For a while now, some of us part of Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa have been having discussions about decolonization what it means for us as Asians and tau iwi people of colour to be living on stolen land. If you’ve seen that banner “Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga” at protests, that’s us!
Before I start, I just want to say that I’ve been feeling a bit conflicted speaking at this forum after experiences that made me think long and hard about the barriers for tau iwi people of colour to engage with issues of colonization in Aotearoa especially when the conversation is controlled and mediated by Pākehā and the normative discourse is framed by biculturalism. I really want to challenge the view that this is just about Māori and Pākehā. In that framework, tau iwi people of colour are either treated as honorary Pākehā or non-existent in this country. By tau iwi people of colour, I mean settlers and migrants who are racialised, generally of non-European descent. We also exist in this country, and particularly this city. In many ways, we are also complicit in the colonial relationships and structures set up before, during and after our arrival. I want to explore what it means for us to support Tino Rangatiratanga and how they might be similar or different to the role of Pākehā.
I want to start off with answering the question of “Nō hea au?” Where am I from? Although that’s usually quite a loaded question white people ask me all the time for being visibly Asian, where I’m from is significant for this discussion. Unlike tau iwi who are Pākehā, my ancestry is not in Europe… but this land known to English-speakers as China, a massive country now imagined as a superpower or a source of cheap labour. Specifically, I was born in Tianjin a port city not far from Beijing. This city, my hometown has a colonial history of occupation by 8 different nation-states from the 19th to 20th century, but western cultural imperialism is still happening today through the importation of dairy products for example. My grandparents still remember the days of Japanese invasion and occupation characterized by torture, mass murder, pillaging and burning villages to the ground as well as vivisection - that is - medical experimentation, on Chinese people. But people in my ethnic group, known as the Han Chinese, have been both colonized and colonisers in different times and places. Taiwan, Tibet, Urumqi and Singapura are some places currently under Han Chinese occupation and rule. I support the tino rangatiratanga of the indigenous people of those lands as well, although I can’t say I understand the context that well having never been to any of those places. I’ve grown up most of my life in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa where racism and xenophobia against Asians in the 90s was pretty visible and as in your face as an egg in your face walking home from school and your parents working low wage jobs because they can’t speak English. I didn’t start really understanding the history of this land until my later teen years, which I didn’t learn through the school system but through education on the streets, at hui and protests. So I’m supporting tino rangatiratanga with this history.
So with this history in front of me, I think the distinction between tau iwi people of colour and Pākehā becomes important in the ways we support tino rangatiratanga and the role we might play in the movement to decolonise. This category extends to other migrants and settlers who are not Pākehā, including those who are indigenous to other lands, migrants or refugees who have been dispossessed by war, occupation or rampant capitalism as well as those who were privileged enough to migrate as a skilled migrant. So this is quite a broad category of people with a lot of internal inequalities based on class, religion, gender and ethnicity. I don’t claim to speak for all tau iwi people of colour, but I do think it’s a useful category to name non-Pākehā groups that are also racialised and experience racism in this colonial settler society but are not Māori. Whatever the case of how and why we’re here, our visa status or citizenship has been granted to us by a colonial settler state that stole the land and established power to make decisions of who does and doesn’t have the right to be here. We weren’t invited here by tangata whenua but allowed/tolerated/permitted to be here by the thieves of their land, so immediately the relationship is fairly fraught because we’re part of a settler population that further entrenches the dispossession of tangata whenua.
At the same time, while many of us have certain privileges as settlers here, racism and xenophobia can make it hard to access appropriate housing, employment and allows the mainstream to treat us as secondary citizens or residents or otherwise as ‘illegal aliens’. Or we might be economically included but socially excluded in the imagination of the nation-state. There are different kinds of racisms that are specific to each of our different ethnicities, but being tau iwi here means that we’ve come into a system of colonial relationships and a country where the wealth is based on colonisation and domination of tangata whenua.
With this fraught relationship in mind, I think it’s important to recognize the divide and rule tactics used and circulated that shapes relationships between tau iwi people of colour and Māori and our perceptions of each other. Biculturalism and multiculturalism often get talked about as opposing visions of cultural politics, but neither of which really question the centrality and dominance of Pākehā culture. Biculturalism tends to shut non-Pākehā tau iwi out and meanwhile multiculturalism gets used to undermine tino rangatiratanga (see Brash’s Orewa speech). Token knowledge of Maori culture or reo sometimes gets used by Pākehā to indigenize themselves and further exclude tau iwi people of colour, to ‘one-up new migrants’. I see this as a form of cultural appropriation for other racist agendas.
Migrants of colour and Māori get pitted against each other in this way as if anti-racist liberation is a zero-sum game. Often migrant knowledge of these issues or of Māori culture have been mediated by racist stereotypes in the Pākehā media then translated and filtered through in our languages. We’ve rarely had opportunities to build links and alliances with each other without Pākehā people mediating those spaces. So we’ve had to build and organize those spaces ourselves and want to continue building those links and sorting through the tensions that might exist between the goals of tino rangatiratanga and migrant justice. In YAFA, we’ve have looked at how immigrants of colour in Turtle Island or what’s known as Canada have bridged those tensions and it seemed like the conversations there have been happening on a wider scale and stronger links have been forged between migrant justice and indigenous struggles. I’m really interested in how that can be done here.
Many of us want to make sense of our place in this and want to stop participating in ongoing injustices.
My main message today is that there are tau iwi people of colour supporting tino rangatiratanga despite the barriers. And it’s not necessarily a new thing. We were there on the hikoi against the Foreshore and Seabed bill, we were there in solidarity when the anti-terror raids happened on October 15th 2007 and throughout the court process, supported the protests against the deletion of Māori seats in the creation of the supercity, marched against asset sales despite the xenophobia and fears of foreign (i.e. Chinese) ownership as if land in this country isn’t already in non-Māori ownership.
More tau iwi people of colour need to play a part in supporting tino rangatiratanga otherwise by default we’re playing a role that is complicit and maintains the racist structures of this colonial settler society. Beyond having a common oppressor, I think it’s important for tau iwi people of colour to build meaningful relationships with tangata whenua to tautoko the movement for tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake from our own cultural frameworks. By questioning our own complicities and seeing through the divide and rule tactics of the colonial settler system, as tau iwi people of colour, we can seek strategies to disrupt and resist settler colonialism, because there can be no justice for anyone on stolen land including migrants without achieving tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake for tangata whenua. I imagine and hope that in the not too distant future, we can have these conversations and discussion on the terms of tangata whenua and in te reo Māori rather than te reo Pākehā where mātauranga Māori is centred rather than marginalised or tokenised.
We’re still figuring out our role in the struggle for tino rangatiratanga and have a lot more to learn but we want tangata whenua to know that we are here in solidarity and other tau iwi people of colour to know that it’s important for us to also engage.
Some of us have some projects planned as well: one is a zine about people of colour settlers and complicities in colonialism, which is aiming for transnational conversations between and within colonial settler societies including Aotearoa, Australia and Turtle Island. Shasha Ali, who is also part of YAFA is also planning a commemoration for the October 15th raids to involve performance artists and musicians for shows in Poneke and Tamaki-Makaurau. Get in touch if you want to be involved.