This year, as well as te Reo, I’m learning Raranga. Here are two of my first firsts. (Then a third.)

My first kete riwai (potato kit). Which I didn't give away yet because, uh, it's not wildly presentable.

My first kete riwai (potato kit). I haven’t given this one away yet because, uh, it’s not wildly presentable.

My first kete whakairo (which I gave to my lovely niece, Rose)

My first kete whakairo (which I gave to my lovely niece, Rose)

My fourth kete whakairo...almost actually presentable! Both these kete are a Tauranga Moana patiki (flounder) pattern.

My fourth kete whakairo…almost actually presentable! Both these kete are a Tauranga Moana patiki (flounder) pattern.


Journalism, Memory & Forgetting

This is ‘a version’ of a paper I gave at the 2014 Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) Centre conference, Media, War and Memory.  The talk/paper was/is titled
The Past is Not a Foreign Country: Why Journalists Should Write a Better ‘Second Draft of History’ and looks at how we allocate (or mis-allocate) memory around our colonial history, particularly with respect to contemporary reporting on Treaty of Waitangi issues. Excuse the philosophical style type etc. rambling at the top. If you want the journalism/empirical stuff, just go down to the section headed “Journalism and History”.

In this paper I’m going to look at memory and collective memory first from a philosophical perspective – this is to make the case that the business of personal and collective memory lie at the heart of our existence both as individuals, and as citizens who, in theory, want to have an identity, a place where we belong. Put another way, memory and remembering are viscerally existential matters.

Next, I look at how journalists help or hinder in forming that collective memory – in this particular case, I do that by investigating a year’s worth of reporting on Treaty settlement issues.

(The black and white photos throughout of various commemorative/battle sides in Aotearoa New Zealand are from architect Geordie Shaw’s amazing and beautiful M Arch thesis, titled The Lost, Erased, Unseen, and Forgotten: Translating into Architecture the New Zealand Wars, which you can read online right here, and you should.)


Tapuaharuru RedoubtWhat is memory? The answer to that question depends on who is asking it: The neuro-scientist. The teacher. The historian. The gerontologist. For the philosopher – in particular the phenomenologist – consciousness and memory are effectively one and the same thing. Without remembering, without memories – that is, consciousness over time – I don’t know who or what I am because I don’t know where I came from, what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I’ve thought, whom I’ve loved and loathed.

Because of the way consciousness and time and memory overlap, one can actually make the much stronger claim: it’s not just that without memory (consciousness of time) that I don’t know who or what I am, I may not even know that I am – I may not even “be”.

In a phenomenological sense — indeed in an existential sense — an “I” or “me” that only exists for an instant is no “I” at all.

Perhaps the first in the Western tradition to seriously investigate memory was St. Augustine — the 4th century theologian and philosopher – which he did in his book Confessions:

In the vast hall of my memory…sky land and sea are available to me together with all the sensations I have been able to experience in them, except for those which I have forgotten.

There also I meet myself and recall what I am, what I have done, and when and where and how I was affected when I did it.

But it’s not just that my past introduces me to my present self. it is also the source of my future self. Here’s Augustine again:

Out of the same abundance in store, I combine with past events images of various things, whether experienced directly, or believed on the basis of what I have experienced; and on this basis I reason about future actions and events and hopes.

Te PorereSo here I am – me, and my continuous past, my memories. There’s obviously still something missing, and that is the world I emerge into. It was the phenomenologists, among others, who really began to challenge the possibility of an isolated individual consciousness – a la Descartes’ res cogitans (thinking thing) – or at least the possibility that such an individual could make any sense to us as beings-in-the world.

A key player in this shift, and which lay at the core of the phenomenological school of thought, was Heidegger and his re-conception of the person as Da-sein, literally being-there, but it’s usually left un-translated because it is philosophically untranslatable. (Anyone writing anything about Heidegger must acknowledge his links to Naziism. The question of how his philosophy should be considered in that light is important, and I certainly don’t have an answer. There’s a good recent piece about this in the Oct. 9, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books by Peter E. Gordon.)

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Our History: Pukehinahina, War, 150 Years

Today was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pa/Pukehinahina. It was an unexpected and unprecedented rout by the Māori, whose intricate pa withstood a daylong bombardment and whose warriors then repelled a British assault party.

The commemorations today were remarkable — indescribable really. The extent to which we prefer to remember foreign wars than those fought here bugs the hell out of me. I did some research for a Werewolf article on that very issue, titled Lest We Remember, and found that while about $25 million in government money is being spent commemorating and memorialising foreign wars, particularly WW I and its centennary, about $250,000 has gone toward the 150th anniversaries of the wars that led to the land confiscations that led to … you know … And here we are in Tauranga Moana, where I live, 150 years later — to the very year — seeing legislation about to be introduced to give effect to Treaty of Waitangi settlements aimed at righting the wrongs that have their origins in these very battles. Kinda relevant to our lives, society, future, identity, wouldn’t you think? Oh well. ANZAC stuff got wall-to-wall coverage — “NZ Wars”, not so much, though local media has made a pretty decent effort. (I was on RNZ on this issue, btw…Kim Hill’s show to be precise.)

These are some good links with great photos:

The official Battle of Gate Pa site
Tauranga Libraries’ great kete
Looking Down the Barrel of History (about Te Ranga) from VUW History Dept
The Battle of Gate Pa FB page



More Writing: Joe Harawira; Women’s Rights; Books

I first saw Joe Harawira speaking last year at the CTU-Iwi leaders hui in Tauranga. He seemed such a quiet, unassuming man, but the story of his struggle, along with fellow former Whakatane timber mill industry workers (SWAP, or Sawmill Workers Against Poisons), was quite mind blowing. It took them decades to win recognition for their claim that their exposure to PCP (pentachlorophenol) in the timber mills was causing some pretty severe health problems. In addition, that the poison-laced waste used as landfill (often around marae) was an environmental problem.

12305714041500807562choochus_Wolf_Head_Howl_1.svg.medI kept meaning to contact Joe — since I live not too far from Whakatane, in the Bay of Plenty — and catch up on where he and the former mill workers were at, how the clean-up was going and were their health issues being resolved, something I finally did this March. He came to my place, managing to drive himself here despite having an arm that doesn’t work too well — one of the many health problems he himself has developed. (He’s 67 now.)

And, yes, he is a quiet, unassuming man. (I asked him about that: he said, well, if he’d seen me “30 years ago, probably 20 years of those 30 years, I would probably cut your neck off out there. We were shocking, but after thinking about it now, we needed to go down that track.”) We talked for an hour and a half or so, and I wrote up a wee piece for Werewolf.co.nz, Toxins in the Timber Mills. The full story of Joe and SWAP has been told elsewhere, including in a documentary called The Green Chain that was shown on Māori TV in 2011. (There’s a link to that in the Werewolf piece.)

In the wake of the Pike River mining disaster, and the calls that followed for more oversight and better regulation, it struck me while listening to Joe that his story had a lot in common with other community-level struggles I’ve heard about over the past year or so — like the Waihi residents battling plans to mine under their town; and the iwi challenging the Port of Tauranga’s expansion plans, to mention just two.  They share that sense of being powerless in the face of business interests, who usually also win over public sentiment by talking about how many jobs their project will create. (Sometimes that’s true; sometimes it’s not. But the ‘economic growth’ at any cost has been widely seen as contributing to what happened at Pike River.) It’s nigh on impossible, for example, to conclusively prove links between things like chemical exposure and health problems (think agent orange or dioxin in Taranaki), and when you’re a group of blue-collar workers — well, good luck with that. Similarly, in all the RMA hearings over mining, the local groups are up against well-resourced companies with experts on tap and reports that a lay person can barely make head nor tail of. True, the residents are supposed to have moderately well-resourced local government looking out for their interests, but ask the Waihi residents what they think about that. Whoa! A lot of them actually see the council as the biggest problem,  not the mining company.

Among other things, the RMA is supposed to even the playing field a little bit. But most everyone has bought into that “there’s too much red tape” and “decisions take too long” narrative, hence the current legislation that’s designed to speed up some of the decision making. Sounds innocent enough, but unless a lot more effort is put into actually listening to and acting on the concerns of the people on the ground, there are surely more costly clean-ups in our future (be they health or environmental).

Other Recent Stuff

I had a much more in-depth piece in the Werewolf before (27 February 2013) about Policing Pregnancy, (I’m convinced the official and unofficial surveillance of pregnancy is a human rights issue that should be on more people’s radars) and some more book reviews up at The New York Times in February. Also, at The Hand Mirror, UN ‘Family’ Resolution Raises Concern, (20 March 2013) looks at a proposed UN Human Rights Council Resolution on “Protection of the Family”, and the potential  impact it could have not just on reproductive health and rights, but on those of LGBTI people; while in  ‘Careless Driving Causing Death’, (4 March 2013) I report on a case before the courts in Wellington in which a husband has been charged with careless driving causing death after a relatively minor accident that apparently led to the death of his wife’s 31-week fetus. A heart-breaking case in every possible way!

Fighting Racism

John Ansell is traveling the country “testing the water” for the launch of a “Colourblind State”. He’s coming to Tauranga on Monday 12 November, where I live and where, I fear, he has a lot of sympathy. For a couple of months, I’ve been surveying the Letters to the Editor of The Bay of Plenty Times (where, full disclosure, I currently write a Saturday opinion column), and almost every day there’s one attacking Māori. Here are some excerpts from a few such letters, just to provide a flavour of local sentiment:

10 September: “[The likes of the Maori Party] sit around and think: ‘Well, now we have Chris Finlayson wrapped around our little fingers, what else can we swindle out of those Whites? … It is time that the Waitangi Tribunal listened to claims from settlers who not only rescued Maori from total geographic and social exile and a savage way of life which was spiralling toward extinction, but they placed the whole world, with the knowledge and expertise of thousands of years’ experience at their disposal. Where is the gratitude?”

12 September: “In the name of sanity, when is Prime Minister John Key going to grow a pair and slap these greedy Maori agitators down once and for all? … As for ‘Mana’, every nation who have [sic] been conquered had to adjust and get on with it. No more excuses, these part-Maori people have to grow up and face reality.”

14 September: “The sooner we end this Waitangi apartheid tribunal and grievance industry the better off the country will be.”

21 September: “How far does the country go in setting right the ‘grievances of the past’ before it becomes simply a case of ‘hands in the lolly jar?’”

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New Werewolf

Issue 35 of the online newsmagazine Werewolf is up with lots of good stuff, including Gordon Campbell’s lead looking at problems a lot of people face finding a primary healthcare provider in their area. It’s titled “When Local GPs Are a Closed Book.” Gordon also investigates the conditions workers face in the NZ movie industry in “Acting Under Orders“.

There’s some satirical relief from Lyndon Hood, too, writing about Planet Key, or Planetki.

I have a couple of articles in this issue: “When Teaching Becomes Preaching“, looking at the latest round in the religion-in-schools debate; and “A Broader Union“, which follows up an iwi-CTU hui held in Tauranga in September, and looks at whether Māori can exercise some of their increasing economic muscle in favour of workers.

Workers Unite!

When the Socialist Workers Party candidate for the US Presidency, James Harris, visited NZ for a couple of days, I went to Ngaruawahia and listened in on his chat with some Horotiu meat workers not long off the picket lines in the 3-month Affco dispute. The very next week, the CTU Runanga and a group of iwi leaders held a hui in Tauranga to talk about sticking together a bit more in the future in the interests of low-wage workers, particularly Māori workers/union members. It was the group of iwi leaders that played a key role in ending the Affco dispute, flexing their economic muscles — and mana — around the negotiating table. Which led to my writing a column for the BOP Times putting both together — or trying to anyway.

The thing is, I’m never sure if or when the BOP Times will put my Saturday columns online. That one’s not up yet, so I thought I’d link to the pdf here. Meanwhile, I’m working on a longer piece about the hui and the idea behind it for Werewolf… Howwwwlllll…. And there’s a bit more about it in the post just below this one, Workers as Beneficiaries.