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Restrengthening connections between Māori and Pacific an important step for Tiriti (Treaty)-based constitution

Giovanni Torre -

A Pacific law academic says restrengthening connections between Pacific tauiwi (settlers) and Māori is an important step towards transforming the constitution of Aotearoa (New Zealand), to honour te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Fuimaono Dylan Asafo (Salani, Satalo, Siumu, Moata'a, and Leufisa) from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, spoke at the 2024 'Designing our Constitution' conference held recently at the University.

The Human Rights Commission event honoured the late eminent lawyer and advocate for the rights of Māori and other Indigenous Peoples worldwide, Dr Moana Jackson, and brought together prominent Māori and tauiwi advocates from across the motu (island), to kōrero (meet and talk) about designing an inclusive Te Tiriti-based constitution for Aotearoa.

Mr Fuimaono, part of the panel - The value of Community: Pacific Peoples' perspectives and contributions to constitutional transformation - paid homage to Dr Jackson.

"Moana reminded us that constitutional transformation based on honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi is not only possible, it is inevitable," he said, before broaching the difficulties many Pacific peoples may face in talking about constitutional transformation.

"It's a hard topic to talk about… it can bring up a lot of difficult feelings and tensions. Also Pacific peoples are so diverse, we all come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives, languages and traditions. We also have different experiences."

Mr Fuimaono noted that colonisation had wrought divisiveness between Māori and Pacific, straining the connections between the communities.

"(Dr Jackson) said one of the worst things that colonisation did to Māori, his people, was make them forget they were Pacific Islanders," he said.

Aotearoa is in te Moana nui a kiwa (the Pacific ocean) and Māori as Polynesians descend from Hawaiki.

"We all navigated the Pacific and settled in different areas in the Pacific, but these vital whakapapa ties, genealogies and connections have been obscured through various processes of colonisation," Mr Fuimaono said, reiterating Dr Jackson's call to action.

"Moana reminded us that the connections between Māori and Pacific peoples haven't been completely severed, but there is work that needs to be done to re-strengthen them for us to be able to stand and move in full solidarity with one another. In terms of our struggles, many Pacific tauiwi, we need to be honouring our obligations to Māori and Te Tiriti of this land, not only because we're guests, but because we are family, we are whanaunga (kin)."

Mr Fuimaono also noted that Dr Jackson spoke to the harms of colonial umbrella categories like 'Pacific Islander' and 'Pacific peoples' that lump richly diverse Pacific groups together.

He said one persuasive argument lay in the aspirations of the Pacific community, referencing 'Māori Sovereignty' published 40 years ago by Donna Awatere, who wrote: "The difficulty with Polynesians is not that they are white, but that white culture in the form of Christianity, and its sidekick aggressive materialism has so impacted on their culture... all this white education, goodies and status have a high cultural cost, which future generations will have to pay. Perhaps then we can look again."

Mr Fuimaono suggested Pacific peoples must imagine success beyond colonial and capitalist structures, and "dream beyond the goals we often have for our children to become state politicians, judges and lawyers serving a colonial state".

He also said Pacific peoples needed to find a way to support Māori, requiring deeper reflection of Donna Awatere's statement.

"Even though we face barriers to acting in solidarity with Māori, there's nothing that we can't do if work together, especially for our communities. We know what we're capable of in terms of organising and bringing our people together. So it's really time for us to build a widespread and unified Pacific movement to support Māori to do what we can to bring about a Tiriti-based constitution," he said, noting that this work includes Pacific communities having "brave and honest" conversations with each other.

"We can't actually help defeat colonialism in Aotearoa and beyond if we have deep colonial beliefs, influences, and structures within our own communities like anti-Black racism, anti-Māori racism and capitalist values. These are things we must address head on. It will be hard, but we can do it if we are willing to be brave and have honest conversations and confront the difficult things that we often sweep under the rug," Mr Fuimaono said.

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