Stories of Māori and Chinese solidarity: an excerpt from Dr. Moana Jackson’s talk

This is an excerpt of a talk by Dr. Moana Jackson at a public event organised by Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga (ASTR) in collaboration with Asian Law Students Association (ALSA) at Victoria University. The connection between the two groups was created through Dr. Moana Jackson’s introduction and this hui instigated the Pōneke (Wellington) chapter of ASTR. The hui was attended by about 200 people and coincided with the Asian Aotearoa Arts Hui. Members of ASTR based in Tāmaki Makaurau spoke a bit about their journeys and background to ASTR, this was recorded and can be accessed here. These stories of Māori and Chinese solidarity Dr. Moana Jackson shared highlights the long history of relationships that are often erased and left out of mainstream narratives of history. These are stories of the Parihaka prisoners of war and Chinese miners in Ōtepoti (Dunedin) and Chinese market gardeners and Waikato. We hope by sharing these stories, we can continue these traditions of solidarity and the refusal to be pitted against each other to maintain colonialism and white supremacy. This excerpt is shared with permission and transcribed by MZ.  

Moana Jackson: What I thought I’d like to do and I hope it’s of some value is first to commend Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga, which I think is a really important group for a number of reasons. One is because the whole issue of the treaty and the obligations that I think goes to everyone who wants to make this land their home too often gets siloed as a Māori and Pākehā thing, or Māori and others thing, which tends to deny the diversity and the entitlements of other people who share this land. And so I admire the young people who in the Asian community who have taken that initiative because I think every one of us has a part to play in making the treaty relevant and important as it should be in this country. But when I was asked if I’d come tonight, I wasn’t quite sure what to talk about. So I’d thought I’d do as I often do, tell some stories if that’s alright. 

One of the most disappointing things for me in recent years in this country has been at times, a fairly overt, and quite hurtful anti-Asian immigration sentiment that’s been expressed by politicians and others. And that process of Othering is a very common part of the history of colonisation of course, that those who have power will “Other” people who they think do not deserve a share in the bounty of this country. But the anti-Asian sentiment which was developed in this country sort of ebbs and flows as I’m sure you know. […] There are just two or three stories I’d like to share which is part of the relationships between Māori and Asian people which are perhaps not really well known.  

In 1881, the armed constabulary of the colonising government as you probably know invaded Parihaka in Taranaki. Parihaka was a peaceful community based on peaceful resistance to the taking of land and so on. So Parihaka was invaded by the colonial militia because the peaceful resistance was seen as a threat to the colonising power. The people passively resisted the invasion. In a really violent and sad and sordid episode, children were abused, women were raped and men were shackled. The men leaders were sent from Taranaki to Dunedin, and held as what the government at the time called “Prisoners of War.” But they were held in caves, and if you go down to Dunedin and travel round to the Dunedin heads, you can still see the caves there, where the people from Taranaki were held. 

Two really interesting things happened while they were down there, suffering really appalling conditions in the winter, in the caves. They were used as slave labour. There are stone walls on the drive to Dunedin heads and they were built by the men from Parihaka. But the two really interesting, and I think quite inspiring, things that happened were that first of all, the people of Ngai Tahu ignored the threats from colonial government, and took food to the people from Taranaki, took those who were sick and cared for them on their marae and so on. And that established a link between people of Ngai Tahu and the people of Taranaki, which remains strong to this day. And that story is quite well-known now. 

What is less well-known is that some decades before and around about that time, people were coming to the lower South Island as part of the workforce in the Gold Rush that hit the lower South Island at that time. A lot of those Chinese immigrants were subject to same sort of race hate and discrimination that our people were subjected to.

At one stage, the men from Parihaka marched from the caves to one of the settlements where the Chinese miners were trying to protect themselves from assaults from white colonisers, and sat as they had done in Parihaka was invaded, sat on the ground between the colonisers and the Chinese miners.

And that story is not very well known, but I like to tell it whenever that anti-Asian sentiment is raised and sadly, some Māori people buy into that. But that fact that those brave men from Taranaki went and did that says a lot, I think, not just about the spirit of Parihaka, but about the sort of relationship which anti-Asian sentiment tries to destroy. 

Artist imagination of solidarity the story of Parihaka men sitting between white supremacists and Chinese miners who were under attack. By MZ @fufighterarts

The second story I’d like to tell is also a history that’s not very well-known. 

In the first World War, the government – the white colonising government – introduced conscription to get our troops to be sent to Europe to fight on the western front in France and Belgium. The people of Waikato refused to serve in the military. The people of Waikato were led by a most inspirational woman, their leader was a woman called Te Puea. She led the opposition and said, the colonisers’ war against Waikato are still going, and so why should we go and fight for you on another land? So numbers of Waikato men were arrested for refusing to serve in the colonising army and were imprisoned in what is now South Auckland. Every now and again, Te Puea would bring people from the Waikato up to South Auckland and they would sing outside the fence to the men inside, sing songs that had especially been composed to give them courage, to fortify them in the struggle that they were having. 

Often on those trips at that time, from the early 20th century, there were a number of Asian and Māori people working in the beginnings of the market gardens in South Auckland. And those men and the people from Waikato were often fed by the Chinese market gardeners. 

And I’m sure there are a lot more stories like that of people suffering what is the in-built racism of colonisation and finding common cause, not necessarily in large-scale political demonstrations but in recognising the humanity of shared suffering. 

I think it is important that we remember those sorts of stories. 

In a sense, what the Treaty of Waitangi offered was a recognition of that same shared common humanity. In many ways for me, the treaty is the first Immigration Act ever passed in this land. Our people consented to other people coming to this land. But like any independent, politically astute people who allow others to come into their land, they laid down certain kawa or rules on what should happen. 

In very simple terms as I understand, the Māori words of the treaty, what we call Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is that the agreement was seen rather like a marae. There’s always a kawa on the marae or rules about how you behave when you go on to the marae. So you go on to the marae and you accept the jurisdiction, if you like, of the people to whom the marae belongs. You accept their authority. You accept that they will set the kaupapa of what will happen, they will set the agenda, if you like, for what will happen.

But on accepting that as a visitor, you do not give up your own independent authority, if you like. And what the interaction of the marae of what we call a pōwhiri, the process of welcome and response to welcome really seeks to do, is create a sense in which both sides are clear on their authority and their independence, if you like. But more importantly in that situation, welcome a chance for interdependence.

And so Te Tiriti o Waitangi for me welcomed people from somewhere else onto our marae. You are welcome. You can live your lives as who you are. But this is the basic kawa: that you will respect the rights of others, you will respect the land and you will work together to make this a better place. 

[…]

MZ: I am so grateful to Dr. Moana Jackson for spending his Saturday night with us that evening at the tail end of winter in 2018. This talk was held on land that belongs to Te Ātiawa, at the Victoria University Law school, across the street from the engine of colonisation (the Beehive). Since Moana Jackson gave this talk, these stories have stuck with me. Since then, I have heard more stories like this. Since then, I have wondered about what other stories exist that live in oral histories that aren’t well-known. These stories are precious and I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Moana Jackson for sharing them, for continuing these memories and these relationships. They teach me that solidarity has never been one-directional, and that Māori-Asian solidarity is not new but has a genealogy. They represent mutual aid in heightened moments of colonial white supremacy. They reflect what Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson calls “constellations of co-resistance”. Thank you for reminding us of the visions and agreement of Te Tiriti, that all peoples in Aotearoa have responsibilities to uphold and fight for tino rangatiratanga, to live as you say, in interdependence. I hope our communities can continue to work together to build a better place, to see constitutional transformation realised in the next 20 years.

E te rangatira a Moana, ngā mihi aroha ki a koe. You are truly a taonga and these stories are such a gift for us and for future generations. 


Many thanks to Kassie Hartendorp for her feedback! Writing out this transcript was inspired by the session on Conversations on Tangata Whenua and Asian Solidarity organized by Kirsty, Emma and MZ on behalf of ASTR, held during the Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change conference on November 13th 2020. This beautiful conversation was facilitated by Tze Ming Mok, featuring Sina Brown-Davis, Dr. Arama Rata, Sue Gee, Dr. Ruth DeSouza and Aaryn Hulme-Niuapu.

1 Comment

  1. Tēnā koe e hoa, thank you for sharing this beautiful excerpt. I only wish that stories like this were the ones spread and propagated by the media, rather than the anti-esque sentiments mentioned here, that serve to reinforce the division that is a direct result and therefore responsibility of the coloniser. Ngā mihi nui, ka nui te mahi. Noho ora mai, nā Duncan.

    Liked by 1 person

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