Posted February 14, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in News

Indigenous New Zealander Activists Speak at Evergreen

February 6 holds great significance for the indigenous populations of New Zealand – collectively known as Aotearoa from post-colonial times. On this day, 173 years ago, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

In solidarity with the recent Idle No More movement that’s garnering global attention, New Zealanders Dr. Leonie Pilhama from the Te Atiawa and Ngati Mahanga nations and Veronica Tawhai from the Ngati Porou, Ngati Uepohatu nations spoke on a panel at the Longhouse this past Wednesday, February 6 about indigenous resistance, native sovereignty and Idle No More.

The Idle No More movement was founded November 2012 in Canada. It began as a teach-in, held by First Nations women: Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon. The teach-in was held in response to a number of legislative bills attacking the “Democracy, Indigenous Sovereignty, Human Rights and Environmental Protections” of First Nations.

The movement then got internationally recognized when Chief Theresa Spence declared a hunger strike, explaining, “I’m willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it’s time for the government to realize what [it’s] doing to us.”

In keeping with the themes of the movement, Pilhama spoke of some of the noticeable changes to their environment in New Zealand: “We’ve had a significant increase of earthquakes in our region as a consequence of fracking.”

During her talk, Pilhama explained that the Waitangi treaty was originally written in the language of the Maori people. However, it has undergone a number of translation processes since its creation, and the version New Zealand government uses as a basis for legislation does not always match up to the meanings and guidelines of the original treaty. This has caused various problems, particularly ones pertaining to indigenous lands and resources.

“It isn’t just a past that [indigenous peoples] share,” said Tawhai. “In terms of colonization, it’s also the present.”

Panelist Erin Genia, from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate nation and an Evergreen Alumnus, spoke of women at the heart of the Idle No More movement as another act of resistance to colonized culture. “Respecting women is an indigenous value,” Genia explained, “and respecting Mother Earth is an indigenous value, and the two are connected.”

The other two panelists, Alan Parker, ESQ. of the Chippewa Cree nation, co-founder of Evergreen’s Master of Public Administration in Tribal Governance program and Delbert Miller, artist, storyteller and musician of the Skokomish nation both spoke of local, national and international policies that affect the land, its resources and people.

“What happened to the Boldt decision?” Miller asked the audience – referring to a 1974 court case that reaffirmed native tribes’ right to 50% of the annual catch in their “usual and accustomed grounds and stations”. “…What happened to these decisions that protect the environment and what’s underneath [it]?…Support treaty rights that protect the environment if you’re truly serious about [protecting the environment and the future].”

At the end of the discussion, the panelists then opened the floor for the audience to ask questions and share songs, stories and/or dances.

By Sabra Chandiwalla