description

Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Our tūpuna dreamed the future for all of us

This is the second draft of “reclaiming gender and sexuality”. You can see that it’s taken a different direction from that first draft. After writing the previous draft, the point I wanted to make started to become clear. I was able to take out lots of the stuff I really wanted to include, the quotes and work that inspired me, but that wasn’t contributing to my point. I’ll post the final version in a few weeks.

Draft 2

A few years ago I gave a talk on sexuality and whanau at a conference on tikanga (McBreen 2012). I argued that whenever Māori excluded people because of their sexuality, they were enacting the same cultural imperialism as colonisation—that their homophobia could not only be seen as analogous to our colonisers’ cultural imperialism, but that it was a result of it. I argued that the violence of homophobia, whether through anti-gay jokes, or insults or physical attacks, was traumatising whanaunga, including all children. I am increasingly uncomfortable with my argument. Not because I think it is incorrect, but because it was insufficient. I reduced my demands to appeal to people who I didn’t trust to respond to what I think is really important. I should have trusted them, and this is the argument I should have made. Decolonisation does not mean asking that Māori communities accept those of us whose sexualities or genders don’t conform, it requires eradicating heteropatriarchy from those communities. I don’t want people to put aside their homophobia, I want them to rethink all they know about what it means to be a man or woman living on this land. I don’t want them to do it to protect their kids, I want us to do it because it will protect us all, because our survival as Māori depends on it, because it is the path to tino rangatiratanga.

He tōtara wāhi rua he kai nā te toki

Many indigenous writers have commented that enforcing patriarchy and heteronormativity is a key tactic of colonisation, that it is not simply a by-product. As Cherokee activist Andrea Smith has written, introducing the hierarchy of patriarchy and binary gender prepares us for being ruled over by colonisers (and works to the goal of destroying us as people) (Smith 2005). Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an activist of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry, explains that the colonisers’ attacks on gender and sexuality destroy our relationships with each other, weakening our resistance to colonisation. If whakapapa is a foundational Māori philosophy, then the many ways that heteropatriarchy attacks our understanding of whakapapa means that it has the potential to destroy what it means to be Māori (Mikaere 2000).

I want to start with some definitions. ‘Gender’, ‘sexuality’ and heteropatriarchy are colonial ideas, and cannot easily be translated into te Reo—they do not have comparable Māori terms (eg, Pihama). ‘Gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are political terms, whose meanings are an ongoing source of argument. To oversimplify, gender is often used to mean the socially understood categories of men and women (contrasted against sex, the biologically defined categories of male and female). Sexuality in its most restricted understanding means sexual preference, and may include desire. But as Leonie Pihama has said, it also has a much broader meaning, encompassing how we live, relate to each other, and understand ourselves. These ideas are central to heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is a useful concept (which I am treating as synonymous with heteronormative). It describes a culture with a specific type of male dominance, a culture that privileges masculinity and heterosexuality within an understanding of gender as a male/female dichotomy. In short, it looks like Western culture.

Heteropatriarchy is all the things we’ve been told are normal. It is all the implications from believing that men are better than and opposite to women—the expectation that you can know who someone is and what they are capable of based on the shape of their genitals. It is contempt for women, and therefore for anyone who behaves like a woman. It requires strict policing of behaviour to keep these boundaries distinct. I want to unpack this further, by giving everyday examples of the ways we teach and enforce heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is expecting girls to wear pink and play quietly, while expecting boys to wear blue and love rough-and-tumble play. It is shaming children who can’t conform to masculine and feminine stereotypes. It is encouraging boys to be sexually aggressive, while punishing girls for being sexual at all. It’s allowing boys to learn about sex from pornography that humiliates women, and then blaming them for treating girls as sexual objects rather than equals. It’s shaming culturally feminine qualities and honouring very specific masculine-identified qualities, so competition, singlemindedness and rationality are valued, while co-operation, emotions and care are not. It is judging women who choose not to have children, while financially punishing women who do have children. It is expecting men not to care for their children. It is expecting women to look after men, to do all the emotional work in relationships, and blaming them if their partner is violent or controlling. It is expecting men to be emotionally pathetic, unable to cope with jealousy, anger or loss in healthy ways, unable to behave with integrity with sexual partners. It’s blaming women when they are attacked by their partners or by strangers. It’s making excuses for violent men and accepting that women should be afraid. It’s paying more for ‘men’s work’, and not valuing ‘domestic’ or caring work. It’s women filling the kitchens and committees at marae, while men are recognised as our leaders. It’s the high-powered hui where men are the only invited speakers, and the other hui where people complain if there are ‘too many’ women speakers. It’s setting men and women against each other. It’s treating people who can’t work within this structure as the problem.

Heteropatriarchy is a colonial weapon that we are inviting into our own homes.

Hoki atu ki tōu maunga kia purea ai i ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea

Despite efforts to erase it, researchers of Māori sexuality have provided historical evidence for a range of sexualities and gender expressions (eg, Aspin & Hutchings 2006, Te Awekotuku 2005). Of course, there are a range of sexual and gender expressions in colonial culture also, in spite of heteropatriarchy. What is more interesting to me is that when we look at our creation traditions, there is also evidence of the way our tūpuna thought about gender and sexuality, and it is very different to heteropatriarchy.

A people’s creation traditions are important. They hold the imaginings of tūpuna, the explanations that made sense to them for the ongoing process of creation, and their dreams for how their uri might live into the future. They are an enduring haven to which we can return.

We still need to be cautious and critical. Much of our oral history has been infiltrated by colonial thinking. There is a common narrative of creation that is widely known. I heard versions of it on children’s radio shows when I was a child, I read versions of it in children’s books, I was taught a version of it in Te Ātaarangi, and I hear or read people referring to it more often than to the many iwi narratives. It is a Pākehā narrative, cobbled together from bits and pieces of many stories with inconsistent details removed and laid out into a linear story, intelligible to the writers. You know it: it starts with Te Kore, Te Pō and Rangi and Papa. Rangi saw Papa’s naked body below him, he desired her and took her; they had lots of male children who became cramped and bored; Tāne separated the parents; the brothers fought; the brothers search for the female element, Tāne makes her out of earth, breathes life into her, then has sex with her and she gives birth to the first woman; Tāne takes her as his wife, they have children, she discovers Tāne is her father and flees in shame to the underworld. Etc.

This narrative says a lot about gender and sexuality. It tells us that there are males and females, and that they are different. Males make the decisions that create our world, they interact with each other, they compete for dominance, they shape their environment—they are always doing something. Females (passively) bear the consequences of those actions—they are taken, they are impregnated, they are shamed, they are always disappearing (after giving birth to all her sons, Papatūānuku becomes the passive earth from which Tāne makes Hineahuone; after giving birth, Hineahuone is never heard of again; Hinetitama leaves the world of light). This is heteropatriarchy. It is not the way my people talk about creation.

In Kāi Tahu traditions (eg, Tau 2003), Rakinui has several partners, and Papatūānuku is with Takaroa before Papa and Rakinui get together. Takaroa goes away, Raki and Papa get together, Takaroa comes back, fights with Raki, injures him, and goes away again.

I like this tradition, because it so reflects the world of our tūpuna—the going away and coming back of Takaroa, the red of Rakinui’s blood at sunrise or sunset. You can see why they recognised Papatūānuku as having a relationship with both Rakinui and Takaroa, because that’s how the whenua sits, surrounded by sea and sky. When we look to the horizon, we can see that Raki and Takaroa are also intimately entwined. What is their relationship? Are they forever embracing in their fight? It looks more like spooning. What is going on?

Tainui have another explanation of creation. Pei Te Hurinui Jones (2010) talks about how Ranginui and Papatūānuku are both bi-sexual or a-sexual (p241), and each gives birth to several children before getting together. Tāne-mahuta has sex with a male atua, Kahukura, who gives birth (referred to as a bi-sexual conception, p244). I am not from Tainui, so I will not speculate on the meaning of their traditions, but it is easy to see that this says something very different from the narrative constructed by Pākehā men.

An intriguing tradition that was recorded by a Pākehā man tells of Māui and Rohe (Tregear 1891; unfortunately, I can’t find a record of whose tradition this is). Māui is ugly and Rohe is so beautiful that Māui is jealous of her. He asks to swap faces with her, but she refuses. One night when she is asleep, he swaps faces. When she wakes she leaves to live in the underworld.

Helen Harte directed me to this tradition because it raises such interesting questions. Māui wanted to look like a woman, Rohe did not want to look like a man. Rohe had the mana to refuse Māui, and now has an important role in looking after us after death. Māui continued to live with a woman’s face. What was this story about before it was recorded by Pākehā?

What do these three examples say about gender and sexuality? They show that monogamy is not privileged. They show that males and masculinity are not especially privileged. They show that heterosexuality isn’t necessarily privileged. The more attention we give them and question what they mean, the more they reveal that neither gender nor sexuality are fixed, and that our tūpuna had a complex understanding of gender and sexuality. This isn’t surprising, because our tūpuna were great observers of their environment, and nature contains endless gender and sexual variety.

There is evidence of flexibility, an absence of hierarchy, and combined with lack of categories in te Reo that align with Western categories, that gives a strong message that gender and sexuality were not as important to our tūpuna. Heteropatriarchy is completely foreign. This presents a challenge to all of us—how do we eradicate heteropatriarchy? How do we make these categories less important again? How much needs to change so that we no longer need labels like gay, bisexual, or even takatāpui to organise ourselves under? What must change so that we can say with honesty that, where there are specific roles for tāne and wāhine, they are equally important and respected? How do we create the conditions for our liberation? We must undo all the ways that domination is controlling us.

After 200 years of colonisation, the dreams of our tūpuna are waiting to be recovered. We just need to be bold enough to see all that isn’t being said, and ask the hard questions.

Mā pango mā whero ka oti ai te mahi

If whakapapa is the foundation of tikanga, heteropatriarchy makes no sense. Ani Mikaere (2011) has explored what it means to understand the world through whakapapa, her conclusions include lack of hierarchy, the importance of relationships, and inclusiveness. Heteropatriarchy is a corruption of our tikanga so that mana wahine becomes less than mana tāne, and mana tāne is itself defined as a limited heterosexual masculinity. It reshapes all our relationships with our living whanaunga, as well as with our tūpuna and atua. It is for these reasons that Leonie Pihama (1998, p184) suggests The imposition of the western nuclear family is perhaps one of the key acts that undermined Māori societal structures.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson challenges us to take on gender violence as a core resurgence project, a core decolonization project, a core of any Indigenous mobilization. By focusing on the violence of heteropatriarchy, we can see all that must change for us to realise tino rangatiratanga. There is no quick fix that will end gender violence, because it is at the core of colonisation. It is a virus bred in the colonisers that invades our tikanga, replicating itself wherever we are not actively resisting, until hierarchy seems a natural part of all that we do. By focusing on heteropatriarchy, we can see that Christianity, the nuclear family and projects focused only on building mana tāne will not lead to tino rangatiratanga.

By making hierarchy seem natural, heteropatriarchy reframes our understanding of the world as hierarchy—not only does tāne become more than wahine, but tuakana becomes more than teina, tūpuna becomes more than uri, rangatira becomes more than people. The point is to break our relationships to each other and land, so we can be dominated. The pathway is to teach us to dominate each other, the land, and all our environment, to cultivate relationships of domination. Hierarchy is incompatible with whakapapa—it focuses on difference in order to separate and dominate, whereas whakapapa focuses on relationships and linking together. Domination is violence, but when hierarchy has become natural to us, the violence is harder to see. Rejecting hierarchy is not only essential to decolonisation, it is a foundation on which decolonisation will be built, and will be a measure of our progress. As Andrea Smith (2006, p72) has said, Any liberation struggle that does not challenge heteronormativity cannot substantially challenge colonialism or white supremacy. Rather, as Cathy Cohen contends, such struggles will maintain colonialism based on a politics of secondary marginalization where the most elite class of these groups will further their aspirations on the backs of those most marginalized within the community.

Too often, decolonisation projects mirror or incorporate colonial systems of oppression. If the pathway to tino rangatiratanga looks the same as that of colonisation, then it will probably lead to the same place. Let’s not choose that path. Capitalism and the nation-state both rely on domination. It is only because we have become naturalised to hierarchy that we can imagine a decolonised future within the structures of capitalism or the nation-state. A decolonisation project with whakapapa at its foundation will challenge all systems of domination. The editors of Queer Indigenous Studies argue that those most marginalised by heteropatriarchy have a special role in this work by disrupting colonially imposed and internalized systems of gender and sexuality, Indigenous queer and Two-spirit critiques can move decolonizing movements outside dominant logics and narratives of 'nation' (Driskill, Finley, Gilley & Morgensen 2011, p17). Tino rangatiratanga will involve remembering, re-imagining and re-inventing structures that reflect the values we want for our future.


It is always tempting in arguing for decolonisation to start by exposing the violence of colonisation. Listing the effects of colonisation, on women, on men, on our children, on our relationships with each other, on those not considered normal, shows one reason why decolonisation is important and urgent—our colonial reality is literally killing us. There is another reason, which is also important—this colonial reality is killing the dreams our tūpuna made for us and the lands to which we belong. It is killing our culture. Our tūpuna had generations to learn how to live in these lands, they developed ethics for relationships with each other and their environment that sustained them. They wove these ethics and all they learnt into stories of creation. This was their method of passing on all that they knew to be true, all that they dreamed and aspired to. These were always stories about whakapapa, always stories that could only be understood by focusing on the relationships. For our survival as Māori, we must return to these stories. We must face their dreams, however challenging they now seem. For it to be meaningful, we must define decolonisation on their terms, and with whakapapa as our guide.

References
Aspin, Clive and Jessica Hutchings 2006 ‘Māori sexuality’ State of the Māori Nation: Twenty-first-century Issues in Aotearoa Edited by Malcolm Mulholland (Reed, Auckland)
Driskill, Qwo-Li, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, Scott Lauria Morgensen 2011 ‘Introduction’ Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature Edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley & Scott Lauria Morgensen (University of Arizona Press, Tuscon, AZ, US)
Harte, Helen Interview with the author 21 February, 2014
Jones, Pei Te Hurinui 2010 King Pōtatau: An Account of the Life of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero the First Māori King (Huia Publishers and the Polynesian Society, Wellington and Auckland)
McBreen, Kim ‘It’s about whānau—oppression, sexuality and mana’ Kei Tua o Te Pae Hui Proceedings. Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 4-5 September 2012: 55-64
Mikaere, Ani 2011 Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro (Huia Publishers, Wellington and Te Tākupu, Ōtaki)
Mikaere, Ani 2011 ‘Patriarchy as the ultimate divide and rule tactic: The assault on tikanga Māori by Pākehā law’ Mai i Te Ata Hāpara conference, Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 11-13 August 2000
Pihama, Leonie http://www.rangahau.co.nz/exemplar/143/#, accessed 17 April, 2014
Pihama, Leonie 'Reconstructing meanings of family: lesbian/gay whānau and families in Aotearoa' The Family in Aotearoa New Zealand Edited by Vivienne Adair (Longman, Auckland 1998)
Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake http://nationsrising.org/not-murdered-and-not-missing/, accessed 6 March, 2014
Smith, Andrea 2005 Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End Press, Cambridge, MA, US)
Smith, A 2006 ‘Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: rethinking women of color organizing’ Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology Edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (South End Press, Cambridge MA, US)
Tau, Rawiri Te Maire 2003 Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu (University of Otago Press, Dunedin)
Te Awekotuku, Ngāhuia 2005 ‘He reka anō – same-sex lust and loving in the ancient Māori world’ Outlines: Lesbian & Gay Histories of Aotearoa Edited by Alison J Laurie & Linda Evans (LAGANZ, Wellington)
Tregear, Edward 1891 Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair, Wellington)

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Draft 1: Reclaiming gender and sexuality

One of the things I’ve read about novel writing is you start by writing your novel. At the end you have an idea of what your novel is about, and then you can start writing it. All my writing seems to benefit from this process. Write a first draft. Throw it away. Write the proper first draft.

I want to show this in a progression of some writing I’ve been doing. I’ll put up another draft in the next couple of weeks.


Draft 1: reclaiming gender and sexuality

“White supremacy, rape culture, and the real and symbolic attack on gender, sexual identity and agency are very powerful tools of colonialism, settler colonialism and capitalism ... These forces have the intergenerational staying power to destroy generations of families, as they work to prevent us from intimately connecting to each other. They work to prevent mobilization because communities coping with epidemics of gender violence don’t have the physical or emotional capital to organize. They destroy the base of our nations and our political systems because they destroy our relationships to the land and to each other by fostering epidemic levels of anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, distrust and suicide. They work to destroy the fabric of Indigenous nationhoods … by making it difficult to form sustainable, strong relationships with each other.

“This is why I think it’s in all of our best interests to take on gender violence as a core resurgence project, a core decolonization project, a core of any Indigenous mobilization. And by gender violence I don’t just mean violence against women, I mean all gender violence.” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

I have been asked to write a chapter on sexuality. I feel tempted to rush to read up on queer theory, to fill my head with the words that don’t speak to me but are supposedly about the world that I live in. Sentences that I don’t understand, that make me feel inadequate and unqualified, that say to me that my knowledge and experiences don’t count.

Colonisation has left many of us doubting our ability to theorise. We begin to understand our world through the colonisers’ theories. Their frameworks start to seem natural. Just as colonisers surveyed and divided up our land, they survey and divide up our knowledge. They categorise and theorise, and we compete with western-trained academics to explain our oppressions with their theories, to them. It is all so irrelevant.

Fortunately, I have other words that tell me to trust myself, that what I need to know and say is too important to be hidden in obscure poorly written academic jargon.

“i don’t need trans/gender/queer/feminist discourse to understand the ways that my gender/sexuality marks me as a target for violence. every screamed slur and threat informs me of this.

“i have nothing to learn from my oppressors that they haven’t already taught me in their every deed and action...

"i have so little time on this planet. and i refuse to spend anymore of it reading tedious tomes written by crusty dead white men or even a tweet from a vibrant, young white activist.

“the time i’ve already spent learning all this shit only adds another resentment to the pile. the time i’m spending unlearning all of it is part of my hate. i could have been learning my own language, instead of my colonizers.

“i could have been learning the history and customs of my own people, instead of the nonsense of white people." b.binaohan

Sexuality is a giant topic. I can’t say exactly what it includes or excludes. I see it as part of gender. It clearly includes how we understand sex, how we understand relationships, and how we understand ourselves. It includes how we relate to others, how we have sex and with whom, how we raise children, how power works. I can’t think of anything unaffected by gender and sexuality.

Which is why, as Simpson says, gendered colonial violence has been the cornerstone of colonialism, occupation and dispossession. The gender violence that she talks of is about all of this. It is the violence of heteropatriarchy, which broke apart the safety of our communities and our ways of being.

Heteropatriarchy

Heteropatriarchy is a useful concept. It describes a culture with a specific type of male dominance, a culture that privileges masculinity and heterosexuality within an understanding of gender as a male/female dichotomy. In short, it looks like Western culture.

Heteropatriarchy is all the things we’ve been told are normal. It is all the implications from believing that men are better than and opposite to women. It is contempt for women, and therefore for anyone who behaves like a woman. It requires strict policing of behaviour to keep these boundaries distinct.

Simpson explains how it has become part of North American indigenous communities:
“I see the expression of heteropatriarchy in our communities all the time – with the perpetuation of rigid (colonial) gender roles, pressuring women to wear certain articles of clothing to ceremonies, the exclusion of LGBQ2 individuals from communities and ceremonies, the dominance of male-centred narratives regarding Indigenous experience, the lack of recognition for women and LGBQ2’s voices, experiences, contributions and leadership, and narrow interpretations of tradition used to control the contributions of women in ceremony, politics and leadership, to name just a few.”
Does this sound familiar?

Heteropatriarchy includes the expectation that you can know who someone is and what they are capable of based on the shape of their genitals. It is expecting girls to wear pink and play quietly, while expecting boys to wear blue and love rough-and-tumble play. It is teaching children to be ashamed if they can’t conform to masculine and feminine stereotypes. It is encouraging boys to be sexually aggressive, while punishing girls for being sexual at all. It’s allowing boys to learn about sex from pornography that humiliates women, and then blaming them for treating girls as sexual objects rather than equals. It’s expecting men to be ‘masculine’ and women to be ‘feminine’. It’s shaming femininity—using culturally feminine qualities or body parts as insults, men acting like women for laughs, and treating emotions as signs of weakness. It’s honouring very specific masculine-identified qualities—strength, drive, rationality, ignoring emotions. It is punishing women for having children, taking away their income, or shaming them as ‘solo mums’. It is expecting men to not have time for their children. It’s rewarding parents who work outside the home, but not those who stay home. It is expecting women to look after men, to do all the emotional work in relationships, and blaming them if their partner is violent or controlling. It is expecting men to be emotionally pathetic, unable to cope with jealousy, anger or loss in healthy ways, unable to behave with integrity with sexual partners. It’s blaming women when they are attacked by their partners or by strangers. It’s making excuses for violent men. It’s accepting that women should be afraid. It’s paying more for ‘men’s work’, and not valuing ‘domestic’ or caring work. It’s women filling the kitchens and committees at marae, and men being recognised as our leaders. It’s the high-powered hui where men are the only invited speakers, and the other hui where people complain if there are ‘too many’ women speakers. It’s setting men and women against each other. It’s treating people who can’t work within this structure as the problem.

It’s all the things that tell us that men are more important than women. It’s all the things that try to limit what is recognised as normal, and what it means to be a person. It is violent and deadly, and it is not Māori.

None so queer as heteropatriarchy

When the British colonise land, they bring their laws with them—they expect their laws to supplant indigenous laws. And so it was here. While international law, Māori laws and the treaties that they signed all agree that tangata whenua would retain their own legal systems, the colonisers quickly behaved as if British law was the only real law. British constricted their sexuality and gender, and so imposed this constriction onto Māori bodies. Māori gender and sexuality became regulated by the state, as much through forcing Māori children to learn British morality in schools as through other legal routes. At the same time, ‘modern sexualities’ emerged from the West. We are now in the perverse situation that the sexually repressed settlers look more liberated than tangata whenua. Māori are portrayed as ‘conservative’ and homophobic, having adopted Victorian ‘morality’. Pākehā liberals bemoan the conservatism of Māori. This ignores both the violence of colonisation outlawing Māori ways of being, and the obvious fact that, policed as Māori communities are, and non-conforming Māori communities in particular, Māori have still been the ones driving homosexual liberation and law reform in this country. Where would we be without people like Ngāhuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Waikato), Carmen Rupe (Ngāti Maniapoto), Georgina Beyer (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou), and Louisa Wall (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Waikato)?

Ahunga Tikanga as decolonising methodology

Ahunga tikanga is a discipline taught at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. Like other indigenous theories, it is a reclamation and celebration of indigenous ways of being in and understanding the world. It uses critical thinking as a tool for whakatupu mātauranga—extending the mātauranga continuum. Ahunga Tikanga is centered on Māori academic traditions. While its primary focus is critically examining and extending our mātauranga, it is also a method for decolonisation—for examining and undoing the damage of colonisation on our mātauranga.

Six statements guide us:
  1. We have faith in our tūpuna. What they did, they did intentionally, and with integrity.
  2. We have faith in our mātauranga. Our tūpuna had generations in which to understand their rohe, to experiment and to learn the important skills and values in making and maintaining the relationships they need. They embedded that knowledge in the oral traditions that inform our mātauranga.
  3. Tikanga is the only legitimate law of Aotearoa. It is the first law, and it has never been ceded.
  4. Whakapapa is the philosophical framework of tikanga. It is the heart of our mātauranga.
  5. Colonisation has led to imposter tikanga. This acknowledges the effect of colonisation on how we understand ourselves and our world.
  6. Decolonisation means reclamation. It is not enough to grow the mātauranga, we must make it accessible and usable.
What does this mean in practice? Ani Mikaere and Moana Jackson say it’s important to start with the mātauranga continuum.

I want you to imagine a line in front of you. This line stretches forward, past your birth and your parents’ births, past the arrival of Europeans to these motu, past the arrival of your tūpuna Māori, all the way to the time of creation. It also stretches behind you to eternity. This line represents the knowledge and wisdom of all the generations of our tūpuna, our intellectual tradition. Whatarangi Winiata calls this line the mātauranga continuum.

Now imagine just in front of you, there’s an intersecting line. That line represents colonisation. It’s like a knife trying to cut through the continuum—it is western cultural imperialism, which is the denial of anyone else’s knowledge or tikanga. It seeks to cut our knowledge off from our past, by denying we had laws, let alone philosophies or an intellectual tradition. And it seeks to cut off the possibility of the continuum carrying on, by replacing our mātauranga with Western understandings. Our colonisers would have us believe that our knowledge is exactly what Europeans recorded when they arrived, nothing more. We are supposed to believe that the Western academic tradition can better understand and represent mātauranga Māori than a Māori academic tradition can. Whether we’re talking about Western trained researchers 200 years ago, or now, somehow they’re supposed to have a better take on the truth than anyone else. Finally, we are supposed to believe that authentic mātauranga is fixed in time at that point when the colonisers arrived. It didn’t develop from anything before then, and it can never develop beyond that point.

Those distorted views of our mātauranga have endured since the colonisers started their project, but our traditions have also endured. As Ani Mikaere (2009) has said, “While our experience of colonisation has been devastating, its impact should not blind us to the fact that it has occupied a mere moment in time on the continuum of our history.” We can use our traditions to ensure that colonisation is just a tiny dent on our continuum.

Decolonising means destabilising heteropatriarchy

Colonialism … quickly co-opted Indigenous individuals into colonial gender roles in order to replicate the heteropatriarchy of colonial society (Simpson). As Andrea Smith (2005) has said, the point was to more easily colonise us. We can expect that our tikanga around gender and sexuality will have been targeted first. Gender and sexuality are at the heart of who we are, and after 200 years of attack, we can expect to be affected. How do we use Ahunga Tikanga to decolonise our sexuality and gender?

We start by trusting our tūpuna. How did they think about sexuality? We do that by looking at what they had to say about te orokohanga o te ao. What does our mātauranga say about gender and sexuality?

There is a common pan-Māori narrative of creation that is widely known. I heard versions of it on children’s radio shows when I was a child, I read versions of it in children’s books, I was taught a version of it in Te Ātaarangi, and I hear or read people referring to it more often than to the many iwi narratives. It is a Pākehā narrative, cobbled together from bits and pieces of many stories with inconsistent details removed and laid out in a linear story. You know it: it starts with Te Kore, Te Pō and Rangi and Papa. Rangi saw Papa’s naked body below him, he desired her and took her; they had lots of male children who became cramped and bored; Tāne separated the parents; the brothers fought; the brothers search for the female element, Tāne makes her out of earth, breathes life into her, then has sex with her and she gives birth to the first woman; Tāne takes her as his wife, they have children, she discovers Tāne is her father and flees in shame to the underworld. Etc.

This narrative says a lot about gender and sexuality. It tells us that there are males and females, and that they are different. Males make the decisions that create our world, they interact with each other, they compete for dominance, they shape their environment—they are always doing something. Females (passively) bear the consequences of those actions—they are taken, they are impregnated, they are shamed, they are always disappearing (after giving birth to all her sons, Papatūānuku becomes the passive earth from which Tāne makes Hineahuone; after giving birth, Hineahuone is never heard of again; Hinetitama leaves the world of light). This is heteropatriarchy.

But if whakapapa is the foundation of tikanga, none of this makes sense. Ani Mikaere (2011) has explored what it means to understand the world through whakapapa, her conclusions include lack of hierarchy, the importance of relationships, and inclusiveness. It is clear that the narrative above is not consistent with these values. It is not a narrative that comes from a Māori philosophy. It is a corruption that justifies the corruption of our tikanga so that mana wahine becomes less than mana tāne, and mana tāne is itself defined as a limited heterosexual masculinity. It is not the way my people talk about creation.

In Kāi Tahu traditions (eg Tau 2003), Rakinui has several partners, and Papatūānuku is with Takaroa before Papa and Rakinui get together. Takaroa goes away, Raki and Papa get together, Takaroa comes back, fights with Raki, injures him, and goes away again.

I like this tradition, because it so reflects the world of our tūpuna—the going away and coming back of Takaroa, the red of Rakinui’s blood at sunrise or sunset. You can see why they recognised Papatūānuku as having a relationship with both Rakinui and Takaroa, because that’s how the whenua sits, surrounded by sea and sky. When we look to the horizon, we can see that Raki and Takaroa are also intimately entwined. What is their relationship? Are they forever embracing in their fight? It looks more like spooning. What is going on?

Tainui also describe creation differently. Pei te Hurinui Jones (2010) talks about how Ranginui and Papatūānuku are both bi-sexual or a-sexual (p241), and each gives birth to several children before getting together. Tāne-mahuta has sex with a male atua, Kahukura, who gives birth (referred to as a bi-sexual conception, p244). I am not from Tainui, so I will not speculate on the meaning of their traditions, but it is easy to see that this says something very different from the narrative constructed by Pākehā men.

An intriguing tradition that was recorded by a Pākehā man tells of Māui and Rohe (Tregear 1891; unfortunately, I can’t find a record of whose tradition this is). Māui is ugly and Rohe is so beautiful that Māui is jealous of her. He asks to swap faces with her, but she refuses. One night when she is asleep, he swaps faces. When she wakes she leaves to live in the underworld.

Helen Harte (2014) directed me to this tradition because it raises such interesting questions. Māui wanted to look like a woman, Rohe did not want to look like a man. Rohe had the mana to refuse Māui, and now has an important role in looking after us after death. Māui continued to live with a woman’s face. What was this story about before it was recorded by Pākehā?

What do these three examples say about gender and sexuality? They show that monogamy is not privileged. They show that males and masculinity are not especially privileged. They show that heterosexuality isn’t necessarily privileged. The more attention we give them and question what they mean, the more they reveal that neither gender nor sexuality are fixed, and that our tūpuna had a complex understanding of gender and sexuality. This isn’t surprising, because our tūpuna were great observers of their environment, and nature contains endless gender and sexual variety.

After 200 years of colonisation, the information we need is still there for us. We just need to be bold enough to see what isn’t being said, and ask the questions.

Decolonisation is community work

All of this is irrelevant if it doesn’t lead to change. We must measure our success not in numbers of academic papers, committees or conference talks, but by how much the community uses us and our work, by the change that it makes. How do we make ourselves and our work accessible where it is needed?

For example, how do we enable our communities to stop reproducing heteropatriarchy? How do we stop it being taught to our children? How do we ensure that all gender violence is taken seriously?

This is the challenge to academics. I am inspired by organisations like Native Youth Sexual Health Network (US and Canada), INCITE! (US), and Mana Ririki (NZ) and by organisers and educators like Harsha Walia, Jessica Danforth and Ngāhuia Murphy. We need to be reaching out to the communities who most need our work. We need to be producing and using culturally appropriate resources for parents, communities, kohanga and kura. We need to be designing, teaching and enrolling in workshops and courses. We need to be thinking strategically and long term about how our work can contribute to our physical and cultural survival.


For 200 years, colonisation has attacked who we are and how we understand ourselves. Through religion, education and law, it has tried to destroy our ways of relating, and forced Western ways on us. Heteropatriarchy is a result of colonisation, and so is the lack of faith that many of us have in our mātauranga. But the solutions will not be found in Western theories and practices. We have a long academic tradition, with our own critical theories and tikanga to guide us. Ahunga Tikanga is a tool for decolonisation—by showing faith in our tūpuna, we will build faith in the mātauranga they developed.


References (not linked to in body)
  • Harte, Helen Interview with the author 21 February, 2014
  • Jones, Pei Te Hurinui 2010 King Pōtatau: an account of the life of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero the first Māori king (Huia Publishers and the Polynesian Society, Wellington and Auckland)
  • Mikaere, Ani 2011 Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro (Huia Publishers, Wellington and Te Tākupu, Ōtaki)
  • Mikaere, Ani 2009 ‘How will future generations judge us?’ Mā te rango te waka ka rere: Exploring a kaupapa Māori organisational framework (Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki)
  • Smith, Andrea 2005 Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End Press, Cambridge, MA)
  • Tau, Rawiri Te Maire 2003 Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu (University of Otago Press, Dunedin)
  • Tregear, Edward 1891 Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair, Wellington)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Things I wish I'd known 6 years ago—talk from Never forget: October 15th solidarity tour (Wellington)

These are my notes from a talk I gave at the Wellington leg of the Never Forget: October 15th Solidarity Tour on Oct 19th.

I want to start by remembering the violence of the state on and around October 15th, 2007. I know many whānau were hurt and are still carrying that pain. That’s not the focus of my talk, but it is what brings me here. I need to thank the organisers of this event. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m really stoked to be invited to contribute today. It’s really good to have an opportunity to reflect on all of the bullshit that has happened since that day in 2007, when so many people were fucked with, and so many people were hurt.

I also want to acknowledge the people who have agreed to be part of today—there’s some amazing speakers after me, and I’m looking forward to hearing them. Because I’m first up, I figure I can be a bit more personal and reflective than later speakers. So I want to start by reflecting on the immediate aftermath of Operation8 on the political scene in Wellington that I was involved in. I want to talk about things I wish I had known six or so years ago, and how that might have changed how I behaved. Then I want to talk about tino rangatiratanga, and finally about my understanding of solidarity now.

Six years ago, I wish I had been clear on the boundaries between being a friend, and the political work of solidarity. There is a difference between loving and caring for my friends, and being in solidarity with them. Not being clear on those boundaries between friendship and politics made a messy and painful time more stressful than it needed to be. And more importantly, it meant that I wasn’t as good a friend or as good an activist as I could have been. To support my friends, I thought I had to defend them as having done nothing illegal. I was terrified that anything I said could be used against them, because of my closeness to them, so what I said in their support was completely apolitical. If I couldn’t say anything politically useful, just concentrating on being a friend would have been a more effective use of my energy. And not having the inevitable fights that working together under stress brings would have allowed me to be a better friend.

I wish I had been clearer about the connections between Operation 8 and my political beliefs. Not making those connections clear contributed to not knowing how to respond politically.

I wish I had made more time to talk with people about all the different questions and feelings we had, and maybe continue to have.

I wish I had taken more time to talk with people about our politics and what had happened.

All of the silence around what happened, for fear of making things worse, meant that it was really hard to untangle all this stuff. It fed the stress and frustration and made it harder for me to work with people, and to do anything that felt effective. I needed to wānanga, to work stuff out with people who shared some of my values and beliefs. Instead it felt like we were working as a bunch of individuals together, making statements that many of us probably didn’t understand, or had quite different understandings of, or actually didn’t agree with.

I need to know where my values differ from those of the people I am working with, so we aren’t just guessing and censoring ourselves. For example, the group in Wellington that I was involved with that was doing political response to Operation 8 included people from a mix of political backgrounds, but we didn’t talk about our politics, because it felt like there wasn’t time. But it felt important to organise, and try to get more people on board. Instead of taking time to find out where we all agreed, or educating ourselves together so we could make stronger statements, we watered down our politics to make it more palatable to more people. So a lot of the statements we made as a group ended up being really liberal and not consistent with my beliefs—and possibly not consistent with the beliefs of most of the people in the group. It was a wasted opportunity for doing something real.

I wish I had been more self aware and more humble. Our voices weren’t the most important or the most informed. Our skills and contacts could have been put to different uses. There were other people who could have used the attention better than us, and I wish I had put my energy into supporting that to happen.

It wasn’t until years later that I realised we were trying to make lots of different arguments or stories about what Operation 8 meant all at the same time. We needed to untangle those arguments, which would have taken time. Because the strand that was being lost in the confusion, is the one that is the most important, most challenging and most compelling argument—that Operation 8 was an act of colonisation. To make that argument, we need to make colonisation and tino rangatiratanga front and centre. Instead, it was getting overwhelmed by arguments that seemed easier to sell. I think it’s really important to think about the stories we put more energy into telling and why they are easier—what are they challenging, or more importantly, what aren’t they challenging?

I reckon there were 4 main arguments that we were using—which I’ve written about before. I think it’s important to untangle them and think about these separately whenever we are potentially talking about colonisation, because otherwise things seems to fall to a liberal human rights argument. So I’ll briefly talk about each of them here.

There’s the keystone cops argument—Operation 8 didn’t really mean anything, police are just fucking idiots. This argument is tempting, because, for one, it’s usually true that police act like idiots, and it also feels good to name that and mock them when they’ve been violent arseholes. What this argument neglects is that police are acting for the Crown, and it’s no accident that their ineptness is only ever violent when it suits the Crown. Those patterns aren’t hard to see.

There’s the liberal argument, that the state is over-reaching its legitimate power—it’s using the war on terror to expand its power and encroach on our civil liberties, police and anti-terror units need to justify their existence, etc. Again, this is compelling, because it’s true, and it’s easy to sell. But what if I don’t believe the state has any legitimate power? This argument doesn’t challenge the state at all, it doesn’t challenge the status quo.

There’s the anarchist argument, which does challenge the status quo—it starts from a recognition that the state is inherently abusive, it is all about controlling us, and it will use any tool it needs to keep us in line, whether creating fear through propaganda or through physical violence, or whatever. And it will demonise anyone who questions its legitimacy. This argument tends to ignore the importance of culture and history. It tends to overlook that some peoples have more legitimate claims to power than others. It doesn’t challenge us to think about where we are and how we got here.

The final argument, the one that I think got most lost, is the colonialism argument. That, as Moana Jackson has said, whenever indigenous peoples question their dispossession, they are defined as a threat and met with violence. It’s not that we weren’t mentioning colonisation, it’s that we weren’t saying anything beyond mentioning it.

When you look at what happened with Operation 8, when you look at where it happened, at which communities were targeted in which ways, and how liberal politicians positioned themselves—it’s really clear that racism, and fear of tangata whenua rising up, were absolutely central. For example, Helen Clark’s media statement about activists training to use napalm is all about that fear. Operation 8 was a colonial act. To respond to that, it’s really important that we know where we stand on colonisation, and legitimate responses to it, whether by tangata whenua or manuhiri.

On that note, I want to explain where I’ve got to with thinking about colonisation and tino rangatiratanga, or mana. The rest of my talk has nothing to do with Operation 8, but is more general.

Lots of really on to it people have made some simple statements about tino rangatiratanga or justice that speak to me. Patricia Monture-Angus is a Mohican woman, and she talks about justice as being the ability to live as a responsible person in her territory, as a Mohican woman. That’s really similar to Whatarangi Winiata’s definition, which is being able to survive as Māori. These are statements about the ability for tangata whenua to live according to their laws on their lands.

And this leads to my favourite statement about tino rangatiratanga, Ani Mikaere puts it simply that tikanga is the first law here and it’s the only legitimate law here. That’s because law comes from whakapapa—we can’t remain Māori and cede the responsibilities of our whakapapa.

If you can accept that, then questions of solidarity become simple too. I support tangata whenua making decisions that are right for them. It is their decision what they do in their rohe. That’s tikanga. Likewise I have no problem with tangata whenua defending their people, or whenua, or moana from the violence of colonisation, which comes in many forms.

The most inspiring talk I’ve heard in years was Dayle Takitimu talking about Te Whānau-ā-Apanui’s defense of their rohe from deep sea oil drilling. It’s not hard to support that. But the way these actions are portrayed in the media sometimes makes it hard to understand what’s going on. I don’t know if you all have been following the Mi’kmaq defence of their territory from gas exploration which was all over indigenous media yesterday—I was really distracted by it (background information here). The Reuters headline was “Police arrest 40 as Canada shale gas protest turns violent” and their article starts by talking about protestors setting police cars on fire, and throwing molotovs at police. The story could have been about indigenous people defending their whenua from exploitation, and the Canadian state’s violence against them. I didn’t look it up, but I imagine Canadian media were even more slanted. We know the media generally focus on the ‘violence of protestors’ and hardly ever talk about the real issues, which in this case, is the violence of colonisation and the ability of indigenous people to make decisions about their land.

The state has done a great job of making sure most people don’t understand colonisation. Our education system is pretty shocking when it comes to our colonial history and critical analysis. And our media don’t fill that gap. This means that some of the most important solidarity work that needs to be done is education and changing the conversation. The more people, from more diverse backgrounds that bring colonisation into the conversation, the harder it is to ignore.

So I want to finish by saying a few words about solidarity.

My understanding of solidarity now requires that I know myself—I need to be clear of my beliefs. Because solidarity is about interdependence, it’s about connections and relationships. It’s not charity—it’s about my relationship with you, and it’s about the relationship between my struggles and yours. So that also means I don’t have to completely agree with you and all your choices to be in solidarity with you. If I believe in your liberty, your self-determination, then by definition, I don’t get to determine what that means, or how you get there. We all need to understand that solidarity with any indigenous people requires accepting the legitimacy of those people’s decisions. And solidarity certainly doesn’t mean I have to claim to be you—we are not all Zapatistas or Ngāi Tūhoe. My struggles are not the same as yours. But they are connected.

My solidarity may mean simply making those connections clear, whatever they are—it might be western cultural imperialism, or colonisation, or capitalism. Understanding how your cause contributes to my cause. It may mean using whatever privilege I have, to open a space for you to talk about your oppression. By making those connections, we come to know the systems of oppression better, we expose them to more people, and eventually, we win together.

On that note, I’ll finish, thanks again for the opportunity to speak.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Takatāpui and invisible whiteness—talk from Beyond conference

These are my notes from a talk I gave on a panel called Takataapui Perspectives at Beyond: Discussion and action on gender and sexual diversity. This was a conference organised by Queer Avengers and held in Wellington this weekend.

Everything I’m talking about today is kind of a follow on from a talk I gave at clitfest a couple of months ago, so if you weren’t there, and you want to know how this starts, you can look at the post of that talk.

I was born a few years back, and I was given out for adoption. My mother is Pākehā, and my father is from Kāi Tahu. But my adoptive parents, who are Pākehā, were guaranteed that I am fully white. That meant I had no access to part of who I am and how I relate to this land. I’ve met my birth father, and he is undeniably not white. So I asked my birth mother if she knew he was Māori, and she said no, she hadn’t thought about it. As we talked, it became clear that it was because she saw my father as normal, and when you grow up in a culture that doesn’t talk about culture, and whiteness is normal, even though visibly he is clearly not white—he is undeniably brown—that meant she thought of him as white. Just like all the other non-white people she knew. That’s not her fault—that’s white culture.

White culture makes whiteness normal and invisible, and it means we understand everything that is not obviously different and exotic as normal, and therefore also white. This really hurts people, because we feel like we have to perform to be recognised as who we are. It pushes us into extremes on a spectrum, and for Māori especially, that’s dangerous, because we always get the shitty end of any dichotomy. My father would have been recognised as Māori if he behaved angrily, or like he was poor and uneducated, but he was a smart well-spoken, nice young man—clearly white.

I’m sure you know all this, intellectually, especially in relation to heterosexism and queerness. Unless we announce our sexuality in some way, everyone assumes we’re straight. It’s the same thing. So why am I talking about this?

I was asked to speak on this panel called Takatāpui perspectives, and the first thing I noticed is that there is no panel called white queer perspectives. There is pretty much never a panel on white perspectives about anything, and that’s because the word we often use to describe white perspectives is ‘reality’. I have an opinion on a lot of what is in the programme, or of other things I would have liked to see on the programme. I’m sure the other people on this panel do too. Today I could be talking about gender binaries, or queer parenting, or marriage, or homophobia, but instead I’m talking about Takatāpui perspectives. I don’t even know what that means.

I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you about whiteness and Pākehā culture. Just because you don’t notice it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It exists, we are soaking in it, it isn’t ‘just the way things are’, and the invisibility of it is damaging. This siloing of Māori, and sidelining our realities into perspectives, is a safe way for you to learn about our lives, but it isn’t safe for us.

I want to talk about this word takatāpui.

This panel is called takatāpui perspectives, so for the record, I should say that I don’t identify as takatāpui. It’s a word I’ve become interested in, but I’m yet to be convinced I need. It’s a label that seems to resonate more with city-folk, than provincial or rural folk. And on another day, I’d love to talk to people about whether they identify as takatāpui, and what it means to them.

The reason I don’t identify as takatāpui, is the same reason I don’t like talking about queering Māori communities, which is a phrase I hear every now and then. I’ve talked before about how our creation traditions include gender and sexual diversity, reflecting that our tūpuna considered that diversity to be normal. I talked about how colonisation brought homophobia and fixed binary gender roles. In a culture based on whakapapa, I don’t think we need a word for people who aren’t heterosexual. I don’t need to set myself apart from my heterosexual whanaunga. The usefulness I see in the term takatāpui is in acknowledging that the queer scene is otherwise dominated by pākehā. And I wonder if that’s why it tends to be used more by people living in cities, where there is a queer scene.

How does that relate to talking about queering Māori communities?

The reason the queer community started using the term queer is partly about taking away an insult, but also because of the meaning of queer as in ‘queering the pitch’, meaning to spoil or disrupt. If tikanga is already inclusive of gender and sexual diversity, then it doesn’t need ‘queering’. Any ‘queering’, in the sense of disruption, happened with colonisation and the introduction of western hang-ups. If there are Māori communities that are not inclusive, and we know that there are, they don’t need queering, me tōtika—they need straightening, they need putting right.

Some of you probably think this is just playing with language, but it’s important—the strategies we use in Māori communities where homophobia has become normal, should be really different from those in homophobic Pākehā communities. The problem in Pākehā communities is that sexual repression is part of Pākehā culture, so that culture needs to be messed with or queered. Whereas the problem in Māori communities is that our culture has been messed with by colonisation, and we need to return to Māori philosophies.

So queer as a term works for Pākehā, but when we use it for Māori communities, we’re making colonisation invisible. And when we use it for everyone irrespective of culture, we’re again privileging Pākehā as normal and Pākehā culture as invisible.

So I guess that’s what this talk is about—visibility and invisibility.

On that note, I put this challenge at clitfest—to support tangata whenua and to prioritise indigenous culture. The solution to including Māori in conferences without us feeling token starts with Māori organisers and advisors. You don’t put together a programme and then look for Māori (or anyone) to speak on those topics, but you make a programme that reflects what Māori want to speak or hear about.

I appreciate the visibility and centrality of trans people and issues in this programme. I assume that that’s come out of connections and relationships. That’s what it needs to make it safe for people from marginalised communities to participate and contribute—commitment. What do I mean by commitment—I mean building genuine reciprocal relationships—not just asking people to get involved in your projects. Support their projects. Māori, for example, have a long history of generosity, of giving our time and knowledge to other people’s stuff. Many of us here are stretched really thin on all the projects we’ve been asked to support. This country is literally built out of Māori generosity. How are you paying it back? If you don’t have relationships and connections with Māori communities, then make that your priority. You have all the time in the world to show us that you are genuinely interested in supporting us on things that matter to us. And I look forward to seeing you have my back.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Proceedings from Kei Tua o te Pae 2012

The proceedings from Kei Tua o te Pae 2012 have been published. They are available from Te Tākupu (email tetakupusales@twor-otaki.ac.nz or call 0800 WANANGA) or free online (Kei Tua o te Pae Hui Proceedings 2012).

Shameless self-promotion aside, I found this to be a pretty inspiring conference, with some amazing talks. This is how Te Wāhanga describe the proceedings:
“This proceedings build on the 2011 Kei Tua o te Pae hui, which called together a community of kaupapa Māori researchers and explored the challenges of undertaking kaupapa Māori reserch in the 21st Century.

This second set of proceedings explores the impact that colonisation has had on tikanga Māori, and encourages people to think about how tikanga has been shaped by history, and to consider what we take with us into the future. The proceedings include presentations and a series of reflections from participants.

Contributors include: Moana Jackson, Whatarangi Winiata, Ani Mikaere, Ngāhuia Murphy, Mereana Pitman, Leonie Pihama, Kim McBreen, Naomi Simmonds, Caleb Royal, Mere Penehira, Meihana K. Durie and Jessica Hutchings.”
Enjoy.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The mātauranga continuum, gender and sexuality—talk from C.L.I.T. fest 2013

This is my first post since my pēpi was born, and it isn’t the start of regular blogging. At the start of this month, I was fortunate to be on a panel with Fetu-ole-moana Tamapeau and Maihi Makiha on “Takataapui, Pasifika ways and beyond queer theory” at the C.L.I.T. fest in Wellington. This is the text of my contribution.

Ani Mikaere and Moana Jackson say it’s important to start from the beginning, so I’ll start somewhere near where they tend to start.

I want you to imagine a line in front of me. This line stretches out past the arrival of my European ancestors, past the arrival of my tūpuna Māori, all the way to creation. It also stretches out behind me all the way to eternity with no milestones because we can’t see into the future. This line represents the knowledge and wisdom of generations, what Whatarangi Winiata calls the mātauranga continuum.

Imagine just in front of me, there’s an intersecting line. That line represents colonisation. When you imagine this line, I think it’s helpful to remember the scene from Psycho with the knife—because colonisation brings with it western cultural imperialism, which is the denial of anyone else’s knowledge or tikanga. Colonisation is trying to break the continuum. It seeks to cut our knowledge off from our past, by denying we had laws, let alone philosophies or an intellectual tradition. And it seeks to cut off the possibility of the continuum carrying on, by replacing our mātauranga with Western understandings. Our colonisers would have us believe that our knowledge is exactly what Europeans recorded when they arrived, no more and no less. We are supposed to believe that the Western academic tradition can better understand and represent mātauranga Māori than a Māori academic tradition can. Whether we’re talking about Western trained researchers 200 years ago, or now, somehow they’re supposed to have a better take on the truth than anyone else. And finally, we are supposed to believe that authentic mātauranga is fixed in time at that point when the colonisers arrived. It didn’t develop from anything before then, and it can never develop beyond that point.

Those distorted views of our mātauranga have endured since the colonisers started their project, but our traditions have also endured. We can use them to ensure that instead of cutting us off from our knowledge, colonisation is just a tiny blip on our continuum. As Ani Mikaere has said “While our experience of colonisation has been devastating, its impact should not blind us to the fact that it has occupied a mere moment in time on the continuum of our history” (Mikaere, 2009). And that’s where Ahunga Tikanga comes in.

Ahunga tikanga is about ensuring the integrity of the mātauranga continuum, fixing up the damage of colonisation and allowing our mātauranga to continue to develop.

There are five statements that sum up what we believe:
  • We have faith in our tūpuna. Faith that they did things intentionally, and that those intentions were good
  • We have faith in our mātauranga—our oral traditions: creation stories, whakataukī, and mōteatea. Our tūpuna had generations in which to understand their rohe. They experimented, and learnt the important skills and values in making and maintaining the relationships that they needed, and they embedded that knowledge in those oral traditions
  • tikanga is the first law here, and it is the only legitimate law here
  • Whakapapa is the philosophical framework of tikanga
  • Colonisation has led to imposter tikanga through cultural imperialism

This last statement is acknowledging that because of colonisation, some of the stuff we think of as tikanga mai rā anō is actually of recent origin, and doesn’t reflect our mātauranga. It may actually reflect the values of our colonisers, or the stories they told about us. This is especially true of issues like gender and sexuality, where the cultures of the colonisers and the tangata whenua were really different.

So if we look to our oral traditions, our mātauranga, what does it tell us about gender and sexuality?

First of all, there’s a heap of different creation traditions we could talk about. If you look at the stories lots of us grew up with, based on Pākehā writers like George Grey, it looks like our tūpuna were as revoltingly patriarchal as Pākehā. For example, Ranginui and Papatūānuku’s romance sounds like a rape scenario, she gives birth to a bunch of male children, the males make a female out of dirt, tāne has sex with her, she gives birth to a daughter who becomes the first woman, tāne has sex with her, she finds out he’s her father, flees in shame to the underworld, etc. This is a typical playing out of a western male-female dichotomy. Most Pākehā writers wrote stuff like this, and theirs are often the most commonly known versions.

But that’s not how my people talk about creation. In Kāi Tahu traditions (for example, in Te Maire Tau, 2003), Rakinui has other partners, and Papatūānuku is with Takaroa before Papa gets together with Rakinui. Takaroa goes away, Raki and Papa hook up, Takaroa comes back, fights with Raki, Takaroa wins, and goes away again. I like this tradition, because it so reflects the world of our tūpuna—the going away and coming back of Takaroa. You can see why they understood Papatūānuku as having a relationship with both Rakinui and Takaroa, because that’s how the land sits, surrounded by sea and sky. I’m interested in whether Rakinui and Takaroa have more of a relationship than rivalry—because if Raki and Papa look intimate, Raki and Takaroa look even moreso.

And then you have the creation traditions of Tainui waka. Pei te Hurinui Jones (2010) talks about how Ranginui had partners other than Papatūānuku, that they were both bi-sexual, and that Ranginui gave birth to several children. Tāne-mahuta also has sex with another male atua, Kahukura, who gives birth.

There’s lots there to think about, but it’s not my tradition to speculate on. I just want to show you that the traditions as tangata whenua know them, show complex understandings of both gender and sexuality.

You can see that monogamy is not privileged. You can see that males are not especially privileged, you can see that heterosexuality isn’t necessarily privileged, and the more you look at them, the more you can see that neither gender nor sexuality are fixed.

I’m going to stop here, because I don’t want to use up any more time, but I have a couple challenges to you. The first is explore your indigenous creation traditions, wherever you’re from. Find out what your tūpuna had to say about the world before their traditions were swallowed up and reinterpreted through a narrow-minded patriarchy.

The second is, wherever you live now, support tangata whenua. Support their organisations, support tikanga solutions. Don’t try to be an expert on them. Be prepared to learn from tangata whenua instead of critiquing or trying to teach them. For example, if you want to learn about tangata whenua, if you want to learn te reo, or Māori law, don’t go to a colonial institution where our mātauranga is understood within a western tradition, at best relegated to an offshoot of anthropology. Instead, support your wānanga where mātauranga is central. Think about whose culture you privilege when you are organising. When you’re doing things like setting up safer spaces policies, think what it would mean to prioritise indigenous culture. What does a Māori safer spaces policy look like?—is it something you can do? What would you have to change to make it possible in the future? At the very least, it’s going to mean making sure you’ve got meaningful relationships with tangata whenua.

There’s a heap of really valuable stuff in our traditions, they hold generations of knowledge and solutions to problems that the west is only just starting to recognise—like hetero-patriarchy. The less energy tangata whenua have to put into defending our right to cultural survival, the more we can put into invigorating our traditions, exploring them for their diverse and unique solutions to problems we are facing. That’s something we should all be supporting.

References
Jones, Pei Te Hurinui 2010 King Pōtatau: an account of the life of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero the first Māori king (Huia Publishers and the Polynesian Society, Wellington and Auckland)
Mikaere, Ani 2009 ‘How will future generations judge us?’ Mā te rango te waka ka rere: Exploring a kaupapa Māori organisational framework (Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki)
Tau, Rawiri Te Maire 2003 Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu (University of Otago Press, Dunedin)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Break from blogging

I'm taking a break from writing for the next couple of months. My daughter was born nearly a month ago, and that's where all my attention will be for quite some time.