Trauma and Colonisation

  • Tariana Turia
Maori Affairs

Speech to the 9th annual Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
Waipapa Marae, Auckland University

Tena koutou i whakatau i ahau i tenei ahiahi. Tena koutou te manawhenua o Ngati Whatua, kei te koa, kei te hari kua tae mai ano ahau ki waenganui i a koutou.

I want to start by acknowledging you all and to honour those responsible for us being here today. I am humbled to be here at Waipapa marae to attend this, the 9th annual Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

As I reflect on the magnificence of this “house of the people” I am left wondering whether I can do justice to the philosophers, healers, protectors, activists – to the tohunga who are symbolised.

As an indigenous person, politician and Associate Minister I agree with Judith Herman who in her book Trauma and Recovery stated:

“… that the study of psychological trauma is an inherently political enterprise because it calls attention to the experience of oppressed people”

She went on to say that the field of psychology would always be plagued by argument, regardless of the validity of the supporting evidence. The forces which discredit alternative views still exist.

I believe there is still a mentality and a tendency to maintain a “one world view”. The Government of which I am a member accepts the notion of alternative world views.

I am therefore unsure whether or not to thank you for your invitation to speak about trauma and colonisation, which is why I did not do the normal politicians thing of thanking you at the beginning of this address.

The last time I spoke on this subject, in delivering a speech to the New Zealand Psychological Society in Hamilton, all hell broke loose.

Trauma exploded all over and I was not even trying to colonise anybody.

The media failed to grasp what it was that I was saying and as a result, the reporting was ill-informed, sensationalised and highly emotive. It seemed I had offended every reporter and sub editor in a very deep and very personal way. I touched the core and soul of troubled people.

Rational thought and discussion had no place in the reporting and sub-editing.

I remain ever hopeful that intelligent considered reporting, can occur on a daily basis, as I believe we have some very competent reporters.

We tangata whenua certainly need such people when reporting issues which concern us.

After the initial emotive outbursts, more considered and serious debate ensued.

Given that I am in public office, that I am a Crown Agent, that I am tangata whenua, I do expect to be attacked by a media, that itself is not an indigenous media.

This year will not be an exception. Election year is always a traumatic time for tangata whenua, it is the year when “the bash” in the media intensifies as politicians vie for votes hoping to switch on prejudicial buttons.

What disturbed me most about the debate 18 months ago, was meeting young tangata whenua, particularly young mothers and their children who were interpreting the attacks on myself, as being attacks on them.

They indicated that they too, were having feelings of being traumatised by a hostile fourth estate.

I am determined to remain optimistic in the belief that informed and considered debate, no matter how unpalatable, must eventually contribute to greater understanding amongst peoples, in a country such as ours.

I am aware that people will hold very strong views on certain subjects, such as that of the effects of colonisation on tangata whenua.

What we need to examine, is how we come to have such views.

For many people, it may well be traumatic for them to discover, that the views they arrived at, are based on misinformation and prejudice.

Much of the mis-information upon which prejudice is perpetuated, is generated by institutions in very subtle, and at times, not so subtle ways.

Harry Belafonte has said, institutions within society promote the notions racial superiority of the coloniser on the one hand, and racial inferiority of indigenous people and people of colour, on the other.

The question I continue to ask myself is, how can we address the serious issue of racial bigotry?

I have concluded that although education including education on the Treaty of Waitangi can help, what we need to create in Aotearoa/New Zealand is an environment where the bigot clearly knows that the expression of their bigotry is unacceptable.

We might not be able to change the bigot, but we can change the environment within which bigotry flourishes.

I would like therefore to quote from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd, who in a reference to the resolution of Treaty issues stated that:

" there still remains some way to go". "But I would like to express" she said "my respect for the courage of all those parties who have been working in good faith towards resolution".

The challenge I would put to the institution of the media is, can they honestly say they have been working in good faith given the hysteria they generate, each time I mention colonisation and the history of this country.

The Queen also said:

"I am sure that a stronger nation will emerge from your efforts to address the past and move forward toward a shared future".

That past to which she refers, is a reference to the effects of colonisation.

The notion of post colonial trauma which I have previously raised still needs debating.

I am aware for example, that the Treaty of Waitangi land settlements has not settled the minds, souls and spirits of people who, for generations have had to live through the trauma of confiscations and dispossession.

People who wake up each morning unemployed gazing out at land once owned by their ancestors, land now owned and leased by others who generate wealth off it.

Wealth that has created stability for this country, but at a cost to the descendants of the original owners, who have had to tolerate the confiscations and the illegal land transactions.

We thus have a situation which although it occurred a century and a half ago there continues to be winners and losers. None of the current descendants participated in the actions of the past.

There were winners and losers then and there are winners and losers today.

Some continue to benefit from what happened and others continue to be disadvantaged by it.

Our ancestors fought to preserve their lands for the wellbeing of future generations.

They did not know that their resistance would result in their mokopuna being disinherited, dislocated, deculturated, alienated and dispossessed.

I wonder how many of us here today have to live with that kind of trauma.

I have also met with iwi whose ancestors did not fight against the colonial forces and were deemed friendly and yet they too were traumatised in the same way as the so called “rebels”, by also having their land confiscated.

I continue to hear as I travel the country, hapu express how they are landless and economically deprived because of legislation.

They also say, government established incorporations, who control their lands and a settlement process that denies them their rights, results in further injustice.

In reflecting on our topic “Trauma and Colonisation” I confess to being somewhat confused. I wondered whether having a culture created the trauma, or having another culture imposed created the trauma, or whether being dispossessed of a culture created the trauma.

What I do know is, identifying as tangata whenua of Whanganui does not create trauma. Being denied a language of the ancestors and every day hearing that very language being mispronounced, does.

What I wish to do, however, is move on to the healing of relationships and reconciliation.

Herman suggests that:

“The core experiences of psychological; trauma are
disempowerment and disconnection from others” .

Recovery she says, can only occur within the context of relationships, it cannot occur in isolation.

For us as tangata whenua, I would suggest this would mean the whanau, hapu and iwi, the very institutions which were the focus of colonisation. The institutions which the 19th century politician, Sir Francis Dillon-Bell identified as being communistic when he declared:

“The first plank of public policy must be to stamp out the
beastly communism of the Maori”.

The dilemma I have, is that therapy to which tangata whenua are subjected is so individualistic.

I think a challenge for us, is to consider, how an approach can be crafted to meet the needs of hapu or iwi.

Can the principles and processes for individuals be applied to a hapu and iwi context?

We all know that recovery from any traumatic experience, is for us to have control over the healing process.

To construct a framework where we are able to exercise power over our process of recovery. I suppose this is what we are advocating, when we raise the issue of tino rangatiratanga – the exercising of whanau and hapu mana.

We must learn to trust again, to love, to believe in our own abilities, to have our truths told and voices heard, to reclaim who we are.

We must beware of the “committed do gooder”, the rescuer. The danger here is that this group, in the name of rescuing and doing good, smothers the patient and teaches them how to be helpless.

Dependancy is a word that comes to mind.

How often have you as professionals been confronted with situations where the people with whom you are working have learned to be helpless?

While I am not a clinician or therapist, I know there are a number of stages to recovery and the first stage of the recovery starts when people feel safe and secure.

We need to consider how a race of people, how a group, how tangata whenua in Aotearoa, who have suffered the pains of a colonial history can gain access to a safe haven, a refuge where they can feel safe in order to recover?

Has such havens ever existed for tangata whenua and is it now possible to create such havens in this day and age?

Were the whanau and the hapu those havens?

The next stage of recovery according to Herman is remembrance and mourning.

What I find difficult in Aotearoa, is the continued denial of the “voices” and the “stories” of tangata whenua.

We must tell the stories of the impact of colonisation in the 19th Century, on our ancestors.

We must continue to voice the effect of that behaviour.

We must never allow the indigenous voice and the evidence to be silenced.

The negative reactions to the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal such as those of the 1996 Taranaki Report which spoke of the devastation of Taranaki iwi is one such example.

The reactions to James Bellich’s “New Zealand Wars” television series and publications and Professor Anne Salmond’s writings, which gave a view that was different to the negative view so often given of tangata whenua are other examples.

Too often the reality of the trauma suffered by tangata whenua is denied them.

How can healing occur in such an oppressive environment?

How can one mourn, when powerful influences in the society tell us, that which we are mourning over, did not exist or occur?

In order for any person to come to grips with the trauma of the past, a future must be created. This may mean learning how to assert a position, how to protest, how to join with others in lobbying for change, how to be active activists, how to reclaim the truths of one’s people, how to pursue justice.

It is for these reasons I have gone to Waitangi. I see Waitangi, as a place where our nation can start the healing, if we are to seriously address the effects of trauma, colonisation, dispossession and alienation.

What are seen as protests and annoyance by some, I tend to view as people of courage speaking the unspeakable, in public, with a view that we learn from the mistakes of the past.

For reconciliation and for healing to occur. For a nation to truly address the subject of this address today “Trauma and Colonisation” we must peel back layers of truth and address them.

What I have witnessed amongst our people and what I question, is, how is it that our people for generations have been conspicuous in all negative social indicators?

Yet before the land wars we had such a positive influence in the commercial life of the country – what happened to us?

In education, health, housing, employment, social and justice issues we are disproportionately negatively represented.

In many instances respect, discipline and responsibility are fast becoming lost amongst our alienated young and not so young.

The difficulty with this negative picture is that the people start to believe it of themselves and the Pakeha population have their stereotypes reinforced, particularly given the prominence of the negative stereotype by the Pakeha media, who are prominent by their absence when positive tangata whenua occasions occur.

Such a lack of interest was evident at a Parliamentary launch of three books with indigenous themes earlier this week. The only media present were Te Karere and Ruia Mai.

Consider if you will the effect on Pakeha people and Pakeha parents and children if every business failure such as those of New Zealand Steel, Quantas New Zealand, Ansett New Zealand, the Bank of New Zealand and Air New Zealand were all prominently headlined as Pakeha Business Failures.

Consider the effect on Pakeha children if the players in Winston’s Wine Box were all identified as New Zealand Pakeha Businessmen’s shady dealings. Consider the scenario if the media highlighted Pakeha failings in the same way they have highlighted Maori failings.

What effect would a headline like “Pakeha Poo Pants In Flight” have gone down in reference to Quantas, Ansett and Air New Zealand. Would we ever get a headline “Pakeha perform poorly in business”. How traumatised would Pakeha children be if these types of headlines were run daily on prime time television, in every major daily newspaper and the subject of every radio talkback show.

I personally would not agree to such damming headlines, because I know as a member of a race who is continually maligned in the media and on talkback radio, how damaging and destructive such news reporting can be.

I would not want any people, including Pakeha people, to be fed a daily diet that belittles them.

It lowers the self-esteem of the adults and twists the minds of their children as to what sort of people their parents are and what sort of people they themselves are likely to become.

Where Pakeha children no longer assert a confident air, but hang their heads in shame as they see the next sensational headline belittling their people.

This is the type of trauma tangata whenua are still subjected to. That is the first layer of truth.

Tangata whenua who want to make a difference are often hamstrung by a conspiracy of abdication by bureaucracies and by governments. The consequences of this can lead to failure of tangata whenua initiatives.

A recent example of this identified by my colleague the Hon Steve Maharey was the inequitable distribution of funds to Maori organisations for the care of children.

Another example aside from government is the manner in which indigenous sporting teams are treated like the Maori All Blacks who for years received inadequate resources and upon the advent of professionalism, whose players were not paid at anywhere near the same rate as other rugby players of a professional era.

Maori coaches and managers do not feature in the upper echelons of coaching and managing of our national game despite having a huge professional player base.

The next layer of truth is the history of the country which appears to have eluded mainstream New Zealand. A legacy of the land wars of the 19th century is intergenerational trauma and loss of memory.

There is an assumption trauma ended at the land wars – it did not. To continually be told one’s history is “wrong” – the reaction to the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal and James Bellich’s History of New Zealand Television series are good examples of collective denial and denigration of the “voices” of indigenous people.

The last layer is prejudice and bigotry which I referred to earlier.

If we are to overcome the trauma of colonisation we must as the declaration for reconciliation in Australia stated:

“…… have the courage to own the truth, heal the wounds
of the past so that we can move on together at peace with ourselves”

As has been said in Australia however, before we are able to own the truth we need to seek it out and accept it. As a Nation we need to continue addressing the psyche of denial.

In conclusion, I want to quote directly from Judith Herman who writes:

“Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds
between individual and community.

Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection to others.

The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience.

Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging.

Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness
and affirms.

Trauma degrades the victim; the group restores [their] humanity”.

The groups I believe which are best placed to overcome the trauma of the tangata whenua past, are the tangata whenua social institutions of the whanau, the hapu and the iwi.

Na reira huri noa tena tatou katoa.