Collage image by Sarah Hopkinson, including “Land back” image by Aroha Healion.

Sarah Hopkinson reflects on how we might remember the past ethically, and the work that Pākehā can do to transform our relationships to each other and place.


 The sea

I enter the winter ocean with my head and heart full, both stretched like the outgoing tide across the sand. Kāpiti Island sits still on the horizon, but it is the winter waves that mirror the state of me, crashing with irregular and unfettered ferocity.

My ankles ache almost immediately, and I have to breathe deeply to step forward. I lean down to splash water across my face, and gasp with its icy chill. I want to reconsider why I am here at all. But I breathe a big sigh out instead, take two fast steps forward and dive under the soon-to-break wave.

The water instantly chills my skull, and I rise unencumbered. All my chatterings and rumblings, discontents and fears have disappeared, sucked from my fingernails and toenails direct to the seafloor.

I lift my feet up and marvel at my 10 white toes. Bob on the rolling waves. I am simply buoyant. Floating. Still. Joyous. My collarbones ache in protest, reminding me this is June and not January. So I thank the ocean as I get out, and shake the saltwater from my ears.

I am so goddamn alive.

I wrap a towel around my torso and soon leave the ocean behind. Come back into reality as I walk the short distance home. I move from liquid open water into parcelled up suburbia. Go from salt and sea, air and wide horizons to bitumen and kerbs, concrete and easy-care landscaping solutions.

A person with a dog walks past me briskly.

 You’re brave! they exclaim.

I smile, knowing there is not an ounce of bravery in me. I do it because I hanker for it. For moments that help me remember that I belong to the earth. For icy moments that prove I am alive, for now, and not for always. It’s much, much easier to remember all of this while bobbing on the waves than walking on these hermetically sealed pavements. I walk down my road and open the wooden gate on our little piece of sectioned land. Fenced. Numbered. Sorted.

We don’t even know how much we’ve lost any more. 


Our history is your history

When The white tears of Taranaki was published, I received a great deal of feedback. Most of it was supportive, some of it much less so. And then this most generous comment arrived from Tuhi-Ao Bailey, the current tiamana, chairperson, of Parihaka Papakāinga Trust:

E te hoa-whenua. Kua rongo koe i a matou. Kua rongo koe i a Koro Taranaki. Kua rongo koe i nga taiao. Thank you so much for your words, your understanding and your aroha. When our people at Parihaka sat for several years trying to work out how to “settle” or reconcile with the Crown and our Pākehā neighbours, we wanted a relationship. A relationship built on reconciliation and justice so that in time and struggle together we can all heal.

Our history is your history. Your history is ours. Your words give me so much hope that the world is finally healing and so in turn will the whenua. Please come visit us at Parihaka. 

I read and re-read those words, turning each one over carefully in my hand and heart. It took a few days to summon the courage, but finally, with a lump in my throat, I called Tuhi-Ao. We chatted, a little awkwardly at first, and made plans for me and my family to stay with Tuhi-Ao and hers, to visit Parihaka.

The first visit turned out to be a huge weekend, not because of us but because the timing coincided with the Kīngitanga visiting Parihaka. Kiingi Tūheitia and his whānau were there, along with representatives from Tainui and Ngāti Maniapoto, as well many mana whānau of Parihaka. I’m awful at estimating numbers, but it felt like 400 people. Well, 404, because also present were my Pākehā self, my husband from the north of England, and our two conspicuously white boys.

We were welcomed and sat at the back of the tent for manuhiri and experienced amazing whaikōrero, mōteatea and waiata that spoke to and from Parihaka and its history, before a hākari of epic proportions was served. I found my way to the kitchen and dried dishes. And I was struck powerfully, as I have been time and time again in truly kaupapa Māori places, that I am entirely unimportant. Completely and utterly inconsequential. I don’t mean this with any lack of sincerity. I mean this with incredible solemnity and total humility. What it is to be Māori is for Māori themselves.

There are a great many Pākehā who, like me, are very supportive of tino rangatiratanga. We are aware of history, aware that Māori did not cede sovereignty. We know that Tiriti justice will remain our most enduring protest issue until the Crown catches up with this reality.

And yet, from inside a Pākehā worldview, one that continues to individualise, capitalise, exploit and commercialise, it’s impossible to be in service to tino rangatiratanga in any real way. This has always been true. This current government, in all its racist violence, has just thinned the illusory veneer for us. It’s a gift, really. As Tina Ngata wrote recently, with mic-drop clarity:

Every New Zealand government has violated Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the most important way, which is to presume total, rather than shared, authority.

It seems to me that Pākehā who think they can contribute to Māori sovereignty from within our worldview are really only perpetuating the colonial entitlement that tino rangatiratanga battles against, over and over, each and every day. And I say that with deep love for myself, still unlearning, and for all us semi-woke whiteys, who continue to stick our elbows in where our elbows really aren’t needed.

There is so much work to do to enact Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to manifest the audacious and beautiful vision that rangatira had for us in 1840. But it’s with our own people. The work to do, as Pākehā, is to interrogate our own values and imagine what an honourable kāwanatanga would look like. The work to do, as Pākehā, is to remember what it is to be human in community with each other and place. The work to do, as Pākehā, is to create space for mātauranga Māori to lead and guide us all. The work to do, as Pākehā, is to remember what it would mean for us to be a part of a life-giving system again.

It requires humility. It requires not knowing. It requires letting go.

Collage image by Sarah Hopkinson.

It is. 

When Tuhi-Ao Bailey walked with me around Parihaka, she told me about some of the history. She pointed out Te Pūrepo, the hill that overlooks Parihaka village. She told me about the Cape Egmont lighthouse, and how it was installed to guide the troops into Parihaka. She told me about how the military forces invaded the village and how, for the next four or so years, a cannon was trained on the settlement from atop Te Pūrepo. She spoke about malnutrition and the resulting flesh-eating skin disease. About land confiscation. About rape. About unjust incarceration. We looked together at the surnames of the colonial troops that invaded her people’s home.

I knew much less than I should have.

And as we neared the māra kai, she slowed her steps and apologised to me. Tuhi-Ao, with all her grace and beauty, said that she was sorry that the history was so dark. We walked in silence, perhaps both astounded that the apology had been spoken from her lips and not from mine. I apologised back, and the Taranaki rain fell gently on us, standing outside the waharoa to the māra.

“It is,” I said, with tears in my eyes.

My mind immediately went to these two words because they have held me amid grief and the complexity of being alive with grief, over and over again. I leant on them when we thought we were losing our son. I leant on them as my dad sank into dementia. And now, here, at Parihaka, I leaned on them again.

It is.

My people have skirted around the mistakes and myth-takes of our ancestors for so long.

But it is.

Two words that enable radical acceptance of that which is hard to accept.

Because in ignoring this history, we have repeated the violence over and over and over again. As the Waitangi Tribunal wrote, nearly 30 years ago, in The Taranaki Report: 

If war is the absence of peace, the war has never ended in Taranaki, because that essential prerequisite for peace among peoples, that each should be able to live with dignity on their own lands, is still absent.

It is.

We’ve inherited one hell of a history, and one heck of a contemporary moment, but neither is divorced from the other. And whether it is the colonial violence of Parihaka, Gaza, Congo or Kanak, or biodiversity loss, microplastic pollution or the climate crisis, they are all the same. These are the natural-born grandchildren (being delivered at an exponential pace now) of humans who see themselves as separate to taiao, and to each other. This is what happens when we forget our place in the order of things.

I yearn for a different cultural move. Many of us do. It’s time to not only imagine it, but to contribute to it. To not be put off from the robust importance of moving back into right size. As Ani Mikaere wrote, in a quote that I can simply not put down:

There is nowhere else in the world that one can be Pākehā. Whether the term remains forever linked to the shameful role of the oppressor or whether it can become a positive source of identity and pride is up to Pākehā themselves. All that is required from them is a leap of faith.

For the love of all things living, please, let’s take that leap.

Settling into place

The answers we need don’t come from any one of us, thank goodness. They emerge through understanding the complexities of life-giving systems, through ngā taiao. They sit, without edges or constraints, in the liminal spaces, in the wisdom of our connective tissues, in the ways our gut biome informs our emotions, in the intelligences of trees that talk through fungal networks below our feet, in the intergenerational connections with ancestor and descendant, in the circularity of water, in the forests that re-balance.

The answers are in the ever present abundance of life. In the Indigenous ways of knowing of this land that centre all of this through wairua, mana, whakapapa, mauri, te ao turoa and māramatanga.

Most of us these days are running on falsities about the energies of ngā taiao. We’ve been pickled in a culture that is motivated by commercial interests and separated from embodied practices. The Crown wants us to believe in scarcity, punitive power, mastery and control. But ngā taiao have evolved to be an infinite figure eight of abundance.

In flourishing green systems, for example, whether it be forest, grassland or swamp, each plant is flushing into the soil, every day, about half of its energy — giving forward to the soil an exudate that has been made through photosynthesis. Diverse plants provide diverse exudates, and this in turn feeds and supports diverse microbial communities below the earth which flourish in undisturbed soil. With a healthy abundance of microbial life, plants receive the custom nutrition they need, delivered direct to their roots. And so it goes: as above, so below.

We are not masters of these systems. The lurch towards human centrality, which has seen us become overlords, has resulted in a huge depletion in life, from soil microbe to kauri. Without that biodiversity, we are collectively yoked into providing inputs and interventions which only exacerbate deficiencies and excesses.

Life-giving systems are none of the things that capitalism and consumerism has ever set out to achieve. There is no linearity, just webs of connection. No simplicity, only complexity. No take without giving. No status, no hierarchies, no end goal. Just diverse relationships, contribution, service and community.

The work for us as Pākehā is to find a way back from the dead-end cultural cul de sac that we’ve found ourselves in. We are woven, layer upon layer, as people into this place, into this time, into the more than human world, and into each other. Despite our actions and our ignorance, we remain one ecosystem. Let’s notice the unbalanced contribution of our cultural thread. Let’s imagine understanding our place, in community here, as part of the fabric of life.

Because transformation, one way or another, is coming.

Te Pūrepo

We returned to Parihaka again, just recently, to mark te tau hou Māori, the new year, at Parihaka Puanga Kai Rau festival. We silently ascended Te Pūrepo well before dawn in the pitch dark and turned off our torches. A pūtātara blew in the darkness, karakia began, and then taki mōteatea, to remember all those who had died since the last rising of Puanga at this significant time of the year. I lifted my chin to the sky, turned to the stars and, save for my hand in my son’s, lost myself in time. The sky was inky and black.

As dawn rose, I saw the form of Taranaki, weighty and assured, behind Parihaka, and began to notice how many tangata Tiriti were there. Far less than the 1600 troops who invaded Parihaka on November 5, 1881, but many all the same. We descended Te Pūrepo, shared kai, talked with many friends, old and new. Later that night, we sat in Te Niho o Te Atiawa, under Tohu and Te Whiti’s photos, enjoying a music concert.

We helped to plant a food forest. I found myself planting a tagasaste, a support plant, alongside a young Māori woman called Roxy. We dug the hole and planted it together, talking about where we have come from and how great it feels to play a small part in starting a food forest here at Parihaka. As we finished, Roxy kindly offered: “Shall we say a karakia together for it?” I agreed wholeheartedly. We intuitively put our hands on the soil, hers went first and then mine, either side of the sapling, and she began.

Collage image by Sarah Hopkinson.

Peace together 

The reverberations of our histories ripple through all of us, known or unknown. But our futures are stirring within us too.

I invited my Pākehā ancestors and their stories back into my life a few years ago now. It has not been pretty, or easy, but they help me understand where we are, and why we are. They give me a fierce love for who we could be.

It’s time to invite our future descendants into this moment, too.

Dr Ruakere Hond often talks about how Parihaka is not just one place, or even one time in history. It is a community that has chosen to act as a community for peace, and this choice is available to us all:

Hoki atu ki ō koutou kāinga Parihaka mai ai. 

We can return to our own homes and find Parihaka there.

The day we got home after Puanga, I went to the sea. The wind was fierce and the waves went sideways to break. A lone seagull arced across the sky in deep surrender to forces so much bigger than them. I took no swim, but watched the gull from the shore, noticed how they trusted the wind.

Perhaps even in today’s violent winds there is peace to be found.

I am absolutely sure, either way, that transformation is coming.


Sarah Alice Hopkinson is an education consultant, urban farmer, earth dreamer and advocate of Te Tiriti. She is currently working with Te Papa Learning and Collections Online to create engaging, accessible education resources for schools across the country. Sarah farms regeneratively at The Green Garden, a suburban farm on Te Ātiawa ki Kāpiti land, growing nutrient-dense food for her family and community, is part way through her Hua Parakore certification, is an Eat NZ Kaitaki, is a participant in The Tipuna Project and on the advisory board of For the Love of Bees, who are growing radical hope through food.

E-Tangata, 2024

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