Occupy Savvy Exclusive! One of the coolest things about activism is that it doesn’t have celebrities – it has role models. Recently, we put 7 poignant questions to five of the world’s most inspiring women. These women hail from Iceland, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and for their profound actions, deeds, words, generosity, heart, and perseverance, we deem them “wahine toa”.
In Aotearoa, New Zealand, we describe a fearless woman of soul and substance, as “wahine toa”. This very loosely translates to “woman warrior.”
The Maori dictionary explains it as;
wāhine: (noun) women, females, ladies, wives.
toa: (stative) be brave, bold, victorious, experienced, accomplished, adept, competent, skilful, capable.
But wahine toa is even more; to us she is;
kaitiaki: (noun) trustee, minder, guard, custodian, guardian, keeper.
ūkaipō: (noun) mother, origin, source of sustenance, real home.
She is “atua” in the sense of; “a way of perceiving and rationalising the world”.
If it were audible; we could almost hear our ladies blushing through the screen. The truth is; they deserve every accolade we can give them, as they live this wild journey called life to the fullest, inspiring so many of us to follow their path, by discovering our own.
These next few days, you will see the same 7 questions posted here, again and again. But you will see vastly different answers. All of a unique and immeasurable insightfulness that is a gift, as a reader, to absorb.
Part One saw us publish the heartfelt words of Turtle Island, Canada’s Min Reyes.
Part Two was an exclusive interview with Iceland’s very own Birgitta Jónsdóttir.
In Part Three we introduce you to Aotearoa, New Zealand’s Marama Davidson.
Our first reaction to hearing of Idle No More was that it was a Christmas present from the universe. Stretched to our limits and battered from the endurance race that was 2012 in activism, to see the first nations and indigenous people begin to rise worldwide flooded us with immense pride and relief.
The people’s cavalry, had arrived.
Privately we joked; “they might be able to mess with white kids from the suburbs; good luck to them trying to infiltrate every marae (indigenous community space) in the country”.
Idle No More clearly heralded the beginnings of the public groundswell we had anticipated for so long.
In our small nation (which yes, does have cities with skyscrapers and ridiculous traffic congestion, as well as countryside, mountains, farmland and endless beaches) there is none of our generation more qualified to represent the concept of wahine toa than Whaea Marama Davidson.
Thus it was innately satisfying to see her so avidly answer the call of Idle No More, for the mobilisation of international indigenous nations.
As Min Reyes said in Part 1 of this series (paraphrasing); the movements come in waves, each a little bigger than the last, all blurring into each other until the individual banners are meaningless and meld into one.
In Part 2 Birgitta Jónsdóttir described the revolution as an ongoing process; where we needed to abandon ego-logy and embrace ecology.
On the other side of the planet, down here in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Marama is cut of similar ideological cloth. Cherishing both history and living culture, she is a heartfelt advocate for kaupapa Maori (indigenous critique), rangatiratanga (heritage), kaitiakitanga (conservation, guardianship) while righteously demanding equality and promoting kotahitanga (unity) in new generations of Kiwis.
A founding member of Occupy Auckland & of Aotearoa In Solidarity With Idle No More; Marama is a high-profile blogger on ONZ admin Martyn Bradbury’s TheDailyBlog.co.nz and a member of Te Whare Porahou, an influential Maori women’s collective.
Here follows Marama’s very gracious answers to the same 7 questions we have put to the other wahine toa featured in this series.
Q1. Occupy Savvy: Strong women abound in the Occupy and Idle No More movements. Did you ever foresee that you would contribute as meaningfully as you have, to such momentous events?
Marama: In the Occupy Movement in Aotearoa, my small contribution was merely to speak up as a Māori woman and for our group Te Wharepora Hou (TWH). TWH is a group of wāhine Māori who support each other to use our voices collectively and individually as we feel the need to. The imperative to speak up recognises that for too long there has been a silencing of the diverse voices and opinions of Māori women, in spite of the incredible staunch wāhine that have been instrumental to positive change in our communities and our nation. Our purpose is to have a say on all issues that impact on the well-being of whānau (family), hapū (extended family) and iwi (tribes) and our natural living system. By this standard we could provide a critique on every issue under the sun and moon but we do what we can when we can. We do not claim to have any mandate to speak on behalf of all Māori but we surely claim our voices as Māori women, as mothers, as grandmothers and as members of our respective whānau, hapū and iwi.
Around the world many other indigenous people and groups were already highlighting the need for the Occupy Movement to decolonise itself. The Occupy philosophy needed to link the very neoliberalism it was opposing to the ongoing colonial imperialism of the indigenous people of each of the lands that the movement was occupying. Indigenous critique was calling for widespread acknowledgement that indigenous peoples had been fighting those very oppressive approaches for hundreds of years. The imperial poison of greed and privilege had now started to negatively impact on almost ‘everyone else’ and it could only benefit and strengthen the movement to accept this. As Māori women, Te Wharepora Hou felt a responsibility to continue that global conversation in Aotearoa and also to support our indigenous relations where ever Occupy was happening in the world. We most definitely saw value in joining in a call to end neoliberalism, but not without the indigenous thought to uphold the truer struggle. And then we realised it was us who would have to provide that very indigenous thought. We did so via blogs, Maori media, press releases, social media interviews, and camping with the movement in Aotea Square. I don’t know if anything we did was meaningful – but it was what we needed to do.
The Idle No More movement however has been one that we have worked tirelessly for to support indigenous uprising and sovereignty around the world through protecting lands and waters. Idle No More is an ongoing strive to decolonise the world and insist on a new way living together that honours our living systems and each other as people. It is the movement that starts with the very critique that we were asking of Occupy. Again Te Wharepora Hou has attempted to raise awareness, provide information and offer a voice while encouraging others to organise their own ways of supporting the movement. There have been many other groups and individuals helping to keep this conversation alive as well, and it is a conversation that needs to go on for decades at the very least.
Q2. Occupy Savvy: An ONZ admin says “Activism didn’t radicalise me; the state response to activism radicalised me.” Can you empathise with this statement?
Marama: As a Māori woman the State response to activism is a stabbing reminder of what lengths they will go to when there is resistance from the ground. Our Aotearoa history is littered with the State flexing its muscles against any uprising that dares question its authority. This has pissed me off since I was a young wee girl when my parents dragged me to watch Merata Mita’s movie ‘Patu’. Observing the violent State response to anti-apartheid protests actually disgusted my young girl spirit. There have been many more moments of such disgust at the State so yes I can definitely empathise with this statement.
Q3. Occupy Savvy: Activism messages appear to be increasingly penetrating the public consciousness. What is your experience of this awakening?
Marama: I can only hope that progressive messages are indeed planting seeds in the garden of public consciousness. Often it feels like a depressing slow uphill climb but the beauty of the awakening is also finding other kindred spirits around the planet, and indeed unearthing them in my own backyard. In the ongoing development of my own critique this kindred networking has been essential to me having a small role in awakening myself and others. I have had ongoing feedback from so many people, particularly women, who are finding their own morning breath as the world around them wakes up to try and change for the better. My experience of the awakening, is that I am starting to wake up. That is the most important awakening of all for me.
Q4. Occupy Savvy: What has been your most satisfying moment of the global revolution, to date?
Marama: I feel like it is more of a global murmuring still as opposed to a revolution, and this might be the healthy way for it to grow peacefully and sustainably. I am not denying the war and violence that exists across communities of the world however the aspirations to change that existence are coming slowly but surely. My most satisfying moments personally are when ordinary people, people who have felt afraid to speak up – have been inspired to speak up themselves finally. I have had mums, or grandmothers, or young women just come and say “I want to be part of this, even from a distance” and that is a win. We need to be inspiring and stirring peoples’ hearts and minds to want to belong to and own their own revolutions.
Q5. Occupy Savvy: In what way would you most like to see the global narrative shift, from this point?
Marama: It is clear that we need to reclaim our place as one small part of the planet living system as opposed to one dominating human race over it. We have totally lost our kinship with our plants, our rivers, our seas, our forests, our animals and each other as inter-dependent species of an intricate and complex survival system. Instead we want to be the human boss of Earth – how wanky is that? More of us need to stop being wankers.
Q6. Occupy Savvy: What advice would you give to a woman becoming involved in activism for the first time?
Marama: The bigger your mouth, the more targeted you will be. That can suck but have a good cry and gather your authentic friends and support network around you – dig deep and keep going. And laugh. Never stop laughing.
Q7. Occupy Savvy: In what way have you seen your country change, over the last 18 months? In what way would you see it change, in the next 18?
Marama: The neoliberal narrative is frightening and has become more and more aggressive. We are so sucked into the vortex of blaming individuals and denying the structural and historical contexts to our social ills. This is why the progressive narrative is essential – we all have a responsibility to bat back the lies whenever possible I believe. Over the next 18 months I would so love to see the current deficit stories being flooded by the insightful critique and analysis of voices that have been quiet in the background so far.
There is real joy for me in the community and grassroots initiatives that have been rising up as well. Community strength can do so much for local neighbourhoods and families to shine despite the oppressive structures that surround them. But we cannot rest our work simply on the hardworking communites. We have to destroy the current constructs for those very communities to really flourish.
That concludes the third part of “Women Warriors Of The Global Revolution”. We thank Marama for repping New Zealand in this series and for being such a fantastic role model for women in our country. Keep an eye out in the coming days for interviews with two other wahine toa; from the United States and Australia.
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