Before and Beyond Rio: Environmental Colonisation and Destruction

Dr Leonie Pihama

This week was the release of the report by the World Wildlife fund, ‘Beyond Rio’. The report has been written by WWF as an assessment of the state of the environmental nation in this country since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It highlights the performances of successive governments in Aotearoa for the past twenty years against the agreements made in Rio as a part of the global agenda for action to deal directly with environmental issues.  The report card is a clear ‘fail’ across the board.

The New Zealand Herald quotes Waikato academic David Hamilton as stating;

“Almost every environmental performance indicator points to deterioration in the New Zealand environment, particularly the biodiversity across fresh water, marine and terrestrial systems”.

The report notes that NZ governments agreed to a number of key commitments as a part of the 1992 Rio and 2002 Johannesburg summits. Those included:

•        Stem the loss of New Zealand’s marine and terrestrial biodiversity

•        Reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions

•        Fully incorporate sustainability into education for New Zealanders

•        Ensure our fisheries do not exceed ecological limits

•        Ensure our use of freshwater does not exceed ecological limits

The report identifies that in some areas there has been a range of plans, strategies, policies and initiatives but on the whole those have not delivered significant change.  Instead there has been:

  1. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. A decline in key species both in marine and land environments.
  3. A worsening trend in freshwater pollution.
  4. A lack of information leading to ongoing uncertainty over the state of biodiversity and/or the ecological limits we face.
  5. A lack of sustainability education, with a particular note of the fact that “the progress made between 2004 and 2008 has since been reversed”.

Clearly successive governments have failed to fulfill fundamental obligations to this whenua and to current and future generations.  Whilst the findings of the ‘Beyond Rio’ report are deeply concerning it is, sadly, not surprising given that the colonial destruction of our lands has been something our people have struggle with for the past 200 years.

 Whatungarongaro te tangata, toi tu te whenua.

 We have many whakatauki that provide us with teachings and learnings about our relationship to the environment.  Whatungarongaro te tangata, Toitu te whenua is one that has been increasingly in my thoughts and reflections. The people perish, but the land remains.  It is a reminder of our obligations as people to care for, to protect, to support, to enhance, the whenua and all living things that are a part of the many domains of this land.  As Indigenous Peoples we have a clear understanding that our existence on this land is dependent upon our relationship with all living things.  This report highlights that the actions of dominance and the drive for capitalist gain for the minority continues to destroy those relationships.  We have been told clearly for many generations that this is a time that we must transform our ways of being or risk our own existence.  It has been prophesized by many Indigenous Nations across the earth.  It is now spoken of by even the most mainstream of scientists.

Human beings are destroying this great Earth Mother.  This whakatauki, alongside others, remind us that where people may perish the land will remain to rejuvernate itself without our presence. The reality is that Papatuanuku does not require our presence to sustain herself, in fact she would be better off without us.  And maybe that’s what is truly required. The removal of those destructive two legged upright walking ones, yes those human beings who continue to place economics and greed before the wellbeing of Papatuanuku, of our Earth Mother, may be the only way out if we are to see this Earth survive for future generations.  We should all be angry at this. We should all struggle against this. We should all call  to task governments and corporates that fail to provide the most fundamental care for our environment as a priority.

And we should all support those that do. Those people that take the risks. That walk the talk. That put their selves on the line for the wellbeing of all, locally, nationally and globally.

The destruction of our whenua has not just been happening over the past 20 years. The destruction of our whenua, the pollution of our awa, our moana has been happening since colonial occupation brought with it the ideology of our environment as a commodity.  The rape of the land has been our experience for over 200 years.  The idea that the land should be ‘tamed’ is often celebrated in colonial regional anniversaries.  That early colonisers overcame and controlled the ‘harsh environment’.  The clearing of millions of acres of Native forests to establish Aotearoa as a farming country.  The importation of animals not of this land both as pests and as products for sale.  All of these things are a part of the history of colonization of this land.

We continue to fight the battle for the wellbeing of our whenua. Whānau, hapū and iwi across the country have examples of long-term struggles for the wellbeing of the environment in their territories.  In October 2011 a range of Taranaki iwi, and supporters from Waitara, took yet another case to the environmental court to put an end to the use of the Waitara Marine Outfall.  It has been 30 years since the Wai 6 claim led by Aila Taylor for Te Atiawa iwi was heard by the Waitangi Tribunal. It has been 30 years of struggle against the pollution of our rivers and coastline.

One hapū member in 1981 stated to the Waitangi Tribunal:

“If the Motunui outfall is built parts of our reefs will be destroyed by the blasting and because of the poisons will be tapu also . . . We cannot and will never accept another sea outfall on our coast. I stress these are the last remaining reefs belonging to our hapu.”

The Tribunal provided a range of remedies including the Crown not building the proposed ocean outfall, the interim use only of the Waitara river outlet, and the future development of land based treatments.

The New Plymouth Regional Council applied for an extension for another 35 years of the use of the Waitara outfall, and argued that a full land-based system was not economically viable and used some reductionist science to try to prove their case. Sadly the Environment Tribunal granted the extension. It seems tribunal was more about providing validity for that ongoing destruction of our lands rather than for its protection.

The point being that the ‘Beyond Rio’ report highlights something that we as Tangata Whenua have lived with and known for 200 years.  Our people have been fighting colonial control over our lands since the very beginning of colonisation where our lands were divided and illegally sold to the settler population.  We have removed survey pegs, we have ploughed the land, we have fought against the individualisation and commodification of our whenua.

For generations whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations have been to tribunals and courts to protect this country against land thefts, environmental destruction, genetic manipulation, biocolonialism and privatisation.  Rarely have our struggles for the wellbeing of Aotearoa been affirmed and vindicated and where even in this report those struggles remain invisible, we know that what we are struggling for is exactly that which our tupuna sought, it is at its essence about our fundamental survival on our own land.

Dr Leonie Pihama (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Māhanga, Ngā Māhanga a Tairi)

May 24, 2012 Where is the Justice in all this?

Dr Leonie Pihama

May 24, 2012 is a day that will be remembered for some time. It is a day when two Maori men of Tuhoe and Maniapoto have been sentenced to imprisonment for 2 ½ years on charges that the Crown and Police turned to in desperation after the debacle of the so-called ‘Terrorist Raids’ of October 15, 2007. May 24, 2012 is a day where a descendant of Parihaka and her partner remain awaiting final sentencing for home detention, but is judged that Parihaka can not be the ‘home’.

There has been much coverage of this day with those in the court posting online and tweeting as the judge moved through his process of imposing what can only be viewed as sentences based on charges he determined rather that what those the defendants were actually found guilty of. The content of the trials and the process needs to be written and spoken of by those that know it most closely. Those that sit outside can only speculate on many aspects of the case. However, what is clear is that we have three Māori people from Tuhoe, Maniapoto and Taranaki, and a Pakeha ally as Political Prisoners in Aotearoa. The response to that has been rapid. As we would expect. The first line of protests have begun outside the Mt Eden prison. There are protests being called for around the country and more to take place this weekend.

An appeal is to be lodged and there has been a clearly developed Police public relations campaign across the media and online. That is what I want to comment on in this blog. Over the past five years the Police have drip-fed information to the media as they sought to gain public and media support. The slow process of feeding information was such that even mainstream media at times found it highly frustrating, to the point that the NZ Herald questioned the Police approach in the article ‘Secret Justice is No Justice At All’ (Herald on Sunday Sept 11, 2011) and stated:
“It is reasonable that the state should remain tight-lipped about what went on in Te Urewera until after the rest of the criminal charges have been disposed of – or abandoned. But the secrecy that has shrouded this affair from the beginning does not encourage optimism we will ever be told. Yet official openness is what is needed. The prosecution of this matter, the first serious case brought under the Terrorism Suppression Act, has been a conspicuous mess. The charges’ validity under “incoherent” legislation has failed to satisfy the Solicitor General and now evidence without which the Crown felt unable to proceed has been ruled inadmissible, a finding which is at least suggestive of flaws in investigation, procedure or interpretation of the law.”

The Police response to the sentencing today continues the arrogance that the Police have taken throughout the last five years and is the same arrogance with which the Police initiated their raids in the early hours of October 15th. The use of the media by the Police has been carefully planned including the presence of News cameras on that morning at the moment that Police forcibly entered properties in Wellington. Police press releases today have relied heavily on their version of events that have already been proven in a Jury trial as lacking true substance. The evidence in regards to terrorism was regarded as inefficient when the Solicitor General declined the Crowns request to bring charges under the Terrorism Act. A range of charges were dropped over the five years due to lack of evidence. But today the Police Commissioner strongly advocated that there was sufficient justification for Police actions on that day. Strange really, given the series of events over the past five years.

So what does the Commissioner have to say and how might we understand his latest media propaganda. Lets look at a range of statements made today online:

1. “It [the raid] was not aimed at any iwi whatsoever”

The commissioner indicates that the raids were on many people in many locations. However, he continues to fail to provide any legitimate reason for the closing down of the entire Ruatoki community and the extreme use of armed Police throughout the entire community. There was no lock down or armed cordons in the streets of Wellington that morning. That only occurred on Tuhoe lands.

2. “It was a serious situation that required a serious response”

Clearly the questioning of many of Police tactics and of the actual ‘seriousness’ of the situation has been ongoing. The Solicitor General denied Terrorist Act Charges, the bulk of those arrested that morning had all charges against them dropped and a Jury found the ‘Urewera 4’ not guilty of serious charges. So Mr Commissioner, where exactly is the serious evidence?

3. “ I make absolutely no apology at all for the investigation, for the arrests, for the prosecution and I think the NZ Police should be thanked by the public for getting of that rot out of the Urewera at that time…”

So we have an unapologetic Police Commissioner, who has ensured there is a strong public relations machine in place for this day, why? To justify why he is unapologetic it seems. ‘Surprise, surprise’ or perhaps more appropriately ‘same old same old’. It is clear to our people that colonial oppressors and their institutional enforcers do not see any fault in their acts of oppression. In fact, in our colonial history we have been told many times we should be thankful for all kinds of things. This is not new to us. It is merely a new take on an old story. What is even more offensive is that the Police Commissioner refers to a group of predominantly Māori people as “that rot”, and in some distorted sense of reality he believes we should be thankful. I don’t think so Commissioner Marshall.

4. “Of course we have had no explanation from Tame Iti and the accused… “

Are you serious? How does this align with the notion that the burden of proof lay with the Police? It simply doesn’t! The Commissioner at this point attempts, unsuccessfully, to turn the gaze on to those charged and asserts that they must somehow state or prove their innocence, even after a Jury indicated that this was not an organized criminal organization. More importantly we have yet to have any seriously legitimate explanation from the Police for their actions.

5. The Police “abided by the law all the way through …”

Except of course the illegal monitoring that happened over months and which contributed to the dropping of a range of charges as the phone taps and surveillance equipment was deemed illegal. Which then led to this government pushing through a new surveillance regime via urgency in order to enable other ‘illegal’ monitoring.

6. “They brought shame on the people in those various locations up and down the country and they brought shame on the people of Ruatoki”

This is perhaps one of the most arrogant, obnoxious statements from the Police Commissioner today. With this statement he attempts to lay the blame for Police actions at the feet of those harassed on October 15th, and to advocate a divide and rule scenario by pitting those charged against their own communities.

Clearly the Commissioner has no real knowledge of the communities from which Tame, Rangi, Emily and Urs descend. These are communities, these are hapū, these are iwi that know the oppressive actions of the State and who have known them for 200 years. Tuhoe and Taranaki know the invasion tactics of the Crown and of previous colonial regimes. Our iwi know that strategies of the Crown and their enforcers, whether those be colonial militia or contemporary military and Police forces. The attempt to ‘blame the victims’ is an old stategy, it is a well known strategy of oppressors and abusers, because to ‘blame the victim’ is ultimately to protect the perpetrator.

Protecting the perpetrator has been a strategy throughout the past five years. There has been a process of denial of information, of lack of evidence, of the Crown and Police pushing the boundaries in an attempt to get some form of affirmation for their actions. There has been no sense of justice shown throughout the past five years. Whanau lives have been destroyed in multiple ways, communities have been devastated on many levels, and there has been no justice for the Urewera Four, or for those arrested on that morning, or for those whānau, hapū and iwi that suffered at the hands of armed Police. That makes the Police Commissioners comments today even more offensive and abusive of those involved.

As Annette Sykes posted tonight
“Political prisoners on their own land… in their own nation at the peril of the real criminals walking around free still unapologetic to the families hugely affected by their ‘militia-like’ actions – the police – where is the justice in all this?
Kāhore he kōrero tua atu i tēnā

The substance of ‘sex’

 Personal opinion – 16 May 2012

Marama Davidson

 I want to start a conversation about loving our babies who are different. The difference I am referring to has me pondering sex as in gender, sex as in relationships, and sex as in sensual intimacy.

Recently I watched the documentary Intersexion. The opening scene throws us a unique circumstance around childbirth where we see the words; “When a baby is born, the first question we ask…….Is it a boy or a girl? What if it’s neither?”

The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) offers the following definition of the term “Intersex”:
 “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia.

So a baby may be born with ambiguous genitalia, or the ambiguity can remain hidden until a later stage. Also true is that people can go through their entire lives without ever knowing that they are intersex. The anatomical difference can go undetected but might account for things such as infertility in an adult.

It is agreed that around one in 1500 to 2000 babies are born along the intersex continuum. I am writing this article as an outsider to the intersex community and strongly advise that I can never speak for them. My compulsion to begin this discussion comes from watching the Intersexion documentary, and acknowledging my own place of ignorance previous to viewing it. We should ALL be concerned and inspired by the stories that intersex people have to share. Any of us yearning for a brave new world must realise that we can measure our progress on how we uphold our most voiceless, our most invisible. The intersex community have been saying for a while now that they have a voice, and they want to be seen.

I came away from watching the Intersexion documentary reflecting on the substance of ‘sex’. How do we construct gender identity? What is really required for a pleasurable sexual relationship? How does each of us claim sensual intimacy? There are so many givens that we need to question and challenge of ourselves.

Once we question and challenge ourselves, we begin to understand how some of our assumptions and constructed norms have actually hurt people. In the case of many intersex babies, we have hurt them to a shameful degree. The medical response has largely been to convince parents that being born intersex is an illness that needs to be cured. Intersex children are often not told the truth about their circumstance. Parents are convinced by doctors that surgery is necessary, the sooner the better, for their child to grow up ‘normal’.

A crude decision is made on the child’s behalf as to what sex they should be, and their genitalia might be surgically altered. An example is where an oversized clitoris might be reduced. Perhaps an abnormally small penis is reshaped into a clitoris. Things are cut off, tidied up, snipped back and packaged all nicely the way we have come to accept things. What is often left behind is a person ashamed of who they are, struggling to accept the physical gender assignment that has been forced upon them. They feel different – wrong even – but do not know the truth about what surgical deeds have been done to them. It is a fine concoction of confusion and mostly can mess people up.

What really turned my privileged world upside down was listening to intersex people grieving their cases of sex and sexuality. How many of us take for granted the pleasures, the sensations and the emotional connections we experience in healthy sexual relationships? How different would those exploratory journeys have been if we had had our excitable bits surgically severed and un-nerved from the start? How uncomfortable are we even with our own supposedly normal genitalia – let alone having to offer up something, well, very different?

The stories of intersex people  that I have encountered so far, speak of the difficulties of negotiating gender, sexual relationships and sensual intimacy. The challenge is compounded by the rigid norms imposed on us. Glaring back at us is the need to support the path for intersex people to determine and define their identities for themselves. We should all be able to strive for experiencing the most fantastic aspects of the human condition. Being able to tick the ‘female’ or ‘male’ box, or neither, or both, should be arbitrary to seeking those experiences.

But we are a long way from this ideal. New Zealander Mani Mitchell, one of the intersex people featured in the documentary, cautions against a child being able to safely exist ‘in between’. Mani says we should assign a gender but to hold it gently, and to NOT stamp it with surgery. She feels that when children get older they can work out what they want to be, including if they want to be neither or both. Any surgery they opt for should be their fully informed choice. Mani’s advice also aligns with the recommendations from Intersex Society of North America (ISNA).
A note on surgery options in this country. Currently the medical policy allows for surgical gender assignment to be publicly funded up until the age of 16. After that age you are financially on your own if you opt for any surgery. It seems ludicrous to force our young people into a significant gender decision purely due to funding fear. A conversation is beginning with the Ministry of Health that I hope can bring about some improved service delivery.

For the rest of us, my hope is that we can all support parents to love their kids who are different. It is up to us in the village, to remove the power and sway that the medical response has over the dignity of our children. After all they are only playing to what we in the village will collectively accept as sexually normal. There are some shining lights in Intersexion. We get to hear of children whose parents outright refused the proposed surgical treatments for their intersex babies. For whatever reason, those parents were able to give the best healing ‘treatment’ of all – full acceptance.

If there is any shame, it is ours. We all continue to perpetuate a dual and binary notion of gender and sex, where we should instead be talking along a continuum. Where we are on the continuum may be fixed, or we should be free to slide along it as we choose. We also have a responsibility to connect people to each other. Bringing our intersex whānau into our communities, linking intersex people to other intersex, joining intersex people to other ‘outsiders’.

If you can watch the documentary Intersexion, you will appreciate the no fuss approach it takes to letting people just tell their stories. It is stunning. I am thankful for the opportunity it has given me to learn about the issues. Our biggest responsibility remains, and that is to truly love our babies who are different.

Marama Davidson

(Te Rarawa/Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Porou)