I don’t really know how my tūpuna first came to this country. It’s funny to think that maybe a hundred years ago, a husband and wife decided to hop on a boat and move to New Zealand in search of a better future for their bloodline - grandchildren and great grandchildren they’d never meet on a land they’d never seen. Maybe they were allured by the promise of owning their own plot of land, their own slice of paradise. Someone else’s paradise. I don’t know where they worked or lived, or what they ate for dinner or talked about with each other.
One thing I do know, though, is that my people made the choice to leave their whenua. Not all of us are that lucky. In 1863, British troops, who had decided that the people of Ihumātao were “in rebellion against Her Majesty’s authority,” confiscated the 1100 acres the local Māori people had been a part of for almost 1000 years. They destroyed every canoe they could find. They burnt down houses. They gutted the church. The people who had called Ihumātao home lost their home, their history, the bones of their ancestors. They were forced to flee further south - where the British troops followed them still.
“All the old people showed the most intense grief at leaving a place where they had so long lived in peace and happiness,” wrote John Gorst in his 1864 book, The Māori King. “But they resolutely tore themselves away.”
I think about the land we stand on today, covered with concrete, modern townhouses, cafés and universities. Every time I drive on these streets, go to sleep in a room I call ‘mine’, imprint memories and bones in to the land, it’s at the expense of someone else. Someone else, that walked this earth before me. Someone else, that swam in this river, ate from this soil. And even though I “pay my rent,” so to say, I don’t really deserve to call this city ‘mine.’ I live on top of the blood of those that came before me.
And now, most of us live in a society that knows almost nothing of the land we call home. I’ve seen the protectors of Ihumātao described as “not wanting to contribute to society.” But who’s society are they not contributing to, exactly? Because the ‘society’ we live in now fucking sucks, and everyone knows it. Our planet is dying. Our homes, that we can barely afford, make us sick. Nature is somewhere you ‘go’ rather than something you live in. Our people are filled with hate and intolerance and indifference. Depression claims more and more of us every year. And yet, every day, we wake up and make the cogs spin some more, while others are crushed underneath. Is this really the best we’ve got? Is anyone actually enjoying this society we’ve built for ourselves? Surely we can do better, right?
I don’t know how my tūpuna first came to this country. And maybe, in a hundred years, my great grandchildren won’t know what I was doing in New Zealand - they might not even know my name. I hope they are better than me. I hope they know the history of the place they decide to call ‘theirs.’ I hope Ihumātao is returned to its people. And, when all is said and done, I hope my bones can be honoured to find a place in someone else’s land that I am so grateful to be a part of.