‘Raise your spirit higher: Acts of Resistance’

Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 4:13 pm
Speech: The Maori Party
Resistance: An Indigenous Response to Neoliberalism
Book launch: Tariana Turia, Tuesday 1 May 2007
Archives New Zealand

‘Raise your spirit higher: Acts of Resistance’

Last Thursday, a powerful act of resistance took place here in Wellington. Over 150 taonga retrieved from the ashes of Rangiatea Church were returned, revived and brought back to life.

When the Otaki church was destroyed by fire in 1995, congregation members stored the books, papers and textiles in a freezer to prevent further deterioration. They refused to let Rangiatea be extinguished; they refused to let hope die.

The National Library salvaged the ruins, using its massive industrial-sized vacuum freezer to convert the ice on them to gas; before the restoration process begun.

The korero around the gifting back ceremony was rich with emotion – the taonga referred to as phoenix-like, emerging from the fire; the tears that flowed; the karanga that pealed out recognizing also the return of the soot and the ash cleaned from each item as now part of their collective history.

Rangiatea Minister, Reverend Princess Monga, reflected that the ceremony represented the rebuilding of the people.

Now I’d imagine that when those Raukawa kuia of Te Hähi Mihinare were sitting together later over a cup of tea, it’s probably not the challenge of globalisation; the need to oppose neoliberalism or the New Right that they were talking of.

But if we believe that resistance is not location-specific – that it can be as evident in the church of Rangiatea as it can be in protests against the World Bank or presenting submissions to the UN – then all of us are capable of resistance simply by refusing to be silent about the things that matter.

E kore au e ngaro, he käkano i ruia mai i Rangiätea.
I shall never be lost. The seed that was sown at Rangiatea, will grow and bear fruit.

I am honoured to be here tonight, to acknowledge the growth and the blossoming of this seed and its fruit: our own stories and representations, our own kai, our own systems of maintaining hauora, our legal structures, our capacity to name and therefore to be; our own knowledge and science - enabling us to be on our own terms.

Resistance: An Indigenous Response to Neoliberalismis a powerful book which details resistance as it occurs in many places and many ways.

It is a book in which the tino rangatiratanga flag is literally flown high and proud. And should we expect anything else when we think about the editor, Dr Maria Bargh, daughter of Ngati Awa, Ngati Kea, Ngati Tuara, receiving her Doctorate, the Maori flag wrapped around her; a korowai of commitment for all to see.

That flag connects us through to the act of revolution we mark today, some three years after the Hikoi– where we dared to defy the theft by Government of our foreshore and seabed.

Indeed, that flag resonates through the korero in this book. We see it in the interview with Teanau Tuiono – who of course just this year with Te Ata Tino Toa challenged the decision of Transit NZ to reject their request to fly the flag from the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day.

Teanau, in his interview with Maria, connects the concept of resistance to processes that have evolved since the 1800s, and which have been given particular focus in the 1970s and 80s through the leadership of Maori around Waitangi Day, land occupations and the renaissance of te reo rangatira. He talks of the need to continue to build upon this foundation through growing networks and getting good information in front of people.

The history of resistance is also a global one -as Claire Charters describes, extending through indigenous solidarity with initiatives led by other first nations peoples to work collaboratively in resisting states and corporations across the United Nations.

But this book does more than document the history of resistance – as important as that is. It gives focus to the life-death effects of neo-liberalism – a debate urgently needed here in Aotearoa as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer.
It is a debate which is hurting tangata whenua through the continued appropriation of our taonga and continued attacks on our identity.
But what’s it all about – the opposition to neo-liberalism? What does it mean to our whanau in Whangaehu?

I came across an interesting interpretation of neo-liberalism in a paper byElizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo García. They drew on a statement from Sub-comandante Marcos at the Inter-continental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism in Chiapas in 1996, when he said:

"what the Right offers is to turn the world into one big mall where they can buy Indians here, women there ..." and he might have added, children, immigrants, workers or even a whole country like Mexico."

And in the context of Aotearoa, we only need to think of the 2002 purchase by New York financier John Griffin of Young Nick's Head or the 2004 purchase of two Otago high country stations by Shania Twain to know that the land of the long white cloud has become a buyer’s paradise.

The context of the shopping mall-whether in Lower Hutt or West Edmonton, Canada – is also found in Moana Jackson’s work – describing it as a
“trans-national colonising corporate, a sort of prototype state-owned enterprise in which the bottom line of trading interests was also the invisible hand of the colonising will to rule”.

The book then, stimulates debate about the free movement of capital, individualism, privatization, corporatisation, the global Americanisation of society, the influence of sweat shops in Asia, the environmental costs of globalisation.
All topics of analysis that the Maori Party considers could be seen through the frame of aGenuine Progress Index: measuring what really counts; how does one intervention in the economy impact on our social, cultural, and environmental health? What is the price we pay for the march of prosperity?

It is an interesting time to be considering these issues as the iconistic company, Fisher and Paykel, is seduced to the economy of Thailand. The Asian market not only offers low wages but access to research and the incentive of new age technology. An irresistible offer in the context of the free market.

The Decolonising Project
What Maria Bargh and the contributors to this book have also done – is to look at the relationship between neo-liberalism and resistance, through the lens of a decolonized camera.

The portrait that develops highlights that the new forms of market mentality are simply the latest onslaught of the old colonising state and the forces that established it.

We are told how a neoliberal agenda permeates the Treaty settlement process, where we're offered commodities instead of political rights, and where corporate structures enable iwi to be ruled by the Crown. There is the assumption that once iwi sign on the dotted line, all is forgiven, all is forgotten.

Bridget Robson paints a dismal picture that connects the political restructuring process which resulted in Maori workers being laid of in key sectors such as railways, forestry and public works, having direct association to adverse health outcomes.
Colonisation and racism are a dominant determinant in mortality rates, cancer, and respiratory disease along with the systematic exclusion of Maori from being able to maintain an economic base.

One of the central themes of neo-liberalism is the way in which the concept of public good is eliminated and community is replaced with"individual responsibility”. Ethnic disparities such as those Bridget described in the book are frequently attributed to being in the realm of individual choice, ‘free will’ – with individuals then blamed if they fail, as ‘lazy’; ignorant or rebellious.

The authors in this book challenge this notion by confirming, one after another, that Maori resistance is about survival as tangata whenua being based in our own collective histories; our own kawa and tikanga.

One of the consequences of what Maria calls the“practices and assumptions that dismiss, devalue and dismantle Maori rights” is of course the threat of resistance fatigue – the fatigue that comes from the recurrent need for decolonizing acts of protest.

Butin times of injustice, some take up banners, others take up pens. Still others challenge oppression by lifting their voices in defiant song.

I think about how the a-cappella musical groupLadysmith Black Mambazo defied the dehumanising shadow of apartheid by a unique blending of Zulu traditions with lyrics of resistance.

Very like the spirituals created in the cotton fields by American slaves in the 19th century, Ladysmith Black Mambazo drew on a style called isicathamiya created by the virtual slavery practiced in the gold and diamond mines of South Africa by their Dutch colonial rulers.
Out of this context, their album,Raise Your Spirit Higher was released in 2004 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the end of apartheid. Lead singer, Joseph Shabalala, explained it as
“this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood. Bad things happen, and the only thing to do is to raise your spirit higher.”

I wanted to remind us of this will of resistance, because too often we overlook that our greatest resource comes from the blood; our greatest asset is in turning to each other, relying on the width and wisdom of whakapapa to strengthen us in raising our spirits higher.

This spirit of resistance in our arts and songs, is also expressed in our writing as Alice Te Punga Somerville explains in this book.

Alice describes the importance of telling stories to represent, maintain and recreate who we are; that the very act of telling who we are is resistive political work. The act of writing and readingis resistance - it's not just reflecting or reporting after the event.

Cherryl Smith, inCultures of Collecting, also describes the taonga available to her whanau from Kauangaroa and Ngai Tumapuhiarangi which can be treasured and revered without being taken; pinned to a board like stretched butterfly wings for the pleasure of museums and art galleries.

She urges whanau and hapu to hold true to the collective knowledge, being kaitiaki of what is gifted to us, protecting our indigenous wisdom from the pursuit of the hunter.

That notion of collective knowledge and capacity to care is also taken up by Annette Sykes. Annette describes the need to restore collective and traditional Maori food harvesting practices as part of the context of defeating the domination of globalization and neo-liberalism which promotes the consumption of fast foods, the McDonalds and KFC culture.

Annette also suggests we need to create“collective realities of meaning for whanau and hapu” – encouraging us to find ways to get our kids to collectivise. Waka ama, kapa haka, community based centres on marae with free access to technology are all cited as ways of creating practices of relevance to young people.

I was really pleased to see strategies such as the Tino Rangatiratanga website or direct action included in this book, because I think it is so important that the resistance movement is open to all in its vision of seeking to maintain and affirm our identity; to know our whakapapa; to reflect and ignite the unquenchable spirit of a people.

To paraphrase black activist, Audre Lorde, our silence will not protect us; we must actually be the change we wish to see in the world. And if this change is to be enduring, it must be meaningful, it must be relevant and it must speak to us all in our own words.

In the final analysis, however, one wonders how effective we can be fighting for international indigenous rights when our own treaty rights are being systematically eroded or decimated at home.

Maui Solomon gives vital background to the WAI 262 claim which preserves cultural and intellectual property rights; seeking to protect the control of matauranga Maori by Maori – and in doing so reviving the traditional knowledge of rongoa Maori, of native plants and healing powers; issues which are of course highly relevant in these times, in the opposition surrounding the imposed Australian-New Zealand Therapeutic Products Authority.

Ultimately what the authors in this collection offer is a contribution to change; strategies to confront neo-liberalism's assumption that economic power is all, and inspiration for a new reclamation of the political authority we have as whanau, hapu and iwi.
Without this goal, without struggle and critique we risk remaining, as Moana Jackson articulates,
“the servants of the economy rather than the authors of its course and benefits".

And so in the final call to speak out, to shout out, to be Maori and proud, the writers inspire us to create cultures of resistance, building networks of informed people; to promote issues and action in ways that people can connect with and participate in.
I commend Dr Maria Bargh, and the splendid team of writers and thinkers she has brought together in a book, which like the phoenix emerging from the cinders of Rangiatea, once again calls us to be the designers of our destiny, the creators of our fate. That is the most powerful act of resistance of all.



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