The Kermadecs and racist environmentalism

I did a bit of a tweetstorm earlier today, inspired by seeing friends embroiled in frustrating conversations like this one and the decided slant of articles like this about the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

My thoughts resonated with a bunch of people, so here they are in post form, but I’m going to stick up at the front something which I tweeted late in the piece: I’m just a Pākehā woman with a Twitter account and a reflexive critical analysis of political discourse. I’m not an expert in this area. I refer you to far wiser people like Morgan Godfery and the reportage of folk like Maiki Sherman at Newshub.

So. This week has been a revelation in the racist imperialism of mainstream (white) environmental organisations.

We’re not even arguing about meaningful consultation around establishing the Kermadec sanctuary, we’re talking about ZERO consultation by white politicians who assumed they knew best. National are literally in coalition with the Māori Party but didn’t even pick up the phone to give them a heads-up, probably because like every other Pākehā handwringer they just assumed they knew best about whether there’d be an issue.

That’s problem 1: Pākehā assuming they know everything about a complex historical/legal issue which gets really shallow coverage in the media and frequently is only lightly discussed in school, if ever.

Problem 2 is the (very Pākehā) environment lobby’s outrage that anyone might stand in the way of an ocean sanctuary. “Think of the planet!” they cry, which is appallingly arrogant coming from the ethnic group which has done the vast majority of screwing up the planet to start with.

But no, now we know better so let’s do things our way, it’s for the greater good after all!

This also brings in the horrible racist undertones of the Pākehā worldview being more ~sophisticated~ than Māori.

We have to take a hard look at how environmental organisations and Pākehā liberalism exploit indigenous culture. When it suits us, we happily draw on the notion of indigenous people being ~more in touch with the land~ and having a ~spiritual connection to nature~ and painting with all the goddamned colours of the wind. When it helps our agenda, we happily retweet the hashtags opposing oil pipelines and trumpet the importance of honouring the Treaty.

But scratch the surface and all the smug superiority is there. We know better; our thinking is more advanced because we care about ~the whole planet~.

It’s very easy to care about the whole planet when you’re on the team who took it by force.

The third problem I came to is broader than the current debate: it’s the hate-on Pākehā have for the idea that Māori dare to operate in a capitalist framework. Like, we came here, smashed their culture, took their land, tried to destroy their language, imposed capitalism on them, and when we offer a pittance in compensation for what they have lost, we get OUTRAGED when they set up “modern” business structures with it.

Do people have justified concerns about the decisions and operating practices of some Māori corporations? Probably. There are issues with every capitalist construct run for profit. But we treat Māori ones very differently – we treat everything Māori do differently (remember the foreshore and seabed? Remember how nobody seemed to have a problem with rich white people owning whole beaches and islands, but the idea of Māori just having the right to test ownership in court was the end of the world?)

We’ve put Māori in a catch-22: imposing Pākehā capitalism on them, but acting appalled whenever they dare use it to survive.

So this is how it goes. Pākehā make a decision to eradicate fishing rights without consulting Māori, because we know better. Then we decry them for not caring about the environment – which we stole from them and exploited for over a century – and imply they only care about money – which is a good thing if you’re in business but not if you’re brown.

And so we pat ourselves on the back for being More Enlightened About The Environment while literally confiscating land & resources from Māori again.


A tangent on industrialization, climate change and the environment: let’s consider how all the “first world” “developed” nations got to where they are – by pillaging and strip-mining every piece of the planet we could get our hands on – but now we’ve hoarded all the money and resources and built “sophisticated” economies, suddenly we want to scold “less developed” nations for doing exactly the same thing.

Blade Runner and The Fifth Element knew exactly what they were doing when they showed the working classes living beneath the smog layer, is what I’m saying.

QOTD: Morgan G on G Morgan and the Treaty

From Gareth Morgan and the Pākehā Pathology at Maui Street:

Thus the burden of compromise always falls to Māori – we can push only for what is compatible with their system – this makes Morgan’s idea that there is some sort of creeping political division emerging an utterly ridiculous one. Think about it from an iwi perspective. For each iwi a typical settlement represents around 1 to 5 percent of what was lost. Who, in this situation, is making the compromise? The party which agrees to concede the 95 to 99 percent of what it lost, or the party which agrees to return 1 to 4 percent of what it gained?

Go read the whole thing, it’s excellent and far better-informed that my own thoughts.

The dogwhistling of the Treaty

Gareth Morgan has a four-part series in the Herald this month in a thinly-veiled ad campaign for his new book, Are we there yet? The future of the Treaty of Waitangi.

And there’s dogwhistle one: the smarmy comparison of Treaty grievances and settlements to a long car ride which we just want to be over, already.

This week’s effort seeks to establish Gareth Morgan, an economist, as an expert in the history of the Treaty, following on from his opining on the health system, the welfare system, and the inherent evilness of cat ownership.

That’s one thing about our society: we tend to assume that someone who’s been around for a while and made a bunch of cash is automatically credible, even in areas they have no background in. It’s the same thing that happens when we assume people from the business world (and woodwork teachers) are better governors of our nation than silly academics and unionists.

We also tend to assume that expertise, especially in an academic field, is a bit of a charade, and anyone can pick up enough of the intricacies of indigenous rights, case law, and restorative processes to form an informed opinion on them. It’s the same way everyone on Twitter suddenly becomes an expert in the Geneva Conventions when a report on CIA torture comes out.

There are a lot of downsides to these attitudes – most of which come under the heading of “not making personal/electoral/policy decisions based on proper information”. Another is that we accord people like Gareth Morgan the mantle of authority on issues just because he’s a rich old white dude.

(Yes, all four of those identifiers are necessary, because they all contribute.)

And that means he gets to write a book, and four columns in one of our major newspapers, which promote misinformation and racist stereotypes about Māori and the Treaty.

Morgan seems to be genuine in his concern. But despite referring to the “catastrophic effects” which Treaty breaches have wrought on our society, and seeming to praise the “fluidity” of current Treaty negotiations, the main takeaways from his column are:

  1. No one really knows what the Treaty means, so whenever people talk about “Treaty principles” they mean “stuff made up after the fact”
  2. The English and te reo Māori versions of the Treaty are different so no one can agree on which should take precedence (my understanding is that indigenous language versions of treaties do)
  3. Some Māori just want too much (“Even in its modern “elastic” form it cannot be credibly stretched to legitimise all Maori aspirations.”)
  4. The Crown has sovereignty now so stop arguing about it
  5. I, Gareth Morgan, am the best person to tell you how to achieve rangatiratanga and you’re currently doing it wrong

It’s possible I’m being too cynical. Maybe Gareth Morgan will surprise me with his subsequent columns on “the limits of the Treaty process” and “one country, two peoples”.

But what I come back to is this: I don’t think the Treaty discussion needs another white guy giving us his reckons. (It probably doesn’t need an uninformed white woman like me giving her reckons either.) I don’t think it informs the debate, and I don’t think the priorities of people like Gareth Morgan are particularly relevant to resolving, as he puts it, the catastrophic effects of Pākehā colonisation of New Zealand.

Also, he hates cats.