Uenuku People!

These are our mountains, these are our rivers, these are our lands!

Our people will always maintain mana whenua!

A letter from my heart to all my UENUKU whanau by @uenukuMANA

When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to be dragged around the countryside attending hui with my koro, mum and my aunties. I used to hate going to hui’s. Sometimes we would have to sit in the wharepuni quietly while all the adults talked. Othertimes, we would be able to play with the cuzzies. Kaitime was always the best part of the hui.

Today, as a 37 yr old man. I think back to those days with sadness, the innocence and freedom of youth is something I’ll never have again. Nowadays, I find myself sitting in the same wharepuni that my tipuna, my parents and now my children sit. I look at my kids playing outside the marae, thinking to myself, I’m doing all this for you. 

I look around the room, all the same familiar faces. Some a little fatter, some a lot. Smaller faces that look like their parents. Some faces new and some old. I look on the walls, there are more photos of aunties, uncles, kids, mokos, nanis, koros. I noticed on the way in, the roof looks like it needs a lick of paint. The carpets’ not been changed since I was a kid, and the mattresses sacked in the back corner haven’t changed either.

I look at my whanau across the room and I see tired, worn out faces. I see a once proud people ravaged by time and the burdens of the modern lifestyle. Jobs are scarce or they don’t pay well. The economy and pakeha society is unkind to us. Institutionalized racism in this country is still rampant. The only difference is that its not as overt. The government ignores our needs in place of the needs of corporate and foreign interests.

It doesn’t help that we’re sitting in this whare all arguing with each other. Fighting amongst ourselves. As if we don’t have better things to do with our time, we’re here, gunning each other down, hurting each others feelings. We’ve been reduced to using our whakapapa as weapons of war against each other. Egos clashing. And boastful displays of superiority because a select few have managed to worm their way closer to treaty negotiating table. Positioning themselves so that when the crumbs finally fall off the settlement table, they will be ready.

Its sickening really. I look into the eyes of those faces framed on the walls of this wharepuni and I wonder, what would they say about this behavior that they see in this whare right now? How did we get to this point? How did things get this bad?

“Divide et impera - Divide and Conquer” - Julius Caesar

We’ve all been fighting for so long now to maintain our way of life that we have forgotten who the enemy is. Our enemy realized a long time ago, that they didn’t need to be on the battlefield to fight this war. It makes sense. Why fight your your enemy, when you can get others to fight for you.

During the 19th century, this tactic was employed by the British. The “Kupapa”, also called Queenites, loyalists and the friendly natives, were Maori who fought alongside the British in the New Zealand Wars. Its a tactic used today in Treaty settlement negotiations, and its used to great effect.

Today, Te Awa Tupua, a select group of Maori individuals from Wanganui play the role of “Kupapa” and have been authorised by the Treaty Settlements Office, to negotiate on behalf of the Crown. The Crown does not negotiate directly with its victims instead it chooses a group of sympathises in this case Te Awa Tupua, who has been mandated by the Crown to go out and settle the historical Treaty grievances within the “Whanganui Region”. 

The current government policy is interested in settling Treaty claims as fast as possible and with as little damage to their bank balance. The government has targets to meet, and by all account they should have everything wrapped up by 2017. Mr Finlayson boasting “...National has made huge progress on Treaty settlements. We have reached 46 deeds of settlement since 2008, compared with the previous government’s rate of fewer than two per year. At that rate, settlement of historical grievances would still be going until at least 2060.”

You ask any pakeha in this country, “What do you think of Treaty settlements?” You’ll find the collective answer an interesting one. This country's inability to deal with its past, and to deal with our relationship to each other, speaks volumes about the Pakeha attitude toward Maori. The point is Pakeha would rather forget the role they played in subjugating an entire race of people. 

Its not sexy to move into someone's house, kick them out, move your family in, and then look out the kitchen window every morning and see the impoverished original homeowner starving on your front lawn. You feel guilty about what you did, but, hey you’ve already rearrange the furniture and given the place a new paint job. You can’t to give it back now because you're comfy and you’ve invested so much time and energy. Besides, you’ve been living there for a while now. Oh no! That stink guilty feeling just won’t go away. Aha! Light bulb moment, give that poor Maori out there a couple of dollars for some fish and chips, send him on his way.

Jokes aside, the settlement process in not about healing the past, or fixing the hurt. The solution that is currently being played out is a short term fix. In my view, it does little to help heal the pain of the past for both sides. What happens when the money is spent? What then? 

We’re in the middle of an global economic crisis. And since 2008 major banks, corporations, businesses and even countries have gone belly up. These major organisations are run by financial wizards. And yet, here in Wanganui, Te Awa Tupua has self proclaimed Maori chiefs at the helm, with extensive financial experience such as...does hui hoping count?!? And were expected to trust these people to not only handle the responsibilities of controlling hundreds of millions of dollars, but to also negotiate a fair deal on behalf of entire hapu and iwi, and also redress the hurt? 

From what I understand in the case of Wanganui, two major settlements are currently on the table. The first, addresses a river settlement and sets a new precedence through the settlement legislation. It will recognise the actual “River” as a legal identity with legal standing, rights and an independent voice. A financial redress of $80 million is also at stake. This Deed of Settlement is all but set in stone and was initial at Ranana Marae on the 5th of August 2014.

By the way, $2 million dollars has already been set aside for the construction of a new building for offices for Te Awa Tupua. And $100,000 salaries for the first year for each of the 4 pou. Nobody is supposed to know this? Because nobody knows about it? Wink, wink!

The second settlement is worth $100+ million and individuals all over the rohe are scrambling into position, as the crown is currently trying to identify the LNGs (Large Natural Groupings) thats settlement talk for “Maori who identify themselves into things called whanaus, hapus, and iwis”. However, there is a very important point to the language used here, that is, the word “Large” which is code for lumping the hundreds of noisy WAI claimants into a huge pot. Individual whanau, and hapu grievances are settled as one claim rather than addressing all the claims separately. 

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” - George Orwell

In the past the seat of power has always been expressed on the Marae. All the great leaders were mandated and they were directed by the needs of the many, the whanaus, the hapus. Our leaders used to fight beside us and it has always been our collective ability to move as one unit that makes Maori strong. The strong men and woman protecting the old, the young and the vulnerable. Everything that we did, we did together, and we did as one people. This treaty settlement process has flipped this entire system on its head, and power has shifted away from the Marae and now reside within the confines of private board rooms, away from the prying eyes of the people.

Our Maraes have been left destitute, they are decaying and rotting away. They are used only occasionally and are now places where board room Maori chiefs take their guests for an “Authentic Maori Experience”. The root of our culture the Marae has become a cheap sideshow attraction. 

The old and our vulnerable are used in the most disgusting ways to enhance the greed and ambitions of a few individual sociopaths. Here in Wanganui, the old kuia and koroua have been used by “board member chiefs” as frontline foder. They are dragged around to these settlement huis, and they are used to silence the angry hordes, who understand that this entire process is backward and wrong. The young are told to sit down and respect their elders, while the sideshow that is the treaty settlement process steamrolls any last vestige of Marae power.

In the 5 years that Te Awa Tupua had undertaken the settlement process, and negotiated on behalf of the Crown, not one individual Maori in the entire Whanganui rohe outside the select group have had a clear understanding about what was on the negotiating table. Not one! Nobody knew what the terms of settlement were, until the actual deed was signed this year. The circus I witnessed firsthand at the huis prior to the deed being signed was sickening. Not a single important question was answered, at every hui my whanau attended we could not get a reasonable answer to the basic question, what are the terms of this agreement? The Crown and Te Awa Tupua cleverly avoided the question, and upon seeing the Deed of Settlement and the Framework set before us I can understand why.

I am part of a group of whanau and hapu who have challenged this entire process right from the moment we were made aware of what was going on. We have understood what the stakes are because we understand our position in this world. We are the custodians of the rivers and the mountain in the central north island. We have been their since the beginning of time. This is our home. We are forged in a cold, harsh environment. We a proud, strong, hearty people with enormous warm hearts. The mountains that are on our doorstep, are a reflection of the people there. We have always maintained mana whenua, meaning, we have always be vested with the authority and divine mandate to take care of and look after the rivers and mountains for future generations. Until now our position in the world has never been threatened, and our way of life has change very little. 

Except now, we have visitors from board rooms in Wanganui who have taken it upon themselves to legally remove (steal) and redefine the exact nature of our rivers and our relationship to them. In our world, our rivers have never been considered tributaries. Each river has a name, and with that name a story and a history. Like the many hapu around the maunga our stories and our histories define us. The river that my family identify with is called “Maunganui o te Ao”, it sit separate to the Whanganui river proper. Throughout our entire history our has never been considered one entire river that flows from the Mountains to the Sea. Everytime we go somewhere and have to identify ourselves we have always identified to the “Maunganui o te Ao” not the Whanganui River and certainly not to “Te Awa Tupua.”

The stories of our rivers and our relationship to them are talked about in our WAI claims. However, in one foul swoop our entire world has been flipped upside down. The hundreds of hours of research and money spent so that WAI claimant’s stories could be told and heard, are about to be reduced to nothing. You are a witness, to one of the greatest injustices currently unfolding. Our world, our Uenuku world is being redefined and our past is being rewritten.

Future generations will not define themselves to our rivers, like that of “Te Maunganui o te Ao” instead they will be legally identifying themselves to “Te Awa Tupua” Our iwi’s are being redefined into legal entities like Charitable Trusts and Corporations, in order catch and handle the money feed to them by the Crown in these settlement processes. In turn whanau and hapu authority is being superseded as Marae power is consumed by Corporate power. 

These legal entities are also redefining the natural order of our Maori world. We own a unique place in this world. We are defined by our past and we identify ourselves by our stories and our histories. The mere fact the we declare our identity in the world by our relationship to a Maunga or Awa is beautiful and poetic. Who else in this world does that, this is a unique perspective!

However, what happens to our whakapapa, when our histories, our stories the way in which we define our world are redefine in foreign and unnatural ways. Our world, our Maori world, has a natural order and a natural flow. To those of us fortunate enough to live in the Maori world, our world feels right! 

As a Maori, you understand that their is a natural hierarchy and order to the world. There are the Gods that made our world; there are the waka that brought us to Aotearoa; there are the mountains we settled near; there are the rivers we drank from, that provided tuna, and that cleanse us; there are the tupuna that made us, and the wharepuni that house us. In this hierarchy, we are right at the bottom, and we sit directly under the whare that was build for us.

The whakatauaki “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” is a Maori concept that has been redefined by Te Awa Tupua and the Crown into a concept that is so far removed from the Maori world that it almost begs the question. What is the Awa now?

The river is no longer a majestic and beautiful reminder of a time long past when awesome powerful gods fought for the affection of Pihanga. The trail of tears that were left as Taranaki made his way down to the coast, are a symbolic reference to the kinship ties and the relationships that connect the tribes from the central north island, Whanganui, and Taranaki people.

These links, metaphorically, and perhaps spiritually, have been severed, as the mana of Taranaki’s tears has been redefined into something else. I am uncertain of what the future holds for us as a people in the central north island. All I know, is that, every fiber of my being tells me that what is happening is not right. The hurts of the past will not be remedied by a few dollars, and healing our relationship with pakeha, is another story. 

We do not want our awa’s to be a part of this system, this “Te Awa Tupua” taniwha. Whether or not you give your framework a Maori name and a Maori face, it does not hide the fact that it has a heart made of dollars. My whanau will fight to secure the future for our way of life. Although we are few, we are still the 99%. I only hope that my kids will have the opportunity to say “Ko Ruapehu te Maunga, Manganui o te Ao te Awa, Ko Uenuku te iwi”

Kia ora whanau :)

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