Activist and film-maker Chris Huriwai looks out his window and shares what he sees. As told to Greg Bruce.
I've got a desk that's in my bedroom at my mother's place, where I'm sitting at the moment. When I look out the window I can see classic symbols from my mum. We've got some buddhas out there and exotic fruit trees, lots of veges. She's really into her gardening and there's always interesting little creative designs dangling from the trees. It's a nice thing because it really reminds me of my childhood.
I've spent a bit of time in Auckland and Wellington and I've moved home and I'm trying to find a little block of land myself to start settling down on. There's a plot of land close to my whanau home in Ōtaua and I'm just going through some of the processes to figure out exactly where I can start building.
What I love about Te Tai Tokerau is the people. I've been dying to come back here to integrate back into the community, because when I grew up here as a kid I feel like I really purposefully isolated myself a little bit because I felt really different to everybody else.
I was really quite racist when I moved to the far north, even though my family is Māori and I was raised in a Māori community. I was bullied a bit when we first moved here and that sent me on a bit of a spiral. I started looking down on a lot of people. There's a lot of unemployment, it's a very low socioeconomic area, and in my younger days I saw the common denominator as being Māori, which led me to becoming quite a racist young individual.
The turning point for me was coming to understand we're all products of our environment and a lot of the choices people make are a result of their experiences and their conditioning and their unfortunateness to be in the situations they are raised in, which is not their doing.
I was one of those that said, "Come on, you've got the same opportunities as everyone else. Why don't you just pick yourself up and get on with it?" But through working for a Māori health organisation and also becoming an activist and advocate, I started to notice, for example, big industries and the sort of propaganda they put out. I saw that this was creating further discrimination and deprivation for Māori, particularly in the environmental space. The intensification of industrial farming would harm, for example, waterways - sources of sustenance for rural communities, which by and large are usually Māori communities.
When you think of Aotearoa, you now think of either cows or sheep or - let's give it some credit -The Lord of the Rings. But we're really well known for cows and sheep. Pre-colonisation, they weren't even here. We hear a lot of talk about being a patriot: "It's your patriotic duty to defend this industry." But for me as Māori, it's my duty to point out they were never a part of our identity. All this talk about how this land was made for dairy farming, farming is in our blood, it's in our ID: For some of us it's in our blood, but not all of us.
This is a colonised land, a land where we're driven by marketing and propaganda and the want to sell not just our products but our country. But we are trapped between two forces at the moment: This drive for more capital but also an awakening in terms of the colonial harms that have been caused. We're seeing people who are starting to understand the inherent worth in indigenous knowledge. We're seeing a lot of people with the desire to downsize and throw away the typical western aspirations of wanting to own X, Y, Z - wanting to really get back in touch with nature, and simpler, softer, less impactful ways of relating to the land.
We've got a lot of really strong industries that are leading us in the wrong direction but the people here - Māori, Pākehā, whoever - we're pretty incredible people, so if there's any country that's going to be able to break away from this colonial hold on driving for more GDP versus a softer, less impactful, indigenous way of relating to the world, I think Aotearoa has a very good chance of achieving that.
Chris Huriwai's new documentary, Milked, opens in Dunedin on November 7 as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.