Friday, December 23, 2011

Parihaka - Maori Passive Resistance

The trace of the sap leading up to the Pukerangiora Pā.
There are distinctly different contact histories between Indigneous and Newcomers in western Canada and New Zealand. The Riel Resistance of the 1880s is a brief counter point to the long drawn out blood lettings of the New Zealand wars. Dave Rogers took me to the site of one of the first encounters, where a group of Maori fighters dug in on an old site to stop the advance of British troops and local militia. “A loss, one of many that followed,” says Dave. He then takes me to the Pukerangiora , where a British force was soundly trounced by the Maori early in the war. A subsequent attack by a new commander, one not completely convinced of the colonial government's policies, ordered a laborious siege. His troops dug a two kilometre long sap, with eight sizeable earth and timber redoubts regularly spaced along it. This kept his troops busy for months and those on both sides relatively safe. Once the sap approached the walls of the Pa, a truce was agreed and the battle ended, this time a Maori defeat. We ended the visit with a brief discussion of a Maori community tourism venture to introduce this history to cruise ship tourists.

The New Plymouth museum exhibit of the Pakeha settlement of Taranaki opens with a cannon and survey instruments, the colonial takeover tools. Further in, we get the domestic and farm stories along with the rugby sweaters. There is no denying the violence that allowed this story to start and flourish. With outstanding claims against the Crown, the Taranaki Maori Iwi still harbor some hard feelings about this history. Dave, although a Maori in a community leadership position, is upbeat and positive about situations that look much more difficult than those I see in the Yukon. Always good to have the chance to look over the fence.

After a sunny drive between Mount Taranaki and the coast I visit Parihaka - an iconic place of Maori resistence and adaptation. The leadership there in the 1860s started a passive resistance campaign and forwent the guns and fighting that carried on around them. Nevertheless the New Zealand colonial government through aggressive road building projects disrupting Maori farms and the erection of the Point Egmont lighthouse closed in on the community. Men, then elders, and finally boys, built fences across the roads and plowed surveyed settlers' lands as a protest. Mass arrests followed and the seized men were removed from the area. The government eventually gathered together some 1600 armed troops and in November, 1881, they invaded the town, brutalizing women and children, trashing gardens and burning down the houses. All of which looked pretty much the same as the Pakeha farms that the soldiers were supposedly defending. It is a tragic story. Now it is being used by Taranaki Maori as a beacon of hope for a better future of peaceful living together, with some justice to be gained.

The centre of Parihaka
I visit Parihaka, a small and quiet rural community and sit on the steps of the now gone guest house looking at the monument. Reflecting upon my own Mennonite pacifism I wonder how it compares to this Maori display of passive resistance. My Grandmother's told me stories of our peoples' suffering during and after the Russian Revolution. Armed groups of anarchists and bandits roamed the Ukranian countryside for two or three years pillaging villages, killing, raping and stealing the horses and food of my ancestors. Some of the communities armed themselves and fought back, briefly, but were soon overrun and ransacked. Most however kept their faith, accepted the visitors, fed them, freely gave them what they had and took the abuse without revenge.

I grew up in a community where I had lots of older aunties, many of the uncles murdered during the revolution. Most of the survivors, my grandparents among them, abandoned their land and left for Canada. My parents went back during Perestroika in early 1990s. Everything was taken over by others, there was no thought of regaining lost places. But that was only 70 years after the events. Perhaps after 130 years it is possible to regain a place, to be a part of the land again. My ancestors left and made new homes on the other side of the world. I've no appetite for reconnecting to that place, though my Grandmother surely would have, if it were possible. I know her home as a young woman almost as a fairy tale, a place once in history and now seemingly gone for ever. I am deeply impressed with the fortitude and determination of the Maori Iwi who have toughed out this hard time, who have kept their heart and land bound together and who are bringing the Pakeha to the table to make things right.

It was great honour to have Dave Rogers share his stories and places with me. While I still have my language and the culture of my faith, my brothers and I have lost all track of the intimacy of spiritual and physical connection to the place where our ancestors are buried. For reminding me that there are people who have not lost this and who are working hard to retain it, I am grateful to Dave.

The rural landscape of the Parihaka lands today.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Te Kōru Pā - Taranaki's complicated history

Dave Rogers included a visit to his hapu's Owae Marae - Manukorihi Pā at Waitata, Taranaki.
I met Dave Rogers, the Taranaki Area program manager for the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) visitor services/historic sites, for a two day tour of his responsibilities. Dave also contributes personal time to assisting in the governance of his Te Atiawa Iwi. In our conversations Dave was passionate about the value of DoC's work. Especially important for him was the opportunity to have a Maori voice present in both DoC's strategic planning and the guidance of the front line face of parks in meeting community people.

The Marae buildings date back to the early 20th century and remain important elements of Dave's community.
Dave has worked for DoC for more than three decades, starting as labourer, but working his way upwards taking on more responsibility in order to help shape the organization with his Maori perspective. He also took on voluntary work for other iwi,who he is also affiliated with, contributing to the preparation of their claim for redress against the Crown through the Waitangi Tribunal. These parallel duties demanded much from him, and his family, not unlike the sacrifices made by many Yukon First Nation individuals and families engaged in the negotiation of their Umbrella Final Agreement with Canada at the same time. My time with Dave was enriched by his overlapping work histories.

Myself and Dave at the top of Te Kōru Pā overlooking the river which bends around the pā.
The history of Taranaki is difficult. The region was the main area of Maori-Pakeha (white settlers) conflict through the 19th century. Dave is troubled by the historical amnesia exhibited about these colonial wars by many New Zealanders. He is annoyed by the lack of remembrance of the confiscation of Maori lands in Taranaki and Waikato and especially insensed when these conflicts are referred to as the Maori Wars. “Maori Wars! They're not our wars, they attacked us.” The general ignorance of the fighting and land confiscations in Taranaki and Whanganui, and the consequent destruction of Maori communities in the region through the resulting scattering of their people by political exile to and incarceration in the South Island and as economic refugees following the seizure of their lands have been hard on his community. “We have more of our Iwi in Australia than in Taranaki.” This dispersion also led to their loss of both the Maori language and the knowledge of land skills. Dave makes an explicit connection between language retention and the continuing practice of the traditional arts of weaving and carving.

Te Kōru Pā is unique in the extraordinary stone work building up the natural character of the site. Vegetation threatens to gradually pull it apart and DoC staff work strategically to control the damage.
Our first visit was to the Te Kōru Pā where a DoC work crew was cutting back vegetation, ensuring the site was accessible and visible for visitors. Dave finds the site a challenge. In spite of the interesting history and character of the site, it has few visitors. He has been working with the Taranaki Iwi connected to the Pā but they have been careful, a little wary, of engaging with DoC. Dave understands this may be connected to the preparation of their submission of claims against the Crown through the Waitangi Tribunal. The pā was a fascinating place. It spirals up a steep hill with different levels devoted to gardens, a fortified entry and supporting bastions, the Marae - the social and sacred centre of the community, food storage caves and access to the river. Dave walks me through the site describing each area's function through the history of the site from the mid-14th century to its abandonment after being stormed by elements of the Te Atiawa Iwi in the early 1800s. Dave has questions about what to show visitors, how to preserve the important features from vegetation growth and possible increased visitor use. He encourages, and waits, for a time when the Taranaki Iwi is interested in taking the lead on answering these questions, perhaps even owning the site.

Mahsi cho for the great visit Dave.
In the evening I return to the coast to revisit the site of a Pakeha (white settler) redoubt built in 1880 to guard their coast road and the iron lighthouse, both constructed as symbols of their expanding control over Maori lands. It is an unhappy history beautifully detailed in Rebecca Buchanan's recent book, The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget

Mount Taranaki overlooks the cast iron light house at Cape Egmont.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kiwi Rhetoric

Railway crossing on the highway to Taranaki
 Public signs and personal conversations in New Zealand are peppered with colloquilisms, adding colour, sharpening definition and confusing visitors. One of the most common is the use of the word “as” to denote a decapitated superlative. “It's hot as.” Fill in the declarative of your choice, another evocation of the modesty and accommodation of the Kiwi for their neighbour. Many phrases also reflect the gently self-deprecating nature of the New Zealander. This was especially apparent two years ago when I watched the sub-tropical Auckland-based television sportscasters enthusiastically reporting on the Vancouver Olympics. They gleefully described and reported on winter sports that neither they nor the vast majority of their viewers had ever heard of, never mind seen. Colourfully decked out in Olympic toques and the red mitts they randomly applied their familiar cricket and field hockey terminology to different events, always humoursly acknowledging that they didn't really have a clue what was going on. The important point was that New Zealand was there.

In the same line I was browsing through a real estate brochure for Plimmerton, an ocean front bedroom community of the capital, Wellington. Amongst the pages of small photos and descriptions the agency highlighted some of the premuim properties with half page ads. One hilltop estate overlooking the beaches was described “As rare as rocking horse droppings.” I interpreted this to mean “wooden shit as” and straight 'way reached for the phone.

And not all of this is in English. At one of the history conference sessions I attended earlier in November, one young Maori academic spoke of the social and cultural difficulties of researching and writing a thesis based upon her own community. The research had gone well enough but the defence and presentation of the final paper had put her in the position of being an authority, an awkward situation as she represented her work to the Elders who had guided and sustained the work. She rattled off a Maori phrase, translated as “Kumera (a kind of potatoe) doesn't speak of its own sweetness”, recognizing the importance of community relationships over the personal thus reframing her work as contribution rather than achievement.

Finally, the railway crossing sign had me trying to remember the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Was he driving the whale? Was he in the whale king with 15,000 followers? I was stumped, not actually certain that the sign had anything to do with trains at all. Maybe it was an Old Testament “Jesus saves?” Later I asked Stacey, my knowledgeable New Zealand friend, for details. He reported that Jonah Lomu, a left winger with the All Blacks, 115 kg and 6' tall, was the archetype of rugby players. Playing in the 1995 test match with England Jonah was running for a try. Mike Catt, a defending English player attempting a tackle, was simply swallowed by Jonah's stride and size and bulldozed out of the way. So the sign was a wet dream for Kiwi rugby coaches.

Now I'm sorted as.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rangitaiki River and Ruatahuna

Bus travel is inexpensive, reasonably comfortable and relaxing, if you don't try to go far in a day. However from Whakatane eastwards, bus service loses these advantages. A car offers flexibility in route choice, some responsibility (alas, nothing is free) and I pick the forestry roads up the Rangitiaki River valley. The bottom of the valley is now made into rich pasture and new crops divided by the river with hill ranges not far away in either side. However, the valley bottom climbs steeply, the ridges close in and many slopes are rough scarred with timber cutting, others show the precise lines of commercial reforestation, while still others are now recovered with thick pines ready to be harvested. These hills stand in stark contrast to those few still covered with the diverse and uneven native vegetation. Above the local school at Te Mahoe the course blasted rock surface of the large earth filled dam fill the sky and hold back the river. Immediately adjacent a rock quarry reverbrates to blasting and loading of stone trucks. The diversity of the natural is matched by the varieties of economic exploitation in only a short distance.

A big rock fill dam. A sign on the other bank notes the past presence of a Maori cemetary.
Half way up the river my planned route is closed off by regulations and a piece of missing road, washed out by the recent spring storms. I stop at the Dept. of Conservation (parks) visitor centre where staff turn me south east towards Te Urewera National Park and the Oputau Marae home of Richard and Meriann White in Ruatahuna.

I meet Roger, Richard's brother sitting on the back deck, “Merianns working at the school and Richards gone off to drop some hunters in the park. Do you want some tea?” We sit and chat about why I'm there, interested in hearing more about Maori and land ownership, and Roger's sheep shearing days, “I could shear a sheep in 45 seconds, mind, some were much faster than that. Australian sheep, they take longer, they're different shapes.” Richard returns home and talk turns to the national park, resource management, community initiatives and the family's cultural tourism venture.

Ruotahuna in morning mist
The Maori Iwi living in the region of the park wish to have ownership of the land returned to them. There are a range of opinions amongst the people about what this might look like, a few radicals wish to close off the land to outsiders altogther but most are perfectly happy to share the park area with all New Zealanders. Te Urewera has attacted visitors to its wild lands, the shores of Lake Waikaremoana especially popular, since the 1920s with both tourists and the regional hydro electric development promotions board which successfully convinced the government to harness its potential roughly a century ago.

The lake was formed about 2200 years ago and Maori villages were scattered along the shores. Colonial authorities removed the people from the lake during the New Zealand wars of the mid 19th century. Neverthelessthe area retains its reputation for stubborn resistance to outside authority. Richard tells me, “We were the last to be reached. Other Maori say, Oh, you don't want to go in there.”

The area has been a tourism centre for most of the past century. The national park, a Great Walk, and the associated boat service on Lake Waikaremoana, have brought people to the area. There area number of recent tourism ventures, providing transport, guided hiking and hunting, accommodation and trail biking. Some, like Richard and Meriann's Ahurei Adventures, are local Maori owned, while others are run by non-local Pakeha, a source of some local annoyance. Ahurei has struggled to develop its tourism market niche in one of the most difficult to access communities in New Zealand. The road to Ruatahuna is so spectaculary steep, narrow and winding that I found myself looking out the side window of my car more often than the front windshield in my efforts to stay on the road.

A local tourism venture faces challenges. In the nearby tourism centre of Rotorua, aka RotorVegas, there are quite a few Maori cultural offerings. Although sometimes dismissed as “plastic Maori”, most appear to deliver an authentic product. Two tourism offerings by local Maori families out of Rotorua to Whirinaki Forest Park, an original native forest reserve, do day trips and some limited overnights. Richard and Merrian offer hunting and back country hiking. But the place is isolated and people ether want it cheap or complain about the level of service. The conundrum of remote place tourism.

Ruatahuna is at the far edge of the district council's responsibility. The community felt they were not being well served and have independently worked to obtain services. They are especially proud of the locally developed, built and maintained drinking water system. Roger had pointed it out to me when I arrived and Richard has a schematic of the system tacked on the wall of his lounge.

I am invited to stay for dinner. We're making boil pot, “My favorite” pips up the grandaughter...” This is bones with meat on, watercress gathered from the river with flour dumplings and boiled potatoes on the side. Although the ingredients vary, it comes together much the same way we make borscht. With a salad of eggs, local avocado, cucumber and sprouts we join Rachel in her favorite.

I stay in the modest breeeze block motel alongside the general store in the village. There is a swimming pool, long abandoned as a frivoulous luxury, and a classic kiwi bbq in the back. Overnight the strong wind blows weather into the valley. Through the morning mist I watch the Iwi bus pass by with the children going to school.

Bulletin board at the Ruatahuna store.