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A couple of weekends back, several hundred people assembled in Dunedin’s Octagon under the Black Lives Matter banner. They took a knee for the long minutes American man George Floyd lay struggling to breathe. A te tino rangatiratanga flag was draped over Robert Burns’ shoulder.
The following weekend a smaller gathering circled the same statue, as part of a national response to an attack on a Maori woman in Auckland. Burns was once again graced with the flag symbol of Maori sovereignty.
On the second occasion, the focus of the gathering was seven Maori women, all of whom wear moko kauae, the traditional chin tattoo. It was thought to be a very large proportion of all Dunedin women who wear their moko kauae on the outside.
They were there because earlier this month Maori artist Ngahina Hohaia was abused and slapped while walking at Owairaka, one of Auckland’s volcanic cones, at least in part because she too wears a moko kauae.
At the same time as the Octagon action, a much larger gathering of Maori woman formed a ring atop Owairaka, their karanga echoing around the quiet crater’s walls as they took part in a hohou te rongo, a peace-making.
"I was horrified," Cassidy says of the moment she heard of the attack on Hohaia. "I felt insulted myself, felt like that slap was for everybody who carries a moko kauae."
Indeed, while Cassidy was organising the Octagon action she was told of a second woman with a moko kauae struck in Auckland, at the airport, by a Pakeha man.
Hohaia was also called a "black b..." and Cassidy knows too well how that feels. From her school days. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
"I thought nobody gets called a black b... any more," she says.
So Cassidy sees the connections between those two recent gatherings in the Octagon.
"People often look at Black Lives Matter as African American or black American people, that that is all Black Lives Matter is about," she says.
"But it is actually about people who have been oppressed for years, are the downtrodden, are at the bottom end of society because of their colour, or because of their ethnicity — which basically means because they are not white."
What we’re taking about is racism, Cassidy says. Prejudice, based on the colour of people’s skin, combined with the power to impose that prejudice on others. That can involve the sort of violence the two Maori women recently experienced in Auckland, or it can be institutional in nature — the process where institutions are the vehicle for imposing the values of one group on others — creating a normal that privileges the powerful.
Cassidy has spent much of her life developing positive alternatives to that limiting paradigm. That’s manifest in her job as principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Otepoti, Dunedin’s te reo Maori immersion school. It provides an environment for young Maori to be themselves and thrive. The stats are in on such efforts, she says. Maori kids do better in Maori educational institutions.
It’s part of the long hikoi Maori have trod — going all the way back to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 — and the name it is increasingly being given is decolonisation.
The growing understanding of what that means, Cassidy says, includes not just restoring the language but the culture, the values, identity. Preserving it, by living it.
"Part of that, particularly for wahine Maori, is about reclaiming what can only be for wahine Maori."
All Maori women have a moko kauae, it is said, close to their heart. But for decades following the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907, that for most was where they stayed, Cassidy says. Ta moko was, with much else, suppressed.
The journey back from the white-out of colonial history is taking many forms.
In Porirua, a project led by researchers at Victoria University of Wellington in collaboration with Ngati Toa recently ran a competition to imagine what decolonisation might look like there, how it might impact urban design. There were all sorts of entries and among them a board game.
Dr Rebecca Kiddle, who oversaw the project, says they still hope to get the board game into production.
"It is a slightly interesting conundrum," she says.
"Decolonisation is about working together, it is not really about someone wins at decolonisation."
Curiously, one of the most incisive explanations that have been offered for the momentum that Black Lives Matter has generated in the US, also involves a board game.
Kimberly Latrice Jones, an African American author and screenwriter, offered a Monopoly analogy for the past 450 years of US history in an online post that went viral. For black people, it has been like playing 400 rounds of Monopoly to build up the intergenerational wealth of others, before finally being allowed to play for yourself , she said.
Or slap you in the face.
The working title of the game Dr Kiddle is collaborating on is "The Decoloniser".
"How do you make a board game where everyone can win and that still feels fun?" she asks.
If they can crack that, the obvious next question would be: how to roll the dice for a society where everyone wins.
On the back of the Porirua project, Kiddle and others have put out a book, Imagining Decolonisation. It takes up the challenge. And indeed, Kiddle’s chapter "Colonisation Sucks for Everyone" describes the many ways in which the colonisers have been negatively impacted through the process; exiled from the "old country", struggling to establish a new identity and tarnished by the "often racist and inherently unfair" brutal process of colonisation. The book is not about "go back to Britain" approaches to decolonising, rather a "let’s all do better here".
There are shades here again of Jones’ post, in which she points out that white supremacy is not a black problem, it’s a white problem — even if it is populations of colour who pay the biggest price.
In this country the supremacy problem involved colonisers assuming power despite the promises of partnership at Waitangi, Kiddle says.
The solution will involve sharing.
"I really think it is about relinquishing some of that power and saying, actually Maori are capable of looking after themselves and working out good systems to make sure their people are thriving."
Kiddle, of Ngati Porou and Ngapuhi, has her own story. As a sixth former, when she expressed an interest in becoming a lawyer, she was told by her teacher to do something with her hands instead: "Maori are good with their hands". It’s a pretty common story, she says. And still happening.
An early chapter of Imagining Decolonisation describes the compounding pressures on Maori communities.
"Maori experience lower educational expectations and achievement, die on average 10 years before Pakeha New Zealanders, receive less effective medical care for treatable illnesses ... and are four to five times more likely than Pakeha to be sent to jail when appearing in the courts."
Dunedin woman Suzanne Menzies-Culling has been educating people on these uncomfortable aspects of New Zealand society for decades, including delivering workshops on Te Tiriti as Tauiwi Solutions.
She says Pakeha approaching these issues need to think about who they are and where they came from.
That’s not always easy for several reasons, among them the fact that many Pakeha are descended from the flotsam and jetsam of Empire. Ancestral records can be scant.
Menzies-Culling’s research into the reasons why these early colonials were so sure of the legitimacy of their purpose, clear colonisation was a civilising mission, has taken her back further still, all the way back to the "Doctrine of Discovery". First promulgated in the 15th century, the doctrine declared that any territories not inhabited by Christians were up for grabs by European monarchs.
On that basis, James Cook and those who followed were arriving in terra nullius, empty lands.
"When our people came, because they were from the British Empire, they thought they had everything to teach and nothing to learn," Menzies-Culling says.
"Maori were quite clear they had things to share, they had ways of being that were beneficial that we would profit from knowing about."
Pakeha society continues to labour on under those ancient mythologies of superiority, she says. A little spring cleaning of the mind, a little decolonisation of the grey matter is required.
Without that, she and others say, statistics here, as in the US, will track a divide along colour lines — the marginalised of colonisation will continue to feel its sting.
Research by criminal justice reform group JustSpeak has mapped the Black Lives Matter focus on inequality before the law onto the New Zealand landscape.
JustSpeak director Tania Sawicki Mead says its research has underlined the way in which the blunt force of the state, as expressed in the police, continues to do Maori communities a disservice.
Maori, it found, were seven times more likely to be charged following a first encounter with police, than Europeans. That’s about the same increased risk as black Americans face of being shot by police in some US cities.
It makes a warped sort of sense, Sawicki Mead says, as the police are unlikely to be any freer of systemic bias than other New Zealand institution.
"It’s particularly important for police of course, because they have the monopoly on force and they have the monopoly on violence," she says.
There is more than a hint of the US defunding debate.
"It is reasonable for people who have been beaten and killed and criminalised and targeted by a police force for generations, to want to cut their ties entirely and say we’ll take care of it ourselves, thanks very much," Sawicki Mead says.
Dunedin-based political commentator Morgan Godfrey suspects the New Zealand Police as an institution is irredeemable. There’s just too much history, too much hurt.
"If you were to draw a line between the police and colonisation it would be a straight line. A straight and clean line. The police were of course the enforcers at Rua Kenana’s community at Maungapohatu, they went to break up that community. They did it almost 100 years later when they went into Ruatoki to arrest Tuhoe activists. So the police are always on the frontline of conflict between the Government and Maori. That’s the reason I think they are irredeemable."
Justice systems in the English speaking world are all corrupted by unequal outcomes, he says.
Cassidy puts Oranga Tamariki in the same box, the Ministry for Children that took a Maori name then continued to separate Maori children from their families, she says.
"No system is working for Maori people," she says.
Suzanne Menzies-Culling says Maori need to lead discussions on such issues. And that work is well under way.
Long-time thought leader Dr Moana Jackson also contributed to the book Imagining Decolonisation, in which he suggests the term "restoration" might serve us better than "decolonisation" and discusses an alternative to Pakeha justice systems based on tikanga — what "ought to be".
It is unlikely prisons, a colonial import, "ought to be".
A project led by Dr Jackson and Prof Margaret Mutu, Matike Mai Aotearoa — involving hui around the country — has also looked at constitutional arrangements.
Its final report suggests restoring the original intent of Te Tiriti with, for example, a tricameral Parliament, including an iwi assembly, a body representing the Crown, and a third joint deliberative body — a decolonised democracy.
Such change will require courageous wisdom, Dr Jackson says.
"But when the ancestors crossed Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, they overcame what seemed impossible and realised that courage is simply the deep breath you take before a new beginning."
Menzies-Culling puts it similarly from a Pakeha perspective. Pakeha need to be as brave as their ancestors, who also crossed oceans in wooden boats.
"That’s the challenge about making real change that’s long-lasting and meaningful. We have to be prepared to say, ‘Well, what does it look like and then we’ll think about it’, We have to step into the abyss and say ‘it is not working for any of us’."