It’s been a big week for indigenous rights here in Aotearoa. Yesterday in Wellington we had the West Papua Independence leader, Benny Wenda, present on the incredible resilience of the Papua peoples, and the atrocities being visited upon them by the Indonesian government. At the same time, we have a delegation of young First Nations leaders connected to Standing Rock, touring Te Ika a Maui, visiting sites such as the Whanganui River, who was just recently granted legal personhood, learning from Maori communities about their ecological restoration projects, and connecting with communities, like those along the eastern seaboard, who have, like them, been engaged in struggles against Big Oil. Whenever indigenous fronts come together, great things happen and without a doubt this week will see the planting of seeds that will continue to fruit for some time yet. We’ve also seen the early drafts of this year’s report from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The draft features support for issues raised by campaign group Te Ikaroa – Defending Our Waters, around seabed drilling and indigenous ocean governance – and supports the call for an indigenous body to guide the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Yep, the struggle may be without end, but this week felt heartening.
And then there’s Helen.
Helen who, in her interview with Guyon Espiner, reiterated her position that, had she not stepped in and alienated the Aotearoa foreshore and seabed from Maori, we would have locked everyone out of the beach (I don’t know how much fencing that would take, but it would be more than a few visits to Bunnings). Helen who wanted to point out that she had absolutely no regrets for that decision, which amounted to the single largest Maori land confiscation in modern history.
Possibly one of the most distasteful aspects of this entire experience was the fact that it soon became apparent (for Maori at least), that the Foreshore and Seabed Act was actually about securing access to the coastline for the oil and gas industry. The Foreshore and Seabed Act was passed in November 2004. In January 2005 the first drilling licence was handed out. Is there a word for that feeling when you realise that you’re being framed by the perpetrator, and nobody else believes you? That was pretty much how it felt, while Helen fanned the flames of public hysteria, contempt and racial division in order to facilitate the handing out of drilling licences. If there is a word for it, it undoubtedly sits at the intersection of rage, hurt, indignation and betrayal.
Naturally, this made her, in some eyes, a very unsuitable candidate for leading the United Nations. At a time when the world is staring down the barrel of a climate, or nuclear, catastrophe – and indigenous peoples face widescale rights abuses – surely we could not consider such a track record as Helen’s favourable.
So here I was, watching Catherine Delahunty’s live feed of the Benny Wenda talk today – and I was thinking “I bet Catherine’s going to follow this up with a stellar talk – I bet there will be some great photo ops with Green MPs and Benny…” – because, let’s be fair, they’ve been solid at holding our government to account on their lack of action about the rights abuses in West Papua for quite a few years now. It’s always nice to see non-indigenous people who get it right for indigenous peoples.
So does this translate across to the party? Are the Greens a party for indigenous rights? I ask because earlier this week, when Helen doubled down on the Foreshore and Seabed, and reverted back to accusing us of locking people out of the beach – radio silence from the Green Party. Is this because of Metiria’s declaration that the Green Party considered Helen a fine candidate for United Nations Secretary General? I never understood that position then (so I asked Metiria to explain it) and I still don’t understand it now (because she ignored my requests). What it said to me back then is that even though there are many Green MPs and policies that I love as a Maori, they’re still not ready to step into the space of being our champions yet. So I cancelled my membership.
And this week, when Helen went back there again, and Greens said nothing – it reminded me of why I cancelled it. It felt, and still feels, like every other time our liberal “friends” have gotten it wrong in relation to indigenous peoples – and I couldn’t help but wonder how that would pan out in policy implementation, especially when delivered alongside a party that actively supports Helen Clark even after she has reiterated such clear rubbish about Maori intentions over the foreshore and seabed.
If you’re reading this, Metiria (I’ve tweeted, and emailed, and facebooked you but maybe this is the magic equation) – I would really love for you to answer the question I’ve posed, and reposed:
Given what we know about the links between the Foreshore and Seabed Act and oil licensing – and given Helen Clark’s repeated insult to Maori, do you stand by your position that she is a great leader?
Waiting in vain. Tina
Tina Ngata (Ngati Porou) works for indigenous university Te Wananga o Aotearoa as a diploma and degree-level educator in indigenous environmental leadership. She lives in Te Tairawhiti and blogs underneath the name “The Non-Plastic Maori” about issues relating to indigenous rights and environmental issues.