly the Blue Ensign. The New Zealand government therefore agreed to restrict the use of the Blue Ensign at sea to ‘vessels owned and used by the New Zealand Government’, or where a warrant to fly it had been obtained from the Admiralty. The earlier bill was replaced by a modified New Zealand Ensign Bill, which was passed by the House on 5 November 1901 after debate about whether the Southern Cross should have five stars as on the Victorian flag. King George V approved the Act on 24 March 1902 and the Governor’s proclamation to this effect was published in the New Zealand Gazette on 12 June 1902. A description of the flag followed on 27 June 1902, detailing alterations to the size and position of the stars. The Act was replaced by various Shipping and Seamen’s Acts, including those of 1903 and 1908, but the provisions concerning the New Zealand flag remained effectively unchanged until the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 came into force.


Tino Rangatiratanga: The Māori Flag

The exclusion of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag from the final selection is significant and if people are seeking to make a statement then adding that flag to the list and voting it as ‘1’ on your preferred options makes much more of an impact, and much more sense, that writing ‘Keep the current New Zealand flag’. Adding and voting for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag is a statement about our positioning on our land.   A description of the meaning of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag is as follows:

The various elements of the national Māori flag represent the three realms of Te Korekore, potential being (Black, top); Te Whai Ao, coming into being (Red, bottom); and Te Ao Mārama, the realm of being and light (White, centre). The koru is symbolic of a curling fern frond, representing the unfolding of new life, hope for the future and the process of renewal. The flag should always be flown as depicted above, that is, with the black section at the top, the top part of the koru closest to the flagpole, and the red section of the flag at the bottom.

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We have for many years argued that we do not want to be represented through colonial imagery. The design and creation of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag in 1990 was a critical statement for Māori movements. It said that we sought symbols that represent not only Māori but Aotearoa.

The question we need to ask is whether we are willing to live another 114 years with the current national flag representing who we are to the world. I, for one, am not.

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PM Insults are an act of State Abuse

We have to seriously question the ability of anyone to govern a country when they resort to flippant offhand insults as a means by which to not respond in any meaningful way to critical issues. There seems to be two key approaches that PM John Key takes to avoiding important social justice issues (i) He Lies and (ii) He demeans those who challenge his position. In the case of Christmas Island, John Key has done both. The New Zealand herald described the interchange as follows:

The heated debate on New Zealanders detained on Christmas Island continued inside the House.
Under questioning by Labour leader Andrew Little, Mr Key went on a furious offensive.
In an angry attack, he said: “Some of the [detainees] are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers.
“These are the people that the Labour Party are saying are more important to support than New Zealanders who deserve protecting when they come back here.
“Mr Davis, if you want to put yourself on the side of sex offenders, go ahead my son, but we’ll defend New Zealanders.” (NZH November 10,

What exactly happens between the Prime Ministers ears at the moment when he launches into such tirades is unclear.  What is clear is that he is willing to use any form of distasteful and demeaning comment to silence any challenge to his inaction regarding the detention of our people in Christmas Island. The fervour and speed at which John Key referred to Labour MP Kelvin Davis as being on “the side of sex offenders” highlights a serious lack of judgement. I have myself questioned analysis by Kelvin Davis in regards to the impact of colonisation in the area of  Family Violence and Sexual Violence. However, I have found him to remain committed to making a difference and indeed his work with leading Maori working in the field of Family and Sexual violence prevention, such as Russell Smith, has shown that he is willing to listen and learn from those working to make a positive change. The abuse thrown at him by the Prime Minister was insulting and uninformed. As too, were the actions of the Speaker of the House, David Carter.

TV3 reported that events in Parliament when a group of women MPs stood to reveal they are victims and survivors of sexual violence. Their stand was to raise the issue of the impact and danger of the statements by John Key . As many have reported and commented on, it was a courageous stand to take. Seven women across a number of parties stood publicly to highlight that such statements used as a tool of patriarchal silencing should not be tolerated.

TV3 noted:
Today, seven women stood in Parliament to reveal they are victims of sexual violence. Some of them were saying it for the first time.
They stood because Prime Minister John Key had accused them of “backing the rapists” for voicing concerns about the dozens of New Zealanders locked in a detention facility on Christmas Island, facing deportation from Australia for having served a year or more in jail.
In a better world, I’d dream of their actions encouraging a debate, or even prompting the Prime Minister to apologise for glibly using a deeply painful issue to score cheap political points.
It was a chance for our country’s elected representatives to be role models.
Instead the MPs had their mics cut off. They were reprimanded by speaker David Carter. Some were ejected from Parliament. Those that weren’t walked out.

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Read more:

Today Morning Report highlighted that John Key refuses to give any specific details about why people are being held on Christmas Island and in fact his statements are at least flawed and at most more likely to be another series of untruths. In short the Prime Minister lied in order to stop meaningful engagement about the conditions on Christmas Island and then today attempted to minimise his appalling behaviour by stating to Radio New Zealand:
“I am not claiming they’re all bad to the core I am just simply saying there are two sides to the story” (John Key November 12, 2015).

As the challenges to the Prime Ministers statements were voiced by women in Parliament the Speaker evicted new sitting Green Party member Marama Davidson even before she completed her statement to the house. The eviction of Marama Davidson and Poto Williams was reported internationally as follows:

On Wednesday, female members joined together to directly protest Key’s remarks, taking turns sharing their stories and requesting an apology from the prime minister.
It started with Metiria Turei, the co-leader of the Green party.
“As a victim of sexual assault, I take personal offense to the prime minister’s comments and ask that you require him to withdraw and apologize,” she said.
House Speaker David Carter told her that because the prime minister had not spoken Wednesday, he could not ask him to address Turei’s request.
Jan Logie of the Green Party spoke next, asking “as a victim of sexual assault and as an advocate for survivors” that Key’s words be expunged from the record.
Carter cut her off. “What happened yesterday happened yesterday. Yes, collectively it wasn’t addressed well at the time, but time has passed.”
More MPs followed, including Labour’s Poto Williams and Green’s Catherine Delahunty, whose microphone was turned off after she said she was a victim of sexual assault. Carter said the legislators were “flouting the rules” of parliament by claiming to make points of order, and that any who made similar statements would be ordered to leave the House. Despite the warning, female MPs continued to stand. Green MP Marama Davidson was then thrown out, followed by Williams. The Guardian reports at least eight other female MPs, along with four male MPs, then chose to leave the chamber.

The actions of the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House highlight broader issues of the marginalisation and state imposed violence upon many in this country. The National government have failed to proactively engage with the issues of abuse being faced by many, including many from Aotearoa, in the Australia detention camp on Christmas Island. They also continue to reduce resources and funding to those that are victims and survivors here in Aotearoa. The National government and its Minstry’s such as the Ministry of Social Development have undermined and forced the closure of critical social services, most recently Relationships Aotearoa and Pacific Island Safety Prevention Project in South Auckland.

It has been argued for some time that issues of sexual and domestic violence cannot be addressed seriously without addressing the larger structures of colonialist violence, such as militarism, attacks on immigrants and denial of Indigenous sovereignty and treaty rights, police brutality, the proliferation of prisons, economic neo-colonialism and institutional racism. In order to deal with issues of sexual violence we must also deal with wider structural issues of social injustice and in particular the ways in which cultural, political and gender oppression is embedded within societal structures. What we have seen in the past few days is evidence that this government is not only falling short in ensuring the fundamental human rights of those being detained on Christmas Island, but they are also perpetuating the exact forms of institutional abuse that creates a context where violence is enabled. We should all be deeply disgusted at that.

As a Māori women’s collective, Te Wharepora Hou acknowledge and thank those women who stood to voice their stories, and those in Parliament who stood to support them. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

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On the road to Paris #COP21 Isso Nihmei Climate Warrior Republic of Vanuatu


Where are you from, who are you representing, and why are you passionate about climate change in the Pacific?

Climate Change means struggle to my people in my country, Vanuatu and the rest of the pacific islands. I must admit that we are still recovering from the wounds left after Cyclone Pam six months ago and this why I am so passionate to support climate action for the pacific and the rest of the world. I am representing here the voices of the indigenous people from the republic of Vanuatu who spends every day of their life struggling to survive from serious consequences from the negative impacts of climate change.

What are you expecting from the climate change negotiations in Paris year?

I have high hope for a legally binding agreement and positive outcome from industrialize countries to reduce emission. 2 degrees of warming may not be enough for big countries but it means sinking most of our islands and we cannot allow this to happen and this is why going to Paris is a chance to make sure my expectation is successful and bring back a good message for my people.

How do you think people can best support the Pacific and our fight against climate change?

We need people from all around the world who believe that climate change is the biggest threat to our livelihood, food security and marine life. It is the people’s power of coming together and says less to talk negotiation, full action on climate change and demand bold political actions to address the climate crisis. Industrialize countries needs to commit to the type of future that we deserves for a sustainable and renewable economy. I am sure our homes and islands in the South Pacific will be safe from the devastation of climate change if people continue to commit and stand in solidarity to support our fight to make a change in this negotiation in Paris.

Any final words of encouragement and inspiration you would like to share, with pacific peoples facing the frontline impacts of climate change?

People around the world are inspired by your stories. Keep telling and sharing your story, they are listening and will hear your stories. Nelson Mandela once said ‘It is music that makes him at peace with the world’. Keep singing your songs of the realities of climate change. Your songs will be played in the other side of the world and they will love it and find you and once they find you they will help you.

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On the road to Paris #COP21 Milañ Loeak Republic of the Marshall Islands


Where are you from, who are you representing, and why are you passionate about climate change in the Pacific ?

I represent my people of the Marshalls and share a voice for others across the Pacific and the rest of the world who struggle with impacts of climate change. My passion for climate action is stemmed from the love I have for my family, my fellow Marshallese people, our islands and our culture.

What are you expecting from the climate change negotiations in Paris year?

Ideally, I would like to see a positive outcome agreement for our people and for those whose lives have also been impacted from the effects of climate change. At this point, my focus is on helping to ensure that we do everything within our power to create a strong voice in Paris and continue this resilience well beyond COP21.

How do you think people can best support the Pacific and our fight against climate change?

Reduce carbon emissions at all levels
Transition into and invest in renewable energies
Continue to create strong climate action movements
Continue to lobby and advocate for the rights of those victimized by impacts of climate change
Increase support to developing nations
Utilize social media and other mediums to inform, involve and mobilize
Share our stories

Any final words of encouragement and inspiration you would like to share, with pacific peoples facing the frontline impacts of climate change?

Continue to tell your stories. Do not give up because we are with you and we stand with you in solidarity. And most importantly, share your stories with the children. Teach them. Educate them. People say we need to create a better world for our children, but I believe we should be creating better children for the world that God has already blessed us with. Through our children, we will see the fruition of our work.


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Anne Tolley : Hands off Te Whare Tangata ! Guest Blog by Te Ao Pritchard Te Awhi Paa Trust


“Ka Ora te wahine Puapua Ka ora te Whānau – Pūāwai Ka ora te Hapū – Pūāwānanga Ka ora te Hapū – Pūāwānanga.”

If the woman is cherished, then the family will have wellness –  In turn the communities will be strong, thus the beauty of the tribe will be seen.  na Ngatai Huata

In 1988 the groundbreaking report, PUAO-TE-ATA-TU, into the Institutional racism of the the Social welfare Department noted “ At the heart of the issue is a profound misunderstanding or ignorance of the place of the child in Maori society and its relationship with whanau, hapu, iwi structures.”This was in response to the deprivation that Maori whanau face and the mass removal of our children from whanau into the ‘care of the state’. (1)

Twenty seven years later Anne Tolley the  Minister for Social Development wants to find a way of stopping the most at-risk beneficiaries from having more children.

The purpose of this vicious campaign has been to avoid any probing of the deeper social causes . Anne Tolley’s ‘final solution’ for our struggling whanau is aimed at directing any real examination away from where the real responsibility lies—with successive governments of all stripes and their social agendas.

This is offensive and racist social engineering.  35 % of all children taken into the ‘care of the state are Maori. Maori are easy to be forgotten as the rubbish of structural adjustment. Maori still haven’t recovered from the extremist economic “reforms” of the eighties when an entire generation of Maori & Pacific Island children and youth has suffered under those reforms, and to this very day remain stigmatised, marginalised and brutalised by harsh economic conditions.

Anne Tolley’s attack on Maori women, and our ability to control our own fertility and decide when we want to have children is a return to the assimilation agenda of the 1950’s.

Māori culture aligns women with the land, because the land gives birth to humankind just as women do. As the world was born from Papatūānuku, so humankind is born from women. A woman’s womb, called te whare tangata (the house of humanity), is seen as the same as the womb of the earth.

As te whare tangata and te whare o aituā Māori were (and are) clearly engaged in the production of culture.  Our reproductive bodies represent the continuation of whakapapa, and the survival of whanau, hapu, and iwi. (2)

‘Whereas the woman’s body is a sacred place and in protection of sacred places, the woman’s body, the woman’s womb and the birthing places of all the female nations, must also be protected, and this is the first step to protect the child, to protect the future’ . In the waiata, the purakau, the whakatauaki o Aotearoa, we are familiar with the notion that ‘Ko te wahine te kaitiaki o te whare tangata’ (women are the guardians of the house of humanity).

Women are therefore imbued with a status which requires care, protection and respect in honour of the expectation that in protecting the child, we are indeed protecting the future. (3)

Maori women’s place in their whanau, culture and society shows the impact of  colonisation, assimilation and urbanisation which had resulted in the loss of Maori culture and the low socio-economic position of many of the women and their whanau find themselves in today.

Even though great stress often placed on whanau, against the odds the strength and maturity of the Maori women, has overcome the hardship and difficult circumstances they experience.

Our wahine require protection and our whanau need to be uplifted, they need to be supported not judged. Maori must be empowered and resourced to care for and look after our women, our children and our whanau.

Let us give the support our mothers,  babies and whanau need and keep these vultures away from their mission to destroy and assimilate us. Haere atu Anne Tolley Hands off our Whare Tangata !

By Te Ao Pritchard

Ngāti Kahu, Ngā Kuri, Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Vaigaga, Aleisa

Te Awhi Paa Trust

For comment please contact : 0274578326

References :

(1) PUAO-TE-ATA-TU (day break)


(2) Ngāhuia Murphy, 2013, Te Awa Atua: menstruation in the pre-colonial Māori world.  He Puna Manawa Ltd


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Reflections on our Pacific regional consultation for COP 21 #roadtoparis #cop21

“Against all the odds, and the threats we face to our lands, our cultures, and our ways of life in the Pacific, we have survived and we continue to resist. The time has come for us to reach out across the vast ocean that binds us to support each other’s’ struggles and start to organise against the climate crises that we as Pacific peoples are facing”

Indigenous peoples of the Pacific have called Te Moana Nui a Kiwa our spiritual and cultural home for thousands years. We lived in harmony with our environment and each other; we were self-sufficient and had 100% of our lands, culture, custom and language.

Climate change is a clear and present danger to the Pacific peoples, land, lives; culture and peoples are at risk. Climate change is not a distant threat it is happening now. Rising sea levels are eating up our islands and the resulting salination means more and more arable lands for cultivation become untenable.

Preparing to build a strong Pacific presence at the climate change conference in Paris later this year we met for a  preparatory meeting at Te Piringatahi o te Maungarongo Marae. We had Indigenous activists from Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawai‘i, Kiribati, The Federated States of the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and of course Aotearoa.


We spent our days planning different strategies to ensure that the Pacific will have a strong, visible and vibrant presence both inside the formal climate change negotiations but also out on the streets of Paris.


Keeping with that theme on Friday morning we collaborated with in a street theatre action.This action was to highlight and put pressure on the ANZ to divest from their investments in fossil fuels. The Pacific faces prospect of future climate change refugee camps if the ANZ continues to invest billions of dollars in fossil fuel industries and that this is “literally sinking the Pacific”.

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The highlight for many of our delegates was our solidarity night. We got to share our culture and frontline stories about climate change and its impacts on us as peoples.  We have built our strength and unity to represent our peoples to the best of our abilities while being mindful of our obligations to the values of our ancestors.

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Together we can ensure those most responsible for climate change are held responsible and that those most impacted are supported. In defence of our land rights we are indigenous pacific peoples standing together for our collective self determination our tino rangatiratanga.

I for one am certainly strengthened by the time we have spent together. Building our friendships and unity as we stand up together to fight for our beloved Pacific. My thanks and appreciation to the organisers, to the wonderful people at Te Piringatahi o te Maungarongo Marae and their amazing manakitanga.  My respect and deepest regards to my fellow Pacific Climate Warriors, even though this kaupapa is a heavy one we lessen our heavy load by sharing our struggles and supporting each other with our strong and loving Pacific hearts

One heart, one ocean, one home. – Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.

Onward to Paris and COP21 !

Sina Brown-Davis

Te Roroa, Te Uriohau, Samoa, Tonga.

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Challenging State Imposed Abuse

Over the past few days the media has been inundated with interviews and shocked responses to the release of two reports related to State agencies and issues of abuse of children who have been placed in care by the State.  Today the PM John Key responds by indicating that a part of the solution may be the partial privatisation of Child Youth and Family and associated agencies.  It is incredulous to make such a statement in the wake of the appalling record of Serco and the privatisation of prisons.  It is also predictable given the governments prioriting of neo-liberal economic policies.   I am reminded of Naomi Klein’s publication ‘Shock Doctrine’  (Documentary link here:  which highlights that neo-liberalism becomes dominant in a context of ‘shock’ or when those in power can use the notion that a ‘crisis’ exists in order to  then advocate a need for  ‘market intervention’.  That is fundamentally what John Key is promoting and we should not be fooled into believing that a market driven privatisation agenda will provide the answers to this issue.  Why? because the ‘market’ is as colonising, is as racist, is as oppressive, is as sexist, is as homophobic,  is as classist and is the tool for the privileged to maintain and increase their wealth and power.  That is why.  Serco is just one example. The wealth being generated from a number of the new Charter schools is another.  We should all be appalled by the processes being utilised by the government to entrench neo-liberal ideologies at the detriment of our children and therefore at the detriment of both current and future generations.

In the wider context of what is happening to our children that are held by the State is that of the ongoing imposition of State policies by this government which deny a fundamental right for our tamariki, mokopuna and whanau to have a standard of living that enables their wellbeing and provides opportunities for them to experience a quality of life.  So why are we surprised that a government that has difficulty accepting the existence of child poverty, who lack any motivation to put clear and active policies in  place to deal with the growing issues of child poverty  and whanau living in extremely poor and disturbing conditions  is not able to provide for children in State ‘care’? ( Link for Unicef Video  However when it comes to asset sales this same government moves with great rapidity (, almost as quickly as keeping pubs open during the Rugby World club. The priorities of this government are fundamentally screwed. To put it almost politely.

The Unicef  ‘Kids Missing Out’ Report ( Kids-Missing-Out-A4-Document ) highlights the ongoing issue of Child Poverty in Aotearoa:

“Child poverty is a reality in Aotearoa New Zealand. As many as 28 per cent of New Zealand children – about 305,000 – currently live in poverty. When a child grows up in poverty they miss out on things most New Zealanders take for granted. They are living in cold, damp, over-crowded houses, they do not have warm or rain-proof clothing, their shoes are worn, and many days they go hungry. Poverty can also cause lasting damage. It can mean doing badly at school, not getting a good job, having poor health and falling into a life of crime.”

The reports of the Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC-State-of-Care-2015 ) and the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (final-report-of-the-confidential-listening-and-assistance-service-2015 )   highlight systemic issues in regards to the wellbeing of children that are in State ‘care’.  In the light of both reports it is difficult to even justify the use of the term ‘care’ in regards to State removal of children. In an interview on The Nation, Judge Henwood stated in discussion with the interviewer:

All right. Judge Henwood, I want to ask you what is the price of all of this? Because how many of them end up in front of you?
Henwood: Well, we know that at the moment, of those that are 20 and under in jail at the moment, about 83% have had care and protection issues. So it’s huge. We call them the crossover children, the children that have drifted from their care placements and have been churning around in the system; their needs not met, and they go into criminal justice for a lifetime. And it is something that I really think we need to be more clear about; a deeper understanding of what is going on, so we can— We only have four-plus million people in this country, and to me, I feel passionate, and I think it’s alarming, that we haven’t done this better.
Well, that statistic indicates that the majority of people are in prison because the state didn’t care for them properly.
Henwood: Well, no, it’s a mix of things, isn’t it, but we hope that when the children are taken by the state that the state articulates a duty of care and delivers on that so that their life is improved, not that it deteriorates to such an extent, you know what I mean? I’m not saying the state alone is a factor, because obviously the background and context of that child is impacting, but the state is certainly impacting.” (

Where finally there is some public outcry about this issue,  we need to be reminded that the raising of the State’s abuse of children is not new.  In 1988 Te Puao Te Atatu (1988-puaoteatatu) highlighted the colonial racism inherent within the States agencies and challenged the apparent lack of the then Department of Social Welfare to provide for the needs of Maori.  The report preface stated;

“Our impressions of the Department of Social Welfare are that although in general it is staffed by highly dedicated, committed people working under great pressure it is seen as being a highly centralised bureaucracy insensitive to the needs of many of its clients. The Department of Social Welfare, in our view, is not capable of meeting its goal without major changes in its policy, planning and service delivery. We expect, however, that its capability to make the necessary changes will be greatly enhanced by the initiatives advanced in the recommendations of this report.

We comment on the institutional racism reflected in this Department and indeed in society itself. We have identified a number of problem areas- policy formation, service delivery, communication, racial imbalances in the staffing, appointment, promotion and training practices. We are in no doubt that changes are essential and must be made urgently.

We have also studied policies and practices in the social work field and have commented on desirable changes in the Children and Young Persons Act. Changes are equally important in this area as well as in the operations of our courts, of our policies and practices for fostering and care of Maori children and of family case work for Maori clients. At the heart of the issue is a profound misunderstanding or ignorance of the place of the child in Maori society and its relationship with whanau, hapu, iwi structures.”

Te Puao Te Atatu was viewed by Maori as an opportunity to engage the State in line with a Crown-Maori Treaty relationship whereby whanau, hapu, iwi and Maori organisations could provide processes through which to more appropriately provide care for our tamariki and mokopuna.  The report was ignored and  there was little acknowledgement of the recommendations made.

Mereana Taki in her critical analysis of the State’s response to Te Puao Te Atatu stated: “After a hundred and fifty five years of Colonial arrogance the Ministerial report Puao-Te-Ata-Tu helped to confirm that, the Colonial welfare State had been established from the theft of Iwi territories and resources. In explicit cases Pakeha legal Imperialism had been instituted to ensure Iwi remained politically and economically excluded from participating in a growing Pakeha domination of their ancestral economic base.  The reports listed seamless Colonial policies and legal fictions; which formed a political context that drown Iwi into cycles of deprivation…  A Maori Advisory Unit within the Department of Social Welfare was established in 1984 and it its 1985 report stated the Department was institutionally racist.  This was qualified by the further claims that the bureaucratic practices reflected a privileging of Pakeha values, attitudes, beliefs and practice ‘norms’.  it argued that Maori input into policy production and decisions was  non-existant.  Maori were positioned as the ‘receivers’ of Pakeha policy decisions for them.  The report also argued that the insistence of Pakeha exclusive definitions of ‘Professional qualifications’ also reflected a monocultural assumption of superiority.  The same qualifications were proposed as a credit for ‘competence’ based in the earlier assumptions that ‘professional’ meant European Pakeha.” (p.115) (For full discussion refer M. Taki ).

This issue of Maori having real and meaningful engagement in terms of the care of tamariki and mokopuna is also raised in the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service report and highlighted by Judge Henwood:

“Well, I think that it is something around this lack of clarity of what they’re actually doing and how it could be done well, and you have to realise that Maori are caught up and entangled in the care system. A lot of Maori children have floated into care, and I don’t think the engagement with iwi is as strong as it could be to try and get less damaging solutions. Because every time a child goes into care, they get alienated, lose identity, swirl around in many, many placements and don’t go to school and then sort of drift on into crime. And so I think— That’s an area I’ve been focusing on for a number of years, and we need to do better.” (The Nation Interview)

Nearly 30 years after Puao-Te-Ata-Tu we have a raft of reports, primarily by Pakeha organisations, highlighting again not only the inability of the State to commit to providing care and services to children within this country, but that also highlight that there are broader systemic issues at play which not only deny the needs of children in State ‘care’ but also set those children up for longer term issues as a result of the trauma imposed upon them by the State.  Report after report highlight State imposed abuse upon children and whanau in Aotearoa and  again affirm the view that the State is itself recidivist in its role as the ultimate perpetuator of Family violence upon many families and whanau in this country.

There have been some views expressed that the current review of CYFS will provide remedies, however for Maori that is highly unlikely given there is no Maori representation on the panel.  Paora Moyle has highlighted more recently the denial of Maori voices on the current CYFS review panel.  This is essential viewing if we are to seek meaningful outcomes of the review (Link here

Denying Maori involvement in seeking pathways for the wellbeing of our tamariki is not the answer.  After 200 years of colonial occupation and denial of our fundamental rights to be Maori we know that to continue to maintain monocultural institutions is not the answer. More privatisation is not the answer, it has never been shown to be the answer.  Having people’s wellbeing at the centre is the answer, and having a government that will action that is critical.  It is time for change.  When Aotearoa are we as a collective society going to make the decision to put values of wellbeing, of care, of healing, of manaaki tangata, as the priority over and above the market driven approach that this government continues to entrench?  How many children abused and dying of poverty related diseases is enough for us to stand up and say that the most important thing to us as a society is ‘he tangata, he tangata, he tangata – people, people, people’.

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