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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.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Students, universities and white supremacy

Students of colour organising is getting serious media attention in the US at the moment. Concerned Student 1950 at the University of Missouri forced the University president to resign, holding him responsible for failing to address racism on campus (“Racial climate at MU”, “Mizzou hunger strike is what happens when universities disregard black lives”, “Concerned student 1950 demands”). Since then, we’ve heard about organising on countless campuses (article on 22 campuses with comments section naming other campuses, demands from students on a growing number of campuses).

One article that caught my attention was about Georgetown University. Georgetown’s history makes the link between white supremacy and its success clear—slaves were sold to pay off debt.

“American universities have only recently begun to publicly grapple with the fact that these elite institutions, like the United States, were literally built on the exploitation of black bodies. Beginning with Brown University’s Committee on Slavery and Justice in 2003, universities around the country have unearthed disturbing truths about how their schools profited from human bondage. For many universities, Georgetown included, slavery made the difference between a viable institution and a shuttered one.”
“In addition to the renaming of Mulledy Hall, Georgetown activists are asking for plaques to identify the unmarked graves of slaves on campus, an annual program to explore Georgetown’s history of slavery, the inclusion of information about black people’s contributions to Georgetown in campus tours, mandatory diversity training for professors, and the rechristening of McSherry Hall, a campus building named for the Georgetown president who presided over the 1838 slave sale.

“But the demand that could have the biggest effect on Georgetown’s future, if the university complies, comes down to money. The student activists have proposed a new endowment fund, equal to the present value of the profit garnered from the 272 slaves, for the purpose of recruiting black professors. It’s a brilliant example of how universities could enact something in the vein of reparations—a tangible admission of the link between the horrific acts of generations past and today’s racial injustice, one that would provide an equally tangible benefit to current and future students of color.” (Georgetown students protest hall named for slave selling Jesuit)
And they’ve had early success (Georgetown renames building).

By clearly founding their campaign on the school’s history, demanding actions to explore how Georgetown benefits from white supremacy and ways to put it right now, the students are offering the school an opportunity for learning and leadership. By grounding their argument in justice, rather than human rights, they invite deeper reflection and relationship building—they invite the school to take responsibility for finding solutions, rather than either denying the issue, or simply reacting to external pressure and doing the least possible.

I hope the school takes this opportunity, and I’ve included two ways they can build from it.

  • To explore how white supremacy not only allows them to be successful, but has also made it harder for other projects to survive. Actions like recruiting more black professors will ultimately help Georgetown remain successful at the expense of institutions with less money and prestige—institutions that have been committed to teaching about white supremacy long before it was politically safe. Not just recognised historically black and tribal colleges and university, but the many organisations teaching about justice. Reparations shouldn’t just mean finding ways to make yourself better and more powerful, it should mean dismantling that power in ways that support those most affected by your actions. In this case, supporting oppressed and exploited communities on their own terms.
  • To look at white supremacy more broadly, including how the school (like every colonial state) was built on the exploitation of native bodies and lands, and exploring how the school benefits from ongoing imperialism.
  • To explore and end ways the school contributes to white supremacy, and prioritise ending white supremacy


Of course I’m not writing about this because I think anyone at Georgetown or any other US university care what I think. I’m thinking about what needs to be done in Aotearoa, and how much I would love if the institutions that the State supported to uphold cultural imperialism took responsibility for dismantling it, instead of playing neutral or pretending they aren’t advantaged by it (I’m reminded of this cartoon).

Leonie Pihama reviews some of the colonial history of New Zealand universities in her PhD thesis (Pihama, “Tīhei Mauri Ora, Honouring our voices: Mana Wahine as a Kaupapa Māori theoretical framework”, PhD (Education) thesis Auckland University, 2001: 49-52). It’s very easy to see that the older universities have benefited from colonisation, because they were developed when colonisation was brutally obvious, but all universities benefit from white supremacy. For example, the three Wānanga have claims to the Waitangi Tribunal showing how they are disadvantaged by the State education system, which prioritises universities.

I’d like to see all the universities examine their past and current practices for ways they have exploited and harmed (and are exploiting and harming) tāngata whenua and peoples of colour and their ways of being. I’d like to see them examine the sources of their power and prestige—at whose expense have they succeeded, how are they benefiting from and contributing to white supremacy/ cultural imperialism? And then, I want them to work with tāngata whenua and communities of colour to put it right.

How do we make that happen?



(note: I use white supremacy to describe the historic and ongoing systems of oppression of indigenous peoples and peoples of colour, including their ways of being. Bell hooks explores the term in her chapter “Overcoming white supremacy: a comment” in Talking back: thinking feminist, thinking black.)

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Mātauranga Māori, tino rangatiratanga and the future of New Zealand science

On a completely different topic, last year my mate Debbie and I wrote an opinion piece on the future of New Zealand science (what we lack in knowledge of New Zealand science, we make up for in opinions). You can access it here: Mātauranga Māori, tino rangatiratanga and the future of New Zealand science.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Colonisation and belonging

For about a week, my inbox was full of links to blog posts about Andrea Smith and whether she is or isn’t Cherokee. I’ve read all of those posts, and most of them make me really uncomfortable. I want to explore my discomfort in a series of short (for me) posts over the next few weeks. I don’t know where this will go. I don’t plan to critique anything that anyone is saying, and I won’t presume to give any solutions—I know it's not my place. But there are a number of reasons that my reaction is complicated, and I think it’s important to talk about those reasons.

First of all, I should re-introduce myself. I am from Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu on my birth father’s side, and European on my birth mother’s side. I was adopted at birth by a Pākehā family, back in the days of closed adoptions, and grew up in Whangārei. My parents were assured that I am completely white, and I am light-skinned enough that this is marginally believable. So I was raised in ignorance of tikanga, and without any knowledge of my Māori whakapapa. I didn’t find my father until I was in my 30s, and with that I found out my iwi. At the time, I hadn’t even visited the area that we’re from. Since then, my birth father’s family have been incredibly welcoming, and have taken the time to teach me a lot. It has taken me a long time to learn some of the things that I should already have known. There are many things I will never learn. I will always be in-between, both Pākehā and Māori, and not quite either (I will write more about this in another post).

I have been lucky. There are many parts of my story that could have been different, that could have resulted in my never discovering my whakapapa, or that could have resulted in my knowing the connections, but never able to prove them:

  • I needed to find my mother
  • She needed to remember my father’s name
  • She needed to know that he was in another country
  • I needed to find him
  • He needed to acknowledge me.

It would have been easy to be caught in a situation of knowing who I belong to, but with no way of proving it. Whether I knew it or not, whether I could prove it or not, I have always been Ngāi Tahu. That is part of my whakapapa.

This sort of story, of complete disconnection, is colonisation. I was going to say it’s an important part of colonisation, but it’s more than that. Colonisation is breaking connections. Whakapapa is the ultimate threat to colonisation; it guarantees that colonisation will eventually fail. Whakapapa means we care for each other—we are responsible to each other and our ancestors. We are a force. This means that every link in whakapapa, every connection, is a threat to colonisation. It’s only by breaking indigenous connections to place, by forcing tangata whenua from their place, that colonisers can take the land and try to keep it. It’s only by breaking indigenous connections to each other, imposing their culture and values in the gaps that are created, that colonisers can feel safe and superior. As individuals, we are much more likely to succumb, to assimilate, to disappear.

For many Māori, the knowledge of whakapapa died a generation or two ago, the connections are forgotten. When that knowledge is taken, what can we do? Should we admit defeat, and say the whakapapa is gone, we are no longer Māori? Should we shut people out if they can’t prove their relationships? Or are there better solutions? What are the risks in accepting people who, for whatever reason, seem to belong? What are the opportunities? Are we more likely to realise tino rangatiratanga through strict rules of exclusion, or through flexibility and inclusion?

Clearly, I am affected by these questions. My identity as Māori, tangata whenua, Ngāi Tahu feels vulnerable. It’s hard for me to remember that this is true for lots of us. Many of us feel vulnerable, not Māori enough. Which project does that insecurity serve—colonisation or tino rangatiratanga? What are our political goals, and what actions move us towards them, or away from them? These are questions I think it is important to continue talking about.

I’ll write more soon.

Friday, April 17, 2015

talk from GLITCH 2015

This is tidied up notes from a talk I gave at the GLITCH Youth Decolonisation Hui for Sexuality and Gender Minorities at Te Puea marae in Auckland last month. I really struggled to come up with anything to say in 10 minutes. To make it harder, I was on a panel with people who have been working for our communities for decades, and I was much more interested in what they had to say. In hindsight, I wish I’d taken more time to talk about liberalism, recognition and assimilation, and our responsibilities to our tūpuna and mokopuna, and how we take control of the stories, and a bunch of other things that would never fit into 10 minutes.


I’m going to talk about stories, and the different ways of telling stories, because the stories we hear about ourselves, and the stories we choose to tell about ourselves, have a big effect on how we understand who we are, and on the futures that we can imagine ourselves contributing to. Every story has an agenda and an effect, and I think it’s important to always be thinking about that.

I want to start with the way we talk about our history. In school I got taught that history was pretty much men doing stuff, mostly conquering or fighting wars. The way Māori history is talked about still seems mostly in that style. We are allowed to be proud of our tūpuna as fierce warriors, but when we try to publicly remember them as great parents, or lovers, or kaitiaki and rangatira in its true sense, the media are quick to find historians like Paul Moon to ‘balance’ that story and bring it back to violence.

There’s the story of our tūpuna Māori as primitive, lawless, barbaric cannibals who were struggling when Europeans arrived, and probably wouldn’t have survived without European technology. It’s a self-serving story invented by European colonisers to justify stealing land. It can’t possibly be true, or our people wouldn’t have survived as long as we have. You need laws and a system to grow and retain knowledge to survive. Māori have an academic tradition as long as anyone else’s, and that tradition should be the basis of the stories we tell about ourselves.

So instead of talking about the violent warrior history of the Māori that got fed to me at school, I’m going to talk about our academic history.

I want you to imagine a line in front of me, this continuous line stretches past the arrivals of my European ancestors to these lands, past the arrivals of my tūpuna Māori from their Pacific homelands, it extends all the way into the infinity of creation. And it carries on through and behind me into the future that we can’t see.

This line represents the accumulated experiences, knowledge and wisdom of generations. It is our academic tradition. Whatarangi Winiata called it the mātauranga continuum. We are part of it, and we can have a huge effect on how it grows into the future. In fact, our specific experiences are really important for making sense of what’s happened and how to put it right.

The foundation of our academic tradition is the stories our tūpuna crafted for us. Many of us grew up on the common patriarchal versions of those stories where for example Rangi looks down on Papa, desires her and takes her and they have a bunch of sons, who eventually feel cramped and conspire to push them apart and let light in, then fight amongst each other before dividing up the world amongst them. Or Tāne goes looking for the female element, and eventually makes her out of dirt, brings her to life and impregnates her, then when his daughter grows up he takes her for his wife and she gives birth to mankind before realising her husband is her father, and then fleeing in shame to the underworld. Or the Māui cycle which is like a boys own adventure. In all these stories, males are the centre, they are active and creative heroes, while the females are passive. The only time they get to act is to flee in shame. Those versions have very clearly been selected and shaped by exposure to Pākehā patriarchal values and ideas about what a good story looks like. They have nothing to offer me, or to anyone else who wants more out of life than a patriarchal rape fantasy.

There are other versions of creation that are far more interesting.

There’s my people’s tradition where Rakinui and Papatūānuku each have other partners, so the primary relationship is bigger than Raki and Papa—there is no nuclear family. Or there’s Pei Te Hurinui writing about a Tainui creation tradition, where Ranginui had partners other than Papatūānuku, both were bi-sexual, and both gave birth to children.

There would have been heaps of creation stories showing that our tūpuna had interesting understandings of gender and sexuality. Our tūpuna needed to understand their environment, where sex comes in pretty much every form you can imagine. Plants can produce both pollen and seed, or just one, they can be self-fertile or reproduce without sex. Animals can be male or female or both, or switch depending on what’s needed, or be sterile, or reproduce asexually. Why would we expect atua to be confined to male or female bodies? or defined by their sex? Or to be monogamous?

I don’t want to dwell on how so many of our stories have been distorted or taken from us altogether. What I want to talk about is our responsibility to give those stories back. Who understands the silencing of colonisation better than us? Our bodies, our sexualities, our genders, our relationships have been erased. I know what it means to limit our stories to heterosexual, monogamous patriarchy, because I am expected to fit myself into those limits too.

And now there’s new stories to explain our current situation.

There’s the feel-good one-people-into-the-future-together story. It starts with recognition that some bad stuff happened to tangata whenua during colonisation. It sometimes includes an apology, like the Australian Prime minister gave to their indigenous peoples. But it never involves colonisers conceding any power. Nothing changes.

There’s the story of white liberalism. It says that pretty much wherever we come from, if we’re not white, our culture is conservative and backwards compared to Pākehā culture, and Pākehā values will liberate us. That story conveniently ignores that what we most need liberation from is western imperialism, and that for example, sexual and gender liberation on these lands has pretty much always been led by Māori and Pasifika.

That story is based on recent moves towards tolerance of deviant genders and sexualities—the state, progressive corporations and nice, liberal people are finally ready to recognise that we exist, and even to share some of their rights with us. We get included in their marketing campaigns, they let us choose the gender on our passports, and even marry one other person of any gender. Some of that stuff is helpful, but what does this neoliberal story of tolerance mean? People with power look like they are being nice to us marginalised queers, we can be out and still successfully participate in capitalism and colonisation. But nothing is being conceded. They aren’t changing, they are letting us change to fit in, to assimilate.

What is the world I want, if it’s not this one? That’s a hard question to answer, especially when someone else controls the stories. This is why our own academic traditions are so important—they help us see outside Western culture and values. When we think about the stories our tūpuna left for us, when we strip out the misogyny and white supremacy that got laid on them, we can see that they are all focused on building relationships and the responsibilities that come with those relationships.

What would society look like if it had relationships and responsibilities at its center?

It suggests a future where, as Moana Jackson has said, we are all recognised as mokopuna, who will become tūpuna, where we remember that we all come from atua, that we can all create and contribute.

This is a world I could get excited about. Focusing on relationships and responsibilities doesn’t ignore the specific oppressions we face within our own cultures, but it is guide to help untangle the shit we currently face.

That’s the dream our tūpuna had for us. How we do that, how we imagine that, those are the stories I want to hear. And if you don’t agree with me, if this doesn’t sound like you, and you have other visions, then I want to hear stories that lead you to the future you dream of.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Our tūpuna dreamed the future for all of us: re-building healthy relationships is at the heart of decolonisation

Okay, I’m finally posting this, which is the last draft of this piece. After the second draft, I realised I had dropped things from the first draft that were really important, so they’ve gone back in, and I’ve made the structure a bit clearer. Thank you to all the people who have helped me with this.


A few years ago, I spoke about sexuality at a conference on tikanga (Kei Tua o te Pae Hui Proceedings, 2012). At the time, many Māori were debating sexuality and tikanga in the media and social networks, sparked by a bill introducing marriage equality. Tikanga was spoken about as if it is unchanging doctrine, rather than an infinitely adaptable system for living well. I wanted to change the debate, to show that homophobia is not just analogous to the colonisers’ cultural imperialism, but that it is a result of it.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with my argument—not because I think it is incorrect, but because it is insufficient. Living according to tikanga isn’t trying to behave as our tūpuna behaved, it is being inspired by our ancestors to be the best we can. My goal is not only equality, acceptance, or even celebration of all sexualities or genders. I want us to do more than put aside our homophobia, I want us to re-think all our relationships. Decolonisation requires eradicating heteropatriarchy in all its forms from our communities. What would it mean to live on this land without trying to fit everyone into rigid boxes of men and women, gay and straight? What would it mean to think beyond categories like gender and sexuality? Where would we start?

These are central questions to decolonisation. Our tūpuna had answers, and we still have access to some of their words. We have their language, creation traditions, proverbs, and songs as guides. After a couple of centuries of colonisation, including selective re-writing of our ancestors’ words, we need to consider how best to use those guides. This chapter encourages us to claim our ancestors’ dreams, and own their words. We know what was important to them, and we know what is important to Western colonisers. We can think critically about the stories we have, and ask whose values they reflect. Our ancestors can inspire us to re-align their stories using our own words, and to imagine stories to replace those taken from us. They can show us how to honour all our relationships again.


He tōtara wāhi rua he kai nā te toki (a tree split in two is food for the fire)

The above proverb uses a tree as a metaphor for a group of people, who are easily defeated when they are divided. Many indigenous writers have commented that enforcing patriarchy and heteronormativity is a key tactic of colonisation, not simply a by-product (eg, Mikaere 2011; Simpson 2014; Smith 2005). As Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an activist of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry, explains, the colonisers’ attacks on gender and sexuality destroy our relationships with each other, weakening our resistance to colonisation. If whakapapa is a foundation of 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 2011). If heteropatriarchy is an important tool in colonisation, then eradicating it is surely an important stage of our decolonisation.

While our ancestors clearly understood sexual differences, and had a few roles that were limited to certain men or certain women, those distinctions weren’t about relative power, and gender and sexuality were not important categories in the same way as in Western discourses. There are no comparable Māori terms for gender or sexuality (Pihama). This suggests that they are colonial concepts. Gender and sexuality are also political terms, whose meanings are an ongoing source of argument. I therefore want to start with some definitions.

Gender is most often used to mean the socially understood categories of men (and masculinity) and women (and femininity) (contrasted against sex, the biologically defined categories of male and female). Sexuality in its most restricted understanding means sexual preference—who we want to have sex with—and may include how we desire. But as Māori academic Leonie Pihama has said, it also has a much broader meaning, encompassing how we live, relate to each other, and understand ourselves. Understanding who we are through gender and sexuality is central to heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is another word that has no comparable Māori term, because it describes relationships between gender, sexuality and power that are recently introduced. It is a powerful concept for understanding those relationships, and so for decolonisation (Smith 2006). It explains a culture with a specific type of male dominance, one that privileges masculinity and heterosexuality within an understanding of gender as a male/female dichotomy. In short, it looks like Western culture, like Christian family values—it is all the things we’ve been told are normal and good. 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, which may also suggest ways to unteach it.

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 teaching leadership, traditional martial arts, and spiritual roles only to boys. It’s shaming culturally feminine qualities and honouring very specific masculine-identified qualities, so competition, single-mindedness and rationality are valued, while co-operation, emotions and care are not. It is the nuclear family—a man as the head of the household, with his wife and children. 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 they are attacked by their partners, or by strangers. 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 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 meetings where men are the only invited speakers, and the other meetings 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, and we have been teaching it in our schools and inviting it into our own homes.


Hoki atū ki tou maunga kia purea ai i ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea (return to your mountain to be purified by the winds)

The above proverb tells us to look to the teachings of our ancestors to nourish and heal our spirits. Researchers of Māori sexuality have found historical evidence of a range of sexualities and gender expressions, despite the efforts of colonisers to erase anything outside their heteropatriarchal comfort zone (Aspin & Hutchings 2006; Te Awekotuku 2005). However, this evidence doesn’t tell us much about how our tūpuna understood sexuality and gender—despite the heteropatriarchy of colonial culture, there are still a range of sexual and gender expressions in their history too. By looking at our creation traditions, we may get a better picture of what our ancestors thought. Creation traditions hold the imaginings of ancestors, the explanations that made sense to them for the ongoing process of creation, and their dreams for how their descendants might live into the future. They contain their philosophies and their ethics. They are an enduring haven to which we can return.

However, even with our own creation traditions we must be cautious and critical, because much of our oral history has been infiltrated by colonial thinking, or re-written by colonists. The most widely known version of our creation stories is an example of this. 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; they searched for the female element; Tāne made her out of earth, breathed life into her, then had sex with her and she gave birth to the first woman; Tāne took the woman as his wife; they had children; she discovered Tāne is her father and fled in shame to the underworld. Etc.

This narrative says a lot about gender and sexuality. There are males and females, and 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 to Hinetītama, Hineahuone is never heard of again; Hinetītama leaves the world of light). It is a colonised narrative, cobbled together from bits and pieces of many stories with inconsistent details removed and laid out into a single linear story that made sense to the colonial writer. But it has become the most common version of ‘Maori’ creation: it is on children’s radio shows and in children’s books, it is taught in Māori language classes, and I hear or read people referring to it more often than to the many iwi narratives. It is heteropatriarchy. It is not the way my people talk about creation. Below are three stories that say something very different about gender and sexuality.

In Kāi Tahu traditions (eg, Tau 2003), Rakinui had several partners, and Papatūānuku was with Takaroa before Papa and Rakinui got together. Takaroa went away, Raki and Papa got together, Takaroa came back, fought with Raki, injured him, and went away again. I like this tradition, because it reflects the world of my tūpuna—the going away and coming back of Takaroa, the red of Rakinui’s blood at sunrise and sunset. You can see why they recognised Papatūānuku as having a relationship with both Rakinui and Takaroa, because that’s how the land 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 they are spooning. What is going on?

There is another explanation of creation from Tainui. According to Tainui scholar and translator Pei te Hurinui (Jones 2010), Ranginui and Papatūānuku are both bi-sexual or a-sexual (p 241), and each gave birth to several children before getting together. Tāne-mahuta had sex with another male, Kahukura, who gave birth (referred to as a bi-sexual conception, p 244). This narrative belongs to Tainui, and is not mine to analyse, but it is clearly very different from the popularised narrative referred to earlier.

Another intriguing tradition is that of Māui and Rohe (Tregear 1891; unfortunately, I can’t find a record of whose tradition this is). Māui was ugly, and Rohe was so beautiful that Māui was jealous of her. He asked to swap faces with her, but she refused. One night while she was asleep, he swapped their faces. When she woke and discovered what he had done, she left him to live in the underworld. This story contains very interesting messages. Māui wanted to look like a woman, and Rohe did not want to look like a man. Rohe had the power 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 narratives 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 sexual variety.

This is how our ancestors talked about what is now called gender and sexuality. Not by naming it, not by drawing boxes around these parts of ourselves—but by not naming it, by not calling attention to it at all. By letting us simply be. There is evidence of flexibility, an absence of hierarchy, and combined with lack of categories in our language that align with Western categories, that gives a strong message that gender and sexuality were not defining characteristics.

It appears to me that 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 and understand ourselves? What must change so that we can say with honesty that, where there are specific roles for men and women, they are equally important and respected? How do we create the conditions for our liberation? The answers to these questions will describe much of the path to decolonisation.

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.


Ma pango ma whero ka oti ai te mahi (By black and by red the work will be completed)

This proverb tells us that our communities will thrive when everyone works together, and everyone’s work is valued.

Ani Mikaere (2011) has explored what it means to understand the world through whakapapa, her conclusions include lack of hierarchy, inclusiveness, and the importance of relationships. If whakapapa is the foundation of tikanga, any fixed hierarchy, such as heteropatriarchy, makes no sense. We all come from ancestors, and we will all be ancestors. Heteropatriarchy is a corruption of our tikanga so that women become less valued than men, and men’s value is measured by a limited heterosexual masculinity. It reshapes all our relationships with our living relatives, as well as with our ancestors. It is reproduced through the nuclear family, and it is for these reasons that Leonie Pihama (1998: 187) 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 and power over seem a natural part of all that we do. With an understanding that heteropatriarchy is colonisation, we can see that attempts to end gender violence through Christianity, the nuclear family or building male leadership, are not decolonisation. They will not lead to tino rangatiratanga.

How do we stop reproducing heteropatriarchy? How do we challenge it? How do we stop it being taught to our children? How do we ensure that all gender violence is taken seriously? How do we make ourselves and our work useful where it is wanted and needed? This is the challenge to decolonising educators.

We must have faith in our ancestors. After 200 years of colonial interference, many of their stories have been distorted. By treating those stories with playfulness, creativity and generosity, we can revive them, and find meanings that are worthy of our ancestors. We need not be scared by the sacredness of their words. They had faith in us, they left these stories for us, and we must trust ourselves.

Our communities need our work. Parents, families and schools need resources that encourage them to think outside the Western boxes of masculine and feminine, that encourage us to be playful in our thinking. We need to be designing and teaching courses, talking with our people, and learning from each other. We all need to be thinking strategically and long term about how our work can contribute to our physical and cultural survival.

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. Their work builds on that of decolonising pioneers. A decolonisation project with relationships at its heart challenges all systems of domination—it has the potential to change everything, to decolonise us profoundly. This decolonisation will involve remembering, re-imagining and re-inventing ways of being that reflect the values we want for our future.

Our ancestors had generations to learn how to live with these lands, and they wove all they learnt into their stories of creation. These were always stories about whakapapa, stories that could only be understood by focusing on the relationships. This was their ethics. 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, with whakapapa as our guide. And we must take risks. Eradicating heteropatriarchy is a bold goal, but so too is decolonisation. We will not free ourselves from colonisation by being timid. Our ancestors dreamed the future for all of us. We hold those dreams, and for them to live, we need to be bold enough to speak them from our hearts and our guts—just like all those who have done this work before us.


references

Kei Tua o Te Pae Hui Proceedings. Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 4-5 September 2012

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)

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 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 1998 'Reconstructing meanings of family: lesbian/gay whānau and families in Aotearoa' The Family in Aotearoa New Zealand Edited by Vivienne Adair (Longman, Auckland)

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, Andrea 2006 ‘Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing’ in Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology (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)

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)