The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack recommended that the government host an annual hui to build relationships and share understanding about countering violent extremism and terrorism.
The second of these hui was held this week, and among the speakers was Tina Ngata, who told the hui that if the Crown truly wants to tackle terrorism it should start with confronting colonialism. This is a lightly edited version of her kōrero.
Some people see the brutality of the white identity extremism that we experienced in Christchurch as an isolated event. Some see white identity extremism itself as an isolated blight of an otherwise kind, just and progressive nation.
For those of us who dedicate our lives to standing up to colonialism, who dedicate our lives to deeply defending and promoting Te Tiriti and Indigenous and human rights, it’s simply the extension of a history of colonial violence.
It’s the natural, ultimate endgame of having our lives consistently devalued.
The assumption of power to take someone’s life and the racist devaluing of their life doesn’t sit separate to the colonial presumption of rights over our lands, waters, bodies, lives and children — for those presumptions are also underpinned by racist ideologies and systems based on centuries of assumed supremacy.
One of my favourite sayings is that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. Here, I want to explore how we might look to bring that arc towards justice a little closer to our hands.
Our Crown agencies are now interested in the role that Te Tiriti and mātauranga Māori have to play in responding to extremism. But I’ve not yet heard any agency be brave enough to say they want to understand and respond better to colonialism.
Entering into discussions about terrorism with an extractive, entitled mindset that is focused on drawing from our mātauranga will not provide the solutions we need. It will only create another layer of harm.
We have so often heard that addressing colonialism must sit to the side while we address every other dimension of a matter — they’ll give it a Māori name, appoint a Māori adviser and say a karakia at the hui, and think that will solve it. Some of the most difficult and harmful spaces to navigate have been with organisations, agencies and projects that assume Māori names and offer Māori karakia right before engaging in very colonial practices.
The forces that brought us here today are no less than pure, distilled, concentrated colonial entitlement. Colonial violence is not an accessory to this conversation — it IS the conversation.
Our relationship cannot rest on your desire to draw from mātauranga Maori. Our ability to relate to each other must come with an honest reckoning, and a Tiriti partnership of integrity must start with an understanding of our perspectives.
For us, extreme colonial violence exists on a continuum. Within this continuum you have extremists, disinformation merchants, online assailants — and you also have centrist power-mongers who passively protect and maintain colonial privilege while presenting as benign allies.
The extremists obviously get the most attention, but they hold less structural power. They are also, we must remember, few in number. Whereas those who passively allow extreme ideas to persist within concepts such as “the marketplace of ideas” are abundant and, collectively, extremely harmful.
They allow for racist ideas to become normalised and mainstreamed — and the critical mass of those who allow such harmful ideas is growing because of it. While those with extreme views, particularly online assailants, often escape accountability, many others within this continuum, who are also in this room, are absolutely accountable for the power that they hold, and how they wield it.
It is therefore the responsibility of accountable power to engage humbly in this discussion, not just about us as victims or solution-bearers, but also about yourself as a part of the problem. The structural aspects of white supremacy and colonial violence are not just features that the Crown allows, but are features that the Crown partakes in and upholds as the scaffolding for colonial supremacy in Aotearoa.
You see, none of this is isolated. White supremacist ideology is connected to a global presumption of racialised supremacy that grows extreme violence of all kinds.
Importantly, this also encompasses state-sanctioned police violence, which includes the military force required for colonial domination, hyper-surveillance and hyper-incarceration of non-white peoples, the global movement of peoples and racist border policies, and racialised mythmaking in media and schools.
It also includes the dishonouring, with impunity, of the very Treaty that enables non-Māori to be here and the maintenance of a power system which grants them that impunity.
When we look at the world, and the problem of extremism, from this perspective, it makes sense that we would be circumspect about the Crown’s ability to step into this space with any efficacy when it allows so many contributors.
You can see why we side-eye attempts at change. Especially when the hallmarks of domination present themselves in those engagements. When power is abused in order to determine the parameters of the conversation or to set the terms of engagement for all. When paternalistic language is used and there’s refusal to share power, or an insistence on defining when the engagement starts or stops.
The inefficacy of the Crown is clearly evident when there is zero mention of Te Tiriti in the 44 recommendations and 70-odd supporting paragraphs of the Royal Commission of Inquiry report.
We can see this when there is zero targeted, funded research for online attacks and harassment of Māori, even though Māori, wāhine Māori, wāhine maumoko, and tāne maumoko are among the most targeted and harassed groups online in Aotearoa.
For these reasons, and for the simple reason of Treaty justice, we say: The Crown must resource a specific, independent entity for the monitoring of online threats and harassment of Māori.
The full scope of white supremacy, from the passive power-monger to the mass murderer, is transnational. It is economically underpinned, and all of it, even the violent extremities of it, are bankrolled by the wealthy. If we are to hold out any hope of defeating this deeply complex, entrenched, wicked problem, we will need solidarity between all who reject and repudiate that ideology. And I do genuinely believe that that is most of us.
Our relationships to each other and visions for justice and equity are set out in such documents as He Whakaputanga, Te Tiriti o Waitangi and, more recently, Matike Mai. We have not only outlined the first steps to a just relationship, we have shouted it from the rooftops now, for generations. And more often than we’d care to admit, we have been cast as extremists for doing so.
We cannot stand in solidarity unless we respect each other’s experiences and how those experiences inform our interactions.
This involves sitting with, and reckoning with, deep, necessary discomfort. But I have seen it work, and it is what will draw that long moral arc of the universe much closer to our grasp.
The age of colonial domination is drawing to an end. It has consumed itself. What we have now, in our hands, is the opportunity to determine if that end will be guided and transitional, or painful and messy.
We are ready for the conversation. The question remains: Are you?
Tina Ngata (Ngāti Porou) is a researcher and scholar, and the author of Kia Mau: Resisting Colonial Fictions. Her work involves advocacy for environmental, Indigenous and human rights. This includes local, national and international initiatives that highlight the role of settler colonialism in issues such as climate change and waste pollution, and which promote Indigenous conservation as best practice for a globally sustainable future.
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