By Tina Ngata
New Zealand’s Indigenous rights record is being called to account from numerous campaigns following weeks of flashpoints around the nation. Campaign leaders are citing a lack of government leadership and protection around Māori land alienation, state removal of children, and water pollution as indications that the Māori nation are “under threat from the deeply entrenched colonial racism of the New Zealand government”.
At Auckland’s Ihumātao, local Māori descendants and their supporters continue their occupation of lands in opposition to government eviction for a proposed housing development. Tensions have increased as police escalated their activity on the site in spite of a consistently peaceful approach by the movement. Local leader Pania Newton says these new developments have eroded the trust and good faith in the process. A national day of action for Ihumātao has seen protests and community expressions of solidarity across the country.
Kelly Klink from Aotea (Great Barrier Island) has highlighted that the government’s lack of leadership is not only impacting upon human and land rights, but also water rights. Earlier this year, despite widespread opposition from local Māori, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), granted a large corporation consent to dump 250,000 cubic meters of toxic marine sludge off the coast of Aotea, a move that has resulted in largescale protests in the Auckland CBD.
“This is an abuse of our fundamental rights including the right of free prior and informed consent when big corporations dump toxic waste in our moana – it will cause irreparable harm to our beautiful marine environment which our people have relied upon for countless generations” says Klink.
The Ihumātao and Aotea uprisings accompany further nationwide protests last week regarding the excessive state removal of Māori children from homes and abuse while in state care. ‘Hands Off Our Tamariki’ Campaign organisers Leonie Pihama, Paora Crawford-Moyle & Rihi Te Nana have highlighted the United Nations definition of genocide, which includes the forceable transfer of children from one group to another, and described this ongoing issue as New Zealand’s “Stolen Generation”.
Dr Pihama notes:
“We were told in 2016 that a change in legislation would make Child Youth and Family (CYFs) more accountable to Māori for their absolute incompetency in supporting our people, yet there continues to be a denial by the government of the need for significant change to be made.”
Last week’s nationwide protests were spearheaded by a rally in Wellington which included a large march to Parliament steps to deliver an Open Letter with over 17,000 signatures to the Government calling for an end to the forced removal of Māori children. It also highlights that Māori are continually stifled by government legislation, limited resourcing and structural racism. The connections across these campaigns is recognised by Dr Pihama.
“What we see is a government that has said it is committed to the Treaty but fails to make any meaningful engagement with critical issues such as Ihumātao, Aotea, or the destruction of our children’s lives by its own Ministry. There is too much denial and defensiveness over the past months by this government, as was the case with the previous National government. There continues to be a denial of fundamental Treaty rights to do with our whanau, our lands, our seas, everything. Hands Off Our Tamariki voices our solidarity with all Māori and Indigenous Nations that are standing in protection of sacred places, sacred spaces, sacred future generations.”
Tina Ngata, spokesperson for the Kia Mau campaign opposing the 2019 anniversary celebrations of Captain Cook’s arrival notes that these are clear examples of why the events are an inappropriate and insensitive investment by this government: “We were promised a kind and progressive government under Jacinda Ardern, but these multiple flashpoints amount to a nation in crisis. The deeply entrenched colonial racism of the New Zealand government presents an ongoing threat to our lands, waters, and to us as a people. It’s appalling and insulting that the government would pump tens of millions of dollars into celebrating our “dual heritage” whilst continuing the Imperial project of Indigenous dispossession and genocide. This all demonstrates clearly how far away this government is from truly appreciating the depth of the issues we need to address before we can even claim basic respect for our human, environmental and Indigenous rights, let alone any semblance of bicultural harmony or political kindness.”