A call to Tangata Whenua to re-inhabit our own ways of thinking and being

Posted: July 19, 2012 in Culture and traditions, Foreign systems of control, Pacific Ways
Tags: , ,

By Marama Davidson 
(Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou)


An indigenous perspective has much to offer Aotearoa as we search our nation’s soul for a better way.

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.”

Recent political polling suggests that there are enough people questioning the current political, social and economic approaches being adopted for our nation. I think now is a good time for us to bury ourselves in some fundamental discussions around what a better nation would look like and how indigenous self-determination can play a vital part in that. As the current world market free-trade capitalist approach is being called into question, we are starting to look seriously at alternatives. Um – over here!
While it is true that Iwi and Hapū ourselves need to un-learn and re-learn some stuff, there is still enough to start working on with some viable options for honest collective health. For a start our reliance on global financing could lead us up the creek as is happening to other economies. As a little country tucked away in the Pacific, we could look strongly at protecting our unique environmental riches as a fundamental part of economic sustainability. Never mind Tino Rangatiratanga for Iwi – how about we understand that our government is slowly relinquishing its own authority to overseas imperialist economic powers!
The Declaration lends support for indigenous leadership on this very environmental resource protection in Article 26:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

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.

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