Ōtaki Summer Camp and the decolonising imperative


PSA Youth member Jess Mio shares with us their experiences at Ōtaki Summer Camp.

Nō Tauranga ahau

I tipu ake ahau i runga i ngā whenua o Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Pukenga

E noho ana ahau ināianei kei roto i te rohe o Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga

Ko Ngāti Pākehā te iwi

Ko Jess Mio ahau

Before going to Ōtaki Summer Camp, I’d been struggling with the overwhelming number of diverse problems facing my communities, and the planet at large. I felt torn trying to decide what I should focus my time and energy on… Environmental protection? Poverty and inequality? Prison abolition? Queer, trans, intersex, feminist justice? And so much more. 

I’d pinned my hopes on the camp as a great opportunity to figure out My One Thing – and it did help me clarify my thoughts and intentions, just not as I’d expected.

20180121 155029 small2Camp for me was three intense days of talks on vital subjects; discovering the delights of tramping upstream in a river for hours on end; hilarious comedy; the most powerful poetry; discussion with my activist peers; singing, dancing and laughing together; grieving together; finding hope and determination together.

In the process, I realised that all of my different interests and goals are encompassed within one overarching imperative: decolonisation.

Here in Aotearoa, that undoing of colonialism necessitates restoration of tino rangatiratanga in every sphere, not just politics but also culture and economics. And as colonialism operates across all scales, from individual people right through to the level of globalised systems, decolonisation needs to do the same.

The themes of social justice and environmentalism that ran through the camp reminded me of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate. In it, Kleindescribes how climate destruction is driven by the system of capitalism, which was imposed on indigenous peoples across the globe through colonialism: necessarily accompanied by oppressive hierarchies of race, class, gender, ability and more.

But that imposition didn’t have to happen, just as we don’t have to continue on this path. Karlo Mila read her poetry to us on the last day of camp, stunning us with the darkness and beauty of her words as she contrasted the nature of the dominant culture on Aotearoa with what could, and should, be. A culture of the Moana Pacific, rather than the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy (as termed by bell hooks) that developed in England and was imposed here through violence.

Karlo left us reeling: the planned schedule had to be halted for a good 15 minutes to allow us to process what we’d heard and felt, say a karakia, go outside for a bit, drink water, sing, hold each other, and return to our seats again. Her power of articulating a way of being based on love was breath taking, and will remain foremost in my memory of the camp.

otaki smallEnvisioning an Aotearoa that accords with indigenous Moana principles brings to my mind Vincent O’Malley’s superb book The Meeting Place, which describes interactions between Māori and Pākehā in the few decades leading up to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In retrospect, this was a precious time of reciprocal discovery and shared progress: before my Pākehā ancestors decided to use the force of sheer numbers to steal power and land, dishonouring the treaty and the manaakitanga they’d been shown.

O’Malley highlights how prior to that turning point, relations between the two peoples were characterised by mutual interest in what the other had to offer. Most Pākehā could kōrero Māori, and behaved according to the kawa and tikanga of the particular hapū who hosted them – in stark contrast to the following period of colonisation and neo-colonialism that continues to this day.

The book gives an inspiring glimpse of what Aotearoa could have been like if Pākehā had simply migrated rather than colonised. Each group free to exercise rangatiratanga over themselves; much more transparent and decentralised power structures; sustainable, communal living practices; and systems based on whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga – rather than domination over social groups and the environment.  

These are vital principles for all people, which have been suppressed not only here but across the globe. As such, undoing colonialism is not only a moral imperative, but a practical one, in order to live in lasting and fulfilling ways with each other on this earth.

The camp wove these threads together for me, and I’m now reinvigorated in the various forms of my activist interests to follow the leads of mana whenua in supporting restoration of tino rangatiratanga of whānau and hapū - with the necessary reshaping of our dominant power structures and ways of life. I find constitutional transformation, as recommended by the Matike Mai Aotearoa Working Group, an exciting prospect – although the target year of 2040 seems all too far away.

While I’m still keen to get stuck in on clearly defined and more immediately achievable projects, it seems that without working to address the root causes of our eco-social crises, we limit ourselves to fighting issue after issue in an endless ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ scenario. Capitalism and kyriarchy, imposed globally through colonialism, will in that case remain the dominant systems in which we live – and as they’re based on the exploitation of people and planet, we’ll continue seeing the destructive effects so long as they’re in place.

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I feel that by keeping that big picture goal of systemic change in mind, we can continue making positive impacts in our respective activist fields without inadvertently setting ourselves back in other areas. As Morgan Godfery, Pala Molisa and others at camp noted, continually learning about our histories is critical to building that awareness. For me, ‘Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou’ by Ranginui Walker was a game-changer, and I second the call to read Waitangi Tribunal reports - especially for us tauiwi to read those that relate to the land on which we grew up and/or now live.

It was a privilege to be sponsored by the PSA to attend the camp and I’m so grateful for that time spent in the company of wonderful people. Ngā mihi nunui ki te hau kāinga o Ōtaki, ko Ngāti Raukawa, me ngā kaiwhakahaere katoa o te Ōtaki Summer Camp. Mauri ora!