Ihumātao: A Conversation
Ihumātao has an extensive history (explained very well here), and for the past three years, this area of sacred land has been actively occupied by a group called SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape). SOUL, lead by young Māori lawyer Pania Newton, has been peacefully protecting the whenua from a 480-strong housing development. The situation shifted significantly when three weeks ago, police descended onto the land to remove the occupiers in order to begin construction, and what followed is an ongoing standoff between police and a ground-swell of protestors. This historical moment unfolding on our doorstep has generated heated discourse around equality, grievance, reconciliation, indigenous rights - and above all I have been reminded of how imperative it is, especially as a pākehā, to listen. So, I chatted to two people heavily involved in te ao Māori and the occupation, whose knowledge and whakaaro I have huge respect for - over to Matt Renata and Lillian Murray!
Hey team! Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background with te ao Māori and Ihumātao?
Matt: My life has been bi-cultural, being Māori and Indian, but add the Pākehā world in there and it makes it multicultural. I went to the first kohanga reo set up in NZ (Wainuiomata) and was conversational in the reo. However, I went to a state school and they didn't teach or accommodate for Māori, so my parents say I lost the reo pretty quick. I picked it back up in High School and am still on my learning journey - I would say kawa, tikanga and te ao Māori have been ingrained hidden within in me, but there is always more to learn (I'm still not fluent yet) but am getting there. Born and raised in Te Awakairangi, my Mum is Gujarati (West Indian) but was born and raised in NZ. My Dad was born and raised in Waikaremoana and was raised in Tuhoe tikanga. We later on found out my Koro was whangai to Tuhoe from Ngāti Porou, so we are actually Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu by blood, as well as Te Atihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi (Whanganui) where my Nanna was born and raised.
Lillian: I am a 5th generation settler from Scotland. Born and raised in the Bay of Plenty, my primary school in Te Puke, brimming with Māori and Pākehā faces alike, provided kapa haka performances here and a weekly afternoon reo Māori lesson there. Enough to quietly suggest that there might be another way of being in the world other than the Pākehā way, which, in Aotearoa New Zealand, is the water we all swim in. Over my years I have had many invitations to listen to the stories of this land I didn’t learn at school. My response to the stories I have heard, and my response to imagining the Tiriti as a relational covenant has been to begin to learn te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. I am currently a student at Te Wānanga Takiura o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa, studying towards a teaching degree for full-immersion Māori schools.
How did you end up involved with Ihumātao?
Matt: Pania Newton and I (along with 10 others) were selected for a high level youth leadership program in Japan in 2016. We spent just under eight weeks together in and around Japan and spoke in depth about her journey and Ihumātao. I asked her many confronting questions and did my own research on Ihumātao. I prayed and asked God to speak to me about Ihumātao. I landed in a place where my heart was arrested by what was happening and connected to the kaupapa since then. This isn't just about Ihumātao but is about all Māori and the state of our nation. I visited the whenua a few times since and have assisted people of influence there. I've retold the story and left people to decide for themselves where they stood with the kaupapa. Last year I had a series of very significant dreams which led to Pania and I having deeper and meaningful kōrero. This has led to me becoming somewhat of a spiritual leader/initiator down at Ihumātao, alongside a handful of other spiritual leaders.
And what have you experienced in your time out there on the whenua?
Lillian: I have seen pōwhiri, I have seen church services, I have seen sign-making, marshmallow roasting, I have been offered kai and cups of tea/ milo/ coffee, I have heard songs being sung directly into the ears of police, and in later contexts, shared amongst each other. I have seen tired, tired eyes, and portaloo scrubbing teams. I have seen many a majestic flag, many tents, many donated blankets. I have seen Asians, Muslems, Pākehā, Christians, LGBTQI+ community, students, young children, academics, elderly, Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, Niueans, The Queen of the Cook Islands, Joe Hawke the leader of the Bastion Point occupation. I have seen photo exhibitions by John Miller and Gil Hanly who have been photographers of protests around New Zealand for decades. I have seen pop up concerts, karaoke sessions, and screenings. I have seen unity and deep pain and gritty hope.
Matt: I've experienced the power of God speaking out loud and strong. I've experienced the people responding to what is happening in the wairua and then rising up to make a change and expose our nation’s shameful and painful history. The truth and facts are coming out in such power and authority that it is hard to hide them anymore. A racist undertone of our nation has been emerging and showing itself. I've experienced the great shock of the government and of the white-middle class majority. On the flip-side, I've seen great hope in so many different ways and I have seen that victory is coming for Māori and the nation. I've witnessed the mana being returned back to the mana whenua and tangata whenua. I've seen people of great significance and influence come to show their support and offer even more power to the kaupapa. The mauri grows.
The efforts seem pretty consistent to keep things peaceful, positive and passive - is this what you've been experiencing?
Lillian: Many times a day, Pania Newton and the whānau will remind us: “this is a passive, peaceful, positive resistance.” Let us sing, let us karakia, let us do what we need to keep our spirits high and unified. The relationship between protectors and police is tense. Some moments there is only humanity flowing between us all and the individual police people play ball with the children and ask us friendly questions or explain how they don’t really know why they have to be at Ihumātao. I was there in one of the situations when it all flipped and suddenly, they were really ‘doing their job’. The job that morning was to get five trucks of fencing equipment onto the land, and to fulfil this job, the head negotiator actively lied to Pania, claiming we the occupiers needed to move so that their paddy wagons could get past. In good faith Pania had us move from our front line, and the police trapped the people in a herded circle allowing the fencing trucks to pass. But yes, despite intergenerational trauma from encounters with the institution of the New Zealand Police, like the Black Saturday slaughterings in Samoa, to the 2007 Tuhoe Raids, the protectors at Ihumātao hold close to mind the guidance of Te Whiti and Tohu of Parihaka for inspiration.
I know this is a big ask, but the purpose of doing this piece is to help inform people on the events that have lead to this point - could you explain a bit of Ihumātao’s history?
Matt: Dating back to the 1300's, Hape and the people of Tainui become the first people of the land; living, being kaitiaki of and occupying the whenua in and around Ihumātao for hundreds of years. Following this, in the 1700's - British representatives sight the land and the people of the land. The 1800's saw the process of the gospel of Jesus Christ gives a new found peace and love to Māori. Unfortunately, colonisation soon follows and starts taking effect. The people of the land are unjustly disconnected and removed from their ancestral lands, having not ceded sovereignty to the Crown and giving up arms. Under Te Tiriti o Waitangi (UN international law deems this the legally binding document), this is a breach of the agreement and of Tino Rangatiratanga. This is an immoral and sinister act of colonialism by the Crown. What are tangata whenua or mana whenua without the whenua?
In the 1900's, like many other indigenous people across the world subject to colonialism, they suffer the consequences of land theft, bigotry, racism and injustice. The cause and effect of intergenerational trauma, poverty and impoverishment is becoming more significant. Many issues such as institutional racism are implemented by government, for example, punishment for speaking Māori in schools. The 2000's, the fruit of this great disconnection means Māori make up over 50% of the prison population, top the suicide statistics, mental health issues and lose of identity. Despite all of this adversity, Māori people rise up to the challenge to fight the good fight, ka whawhai tonu matou! The fight for Ihumātao is the epitome of 175+ years of injustice and Papa God has heard the tears and prayers of the people, now He is responding.
There has been a fair share of reporting around the complexities of the situation, yet there is still feedback that people fear they don't know enough to 'take a side'. How do we have a nuanced discussion around this?
Matt: The facts, the truth and the information is all out there. You just need to have the ears to hear and the spirit to discern. It's hard to comprehend that people will not know enough when there are so many resources out there. How do we have a nuanced discussion around this? Just have the discussions. Don't be scared of having the conversations. Your neighbour is counting on you. Time to step into the place of discomfort and the unknown. If we let our our fear and inadequacy stop us, then we not only let ourselves down, but we let down our families, our communities, our nation, our future and the hope of a better Aotearoa. Time to be vulnerable and admit we don't know it all and that we might have to lay aside our own prejudices. Step out of the boat, have faith and have the conversations.
Lillian: We might begin to have a nuanced conversation when we Pākehā decide to choose the wisdom of historicity and imagination over the narrow presentism we have inherited. Following this, there are questions that humbly beg to be asked. In accordance with my values and with a vision of the world I would like to live in, am I at peace living under norms and systems that were built on and thrive off the violent displacement of Māori from their lands and the subsequent ‘legal’ stealing of that land? Indeed, nuanced kōrero by Pākehā needs to be informed widely by history to help us understand something of the water we are swimming in. Another wisdom to add here is from Richard Rohr, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” And so we see that even if we haven’t “taken a side” in our thoughts, we are “living a side” in our hoped-for but false ‘neutrality’. Here is an invitation before us, before those of us who can, to come with humility and grace to the land of Ihumātao and let ourselves be formed by both the act of going and the occupation itself. For those who cannot come to Ihumātao, there is yet a challenge before you, what actions can I make, who can I listen to, where can I go, what can I google, even in trembling and vulnerable faith, that will cause my eyes to see clearer the gaping injustices this country?
Something I have heard a lot is that while there is 'no homogenous Māori view', this is enlivening an important and pivotal event for recognition, re-powering and acknowledgement? Do you agree?
Matt: Yes. This is going to spark a great revival of our people and our nation. I would go to say that there is no homogeneous "people view", full stop. And that's a blessing in itself. There is room for expression, creativity, and colour, that's how we have been created. If there was one view, then maybe we would all share the same fingerprints, but we don't, everyone is different. We see the world from different perspectives. Ka pai! What we need to get better at, is our processes in finding a place of unity in our diversity. We need to get better at listening, rather than pushing our perspective. The question I ask is how can we become truly unified as a nation in our diversity. While Maori don't hold a "homogeneous view", they do have homogeneous tikanga. Values that underpin every decision, relationship and perspective. Manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, wairuatanga and all the tanga's. Maybe we need to revisit these tikanga principles and proactively implement them to help us in our process, and be willing to be held accountable in them. At all levels, from the ground up.