On 01 December Māori and Pacific women claimed busy intersections on Auckland’s Queen Street to stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle and raise our fists. In this stance we encircled the Morning Star flag as our brown sisterhood salute to support a free and independent West Papua (photo above).
On this day in 2004 activist Filep Karma led the raising of the Morning Star in Jayapura and received a 15 year prison sentence. So we raised our flag and our fists 15 times across three Queen Street intersections to symbolise those lost years. We as indigenous Pacific women in Aotearoa felt the responsibility to do what others have lost their freedom for.
I was proud to support this initiative of the visionary Samoan writer, teacher and community activist Leilani Salesa. Leilani collaborated with West Papua Action Auckland (WPPA) and we would not have worked without their support crew handing out pamphlets and interacting with crowd responses to us.
As a Māori woman concerned with indigenous truth for Aotearoa and the world, learning about the plight of West Papua is a personal responsibility. It is part of the same responsibility we have to stand with indigenous peoples everywhere in our campaigns for self-determination over our lands and peoples. Indigenous people are not isolated groups fighting for better control over their small part of the struggling world. All together we are weaving a new global fabric. Our strive for indigenous vision is strengthened by the criss-cross stitch of other indigenous nations.
For some the hegemony has strangled solidarity out of us. When our own are in a hard place, living in poverty, on the street and fighting for an inch of dignity it may be have been too hard to see a group of brown women standing up for peoples living in a whole different land.
“Fuck this shit what about our own fucken independence first!” was the cry coming from one or two who are living in that very hard place on Sunday morning. I get that. It made me sad, but I get that. Lots more needs to happen to support those very people on the streets to be in a better place. But I know that this reaction is not limited to our homeless. Some Māori still need to be convinced that there is any worth in supporting human rights and social justice for anyone else while our own hapū have yet to have our independence fully affirmed. But the Pacific women performers and the Pākeha and tauiwi people in our support group are the very ones who stand alongside Tangata Whenua in our own struggles. And I agree that any fight for social justice must begin with support for our own tino rangatiratanga. Thankfully the mislaid reactions to us did not deter our focussed, poised and dignified group of women and our support group. We kept marching silently but powerfully down the street to our next intersection for our fisted flag-raise.
So we absolutely need to do right by our own people urgently and remain vigilant in that. Part of that is to draw on the strength of our indigenous relations around the world fighting for the same things we are. As Māori we can stand with other activists and groups to let West Papua know we hear them. Hapū and Iwi around Aotearoa have long since been resisting Crown destruction of their territories and we know this will intensify as the neoliberal terrorism steps up around here. We already need the global support in this and we need to give global support to others. Some of us are in that privileged place where we can be a voice, raise our resistance fists, block a road or write a blog in the global uprising. I always say that those of us who can – must.
And also we must because it is hard to get traction with media on this issue. Leilani was painfully thorough in her promotion and sent the media release to all the right places. No one came with their tv cameras which was a shame because it was definitely a visual spectacle. You can see amazing photos from our generous photographer Tanu here.
Currently West Papua is under effective Indonesian control. West Papuan people are constantly terrorised by the Indonesian military, paramilitary police and intelligence agencies. Journalists and humanitarian workers are excluded or their movements are tightly restricted. For a credible insight into the background and the realities of this oppression please see Keith Locke’s blog here. Keith is a long time campaigner on the West Papuan situation and was in the support group on the day.
West Papua Action Auckland (WPPA) remind us how New Zealand is complicit in some of the human rights abuses that happen in West Papua. New Zealand also plays a role in massive environmental destruction of West Papua. The people there deserve their unspoiled lands the same way we are protesting to protect ours. Again this is where the global demand for environmental protections ensures that Māori care about what else is happening in the world. I encourage people to join the WPPA mailing list by emailing email@example.com as they offer practical ideas for us all to support an independent West Papua.
So on the morning of Sunday 01 December we gathered at the Waharoa (the big carved archway) on Aotea Square built by Selwyn Muru. We left from that point and marched single file behind the Morning Star stopping at Queen Street intersections for our performance intervention. After our street theatre we marched back to the Selwyn’s Waharoa hence completing our circle of action. Being part of this has raised my awareness and leaves me with the responsibility to better support our Te Wharepora Hou member Sina Brown-Davis who is a passionate West Papua expert for our group.
Please also see the blog here from Ema Tavola one of our Pacific women in the performance group.
Ngā mihi tautoko ki a koutou ngā iwi taketake o te whenua West Papua. Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui.