Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Maori and the Zapatistas

Maori freedom fighter Tame Iti is out on bail

Members of the Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa (known to many by its colonial name "New Zealand"), were amongst those who founded the Zapatista-inspired Peoples' Global Action network (PGA) in 1998. A month ago, under New Zealand's 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act, over 300 police raided houses across the country seeking up to 60 activists in Aotearoa's Tino Rangatiratanga, peace and environmental movements. Among the 17 people arrested in the sweeps were some of these same founding PGA members, along with current Zapatista solidarity activists. With these networks of solidarity in place, though, a massive response came from all over the world denouncing the raids and arrests...and the terrorism charges were dropped.

Here is a recent film featuring Tame Iti, one of the arrestees, and below is a piece by regional PGA convenors "Aotearoa Educators" from 2001....

Neo-Liberalism and the Tino Rangatiratanga Movement

Eight thousand dollars! Eight thousand fuckin' dollars!
That's what I owe the Government to learn my own language...
the language they stole from my parents!
- a Maori student on the student loans scheme


"...what the Right offers is to turn the world into one big mall where they can buy Indians here, women there ..."
- Subcomandante Marcos 1996

PEC, GATT, MAI, NAFTA, WTO, IMF, globalisation, privatisation, neo-liberalism, neo-colonisation...I am trying to resist giving you definition upon definition of these neo-liberal acronyms, -ations and -isms that have been bombarding the world since it took this new liberal economic spin and trying to focus on what this all means for Tino Rangatiratanga.

When I talk about globalisation I'm not talking about the "global village" where we are all holding hands in a virtual cyber-world contemplating the assassination of JFK (for the record I think it was Kevin Costner) for, sure, there are some benefits to globally becoming more politically and socially interdependent. Instead, the globalisation that I'll be ranting on is just one type of globalisation called neo-liberal globalisation, nicely explained by Renato Ruggerio, ex-Head-Goon of the World Trade Organisation, when he said: "We are creating a single global economy". This notion of a single global economy is underpinned by an economic theory called neo-liberalism. To kick off, I guess we need some kind of definition of what neo-liberalism is. So instead of hiring a neo-liberal economist to define for us what neo-liberalism is (they're all sucking up to Mike Moore for a job at the WTO) and to keep it quick I'm going to paraphrase a few basic points that I nicked off the net.

Basically "neo" means new. "Liberalism" comes from the liberal school of economics which became famous in 18th century Europe when Adam Smith, an English economist, along with others advocated the abolition of government intervention in economic matters. No restrictions on manufacturing, no barriers to commerce, no tariffs, he said; free trade was the best way for a nation's economy to develop. Human beings are rationally economic units and the free market is a rationally operating framework within which perfect competition exists. Such ideas were "liberal" in the sense of no controls. This application of individualism encouraged "free" enterprise, "free" competition - which came to mean free for the capitalists to make huge profits as they wished.

Around the world, neo-liberalism has been imposed by powerful financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the nasty WTO (World Trade Organisation). This new form of global capitalism is dangerous. The popular concept of nation-states exercising sovereignty on behalf of the national interest and of the interests of the various groups residing within their borders is being heavily challenged by the locating of economic power within transnational corporations whose wealth exceeds that of many countries. The architects and beneficiaries of this global capitalist order are powerful businessmen, heads of transnational corporations who also sit in powerful positions of influence within powerful governments.


"Ka whawhai tonu matou ake ake ake" (We will fight on forever, ever and ever)
- Rewi Maniapoto 1864

Maori have a long tradition of struggle and resistance against colonisation and the Crown sponsored theft of Maori land and resources. This tradition is rooted in conflicts over the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori resistance in the "Land Wars", inspired by the prophet warriors Titokowaru and Te Kooti Arikirangi, the philosophies of Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi, the strategies of the Kingitanga, the resilience of Rua Kenana, the foresight of Ratana, and those countless ancestors whose blood soaks this land.

In the modern context this tradition has been held up by new groups and individuals such as Nga Tamatoa, WAC (Waitangi Action Committee), Te Kawariki, Black Women, Te mana motuhake o Tuhoe, Te Kawau Maro (the list goes on and on) who in turn drove and were inspired by such events as the occupations of Bastion Point (Takaparawha), the Land March and the countless marches on Waitangi, resistance to the infamous fiscal envelope and the occupations it set off (Pakaitore, Takahue, etc.), the establishment of the Tuhoe Embassy, the occupations at Waikaremoana, and resistance to the MAI and Singapore FTA. The tradition of struggle has become the Tino Rangatiratanga movement.

There are many different meanings for Tino Rangatiratanga and the concept itself is part of a rich and ongoing debate in Maori society. The word "tino" is an intensifier and the word "rangatiratanga" broadly speaking relates to the exercise of "chieftainship". Its closest English translation is self-determination - although many also refer to it as "absolute sovereignty" or Maori independence. Such a concept embraces the spiritual link Maori have with Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and is a part of the international drive by indigenous people for self determination.


"...its just a different version of the same old cavalry"
- a Native American Activist

Understanding the impact of globalisation on indigenous peoples can be best explained in terms of colonisation (for this indigenous person at least!). The first wave of colonisation was undertaken by colonial powers such as Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and Holland. They were caught up in the development of a new capitalist system which was expanding on a global scale in search of new sources of raw materials, cheap labour (either slave or indentured labour) and new markets for the goods produced by capitalists at the centre of the empire. The second wave of colonisation and capitalist expansion has been pushed by transnational companies and corporates supported and regulated by international mafia rackets like the WTO, World Bank and IMF. So in the same way that the colonisation of Aotearoa was a part of a global process of capitalist expansion based on the destruction of the territorial and cultural integrity of the indigenous populations, neo-liberal globalisation is that same process carried out by transnational corporations and neo-liberal institutions, but this time it will impact upon the indigenous and non-indigenous alike.

For indigenous peoples struggling for liberation this means there are two waves of colonisation to fight. The first wave of colonisation has left the indigenous amongst the most disenfranchised, disempowered and dispossessed groups on the planet. This is well documented. The object of deliberate genocide, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have died during our time in the struggle to retain the right to live on and care for their territories to which they not only depend for survival but also have ancient, deeply-held spiritual and genealogical connections.

Not surprisingly, in this context the "fiscal envelope" and the fiasco around the Sealords deal was not about restitution for unjust deeds done to Maori but rather a shoddy attempt to get rid of any semblance of Treaty rights that Maori had in lands, fisheries, rivers, so that New Zealand could waltz into the "free" market. After all any economic resource (land or otherwise) is very commercially unattractive when it seems that another party may actually own it! What silly hua would buy it? Of course, this didn't stop some Maori who, like their buddies in big business, wanted to become global players in this "free" market. So by cashing in on the momentum created by Tino Rangatiratanga advocates, this Maori elite cashed in generations of Maori for only a small fraction of what the land, fisheries and other resources were worth (and for some Maori assigning a monetary value to Papatuanuku or Tangaroa is obscene).

These "corporate warriors" (truly the funniest thing since the chicken crossed the road) monkeyed the Pakeha capitalists which led them to turn tribes into corporate companies (for our benefit we're told - but not with our permission!). All of this was done without mandate and in real dodgy ways. The settlements that they sought saw the gains and successes achieved by those who fought the first wave of colonization negotiated, cashed up and wiped away. The settled amounts they got from the Government are minuscule and will only end up benefiting a small sector of Maori society, the elites in Maori society.

Maori nationalism alone is not enough any more to win the struggle against the continued alienation of our lands, language and culture. We need to be internationalists. Unfortunately, not all Maori are part of this kaupapa. These corporate warriors and tribal capitalists have been pursuing the expansion of their own asset bases, and enriching themselves at the expense of the vast majority of Maori. They have a self interest in neo-liberal globalisation, and they share the profit-seeking mentality that characterises the multi-national companies. The struggle of ordinary Maori for Tino Rangatiratanga is also the struggle against these tribal capitalists.

We do not want your charity, we do not want your loans. Those in the North have to understand our struggle and to realise it is also part of their own. Everywhere the rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, and the environment is being plundered. Whether in the North or South, we face the same future... Globalisation should mean we want to globalise human society, not business. Life is not business.
- A farmer from Karnataka, India

The same year (1994) the NZ government launched its neo-liberal attempt to kill off indigenous rights via the "fiscal envelope," the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, and two thousand indigenous people from several groups came out from the mountains and forests. Masked, armed and calling themselves Zapatistas, their battle cry was "Ya Basta" - "Enough is Enough". These masked rebels were not only demanding like us that their own land and lives be given back; they were talking about neo-liberalism, about the "death sentence" that NAFTA and other free trade agreements would impose on indigenous people. They were demanding the dissolution of power while encouraging others all over the world to take on the fight against the enclosure of our lives by capital. "Don't join us - do it yourself" was their message.

Working and networking with others does not mean that we give up our own autonomy and sovereignty (get off the grass!). Rebuilding our tikanga, iwitanga and haputanga is no one's business but ours! (Self-determination is about us determining ourselves). It's about recognising that we are not the only people facing neo-liberal globalisation and that it will manifest itself in the context of numerous diverse societies. Being able to share and exchange experiences and strategies and build upon common strategies is what internationalism is about. It's about recognising that Maori society doesn't exist in its own societal cocoon but rather that a commonality of struggle exists with other peoples, movements, and groups across the globe. The mobilisations against the MAI (the Multilateral Agreement on Investment) are a good example of how Maori have networked, worked, and struggled as part of an international dynamic. Wahine Maori led the charge to end the MAI negotiations here in Aotearoa, stopping it in its tracks.

The key message here is to act locally while thinking globally, recognising that there are numerous other groups fighting the same issues. It's all about getting active and doing it for ourselves.

See you on the streets!

1 comment:

Tigera Consciente said...

Its official now. All freedom fighters will be labeled as "terrorists" not just in the U.S. (see H.R. 1955) but worldwide. Just another way to dehumanize those who seek justice and who choose to come out of the margins.