As it is in the Pacific and Palestine, so it is here at home

I have the enormous privilege of being in Hawaii at the Pacific Arts Festival.

It is a huge festival of art, culture and sovereignty with 27 Pacific countries and over 2500 people attending. There are events across many venues, including two conferences as well as multiple performances, art exhibitions, navigation and Matariki celebrations.

Aotearoa New Zealand is well represented here, led by Kiingi Tuuheitia Pōtatau Te Wherowhero VII with Te Kapa Haka o Te Whānau a Apanui, and Te Kura Takawaenga o Taipa from the Hokianga.

There has been heaps of buzz about the Aotearoa delegation, our arts and performances. Someone described us as the pōtiki of the Pacific and, as pōtiki do, we have more than stepped up to the wero aroha from our Pacific tuakana.

But running alongside the Moananuiakiwa celebration of Oceanic culture and colour is a dark and palpable rage at the destructive coloniality still at play in our nations.

Climate-change vulnerability and making polluters pay is a conversation in every sit-down.

Demilitarise the Pacific is a regular refrain with the impact of the nuclear testing still in living memory and felt by generations of Pacific peoples.

There is certainly no escape from colonisation here in Hawaii.

A week after FestPac is finished, RIMPAC begins in Hawaiian waters, where 29 counties include New Zealand and Israel will share military exercises designed to increase the militarisation of the Pacific.

The Palestinian people and the Kanak people are on the minds of many here at FestPac. Kanaky is the only Pacific nation unable to attend FestPac this time and their absence is deeply felt.

For many people in New Zealand the Kanaky struggle over the last few months has read like an issue about democracy. In the news, we hear the story retold about the three referendums which did not support independence.

The news also tells us that the troubles have arisen because the French government voted to allow non-indigenous residents in Kanaky to vote in Kanak.

The framing of these stories assumes a very simple democracy story abut how people vote to decide how to run their country and that if the process is (declared to be) democratic, then the outcome must be a fair one.

It follows that any opposition by Kanak people to these democratic processes is therefore unreasonable. Because that opposition is irrational, the impact on non-indigenous people is unfair.

But the Kanaky trauma happening right now has nothing to do with democracy. The only role of democracy here is as a straw man.

It is actually a story about the effects of invasion, colonial repression, broken promises and, now, genuine fears of state-sanctioned genocide in the Pacific.

Kanaky was invaded by the French in 1853 and has been occupied since. The Noumea Accord signed in 1998 guaranteed a process towards independence and political authority by Kanak people but was subverted by the three referendums, including the third which was held despite the objections of the independence movement during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ongoing French colonisation of Kanak is itself a daily act of violence against the indigenous people.

The Kanak people are outnumbered in their own country with about 110,000 Kanak residents from a total population of over 270,000. They suffer from the same health, education, wealth and wellbeing disparities suffered by colonised indigenous people everywhere.

And now their country has been remilitarised by French forces and reportedly, colonial militias, in an effort to quell their fierce opposition to the ongoing coloniality.

The indigenous death toll is rising. The remilitarisation of the country is fuelling violence against the indigenous people not dampening it.

The World March of Women reports that while there are seven confirmed deaths, there at least 28 unannounced or unexplained deaths of indigenous people. There are reports of the militias terrorising Kanaks in food queues and food rationing only in the indigenous areas.

There are grave concerns for the health and wellbeing of Kanak children and repeated calls from NGOs for the reopening of the airports and financial aid to allow people to leave the territory.

The political issues in colonised Kanak, as in other colonised countries are complicated but they are made so by the occupation and colonisation of the country in the first instance.

The French government may well have to abandon its voting plans for Kanak now that a snap election has been called. That may give the political leaders some breathing space but will not protect Kanak whānau from violence.

Until the country is demilitarised and disarmed, and until there is genuine political autonomy for Kanaks, the violence of colonisation will continue there.

As it is in Palestine. As it is elsewhere in the Pacific. As it is at home.

Metiria Stanton-Turei is a law lecturer at the University of Otago and a former Green Party MP and co-leader.