By Marama Davidson
(Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou)
As Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa, my tūpuna already had a longstanding connection to this land many centuries before the European colonials arrived to our shores. We went from being the dominant peoples of this land with our own distinct living systems – to a minority collective of people living under infrastructures which oppressed and removed our own. This process of historical and ongoing colonisation, alongside our ancestor connections, is part of what makes us the indigenous people of Aotearoa.
In 2010 New Zealand finally (sigh) endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration). This Declaration is the culmination of over two decades of rigorous debate among native/indigenous peoples from around the world. The United Nations said it was “a landmark declaration that brought to an end nearly 25 years of contentious negotiations over the rights of native people to protect their lands and resources, and to maintain their unique cultures and traditions.”
So I celebrated our State’s eventual endorsement in that bittersweet ‘better late than never’ sort of a fashion. My main mihi at the time was for the many natives who had literally given their blood to this affirmation of indigenous rights. There had been much ado over almost every single word in this document – indeed the saga of the letter ‘s’ being placed at the end of the word ’People’ in the Declaration title is worthy of a documentary in itself.
Given NZ’s initial and staunch opposition to the Declaration and a general history of Crown refusal to honour Tangata Whenua sovereignty – I always knew it would be up to us to give this landmark moment any enduring teeth. What I think is useful for Aotearoa is to truly investigate the indigenous worldview that such a Declaration aims to protect, as an essential part of our community fabric going forward.
Article 3 of the Declaration says: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
The Declaration lends support for indigenous leadership on this very environmental resource protection in Article 26:
In the above article the definition of ‘protection’ and ‘development’ of resources is diverse among Hapū. But I believe we have a unique responsibility to ensuring our long line of indigenous mokopuna get to play and fish in clean seas and beaches, hunt/eat and heal from bushy forests, breathe in fresh air, drink clean water and marvel at the unspoiled beauty of all of that. But here’s the thing – everyone else’s descendents will reap that protected environment too.
On the “sustainable living” push.
Yes we also have to do the hard yards to minimise our current absurd energy use and seek alternatives to illogical fossil fuel exploitation. Again I see the Declaration supporting all opportunities for us to turn our habits towards the wisdom of our tūpuna. There was a time when we could do it – live sustainably. There are a number of articles that emphasise the retention, development and evolution of our world views and knowledge to get us back towards that place of existence.
Of course the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be campaigned for alongside He Whakaputanga 1835 Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Waitangi and the current route for NZ’s Constitutional Transformation. The Declaration also stands as part of a whole host of international human rights documents under the United Nations framework. We must insist that the Declaration be considered in conjunction with and in full support of all of those discussions. It is up to us to assert the ‘practical effect’ of the Declaration that our Prime Minister crudely tried to play down at the time of government endorsement. It is the very practical effect of upholding the rights of this Declaration which I strongly believe has promise for Aotearoa and all the peoples in it!
I have focussed on only a few examples of how the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an instrument of strong advocacy for how our nation can more positively develop from here. The beauty of the Declaration is that it is there for all of us to invoke. Previously I have talked about us not confusing Māori whakapapa for Māori advocacy. The adverse is also true. I have had the privilege of getting to know many a non-indigenous person living on this land who feels the essence of what our native truth is capable of. So the Declaration can help carve out that common ground among different peoples and can also be a catalyst for Tangata Whenua to re-inhabit our own ways of thinking and being. A starting point is for more of us to engage in the discussion around indigenous rights and responsibilities at all.