Stolen Land and Healing Historic Trauma

This is a Guest Blog by Awhina Cameron Chief Executive of Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki based on her Opening Korero at the Spring Taranaki Community Circle, 7th September 2016,  New Plymouth District Council Chambers, New Plymouth.

“E kore e pōuri tonu,
Waitara e mamae nei i te wā i mua a rā
e tū te hunga rīriki
me tōna raukura hei tohu ki te ao, hei!”

When I sat down to write my korero today, I was struck by the glaringly obvious parallels between what I do, the work we do at Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki on an organisation level, and what is currently going-on on a community and collective level between hapu, iwi and the various governing bodies of this land.

Every day we at Tu Tama are engaged in the therapeutic process of addressing abuse, neglect, dysfunction, chaos and crisis that stems from violence and the intentional harm of others. As an organisation we are absolutely resolute in our stance that family violence is not OK, that violence in any form is not OK.

We are founded and named after the principles established at Parihaka by Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi and their instructions to the women of Taranaki to maintain the tikanga, care and wellbeing of Taranaki whanau.

Violence is not OK, the further marginalisation of victims is not OK, interpersonal intentional harm is not OK, be it on a physical, psychological, emotional, financial or spiritual level, it is not OK. The dehumanising of the victim, the minimising of the harm, the rationalising of the violence is not OK. Nor is it OK for someone to use for their benefit the rewards of the harm of other, intentionally benefiting from that trauma, because this further victimises the victim and reinforces the perpetrators actions.

I think there is a national recognition of these fundamental moralities and a growing intolerance to those that do not subscribe to these basic principles. We certainly have a clearly defined justice system and restorative process which is set-up with these principles in mind.

What I would say to you all here today, is that what is true on an individual level should also be true on a group and collective level. I would like to explore how our approach to intentional group collective harm has up to this day, minimised, dehumanised, marginalised and in no way resembles a meaningful restorative or healing approach to harm and the impacts and effects of that harm.

So … Everyone take a deep breath … yes, I am going to talk about colonisation.

I know it’s a hard word to hear for some and it’s a hard word to say for some, but I think we are all going to have to get used to it. We need to start talking about it, because the silence is not helping anyone. It is a real and present part of our history and everyday life. As has been said by others before me, they didn’t all get on a boat or plane and leave this country, the descendants, the systems, the processes, the policies and relics are still here. Colonisation is real and it exists to this day. I just want to dispel that myth. But don’t worry, the majority of my korero today will be focused on healing, restoration and reconciliation.

I would suggest to you that it is absolutely necessary to talk about reconciliation in terms of a human rights agenda and make explicit the connections between reconciliation, policy and practice. But how do we dare speak the truth of our history when the dominant political discourse focuses on the perceived success of reconciliation and the treaty claims process. Reconciliation and healing is about more than just the relief of the symptoms. A key component to healing is a deep understanding of why the trauma may have occurred, what are the core issues, what types of life lessons are embedded in the suffering and the event itself.

As a nation we have had a timeline of awakening, of change, of development and social reform. Be it in relation to women’s rights, the environment, nuclear power, gay rights and most recently discussions emerging in relation to poverty and vulnerable children. As a nation we have had a crisis of conscience about all these things – except indigenous rights – the original sin of this nation, the theft of land and the intentional harm of tangata whenua.

As a nation, we have been leaders at the forefront of all these issues, except one. As a nation, we have been a catalyst for worldwide movements and change and we have that same opportunity now. Tangata Whenua, indigenous rights might be the last rung on the ladder but you will have to deal with us at some stage. The pillow cannot be smoothed … we are awake and not going away.

So what can be done? Firstly, don’t dismiss us.

You know it’s often said that advocates for Maori perspectives and justice are simply idealistic and need to get real, be realistic. That we live in a dream world where real solutions and the complexity of the situation is not fully understood.

I wonder whose reality and ideals are we subscribing to here?

Imagine if we practiced this on an individual level, a therapeutic or clinical level, telling victims that they just need to get real, be realistic and that their ideal life is just a dream, because they can’t provide in detail what their healing journey might entail or because perhaps what they propose in relation to restorative justice might impact on the person or group that did them harm.

There is a term for this type of behaviour within the power and control model of clinical practice – these are called permission giving apparatuses, and are used as justification for violence and the ongoing abuse.

What usually goes hand and hand with this type of dismissive and permission giving behaviour are statements like she’s just too emotional, she provoked me, she asked for it, she deserved it, she would leave if it was really that bad. And as I have said previously what is true on an individual level is also true on a collective level. Maori and Maori women in particular are just too emotional, they can’t seem to separate themselves from the issue, take the emotion out of it and deal with the facts.

Now I ask what is wrong with having an emotional response, perhaps instead of trying to remove and discuss these issues in a way that is devoid of emotion is actually doing more harm than good. We tell the women, men and children we work with, that it is OK to get emotional, in fact its natural and normal. Don’t dismiss the tears, don’t try and dismiss your pain, it’s real and its actually healthy to release it. We validate, their pain is real and their tears are OK, its OK to be emotional. We are emotional beings and healing will come through acknowledging, embracing and understanding our emotional response.

So being realistic, not shying away from, but rather striving for the ideal, embracing emotions, I began to explore the different thinking and practice as it relates to trauma, historical trauma, healing and reconciliation and what emerged was a series of questions.

1. What are some of our healing practices in relation to individual trauma?
2. What are some of our current healing processes in relation to historical trauma?
3. How have different iwi approached the issue of healing leading up to and after the Crown settlement process?
4. Why do we think that money will heal?
5. What can be a catalyst for healing?
6. Can you have collective healing without individual healing?
7. Can you have individual healing without collective healing?
8. What motivates healing?
9. What motivates change?
10. What stimulates forgiveness?

Now it is not my intention to answer all these questions, not all of them are for me to answer.

But it is merely to point out that there is power in the question, energy and healing behind someone willing to hear the question, exploring and asking these questions of ourselves, acknowledging that we don’t know everything, but we wish to explore and are open and willing to confront these issues.

What we know from Family Violence and Sexual Violence research is that continuous, coercive, sustained, multi-dimensional abuse (physically, psychologically, financially, emotionally) has a list of trauma responses or predictable behaviours:
• Heightened senses – ‘walking on egg shells’
• Anxiety
• Self-harm, suicide
• Mental health issues
• Fear
• Violence
• Substance use – alcohol, drugs
• etc, etc, etc

But actually, we have many examples of continuous, coercive, sustained, multi-dimensional abuse against a group of peoples across Aotearoa (physical, psychological, financial, emotional). So, I ask what are the group responses to collective trauma?
The reason I raise this is not to detail the impacts of historical trauma, there has been local, national and international research from scholarly experts that provide unequivocal, scientific evidence that there are real and present effects of historical trauma on both an individual and collective level. It is real, it is fact, we cannot escape it. So I’m not interested in trying to sell or rationalise this fact but what I am interested in exploring is:

What is the healing responsibility of the perpetrator?
What is the healing responsibility of the victim?
If there is intergenerational trauma – soul wounding – present … is there also negative harm to the perpetrator across their generations?
What were some of our traditional practices to restore a sense of balance after a trauma had occurred? Restoration of tapu, restoration of noa? and,
What are some of our current practices and processors in relation to healing and reconciliation?So what do our current justice or restoration processes look like? What happens when someone illegally takes from another person or group, when someone steals and harms another human being?

1. We give it back – to the rightful owner – at no cost to them.
2. We say sorry, and we take steps to ensure that it does not happen again.
3. We make restoration and compensation for any harm and suffering that may have resulted from that theft or act of harm.

Our justice system is based on these principles, both on an individual and a group level – it seems, except where it comes to tangata whenua.

Number 2 and number 3, above, have been implemented to varying degrees within the current treaty settlement processes, although there are vast gaps between the idea of cultural redress and compensation. In the case of one of my iwi the compensation amounts to the equivalent of half the costs of the Mokau Bridge. And in terms of wider Treaty settlements, economists estimate that only close to 1% of actual value has been allocated as compensation to iwi.

This aside, the number one action – returning the stolen lands – seems to be far too complex and unrealistic to achieve. We are constantly told, it’s not as simple as simply giving it back. The devil is in the detail and the details must be worked out to everyone’s benefit so as not to cause further harm to others. But I ask what good is the detail if these details stem from a fundamentally flawed process which is not centred in anyway in reconnecting people or focussed on a rebalancing.

Yes I agree it is complex, but perhaps not as complex as we are all led to believe.

Recently there has been national coverage of what is going on with the Victoria University Karori campus in Wellington. For those of you who are not aware, Victoria University is set to sell the Karori campus for $20 million. What is causing attention to this, is not just the sale, but the fact that the government sold the land to the University in 2014 for just $10.

This sale of land by the Government to Victoria University for $10 – in a context where iwi are still fighting to have their stolen lands returned – brings to question the actions of successive governments and their assertions that iwi must buy back lands at market prices.

There are calls from sections of the student body now for the university to not just do what is required but to do what is right.

I watch in awe and jealousy at their collective outcry, which is growing in relation to this land and wonder where is our community collective outcry in relation to what is being proposed in Waitara, over the very lands that instigated the Taranaki Land Wars of the 19th century.

When will our community call for our governing body to not just do what is required but to simply do what is right.

So now the question is do we want to be world leaders once again or are we going to hide behind the devilish detail and say this issue is just too complex, its historical, it’s too emotional or are we at a stage in the maturity of our region and our country to say: We have benefited from the oppression of the tangata whenua, and now is the time to not only acknowledge that in a meaningful way but to also do something to rectify it.

I believe we have two pathways set out before us and we need to make a choice between these paths both as a region and as a country; one is well worn and flooded with the tears of our ancestors, the other is not so well-worn, this path may not be so clearly marked out or trodden and the journey may be difficult to navigate but we owe it to the next generations to at least try.

Don’t worry … Maori are skilled navigators, and we will help you along the way … if you ask and are willing to journey together.

About 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.
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