Every year indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand go under the spotlight on Invasion Day and Waitangi Day – and every year the media finds problematic ways to report them. This won’t change while our media is still controlled by the coloniser, writes Miriama Aoake.
January is a dry marathon. Days fold into themselves and time is stagnant, patience wears thin. January 26th to February 6th is exposure season for the indigenous mob in Ahitereiria, and Māori here in Aotearoa. Each year on the 26th, we tautoko our neighbours as they weather the gaze of rampant white nationalism, and the living memory of devastating settler violence. This year, Tarneen Onus-Williams (Yigar Gunditjmara, Bindal) helped to mobilise the biggest Invasion Day rally in Naarm since the 1970s. Addressing the crowd, Onus-Williams stood and spoke. “F—k Australia, I hope it burns to the ground. All you fellas in your Australian flags should be ashamed of yourselves.” Her words were deliberate and she did not apologise. Nor should she.
Tarneen’s words have been stripped of metaphorical context, contorted and translated as literal by media outlets. She rejected the trope of the polite activist. She understands that regardless of compliance with the impossible rules of ‘orderly’ or ‘respectful’ protest, ordained by the very people who seek to oppress you, your existence will forever contradict their expectations and they will die trying to silence you. The glare of the media gaze that spikes on the 26th allows White Australia the comfort to participate in the tradition of complicit settler violence, without having to dirty their hands. The convenience of this narrative means indigenous people are easy scapegoats for settler guilt.
It is a ritual the media performs throughout contested indigenous spaces. Last week in Kanata, two young indigenous women were forcibly removed from a public event where prime minister Justin Trudeau was speaking. Media coverage relied on language encrypted with the self-defeating myth of settler nationalism. Dissent is treason. Rightful assertions of sovereignty are erased in service of capitalism. Trudeau quotes Churchill as the women are dragged away. How better to assuage the pervasive settler guilt, to justify the erasure of tino rangatiratanga?
In this climate, during this season of exposure, waves of anxiety wash over Māori as we prepare for our turn under the settler microscope. This ritual is defined by a singular, Pākehā perspective as the dominant world view. There is only room for one narrative. In the lead up to Waitangi, the media focus on the Crown’s engagement with Māori. They compare National’s approach to Labour’s in ‘handling’ or ‘dealing’ with Ngāpuhi. They tout Jacinda’s decision to stay five days as a ‘charm offensive’ intended purely as a tactical assault to settle the Northland treaty claim which National failed to do. They consult Pākehā political commentators, reporters and journalists to examine if Labour’s efforts have been successful. They stumble through their reo pronunciation, projecting an image of Northland Māori as stubborn, cutting off their nose to spite their face.
New Zealand media suffers from a glaring blindspot they refuse to acknowledge or accept. The structure of treaty settlements, for example, is never scrutinised. The settlement structure champions the Western legal framework over tikanga, prompting neglect of the Māori worldview in practice and a disregard for te Te Tiriti’s founding principle – partnership. The process is difficult for a litany of reasons but one that reoccurs is the attempted dissolution of hapū. There has been much criticism of iwi slowly becoming large corporations which, arguably, brings prosperity for few, while many remain in poverty. It is a structure that mirrors capitalist institutions.
We must remember, in our consumption of Waitangi Day coverage, that Ngāpuhi have never ceded sovereignty. In 2012, Ngāpuhi published a report which describes the manifestation of tino rangatiratanga in excruciating detail. A thriving economy, abundant resources and the numbers to crush a settler confrontation are preserved within oral traditions, and is less susceptible to human error and manipulation than written texts (as we know with Te Tiriti). Each year the media glare returns and purports to show Ngāpuhi as disrespectful and ungrateful, particularly during the media blackout last year, without any recognition of Ngāpuhi’s authority as mana whenua.
Every year mainstream coverage lacks the vital context of colonisation, often even when it’s framed positively or in support of tangata whenua. The absence of protest this year was chalked up as a ‘successful’ outcome, despite hīkoi having a constant, valid presence at Waitangi since 1840. The refusal to engage with protest speaks to the media’s arrogance, exposing their ‘objective’ approach as nothing more than poorly disguised prejudice. When in office, John Key clung to the lie that New Zealand was settled peacefully. Colonial violence exists in the repressed vaults of our national memory. Pākehā dismiss the historical connection between loss of land, desecration of social structure and erasure of language and culture and high rates of imprisonment, suicide, poverty and poor health outcomes, because they aren’t shown how the Western foundations of this country are designed to suppress Māori. When history is discussed on Waitangi Day, it is still framed by a singular, Pākehā reading of the past.
This intense media gaze on Waitangi Day, for many Māori, causes grief, anger, and apathy. We spend the day putting out the same bullshit, racist fires that have burned every day since Pākehā arrived. You ignore our rāhui, our sovereignty and our desire to protect Papatūānuku. You tell us the taonga that is te reo Māori is irrelevant. You give Hosking and Jones unconditional access to publish the same tired BS without any critical oversight. New Zealand media follows the same settler patterns used by Australia, Canada and North America to delegitimise and extinguish customary title. You observe te ao Māori through six-inch glass, prod our wounds until we respond and berate us because we’re not playing nice. Still, we rise.
As Moana Maniapoto (Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao, Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Te Rangiita – Tuwharetoa) put so succinctly for E-Tangata last week, everyday is Waitangi Day. We carry on with the mahi every day, regardless of whether you are staring down the barrel of the cameras or not. Give your attention to the platforms working to decolonise how we look at the relationship between Māori and the Crown, and how we present and frame Waitangi Day. Ask yourselves, who is missing, who is shaping the narrative, and to what end?
For mainstream media, connecting colonisation to our present realities is difficult, but hardly impossible. The problem is our reluctance to reconceptualise our methodology. Implementing a kaupapa Māori framework, structure by tikanga, ensures a diverse range of Māori stories are delivered by Māori voices, with robust cultural oversight. It is inclusive by default, by the centrality of manaakitanga in te ao Māori. It demands active investment from Pākehā and tauiwi to acknowledge the role of tangata whenua, an affirmation of the principles of Te Tiriti as a living, breathing document. We have to burn it all down, and start again.