“Pull up, pull up”: The Psychology of Colonisation

Let’s deal with the alleged terrorism and Tuhoe issue. The last sounds heard by those at the controls immediately prior to the airship tragedy at Mt Erebus reportedly were “Whoop whoop, pull up, pull up”. Erebus was in part due to ‘white out’ and the same phenomenon – this time ‘white out’ manifest as the prevalence of a dominant world view rather than as a meteorological circumstance – seems to have metaphorically propelled New Zealand’s ‘ship of state’ into another mountain, Maungapohatu.

I stand for peace, and I stand by Tuhoe. Peace cannot be enjoyed without justice and I don’t think that any fair minded New Zealander would hold that Tuhoe have been treated justly over the past 100 years. Tame Iti is a longtime friend and even if he is found to have done something wrong, in the eyes of the law at least, he’ll still be a friend. I don’t know what has gone on in the mists of his tribal land. However I won’t be surprised to find that evidence is produced by the Police that will be at least ambiguous and perhaps even embarrassing to some. But I don’t think that this incident will turn out to be our introduction to international terrorism in Aotearoa. The French will forever hold that position of ignominy. A recent newspaper report said that Tame Iti has a predisposition to the melodramatic. In my own experience the brother is truly a master of agitprop and if he has conjured up a guerrilla theme its more likely to be in the form of guerrilla theatre than anything more sinister. I’m relieved that an IRA “Green Book” has been found and listed amongst the potentially subversive materials seized in the ‘terrorism raids’. You might think that this is an extraordinary statement, but I know that when we get to the end of the IRA story we find that the IRA put down their arms and swapped the bullet for the ballot. The challenge for Aotearoa will be to see if we can get to the good part without the crap in between. I have no desire to see the dirty war that we saw in Northern Ireland played out here. It was a serendipitous if not disconcerting in its timing to hear on Nine to Noon an interview with a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who was in New Zealand to speak to the Police Association Annual Conference about the impact on policemen of an IRA style guerrilla war. Nothing good has occurred from war no matter how grand the cause, and we can be equally damaged by the creeping encroachment on freedoms that generally goes hand in hand with the State’s efforts to suppress it. A few years back I was working in El Salavador and saw the effects of the horrible 12 year long civil war there. At the time the thought occurred to me that when I heard a brother in Aotearoa talking about taking up arms against the State I’d offer to shout them a stay with a poor whanau in El Salavador to learn about the futility of such a route.

Tame Iti (Source: Mike Weston, The Area)

In any case newly promoted Hon Parekura Horomia, Minister of Maori Affairs, has cautioned us all to hold off expressing an opinion about the counter-terrorism actions until the facts have been established – citing Sir James Carroll’s famous policy of “Taihoa” (Hold on a minute!). He could equally have quoted another illustrious Maori Member of the House, Tareha Te Moananui MHR, himself of Tuhoe decent through his mother, Hameme. Tareha was in Parliament in the 1860’s when times were tough. He hau toa – ‘a warrior wind’ blew. Tareha was, and has remained, the only NZ Parliamentarian to take up arms whilst still serving in the House. Yet his speeches encouraged us to focus on good things and not to be overwhelmed by trouble. He said that when evil arises we, Maori and Pakeha, should gather, apply wisdom and work to solve the problem, together.

I appreciate that in New Zealand, driven by world events, we’ve set up these anti-terrorism units. A reasonable expectation might be that these martial units would only be deployed in really serious situations. It’s understood too that when a decision to deploy such a unit has been made, once the switch has been flicked as it were, a certain ‘best practice’ series of actions and activities starts to roll out. The terrible lesson learned by the Police at Aramoana means that hard-arsed tactics will be used. These are the pragmatics. But the application of intelligence means not only taking account of what you have learned or have been told but also by taking account of the context and field of action. It was revealing to hear former Red Squad chief and Police intelligence operative Ross Muerant admit that the Police tend to fall into a type of group think and can lose perspective in the sort of operation that the we have seen unfold. The question is, and will remain so for some time I believe, ‘did we need to flick the switch in this way’? Could Parekura have called “Tai Hoa!” a little bit earlier? Could there have been other ways to handle things? What would have happened if, when the Prime Minister learned of allegations through her SIS briefing she’d leaned over to Willie Apiata VC during one of their several meetings and asked him to sit down with the bros and have a chat about the implications of whatever was going on? Similarly, instead of thundering in with boots of lead, what would have happened if a less militaristic operation had been conducted in the Ruatoki Valley? Its not all that long ago that then Commissioner Robbie Robinson actually met with Rua Kenana’s two remaining children and apologised for the actions of the armed constabulary back in 1916 when the Police seized their father and killed their brother. Now, in what one might hope are more enlightened times, we look back on that action with a sense of shame. With this in mind I would have thought the application of intelligent humanitarian pragmatism in the same valley would have seen utilisation of the very competent network of Iwi liaison officers that the Police have grown over recent years to mitigate the rough edges of the anti-terrorism crew. I’ve said it before. We seem to be full of insight in our military and political actions abroad. We forever see media pictures and footage of our military abroad being cosy with the locals. Why can’t we demonstrate the same perspicacity at home?

Rua Kenana, 1908 (Source: Alexander Turnbull LIbrary, image 1/2-019618-F)

I’ve been crying ‘pull up, pull up’ for some time now over our use of language around ‘organised crime’ and ‘terrorism’. It’s almost Orwellian in the way that, through language, we’ve propelled our Maori street gangs into the sphere of the international criminal conspiracy to the degree that in New Zealand organised crime and Maori gang are now considered to be synonymous even though Government commissioned research (“From Wannabes to Youth Offenders”) says that this is not generally so. Further, some Local Body and Central Government politicians have argued to stretch things further and to declare Maori gangs to be terrorists. This suggests a state of discombobulation about what it is we are actually dealing with. We import models, concepts, and words from abroad and then seek to apply them here. In the same way as some of our early NZ town planners and architects we fail to take into account that we are in the Southern rather than the Northern Hemisphere and we end up living facing the wrong way for the natural elements that surround us.

As noted the Police Association has recently just had its annual meeting. Greg O’Connor was bemoaning the critical and sometimes cynical treatment the Police get from the media. It seems the worm has turned in that for sometime the Police have deliberately used the media to beat up situations – specifically to badmouth and to bring into public disdain any target group that they are about to launch an operation against. Even if the allegations are unfair and inaccurate they still gets rolled out. A couple of days ago there was an example of this on National Radio Nine to Noon. The programme kicked off with a story that had filled the front page of the day’s Dominion Post. It concerned a young guy who had been set upon by a group of thugs and brutally beaten. The young guy’s dad was interviewed and that was followed by an interview with a detective. The interviewer followed the set hype line…was this a youth gang?…are they attached to a ‘adult’ gang? ..did this brutality have to do with earning a ‘patch’ with an adult gang? The detective said that the Police had leads…these were a group of young Maori or other Polynesian ….that there had been a pattern of assaults that looked like it was committed by the same guys ….that this crew may well be part of a youth gang and that they may well have links to an adult gang…..he warned people to avoid alleys and unlit places at night and so forth. He then said something that the interviewer missed. The detective said that this violence was a ‘spike’ in what was otherwise a safe city. The moment passed. The following news bulletin quoted the detective saying things that may well make most listeners double lock their doors and stay inside after dark.

But it seemed to me that the real story was that “this was a spike in an otherwise safe city”. It begged the question “What makes Wellington a safe city? But there was no interest in voices with that knowledge or people who could at least give an opinion.

You see I think that something really important is happening in Wellington with what I am calling Kiwi Policing. I’ve written about it before in previous blogs. It involves two Maori policeman, Theo and Te Roera, who have spent a couple of years building up a relationship and rapport with the very families whose profile puts them at risk of violence and other criminal offending. These Maori cops have supported the establishment of health and education programmes. They have worked with a team of us to counter graffiti. They have lobbied on our behalf to help us get work for the guys. The results have been tremendous and have made a significant contribution to creating that “otherwise safe city”. Instead of a beat up about youth gangs to make the citizenry scared what about just focusing on catching these thugs and then tell the story of their apprehension and sentence. In my view Kiwi Policing isn’t about soft fuzzy policing. It’s a continuum that stretches from self-policing through to very hard policing, as circumstances dictate, horses for courses. It’s about engaging a community and drawing down on family and other social networks to mitigate and prevent crime and to promote a sense of community strength and safety. At a certain point or in certain circumstances the professionals might need to step in. As I say, the continuum stretches up to and including very hard policing as the case requires, but the emphasis is on the preventative and the restorative.

The general perception is that it is the white mainstream community that is under siege from violent Maori and other Polynesian youth. The facts are somewhat different. The Ministry of Social Development’s recently published Social Development reveals that comparative to other New Zealanders Maori have higher rates of fear of crime, higher rates of criminal victimisation and very much higher rates of assault mortality.

Its enough to make you take off, and Maori do so by the planeload, especially to Australia where they seem to fare well. Te Puni Kokiri recently commissioned some research to understand the drivers for Maori leaving Aotearoa (Maori in Australia). There are push and pull factors at play, the key determinants being economic. Amongst the pull factors are lifestyle, the ability to hook up with whanau and better economic opportunities. The push factors are the impact of gangs drugs and crime, domestic violence and abuse, perceived prejudice from Pakeha and mainstream negativity about Maori issues. Many say leaving New Zealand has made them feel free – of daily negative news stories about Mori, of whanau obligations and of the limiting expectations either they or others had of themselves that stopped them striving for success. In Australia they are aggregated with Pakeha New Zealanders as ‘Kiwis’ which is a positive rather than a negative, by and large. Another oft cited reason for leaving New Zealand is what people described as ‘racism’ and “discrimination that kept Mori in their place in New Zealand”.

Saul Alinsky; legendary activist. From the cover of Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky, His Life and Legacy by Sanford D. Horwitt.

I know that this sounds like a litany of ‘woe is me’ and a culture of victimhood. One of my mentors, Wayne Widdis told me a story of how he once accompanied the legendary activist Saul Alinsky to an Innuit community in Canada. The Innuit had asked Alinsky to help them counter the crushing racism and oppression that their community was experiencing. He was by this time an old and frail man and he sat listening for a while to what they had to say. Finally he stood to spoke and he did so by starting with a withering attack on the community itself. He pointed to the physical state of the community, the rubbish, the broken and abandoned vehicles. “Clean this up” he railed, “it is disgusting. You are living like animals”. Then he attacked them over their drunkenness, their tolerance of domestic violence and every social sin he could bring to mind. Widdis was aghast. Here was this little old New York Jew insulting the very community he had been asked to help and the locals were not appreciating it one bit. Widdis told me he could feel the anger rising and could hear the muttering starting to swell from the gathered crowd and he wondered if they were going to get out of there alive. “And” continued Alinsky ” when we have solved these issues for ourselves we will turn our attention to the white bastards that are oppressing you”. And then, Widdis told me, the old man went on to give one of the most powerful calls to action that he had ever heard, one that had the community on its feet cheering and enthused.

Addressing our own crap first is always the first step. There’s a really interesting document called Transforming Whanau Violence – a conceptual framework (just Google it). It comes out of a national committee chaired by Tamati Kruger, the current voice of Tuhoe. The framework contains an analysis of the impacts of colonisation and the continuum of violence that characterises whanau, hapu and iwi experiences of colonisation. The outcomes of colonisation are included “so that the psychology of colonisation may be better understood as integral to the existence of whanau violence in its current forms”. Amongst the conclusions is this:

“We have no quick fixes, but we believe that the opportunities for prevention and healing reside in Kaupapa Maori practices. They do not reside in the current response to whanau violence that are punitive and role model violent responses to violence”.

Whoop, whoop! Pull up, pull up!


Tags: Denis O'Reilly  Saul Alinsky  Tame Iti  Tuhoe