He aha tāku e pānui ana: Dr Hinemoa Elder tells Eleanor Black what she's reading
I was excited to finally get my hands on Tina Ngata's eloquent essays, Kia Mau: Resisting Colonial Fictions. Ngata has been most familiar to me in her straight-up-the-guts comments about indigenous justice, politics, the environment, and the connectivity of all these factors on Pukamata (Facebook). She is a voice at local and international - at UN - levels. A powerhouse. Just in case you don't know who she is, she is a Ngāti Porou leader who is unwavering in her actions fighting for indigenous rights.
So you get the picture as to why I was hanging out to read her book.
"Māori are at the centre of this nation's identity," says Ngata, identity being a fundamental aspect of wellbeing I am critically interested in. She unpicks the global power play underpinning how the history of our country's identity came to be defined as the story of discovery by a man called Captain James Cook.
The Doctrine of Discovery was something I had heard of but wasn't really up to speed with in terms of its influence. Ngata lays out the details in the context of the TUIA 250 events of 2019 as a salutary reminder to us all that those who tell the history have the power. She explains how this imperialist drive continues to determine how we as Māori still don't have dominion over telling our own history, and subsequently determining our own identity.
It has been a gruelling year for everyone. Working in mental health we are seeing a tsunami of complex issues in people's lives. Waves of uncertainty, ripples of anxiety, Covid-19 has unmasked how tenuous the fabric of our society really is. The ongoing devastating impact on our communities beyond and between periods of viral infection is real. Holding fast as the strong team of 5 million has short, medium and long-term costs on our mental wellbeing in particular. As part of our mental health workforce I can feel we are more stretched than ever before.
This book has refreshed me like the purest wai māori (water) in a desert. I have thought of it as a Colonisation 101 heads-up. The colonising fictions Ngata brings to our attention are that colonisation is historical, the coloniser is great, benevolent, and non-violent, colonisation was invited, opposition to colonisation is dangerous and divisive, colonisation is beneficial, colonisation is inevitable and unavoidable, colonisation is localised, the coloniser is central to our identity.
In my work as a psychiatrist I see colonisation at work every day. I see the intergenerational impact of colonisation in my face. Overwhelming numbers of suicidal rangatahi Māori,
whānau with serious mental illness. These are just some of the fruits of the Doctrine of Discovery in 2020.
We have a saying, "Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu: although small, it is precious." An apt adage for Ngata's book. This book needs to be required reading on the school (and in particular, medical schools) curriculum, in every library and home.
It is a juicy read. With plenty to ponder. Just what the doctor ordered, pun intended.
Aroha: Maori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet (Penguin, $30) by Dr Hinemoa Elder is out now.