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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.

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.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Superstition, spiritualism, religion, philosophy

A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay about reaction to a pānui from Te Papa about visiting the taonga Māori collection that they host (The tapu of taonga and wāhine in a colonised land). I finished by saying:
“. . . but of course none of this can really be understood without already understanding a Māori worldview. And this is the real issue, while Māori must understand a European worldview and law to survive in this land, colonisation has meant that very few people have any understanding of mātauranga Māori, or, in fact, of colonisation. Whenever an issue requires some understanding, whether it be the significance of te reo Māori, or kaitiakitanga, or whatever, the ignorance of most New Zealanders makes dialogue impossible. And thanks again to colonisation, this creates a problem not for those who are ignorant, but for Māori. Māori must repeatedly start from the beginning and attempt to explain their whole culture—this occurs in conversations, the media, court hearings, tribunal hearings. At some point, tauiwi need to take some responsibility for understanding the indigenous culture, and for understanding how their ignorance contributes to cultural imperialism, to Māori perspectives being marginalised and foreign in their own land.”
I want to come back to this to talk about the way Māori realities are often sidelined by people who have made little effort to understand anything beyond Western philosophical frameworks. I encounter this often, (and disappointingly for me) especially in socialist/ libertarian/ anarchist circles, where an analysis of power and imperialism seems especially crucial. I’ve written a lot about this in other posts (eg, Defining Māori), so this is only a summary.

When Europeans arrived here, they unselfconsciously slotted tangata whenua into the same orientalist framework they put all indigenous peoples—primitive, barbaric, native (meaning aligned with nature rather than culture), and superstitious. I say unselfconsciously, because Europeans took no time to consider how many of their practices would look to an outsider— unawareness of their place in nature, unthinking cruelty to children and women, inflexible codes of law, an obsession with covering (but not cleaning) the body, uncritical Eurocentric cultural imperialism (the expectation that the European way of thinking and doing is always right, even taken completely away from a European context where other people might know better). Any differences between tangata whenua understandings and actions, and Western understandings and actions, were seen as simply the result of the primitive, superstitious nature of the natives. Europeans certainly did not consider themselves superstitious—although they often did things for religious or cultural reasons that made little sense to anyone not raised within that religious or cultural framework, they were always rational.

As many have observed and written, the West tends to frame things in dichotomies, where Othering is used to strengthen one’s own righteous identity. One of the biggest contrasts at the time of European arrival here, was between European religion (inherently righteous) and Others’ superstitions or spirituality (irrational and childish at best). (It’s interesting to think about the work of Elsdon Best and Percy Smith in this context. They were fascinated by and sympathetic to Māori philosophies and beliefs, and when they wanted to show that tangata whenua were not as primitive as many of their peers thought, they tirelessly sought evidence for Māori belief in a single, supreme god. When they eventually found an informant who spoke of such a god, they then argued that this meant Māori were well on their way to developing a proper religion.)

As the values of the Enlightenment (which elevated intellect and reason above religious adherence) became more widespread, secularism became the righteous stronghold. This meant that our understandings and actions were only valid if they were based on rational (scientific) reasoning—although what is considered rational and relevant would continue to be defined by Western values. This is pretty much where the dominant culture in New Zealand is at now. For whatever reason (I blame cultural imperialism), it is not widely understood that any reasoning is based on values and a cultural framework (as Skyler, from Reading the maps discusses).

Because Western values and cultural frameworks are so pervasive, it is easy to dismiss anything outside those frameworks as not reasonable in some way. It is now common to hear Māori frameworks being dismissed as ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’—when they are actually legitimate philosophies. They have a basis in a belief system and morality, just as Western philosophical frameworks do (much as many now try to deny it). They also have a basis in a very long association with this land, which Western frameworks do not.

The sort of understanding that comes from a long association with a place is so often dismissed as spiritual, and therefore unreasonable. For example, understanding that a river is a living entity, that it has a life-force that must be sustained, and that the wellbeing of my community is intertwined with the wellbeing of that life-force. This can be, and for a long time has been, written off as spiritual, animistic nonsense. But of course, it is true, and Western science (in this case ecology) has been playing catch-up for decades, when we could have just paid attention to tangata whenua (I say ‘we’ because I trained and briefly practised as an ecologist, and never learnt anything of indigenous understandings of relationships with the environment). The knowledge that comes from generations of interdependence with an environment is more legitimate than imported ideas about the way the world works.

The point of this post is that those of us who have been raised within exclusively Western philosophical frameworks need to be open to the limitations of those frameworks. Others understand the world differently, they may understand the world better. They may express that understanding in ways that sound irrational or strange to us. If we dismiss it as nonsense, or incorporate it into our superior frameworks and explain it back to them, then we are behaving as cultural supremacists. We will continue to creep infinitesimally towards understandings that others have known for generations and have freely offered us. Which might be fine, if we weren’t destroying ourselves and our planet as we do so.

To learn more about cultural imperialism and the importance of mātauranga, I highly recommend getting hold of Te Wānanga o Raukawa: Restoring mātauranga to restore ecosystems (produced by Te Whare Whakatupu Mātauranga, published by Te Tākupu and written by Āneta Hinemihi Rāwiri).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It’s about whānau—oppression, sexuality and mana

(my talk from the Kei Tua o te Pae conference 2012)


Introduction

I need to start by talking about who I am, and why this is important to me.

I was adopted at birth by my Pākehā parents, who were guaranteed by the social worker that I was a Pākehā baby, so I grew up entirely in te ao Pākehā. People often asked if I’m Māori, and all I could say was, I don’t know. When I was 20, I got my original birth certificate with my mother’s name on it, and I tracked her down and met her. She is Pākehā, her and my birth father were kids and didn’t know each other for long, and he was gone by the time I was born. She gave me his name and a decade old address in Australia for him. It took me another 10 or so years before I committed to finding him, because I wanted to have children, and I want my children to know their whakapapa, whatever it may turn out to be. I eventually found him, and on his side, I’m from Ngāi Tahu.

I’d already been a bit involved in rōpū Māori when I was at uni, but I’d been uncommitted, because I couldn’t know for sure whether I had whakapapa Māori. Finding out that I do meant an obligation to find out more, to find my place, if any future children of mine were going to be comfortable. I committed to meet my father’s whānau, and find out as much as I could about us and Ngāi Tahu, and where I fit in. That went well, but some other stuff was going on that I couldn’t ignore.

At the time I was doing Te Ataarangi, and it was obvious that my girlfriend and I made a couple of people uncomfortable just by being in class. Student whakaari were at times openly mocking of gay or camp behaviour. When I came to Te Wānanga o Raukawa a year later, again, I saw what I would say was open hostility to sexualities other than heterosexual. For whatever reason, some people must have assumed I was heterosexual, and talked to me about how disgusting homosexuality is, and a kaiako talked in class about homosexuality as if it was worse than incest. It was only a minority of people, but it got my attention.

I’m not suggesting homophobia is unique to Māori. My Pākehā parents were openly homophobic until a year or so after I came out to them. Walking down the street I’ve been abused, had eggs thrown at me, and been chased by cars for holding hands with my girlfriend. At university it wasn’t uncommon to read fantasies about killing gays or lesbians in the letters to the editor of the student newspaper. Homophobia was not a new experience to me, but it got me wondering—I’d had years to find a place for myself in te ao Pākehā, would there be a place for me in te ao Māori? Would that be somewhere I could feel comfortable—as someone who was raised Pākehā, for whom mātauranga Māori is really new, and who is queer. Is it worth trying to find a place here? In the same way that many of us have to act Pākehā to fit into the colonising culture, am I going to have to act straight to fit into te ao Māori? Will there be somewhere that can accept all of me?

This was a question in the back of my mind when I was a student in Ahunga Tikanga classes, listening to Ani Mikaere, Moana Jackson and Leah Whiu talking lovely stuff about whakapapa, ngā kaupapa, inclusion and balance. Everything they said made sense and sounded great, but at the same time I was getting other messages from other places, about excluding people who are different, about disgust and fear of sexual difference in particular, which sounded pretty similar to my experience in Pākehā culture. What was pono? Is there space for me in te ao Māori?

That is where the question started for me, and answering it has taken me in a few different directions. My understanding of this hui is that it is about making sure our tikanga are true to ngā kaupapa mai rā anō, keeping them relevant and adaptive. Hopefully, by the end of this talk, you’ll have some ideas about sexuality and tikanga that adequately reflect our kaupapa.

Before I go on, I want to define two words that I will use in this talk.

Queer (not kuia): a label for those of us who don’t think well-defined boxes are a helpful way to think about gender or sexuality. My partner pointed out to me that it’s hard to hear the difference between queer and kuia. In this talk, I might describe myself as queer, I am not claiming to be a kuia.

Homophobia: the belief that heterosexuality is normal and healthy, and that anything else is wrong, depraved, unhealthy or dangerous.

Colonisation = oppression = trauma

“Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed.” (Akili, 2012)
When Yolo Akili says oppression is trauma, he is not saying anything we don’t already know about the effect of oppression on our wairua, but I thought this was a good place to start, because we can agree on it.

We can agree on it, because we live with the ongoing effects of colonisation. We know that colonisation is oppression, and we know the trauma of that oppression in our communities and in our lives. Part of the oppression is the acts of the colonisers—taking our land, spreading diseases, imprisoning us, outlawing our ways of being. The oppression is also the messages that they say about us to justify and minimise their crimes against us.

Many of us internalised the messages we heard, and we know many of our young people will internalise the messages they hear—that Māori are physical and emotional, meaning we aren’t smart enough to look after ourselves or our whenua; that we aren’t moral like the colonisers; that we are violent and overly sexual. Politicians and the media go out of their way to find stories of Māori failure, especially those that show us as naive, immoral and out of control.

We know the effects of this oppression: there is massive pressure to conform to the dominant, colonising values. Some of us do eventually conform, while others can’t or won’t. For all of us, whether we conform or not, oppression tears at our wairua, the sense of self that should make us strong.

Like all indigenous peoples who are living through colonisation, Māori now have high rates of suicide as well as high-risk and anti-social behaviours. This is the effect of the trauma caused by the oppression of colonisation, it is an attack on our wairua. It leads to a whole bunch of outcomes that we all know and I’m not going to go into—I think we can accept that colonisation is oppression, which is trauma. And just as colonisation is very clearly oppression so too is the repression of sexual diversity.

Sexual repression = oppression = trauma

What I’m calling sexual repression are the acts and messages that say that sexual diversity is wrong—that anyone who isn’t heterosexual is abnormal, or deviant or immoral, and is somehow a threat to society, or tikanga or family values, whatever those are. Clearly, that is about oppressing people, and it must therefore be an attack on their wairua.

When I was a child, we used words like faggot and lesbian before we had a clue what they meant other than they were something really bad. I don’t know where we got these words from, but I don’t remember anyone ever being told off for using them. Boys were mocked for being girly by adults and by other kids—there are so many words for boys who aren’t appropriately masculine. Sexual or gender difference, being gay or camp, is still the punchline of so many jokes. And most of us will internalise those messages. Whoever we grow up to be, these are really damaging and limiting messages. The effect is similar to colonial oppression—there is massive pressure on all of us to conform to the dominant heterosexual standard. Most of us try to, and for those of us who can’t, if we internalise these messages, we will learn to hate ourselves.

I’m going to talk about shame, because I think it’s important to understand what it’s like to grow up in a culture that is terrified of sexual difference, and I want you to think about a response to that culture which expresses our kaupapa. Should we buy into homophobia, should we allow ourselves to be silenced and timid, or should we protect our tamariki mokopuna?

When I think of my experience as a child, I don’t remember any particular homophobic incidents, but just growing up in Pākehā culture in the 1970s and 80s was like soaking in homophobia. Everything told me that heterosexuality was normal and healthy, and anything else was sick. I remember when homosexual law reform was going through parliament, there was lots of talk about how homosexuals are paedophiles and law reform was opening the door to bestiality. There was all sorts of hateful fear mongering. My parents were saying this stuff too. I knew that homosexuality terrified people because something about it was so sick and disgusting.

Exactly the same hate came out 20 years later when parliament started talking about the Civil Unions bill, and we’re seeing it again now with the Marriage Equality bill. Almost exactly the same words. Whenever anyone tries to remove some anti-homosexual discrimination, we all get a massive dose of hate speech, which is particularly dangerous for children.

I heard all that in the mid 1980s when I was 11 or so, well before I was thinking about what sexuality meant to me. I already knew that something about me was different from other girls. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew there was something wrong with the way I was with my friends and with boys. I was 14 when I started going out with girls, and then everything became much clearer, but also worse, because I knew what people thought of people like me. No-one could know, so I became secretive. I became physically self-conscious and reserved. I didn’t touch anyone, especially not other girls, unless I absolutely had to. I wouldn’t go near children. I had this facade of who I was, and it was completely unrelated to me and what I was feeling. For years, everything about me was fake and was about hiding this awful secret. I still carry some of that self-hatred, that expectation that people will be disgusted or scared to let me be around their children. A lot of people I’ve talked to who aren’t heterosexual relate to this, and some wrote about it in Sexuality and the stories of indigenous people (Hutchings & Aspin, 2007).

I know for most children, first crushes are both exciting and terrifying, and coming into your sexuality is also exciting and terrifying. Ideally, children can talk to their friends about it, or better still their parents. People are excited when children start showing those signs. For lots of young queer people, it is just terrifying. It feels life threatening, and it actually is.

By the age of 21, about a third of young people who are attracted to their own gender will have tried to kill themselves (Suicide Prevention Resource Centre, 2008; in New Zealand, Fergusson, Horwood & Beautrais, 1999). The messages they hear about homosexuals are so clear and hateful that the thought of being one, or trying to live as one, is just too awful.

Why am I talking about this? My point isn’t to bring you down—my point is that how we talk about sexuality or respond to homophobia isn’t abstract or an academic interest. This isn’t a philosophical debate about rights or political views. This is about the survival of our children, just like fighting the racist environments in some of our schools is about survival. To bring it back to the kaupapa of this hui, our tikanga should be helping us to survive as Māori, not killing us.

We give children messages about sexuality and gender in many ways. Teaching them to be ashamed, controlling how we behave as girls and boys, talking about heterosexuality as if it is the only normal option as opposed to just a common way of being, laughing at people who are different—none of this will make us heterosexual. All it does is make us scared of who we might be. It makes us all police our own behaviour. For those of us who can’t be straight, it may teach us to hate ourselves, and make us scared to show ourselves to you. We may become secretive and isolated. It is an attack on our mana, and our wairua. At best, it makes it harder for each of us to reach our potential, at worst, it is so effective that it kills us.

These messages are a form of cultural imperialism, just like colonisation. Those with more power are using it to suppress those with less. Those who are heterosexual are trying to impose their way of being over everyone else, sometimes with the power of the state, sometimes with the authority given to them by a religious text, sometimes with nothing more than numerical dominance and the same self-righteousness that the colonisers wear. It’s all the same.

When I was putting this together, I kept being reminded of Whatarangi Winiata’s paper Treaty of Waitangi: towards 2000, and his analysis of why Māori do poorly now compared to Pākehā: It is difficult to find a field of human endeavour and development where policies of the Crown have not been prejudicial to Māori. It is probably the single most important factor explaining Māori experience in the last century and a half. (Winiata, unpublished, p 6). He talks about all the ways that the Crown have on the one hand supported Pākehā ways of being, and on the other hand suppressed Māori ways of being, and the effect that this has had on the success, or otherwise, of Pākehā and Māori. He discusses the effects on how we each see each other, how we see ourselves, and the futures we are able to imagine for ourselves.

The racist practices that Whatarangi describes privilege a Pākehā way of being as normal and right, while pathologising Māori ways of being, and lead to the horrible statistics and health outcomes we all know. To me, this seems parallel to how heterosexual ways of being have been privileged by the Crown, by churches and eventually by our communities and whānau, while at the same time, other ways of being have been suppressed. This has meant that many young queer people struggle with who they will be and what their future will look like, for exactly the same reasons that young Māori often struggle with these questions (and it is likely that this is particularly true of young people who are both queer and Māori). Because almost everywhere we turn, it is being drummed into us that we are different, and lesser, and wrong—and we are then blamed for the inevitable outcomes.

As I’ve said, this is all true of Pākehā culture, but from my limited experience, and from talking to and reading about the experiences of other Māori, I think there are the same destructive attitudes and behaviours in many Māori communities. I would argue, there is a lack of leadership and willingness to talk about why. I’ll talk about our leaders in a moment, but first I want to talk about our children.

Homophobia at school

There are at least two places where our children should expect to feel safe—at home and at school. There is very little research that has been done on sexuality and health, and of the studies looking at youth, they almost all focus on school.

In a survey of New Zealand high school students, compared to students who identified as exclusively heterosexual, twice as many same-sex attracted students were afraid that someone would hurt or bother them at school, three times as many had stayed away from school because they were afraid someone would hurt or bother them, three times as many were bullied weekly at school, and 54% had been physically assaulted in the last 12 months (compared with 42% of exclusively heterosexual students); of the same-sex attracted students who were bullied, one third were bullied because they were perceived to be gay (Rossen, Lucassen, Denny & Robinson, 2009, p 26). A US study suggests that not only is homophobic violence commonly experienced, a surprising number of people are perpetrating it—one in ten university students admit physical violence or threats against people they suspect of being homosexual, and one in four admit verbally abusing them (Franklin, 2000).

It is common for students to see their schools as poor at responding to any form of bullying (Carroll-Lind, 2009, pp 41-47, 77; Painter, 2009, p 11). Many schools aren’t proactive about dealing with homophobic abuse, they don’t talk positively about sexual diversity, they don’t challenge ideas that heterosexuality is normal and everything else is deviant and wrong, or that people who are different deserve abuse and ridicule (Carroll-Lind, 2009, p 61; Painter, 2009, pp 22, 25). Often when homophobic abuse is happening, schools still won’t address the real problem (Carroll-Lind, 2009, pp 46-47). Schools might deal with the physical violence, but not the underlying attitude; they might deal with the perpetrator, but not the culture that allows bullying (Carroll-Lind, 2009, pp 134-135). It’s not uncommon for victims of homophobic abuse to be blamed for provoking the abuse by being homosexual (Painter, 2009, p 12). Even in the face of ongoing physical violence to children because they are perceived to be homosexual, some schools will continue to claim that they provide a safe environment for their students (Kendall & Sidebotham, 2004, pp 71-72). Some principals and boards refuse to see homophobic attitudes as something they should be addressing in school (Painter, 2009, pp 12, 20-21).

Whether we’re talking about race or perceived sexuality or gender, when schools fail to challenge hatred of any sort, they give a clear message that it is okay, and that there is something wrong with the victims. Studies consistently show that these messages are associated with the physical, emotional and social harm that I’ve been talking about, the self hatred, the isolation and the suicide (eg, Suicide Prevention Resource Centre, 2008, pp 19-28 and references therein; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz & Sanchez, 2009, pp 346, 350-351, and references therein).

I hope we can all agree that this is something we should be protecting our children from.

Homophobia at home

Much less is known about the effect of attitudes at home. The first study came out in 2009 (Ryan, Huebner, Diaz & Sanchez, 2009), and it gives clear indications of how whānau rejection, even in relatively subtle forms, can have a huge impact on the health of queer youth. The researchers interviewed a bunch of young adults who had come out to at least one of their parents as an adolescent. From those interviews, they made a list of 51 rejecting behaviours—things like, if their parents ever blamed them for anti-gay mistreatment, if they were ever excluded from whānau activity because of sexuality, if family members ever made disparaging comments about queer people in front of them, or verbally or physically abused them because of their sexuality.

Participants were assigned to groups based on whether they experienced few (0-11), some (more than 11 and up to half), or more than half of these behaviours. These groups turned out to be a good predictor of negative health outcomes, particularly for attempted suicide, where over two thirds of those in the group who had experienced more than half the rejecting behaviours had attempted suicide, compared to one in five in the group with the least rejection.

This study only included young people who had come out to a parent during adolescence—you’d expect participants to come from less homophobic homes than those of us who waited until we’d left home to tell our parents. So these results may be underestimating the effect of homophobic experiences at home. Reading this study really drove home to me how dangerous homophobic attitudes and behaviour can be.

I know I’ve been saying all through this talk how marginalising sexual or gender differences is similar to the way we are marginalised as Māori, but in the home there is a really big distinction. Most Māori children are raised by at least one Māori parent, and the family knows that their children are Māori. Māori parents know what it’s like to be raised in a racist society, and may have some idea of how to protect their children from the stuff they will encounter. Most Māori children probably feel pretty safe talking to their parents about racism that they see or hear, and asking for help understanding or dealing with it. Whereas almost all queer children are born to heterosexual parents, who have no idea what it’s like to grow up queer in a homophobic society, and who don’t know that their children will be queer. The parents of queer children may have no idea how to protect them from the messages they will get, or even that they need to. The parents may themselves be homophobic.

Many of our whānau are not safe places for queer children, and I’d argue that if they aren’t safe for queer children, they aren’t safe for any children. Not just because we can’t know who our children will grow up to be, but also because hatred isn’t safe for children—white children are endangered by growing up with racists, boys are endangered by growing up with misogynists, and heterosexual children are endangered by growing up with homophobes.

Is repression of sexual diversity tika?

I want to start with the question of whether or not sexual diversity is traditional. This is an impossible question, because the answer will depend on how far back we go, and who we ask. One of the themes through this hui has been the ways that our tikanga may become distorted or co-opted, so some of us get the idea that something is traditional when it is clearly a relatively new development. The more useful question is whether or not something is consistent with what we know to be tika—based on kaupapa mai rā anō (or ngā matapono).

In class recently, Moana Jackson was talking to Ahunga Tikanga students about relationships of any sort, whether a parent child relationship, a relationship between workmates, or between institutions, or sexual partners, and how you know whether those relationships are tika. It seems obvious that the gender or sexuality of the people in those relationships is pretty much irrelevant to that question. If the relationships are based on mutual respect, manaakitanga, aroha, then they are tika, irrespective of anything else.

The question of whether heterosexuality is more tika than other ways of loving or relating or having sex with each other seems ridiculous to me. I can’t imagine a kaupapa-based argument that justifies marginalising people based on who they are attracted to. I can’t think of anything resembling kaupapa that would judge me as more or less depending on the gender of the people I love. Any attempt to reduce my mana based on who I sleep with is an insult to my whānau, my whakapapa and all my tūpuna. I cannot accept that as kaupapa or tika.

One of the comparisons that is often made between western culture and most indigenous cultures is that indigenous peoples know we are all different, and that those differences are not just valid, but potentially valuable. We don’t need to feel better about ourselves by trying to dictate anyone else’s tikanga—we just have to get our own stuff right for us. I think this is relevant to how we think about other people’s relationships.

I expect we all know when our wairua is healthy. We feel good, grounded, sure in who we are, safe. When I start focusing on what other people are doing wrong, I know I need to sort myself out. So I don’t see how it can be tika to insult and demean people in healthy relationships because the set up of those relationships is different from what I would choose. If I’m judging other people like that, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something going on with my own wairua that I need to address.

So if policing people’s sexualities in this way isn’t tikanga, where did it come from?

Colonisation and sexual repression

We know the West is a seriously unhealthy culture. It forces itself on everyone else. It tries to stamp out difference. I don’t know why it is so obsessed with who sleeps with whom, but it is, to a really bizarre extent.

When Europeans arrived here, they brought with them their fear and hatred of homosexuality. In English law at that time, homosexuality could be punished by hard labour or even death. It’s only been 25 years since the New Zealand state got rid of the law that could imprison men for consensual sex with other men.

When we look to our parents and grandparents for guidance on how to think about different sexualities, we need to remember that for generations we have lived under that strange legal system. Our parents and grandparents, and their grandparents, have been educated in schools and churches based on western values. There are very few places to avoid the awful messages of that culture—remember that it called our tikanga primitive and violent, then told us that we needed to beat our children, our men needed to dominate women and we all needed to hate homosexuality.

Our parents or kaumātua may genuinely believe that there is something wrong with homosexuality. They may genuinely believe that it is traditional to stifle some people’s ways of being. After a couple of hundred years of colonisers trying to shame us into rejecting our values and adopting theirs, that’s hardly surprising. That’s the reason it is so important that we have hui like these to talk about tikanga and kaupapa.

African American activist and academic Angela Davis is clear about where she thinks homophobia comes from: The roots of sexism and homophobia are found in the same economic and political institutions that serve as the foundation of racism in this country. (Davis, 1989, p 12). She is talking about the US, but it’s equally true here—it’s the desire to force what makes sense to me onto everyone else. As I said earlier, whether we are talking about homophobia, sexism, or racism, it’s all about cultural imperialism.

Heteropatriarchy and homophobia

I want to talk specifically about how we’ve come to buy into this western preoccupation about how and with whom we have sex. I know we’re all familiar with the way patriarchy has been creeping into interpretations of tikanga and kōrero tawhito, but I think it’s helpful to think about the way that patriarchy privileges certain men more than others, and the effect of that.

For example, at the time the English decided they wanted to colonise these motu, their ideal man was the Victorian gentleman. The men that England sent to control us were pretty much in that mould. They weren’t aristocracy, and they hadn’t gone to the flash schools, they were earning their place as gentlemen through their occupations—the military, the church, and the government. Like all social climbers, they brought with them an unwavering belief in that society’s rules. They taught us what it was to be a leader, and how to get those attributes—through private schools, manly sports and Christianity. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say some of us are leaning this way now. If we add business people to the list of career pathways, and replace aristocracy with whakapapa, we are starting to describe a path that many of us would see as ideal for developing our young men into iwi leaders.

One of the things that is interesting about this, is that in general, men, people educated in private schools, people who play dominant sports (in this country, rugby, soccer, cricket and softball), and people with Christian beliefs have each been shown to be associated with more homophobic attitudes (Osborne & Wagner, 2007, pp 599, 601, 607-609, and references therein). If we do follow this pattern for developing leadership, we are pretty much guaranteeing that we will develop sexual repression, and that our children will be subjected to that sexual repression, which will limit the development and potential of most of them, and will endanger the lives of some of them.

What can we do?

Re-broaden our concept of leadership

One thing that I think would make a big difference is if our leadership (whatever we mean by that) reflected the diversity of our communities. I’m not knocking any of the contributions anyone has made, but I think we should be asking why the people who make up groups like the Iwi Chairs forum or the Māori Council seem so similar. What messages does it give our young people if they can’t see anyone like them being recognised as having mana?

Make our schools safer

We need to make sure our schools are safe for all our children. This means being proactive. Schools need to talk to children about sexual and gender diversity in a safe and accepting way. This must happen before the negative messages sink in—starting when children are 10 or 11, not leaving it until they’re already sexually active, or avoiding it altogether. It means tackling any homophobic attitudes or behaviour that the children bring to school with them. Staff need to be educated and trained so they don’t bring damaging attitudes with them. Schools need to be a safe place for staff to be open about their sexuality and gender. Finally, it means educating parents so that they are onboard.

Make our whānau safer

Most importantly, we have to decide whether it is more important to us that our children meet our expectations, or that they are safe to be whoever they may be. Is it more important that we shame our children into acting like we want? That we pretend they’re someone who they’re not? Or that we have a real relationship with them? What is more tika? What is most in line with our kaupapa?

If we want our children to be safe and happy and meet their potential, then we have to be prepared to accept them, and love them whoever they turn out to be. We have to make sure they know that.

The Continuum of Awesomeness

I like to think of our goal in terms of an awesome continuum, on which I’d like to see us all pushing ourselves towards the more awesome end of the spectrum.


In the top left, intolerance is anything that tells our children it’s not acceptable to be different—abuse or statements like there’s no gayness in tikanga Māori, or anything that condones abuse or mocking of difference. Treating gay men as if they’re women, which reveals disrespect for both women and gay men. Anything like that is intolerant, and we want to avoid it.

Tolerance is a bit better than intolerance, it means not actively excluding or insulting people that we know to be different from ourselves, but at the same time, it assumes that heterosexuality is so normal and healthy, that we can ignore the reality that not everyone is heterosexual. For example, I might assume that every child, and everyone I know is heterosexual unless they tell me otherwise, which means I don’t have to be careful about what I or anyone else does that would insult people who aren’t heterosexual. It’s much like the Crown acts around ethnicity, it treats us as if we are all white. Māori are not actually excluded from Pākehā society, we’re just expected to change to fit in. Because we assume that every child will grow up to be heterosexual, we don’t bother to protect them from hate or carelessness. We let them see sexual and gender diversity being mocked, or compared to paedophilia, or hear their queer whanaunga described as disgusting, as if this has no effect. Tolerance actually allows intolerance to flourish.

Acceptance is just that, anything that lets our children know that they are awesome and loved whoever they are. It is their whakapapa that gives them a place in their whānau, and everything else is just detail. It also means challenging any homophobic behaviour to protect them from those messages.

Celebration means going out of our way to give positive messages about otherwise marginalised genders or sexualities, as a way of fighting the messages that our children will get outside of our control. For example, loving acceptance probably isn’t a sufficient response if a child has just heard that a prominent Māori leader dreams of a world without gays, or one of their friends has been beaten up for looking queer, or they’re being called faggot or dyke. If a child tells us that they are queer, we should be stoked that they trust us, that they are sharing themselves with us, and we should show them that. If a child is brave enough to express themselves in a way that others are reading as queer, we should celebrate their uniqueness and bravery. Celebration might mean talking to our children about all the different crushes we’ve had, or acknowledging all the crushes they have had, not acting like there is something different about their friendships depending on the gender of their friend. Celebration is anything that lets our children know that whoever they are will be awesome.

If tikanga are the behaviours that express our values, I thought I could use Whatarangi Winiata’s kaupapa matrix model to work backwards (Winiata, 2012). If we think of each of the points on the continuum as a set of behaviours, if they are tika, we should be able to say which kaupapa they are expressing.

Starting with intolerance, which kaupapa am I expressing if I am excluding or attacking my whanaunga based on who they sleep with? It might be a reflection of how little I know, but I couldn’t think of any. Looking at tolerance, which kaupapa am I expressing when I am polite to my whanaunga, while judging them as inferior? Or including them, but expecting them to hide who they are? Again, I couldn’t think of any kaupapa that fit this tikanga. The kaupapa become apparent when we look at the behaviours that show acceptance. Acceptance is an expression of a whole bunch of kaupapa—whanaungatanga, aroha, manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, whakapapa. Finally, looking at celebration, it expresses many of the same kaupapa as acceptance.

Some people will feel that celebration is a step too far—that acceptance is enough. In an ideal world, I would say acceptance is the most tika behaviour. But we live with a dominant culture that condones homophobia. To come back to the analogy with Pākehā culture oppressing tikanga, one response to a culture that makes it hard to live as Māori, is that we celebrate what it means to be Māori, we positively promote Māori ways of being. Many Pākehā are resistant to this, they see affirmative action and celebrations of our ‘Māoriness’ as reverse racism. We know they are wrong, and we can extend that analysis to repression of sexual diversity, even if it initially makes us a bit uncomfortable.

The point of this continuum isn’t to judge where we each are as parents or friends. We will probably all struggle to overcome the culture that we have been raised in, I certainly do. This is where we need to think about whose kaupapa we are expressing. Western culture has been all about controlling and limiting us, tikanga should be about all of us reaching our potential. My challenge to you, is to make sure you are reflecting the values you want to. Be more awesome, so those around you can feel safe enough to be who they are meant to be. Be brave enough to be uncomfortable. Be brave enough to fight for sexual and gender diversity education in your children’s and grandchildren’s schools. Be brave enough to love your whole child, and your whole self. We know we aren’t going to fully realise tino rangatiratanga unless Pākehā get a bit uncomfortable and give up some power. It’s the same with sexual diversity.

Like I said earlier, no amount of hatred, bullying or abuse is going to make anyone heterosexual, it will only make people hide themselves from you. Don’t be that person. If you don’t know anyone who isn’t heterosexual, if you think everyone in your whānau is heterosexual, then that is a reflection on the impression you have made. You can change that impression.

We need to be clear that homophobia does not come from tikanga. It comes from the colonisers. Whakapapa is about inclusion—there needs to be a really good reason to exclude or demean someone in any way. Who they sleep with is not a good reason. Our children grow up in an environment where they will see, hear and experience hatred of different sexualities. Whoever they grow up to be, these messages are dangerous. These messages will limit how our children see themselves and who they can imagine being.

At the moment, we have so much unhelpful hatred and intolerance passing as debate about marriage and adoption equality, and if there’s one thing I want you to get from this talk, it’s that we need to change that conversation. Our children don’t need to be protected from homosexuality, they need to be protected from hate. People loving each other will never endanger children, homophobia will.

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