Reflections from Great Turtle Island II

Dr Leonie Pihama
Dr Leonie Pihama
The Idle No More movement continues to gather momentum and Waitangi Day provided opportunities to join with Veronica Tawhai here, on Great Turtle Island, to share some thoughts and reflections on our experiences in Aotearoa.  The Idle No More movement grew from the desire of four Native women, Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdams, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson to highlight the implications and impact of the Omnibus Bill C 45 on First Nations Peoples and its consequences more broadly for Papatuanuku.  The movement gained further inspiration and momentum though the courageous hunger strike of Chief of the Attawapiskat, Theresa Spence.  It has been clear that First Nations women have taken their role as protectors of this great Mother Earth and future generations and forged a movement that is now inspiring tens of thousands of people across Great Turtle Island.

Within Aotearoa groups of our people have worked to draw attention to the issues that underpin the Idle No More movement, and to raise awareness as to the implications of those issues for our people.  In doing so Maori women’s group ‘Te Wharepora Hou’ worked tirelessly for weeks to bring the issues to the attention of  media outlets both Māori and non-Māori.  It took nearly three weeks before Māori media began to give some coverage to the kaupapa.  There remains limited access to information and stories related to the movement.  That is not surprising, after all this is an Indigenous issue, and our experience tells us that such issues are relegated to places of insignificance within mainstream media.  That however does not explain why Māori media have not provided more coverage or critical reflection on the issues.  We are thankful for those such as Claudette Hauiti who by virtue of having a talkback show was able to give some depth discussion to the movement recently, however most other Māori news outlets have yet to give any depth analysis, rather it has been accorded the 30 second news bulletin approach. That raises questions of the serious lack of investigative journalism within Aotearoa.    But that is a topic for another blog.

There are clear links between the actions of the Harper government in Canada and the actions of the right wing National government coalition in Aotearoa.  Firstly, the Omnibus Bill process has proven to be a mechanism by which legislation may be moved quickly through government with very little discussion, information or engagement with it content.  This is a red flag moment.  As we know the tendency of conservative governments in Aotearoa to mimic the actions of other like minded governments we must watch carefully that such a process is not imposed upon us.  A critical danger of such legislative processes is that within the hundreds of pages that make up omnibus bills is the ability to ‘hide’ clauses that make significant changes, and reduce existing rights.

Within the Omnibus C45 sits a clause that removes protections of thousands of rivers and opens those waterways to the possibility of significant abuse. It is noted that;

Among the amendments are changes to the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Indian Act, which will make it easier to redesignate native reserve lands and strip environmental protection from thousands of lakes and rivers.”

Our experiences of the Foreshore and Seabed Act and its implications and impacts on our lands is a clear example of the actions of successive governments in Aotearoa to use any means to continue to confiscate, and steal, what remains of Māori lands to ensure exploitation.  In his speech for Waitangi Day, John Key spoke of a commission related to Māori Land to look at ways of increasing the exploitation of our lands. He stated:

“This region has a rich culture, a great climate and beautiful coastlines but unemployment is a challenge and people, particularly young people, need more job opportunities. The Government is putting in a lot of effort, including improving road links with the rest of the country and encouraging exploration for oil, gas and minerals…

To assist Maori in reaping the most from their own assets, some of you will be aware that Chris Finlayson has commissioned an expert panel to review Te Ture Whenua Maori Act. Nationally there are about 27,000 blocks of Maori land, covering about 1.42 million hectares. Together, they comprise about 5 per cent of New Zealand’s entire land mass and a higher proportion – about 10-12 per cent – of the North Island. Legislation which governs these blocks is restrictive and it’s estimated that about 80 per cent of the land is undeveloped or underperforming. If its potential could be unlocked – and if that is what its owners choose – imagine how much more wealth and how many more jobs and opportunities could be generated.”

These two statements must be viewed as inter-related.  Opening Māori Land for ‘development’ means opening our lands for increased exploitation.  It is the intent of the review that must be watched and we must all call into question any government intention, and involvement of our hapū or iwi corporations, that seeks to ‘develop’ our lands through acts that are exploitative or destructive.

The removal of protections of waterways in Canada is a move to open exploitation relates directly to our current struggle over water rights and the government push for Asset Sales and the fast tracking of legislation to somehow ‘legalise’ these actions shows us that colonial governments continue to act in ways that disregard and deny the fundamentals of the Treaties that our peoples have entered in to.   It is critical that we see the connections so that as Indigenous Peoples we can continue to support each other across Te Moana nui a Kiwa, the Great Sea of Kiwa, and know that we are not alone in these struggles.

Leonie Pihama (Te Atiawa, Ngati Mahanga, Nga Mahanga a Tairi)

Author: Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.

One thought on “Reflections from Great Turtle Island II”

  1. Kia ora Leonie, thanks for posting this, I totally missed Key’s comment. Very alarming. Nga mihi, Makere

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