Weathering Catastrophe: Writers’ Week panel discussion

This Writers’ Week panel discussion, recorded and aired on Radio New Zealand, centres around Simon Winchester’s book Pacific: The Ocean of the Future. Radio New Zealand International journalist Koroi Hawkins and academic Pala Molisa discuss the environmental, legal, political and practical issues related to how we in Aotearoa currently respond to natural catastrophes around the Pacific Rim. RNZ National’s Lynn Freeman chairs.

“Social crisis tied to climate change”: interview on Waatea News, post-Cyclone Winston

“Pala is an economist by trade, but humanitarian and environmentalist by nature.One of his primary goals is to bring all Pacific / Moananui a Kiwa peoples together (like in ancient times) and have us all work actively and closely together to support one another through the elemental, environmental and ultimately socio-economic changes already in progress. Our newly formed indigenous network of Climate Change Warriors acknowledge there is a disconnect between Maori and our Pacific brothers and sisters.”

Listen to the full interview on Waatea news here.


Rebuilding early childhood education in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam

See a report by Wendy Griffin of VSA, on rebuilding early childhood education in Vanuatu in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam.

“In two Provinces, many Kindergartens have not been rebuilt and remain under tarpaulin, tents or in temporary shelter.

We had some fantastic news last week though. Victoria University Students Association in Wellington has raised some funds for Vanuatu with advice and encouragement from Dr Pala Molisa, a lecturer from Vanuatu based in Wellington.

With the support of the University, Volunteer Service Abroad, the NZ Ministry of Education and the Vanuatu Early Childhood Care and Education Unit, funds will be allocated to the building of a multi-purpose, model kindergarten, resource library and field-based teacher training centre on Tanna.”

Report from the Eye of the Storm

Read an excellent report on the first day of the Pacific Climate Change Conference -hosted by Doctor Pala Molisa and Professor James Renwick at Victoria University of Wellington – by Thomas Leaycraft of Scoop .

“Molisa believes the lexicon for mainstream discussion has been stripped of the appropriate radical language. Words like “ecological holocaust”, “ecocide” and “biocide” should be part of society’s working vocabulary.”

Waitangi Alert


Here is the audio of this talk given by Pala Molisa at the Waitangi Alert protest stand on the Wellington waterfront, February 6.


Kia ora koutou, ni sa bula vinaka, talofa lava, halo olgeta, Fakalofalahi atu.

I want to speak today about colonisation in the Pacific. I want to do so as an indigenous person of the Pacific, but I also want to acknowledge the significance of the date today – February 6, where we mark the Treaty between the New Zealand crown and the tangata whenua of Aotearoa. I want to acknowledge the iwi of Petone, the iwi of this rohe, te Atiawa, Ngati Toa. And I also want to acknowledge the bro, Te Kupu – it’s really important to organise initiatives like Waitangi Alert, for the simple fact that there have been a lot of nationalistic myths that have grown up around Waitangi about te Tiriti, and these are the myths that have passed down through our schooling system.

When I came out here in 1993 I went to Nelson College, and going through all the social studies, the history courses at secondary school, it’s an extremely sanitised version of New Zealand history and Pacific history. In fact we do not learn about Pacific history at all in secondary schools. We do not learn about colonial history particularly, from the point of view of indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

We learn history as told through the dominant viewpoint of Pakeha society, and we learn about colonisation being essentially a benign process, a process that is fraught with certain problems, but from a cost-benefit point of view, it washes out as fairly benign because it established a state that’s built on biculturalism, on an agreement between Maori and the European crown. That’s what we get taught at school.

From an educational standpoint though, it’s always really important to question dominant narratives. It’s not really a true education if you get told a certain view of history and you are not given the tools to question the underlying values that that narrative is based on and also the underlying viewpoints. There are different ways of interpreting history, and a properly critical educational experience has to expose students to these multiple perspectives. And we do not get that at school. We do not get that at secondary school, we do not even get that in tertiary education, unless of course you are lucky enough to come across an exceptional teacher who takes the liberal arts and the ethos of the humanities seriously. These are all about critical thinking, critical analysis and exposure to different perspectives.

The same thing should be said for Waitangi. If you look at the dominant narrative of Waitangi it actually provides a view of te Tiriti and the Treaty as two documents: one written in English, one written in Maori, but essentially the same thing. With certain contradictions, but contradictions that can be reconciled through what they call – in jurisprudential discourse – Treaty principles.

What I’d like to suggest today is that idea that you can actually balance or reconcile these two documents through mechanisms such as the Treaty principles, is fundamentally misguided. Because if you look at the text of te Tiriti, the one in Maori, it actually incorporates, recognises and affirms – like the 1835 Declaration of Independence – it affirms certain values and principles grounded in tikanga Maori that are fundamentally irreconcilable to anything in the Treaty.

That is something that really doesn’t come out in our schooling systems, in our mainstream media, and also in national political discourse. I’m talking here about the language politicians use in parliament, generally speaking.

If you look at te Tiriti – like the 1835 Declaration of Independence – it affirms tino rangatiratanga of Maori. Whereas if you look at the dominant narrative in mainstream media and political discourse, the idea is that Maori gave up sovereignty to the New Zealand state. The English crown, at the time.

You cannot actually square those two key contradictions. If you think about the social, economic, political and cultural effects of that, it has had incredibly detrimental effects for Maori. Losing at least 97% of the land – but not just that. If you look at all our contemporary statistics around social wellbeing – from health, from poverty, unemployment, vagrancy and so forth – the effects of that colonisation and disposession still plays out today and it is fundamentally justified by this dominant narrative.

One of the other things that mainstream political discourse tries to sell us especially on days like this, Waitangi Day, is this idea that colonisation is a thing of the past, and it’s something that we need to get over, put behind us and almost forget – because we need to move on, and we need to build a unified New Zealand. And of course there are connotations here, with Don Brash’s speech back in Orewa – where he calls for a “One Nation, One People”. And you hear echoes of that too, with successive governments leading up to the present, where they really try to push this idea of “One Nation, One People”.

There’s nothing wrong with that – but if we are to build a culture that is founded on unity, that can only be done if we actually face up to and are able to honestly confront some of the ongoing realities of colonisation today. That’s another thing I’d like to suggest: that colonisation is still an ever-present reality. You can see that manifesting itself in many different ways. Colonisation isn’t just a process of outright genocide, land dispossession and the destruction of economic, cultural and political institutions of indigenous peoples – it is also a process of sanitising history and of presenting to people ways of understanding the world that actually overlook a lot of the mechanisms of colonisation today.

Te Kupu referred to the TPPA before, which if you boil it down to some of its basic elements, it is fundamentally one of the biggest corporate power grabs in global history. But of course the New Zealand government is passing it off as a necessary trade deal in order for us to remain competitive in a globalised world. Of course what they never mention in their own rhetoric is the fact that globalisation is about a race to the bottom. It is about cost-cutting, reducing wages in order to attract foreign investment, and now through the TPPA it is all about trying to protect the financial interests of multinational foreign corporations.

And they are trying to also put into place mechanisms where they can start to privatise, and start to get at, a lot of the money that’s come out from the blood, sweat and tears of Kiwis, of Kiwi workers to build up the public infrastructure of New Zealand. Education, healthcare, for instance – all these are worth billions of dollars, and foreign corporations are very interested in getting their hands on it.

Ever since the 1970s economic depression, we’ve had successive waves in shorter and shorter cycles of boom-and-bust markets, and each time companies are faced with profitability crises. And what they’re trying to do now is to liquidate the money, the wealth, the social wealth that is tied up in public infrastructure. So we are seeing the cannibalisation of the very public goods, the public institutions, that make liberal democracy possible.

That is only one of the most recent examples of colonisation – the taking over of public goods, the assimilation and destruction of indigenous lifeworlds. There are connections here that we need to begin calling attention to.

If we also think about the wider Pacific, perhaps the most egregious human rights disaster is the genocide that is going on in our own backyard in the Pacific – it’s the genocide that’s going on in West Papua. West Papua is a country that is occupied by Indonesia, and has been occupied by Indonesia since the 1960s when the Dutch government passed off West Papua to the United Nations, and the U.S. used its political and economic clout to convince the U.N. to give Indonesia a mandate to provide a referendum to West Papuans to see whether they wanted independence or to amalgamate, cede sovereignty and become part of Indonesia. They call that the “Act of Free Choice”.

That was supposed to be a referendum that was put to all West Papuans, 1 million people. What actually happened was the Indonesian government scrapped that idea – their idea of so-called “Free Choice” was to round up about 1,000 West Papuan representatives, who were supposedly representing all the other West Papuans from the communities they came from, and under gunpoint they were told to vote to amalgamate with Indonesia – if not they and their families would face military retribution.

So under gunpoint, those West Papuan delegates voted to become part of Indonesia and that was called the “Act of Free Choice.” Ever since then, and even beforehand, West Papua has had a never-ending independence struggle and an independence movement. Fighting for independence. But the reason why Indonesia was so interested in keeping West Papua – West Papua is part of the same land mass that Papua New Guinea is on.

We never learn about West Papua in high school or in tertiary education. But from U.N. reports, anywhere from 350 to 600,000 West Papuans have been murdered – slaughtered, ever since Indonesian occupation began. And it is an ongoing genocide. It is the Palestine of the Pacific. And I say it is the Palestine of the Pacific because alongside the continuous military repression – you can’t talk, you can’t speak in your indigenous tongues in West Papua without fear of reprisal, you can’t fly the West Papuan colours of independence without fear of military reprisal. That is something you can’t talk, you can’t speak, and you can’t think about in West Papua under this Indonesian occupation that is going on.

You also don’t hear about it in the New Zealand media and in the Australian media, because there are huge economic interests tied up with West Papua. West Papua is one of the most mineralogically rich areas of the Pacific. It is the Africa of the Pacific in that sense. Freeport, which is a U.S. multinational company, has the biggest goldmine in West Papua, and like Papua New Guinea itself, West Papua has so many other resources in the ground. That is why all these countries are there, and it is also why the New Zealand government and New Zealand companies do not want to speak out about West Papua. Fonterra alone has something like $300 million dollars worth of exports to Indonesia, and hence that is why in mainstream media in New Zealand, you will never hear about West Papua.

But West Papua suffers the most destructive processes of colonisation going on at the moment in the region, and I think one of the challenges we face today – and I think it is good to raise this on a day like Waitangi – is to start to connect movements that are fighting for decolonisation here in Aotearoa – with movements throughout the Pacific. Especially in a time like this, when we face not just one or two forms of social and ecological crisis, must multiple cascading crises, across the board. Climate change has been in the media, and it’s taking up most of the global discussion when it comes to environmental discussions, but all these things are linked.

The deepening inequality that we’ve had over the last 30 to 40 years, climate crises, the pollution that we’re seeing in the environment, the relentless topsoil loss, all that is an outgrowth of a system, an economic system that is predicated on relentless growth. I’m talking here about our global capitalist system.

You know, these are very simple truths. If you have a system that will collapse and convulse if it doesn’t meet the market imperative for a certain rate of growth each year, it is a system that has to continually expand on a compound scale in order to simply be self-sustaining. But of course, on a finite planet, you cannot have an infinitely expanding, materially expanding, system. That’s akin more to something like a cancer, rather than a healthy social system in line with ecological imperatives and ecological demands.

But of course again, you do not learn these simple truths in tertiary education, because we teach more to fit our students to be part of the system, to conform to the system, rather than equip them to be critical thinkers that can question the fundamental values and assumptions that their own disciplines are based on, and that the institutions that they are going to be manning when they leave our schooling system, to be able to question those as well. These are simple questions around power, around inequality, around exploitation.

Again, crises like the one that the people of West Papua are facing – these are connections that we need to make between what is going on further out in the region, and what is going on here in Aotearoa.

A big thank you again to Te Kupu, and the whanau who put this on, it’s such an important kaupapa to support. I’m really proud and honoured to be part of it. I also want to acknowledge all the other kaupapa around Waitangi today, tino rangatiratanga, and all our colonisation movements.

Tank yiu tumas, Papua Merdeka, and kia ora.


On Peace, the Pacific, and West Papua

Transcription of a talk given by Pala Molisa after an introduction by Rodger Burt, at Pataka’s “Peace Talks”, 10 October, 2015.

Artist: Rodger Burt

It’s an honour to be here, and to be part of interventions that are aimed at reframing the way we think about some of the greatest problems we face today. War, or militarisation is one of those, and it’s so great to be within a space that attempts to reframe how we think about war and how we try to deal with war from a peace ethic, as opposed to an ethic that always accepts the sacrifice of some of the most precious and vulnerable people in our societies. When we talk about war here in New Zealand, as we talk about war in all our ‘postcolonial’ (in scare quotes) settler societies – those that we sacrifice, those on the front lines, they’re always our indigenous, native, brown and black people. So it is really nice to be here.

I would just like to share a couple of thoughts about what our indigenous traditions would say about the path to peace. I don’t want to overlook the diversity across all our native traditions, but I think there are a few commonalities that you could almost say are some of the universal truths that bind, across all our traditions.

I think, you can’t have peace if your societies are based on lies. Peace is based on truth. You also can’t have peace if you live in societies that are based on atrocities, and those atrocities are based on what Andrea Dworkin calls ‘a deep silence’. This is a culturally and socially sanctioned silence.

If you think about the situation of Pasifika peoples today – and when I say Pasifika peoples, I want to clarify that I’m talking about all our Pacific peoples outside of Aotearoa, and I am talking about our tangata whenua brothers and sisters in Aotearoa. We are all Pasifika, and when we think about our position today, we are at the bottom of all our social and economic hierarchies – whether you talk about our health indicators, our economic indicators, social inequality has been deepening in Aotearoa for the past 40 years – but we are the ones who get it in the neck. One in ten Pakeha live in poverty in New Zealand; 3 to 4 Maori and Pasifika live in poverty in New Zealand. 1 in 4 kids are in poverty in New Zealand; 3 out of 5 Maori and Pasific kids live in poverty in New Zealand.

The question you have to raise is: why are we this way? There are historical reasons for this, and I think recognising that history is important, but I also want to recognise things that we also help perpetuate as a community. I think part of that is: we accept that sanctioned and imposed silence on our communities. The second thing is: we do not seriously that teaching inside both our indigenous traditions and also in our Christian traditions, that if you want to understand the nature of reality and you want to understand the nature of society, you have to start with what Jesus called ‘the least of these’. You have to start with what the liberation theologians called the ‘crucified peoples of history’, or what Franz Fanon called the ‘wretched of the Earth’; those at the absolute bottom.

When I think about the condition of Pasifika peoples for Aotearoa, that has to be, without doubt, those are our Maori brothers and sisters. They were here when the first ships from Europe arrived, and they are the ones who have been subjected to forms of systematic dispossession, 95% land loss, the displacement of tikanga Maori as a supreme law of Aotearoa – to something that is only practiced and which reigns supreme on marae. That is only a small insight into the colonial realities that we face today in Aotearoa.

Just an example of the colonial silence is the fact that we don’t talk about colonisation anymore, as an ever-present, everyday reality. If you look at our mainstream cultural discourse, we talk about it as something that happened in the past, not something that is happening today, dictating our everyday lives.

I talk about Aotearoa rather than West Papua to begin with, because I think if we want to change things, we have to start with where we are at, today. I begin with Aotearoa because I want to make the link to West Papua in this sense: if you move outside of Aotearoa into the region, probably the place where the definition, the legal and the United Nations definition of genocide and cultural genocide is most apt, it is probably West Papua.

Because the Indonesian government has kept out the press for so many decades, direct evidence of genocide is really hard to come by. But there are some very important studies coming out of Yale, coming out of the U.N. itself that offers very strong evidence showing that this process of genocide is now taking place in West Papua.

Estimates show that 5,000 people thus far have been killed outright for political reasons. Just for flying that Morning Star flag. There is also a state policy by Indonesia at the moment, to try to displace the population: trans-migration policies. Indonesia’s approximately 250 million people, the region of West Papua is only around 4.3 million. Right now, West Papuan and indigenous people, our Melanesian brothers and sisters, they’re now 48% of the population. Indonesians are now 52% because of this policy by the Indonesian government of taking people from the mainland of Indonesia into West Papua. They are systematically breeding out – the same thing happened here in New Zealand to make Maori a minority population – but that’s what’s happening now. There are a few estimations that are coming out: by 2020, that indigenous population of West Papua will come down to 25%, from 48%. That’s in five years. And you can do the projections outward. This is a process of ‘breeding out’ – that’s the blunt term – of breeding out indigenous people.

On top of that, there are also policies of cultural assimilation. They are pushing, they are separating, they are doing the same thing that Australia did under the white Australia policy. They are separating out our babies, from their mums and dads, putting them into foster care. The other thing they’re doing is religious conversion, and also educating, through the schooling system, educating West Papuan kids in the language of Indonesia and suppressing their native dialects.

If you look at people like Moana Jackson, Ani Mikaere, and a lot of our indigenous scholars: colonisation is premised on different planks. It’s not simply premised on killing out, physically; breeding out, physically, the indigenous population, it is also trying to kill the culture. First by separating people from the land, also by killing the language, and also by killing the cultural institutions that give the indigenous people their unique identity. That’s exactly what is happening in West Papua. If you put all those things together, the term ‘cultural genocide’ is not hyperbolic. It’s not an overblown description of what is going on. I think it is a really accurate term that is able to show the truth of what is happening in West Papua.

To close, when I think about the things that we have to do here if we want to do anything about West Papua, the first is we have to think about ways of breaking the socially imposed silence – the silence that is first of all already imposed on discourse about colonisation here in Aotearoa, and also making connections, important connections, between what is happening here, to our indigenous brothers and sisters here and our Pasifika peoples here, and those happening in the wider region. But if we have to do that, one of the most important challenges to face is to rethink and challenge some of the understandings that we have internalised.

A lot of our indigenous scholars talk about the problem of internal colonisation: where you accept self-understandings that keep you in subjection. We do not have time to go through all of these, but a couple of those I think are really important are first of all, this thing that Maori and Pacific are two distinct categories. Because essentially what you’re saying is, Maori and other Pacific people aren’t family. And we know that is not true. We know that is not true. And we all know about family: I don’t like you for certain things, you don’t like me for certain things, but underneath that we are family and we have to re-weave those threads of our collective and shared whakapapa that colonialism has broken, and that has to be an ongoing project.

I’d also suggest one of the things we have to do as part of that project is to reject those categories: Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia. Who the hell gave us those categories? Those categories did not come from us. Those categories did not come from our forebears. Before those categories came along, we were people of the Pacific. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as these isolated islands, little, vulnerable islands that have no power, no agency on the stage of world history. We are part of the richest, most culturally diverse area of the earth. We started traversing up and down the South Seas long before anybody else even thought of venturing beyond the horizon that was seen in Europe to be full of deep sea monsters.

So I think one of the things we have to do to address the situation in West Papua is to think about how those people over there – our brothers and sisters, that genocide that is going on there – if we do not address that, it will come on us, and it will come on our kids. There is such a thing as the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons and daughters. I don’t think in terms of karma, I think in terms of: if our generation doesn’t deal with the injustices that are on our doorsteps today, those injustices aren’t going anywhere. They’re just going to keep on coming down, through Papua New Guinea, through Solomon islands, down through Vanuatu, down through New Zealand. And of course, we know it’s already here. So we have to build that solidarity that our forebears had in the past, and we have to do that by breaking up the self-constraining chains and categories that we have that are given to us in school.

You know – you don’t get taught Pacific history in school. Real Pacific history. From Pacific peoples, from the standpoint recognising the needs, voices and aspirations of Pasifika peoples. We get taught a Europeanised history. And part of that project of self-determination and addressing the injustices such as those in West Papua, we have to start reclaiming that history as a part of our freedom struggle today. Kia ora.

Stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities: a protest march talk

To follow is a transcription of a talk given by Pala Molisa on the grounds of parliament in Wellington on May 1, 2015 in protest of the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Australia. Speakers discussed this recent policy in the context of a longstanding white Australia policy, and Pala’s talk was proceeded by Metiria Turei’s, which pointed out that “there have been more children taken since the apology for the stolen generation, than were taken during the stolen generation”. Pala used his talk to encourage activists to continue to draw connections between historic and contemporary human rights abuses occurring in Australia, the Pacific, and globally as well as at home.

Photo: Tere Harrison

If you look at any social movement for social justice that had a significant impact in shifting and addressing some of the atrocities around the world, one of the defining features of all those social movements was first of all, an ability and a willingness to connect the dots between injustices that happen to one section of the community and injustices that are happening elsewhere within that particular country.

If you look at the country of Australia, the first atrocity that ever happened when the English set foot there was certainly the genocide of the indigenous peoples of that land; but there were also other atrocities that came along with that, including the atrocities of inequality that the class society was based on.

In fact, if you look at the history of Australia, it is not just a history defined by genocide and a white Australia policy, it is also a history largely defined by profound social struggles. Australia was the first state to ever win a 35-hour working week for its working peoples, its labourers. It has a history of standing up to imperialism; it has a history of supporting the liberal arts, liberal education institutions, freedom of the press. The problem though in Australia – as we also have had here in New Zealand, since 1984 under the David Lange-lead Labour Party government – is that those liberal institutions have been systematically rolled back.

We are still under that particular process of systematic rollback today, here in New Zealand. That’s why we have one in four children [270,000 children] in poverty, that’s why our schools are closing, that’s why our more remote communities are also closing. It’s part of the structural imperative of cost-cutting that is going on. It is an ugly reality to face, but the thing we must always muster the courage to do is to face certain realities.

One of the realities we have to start grasping is that these injustices do not come out of nowhere, they come out of underlying systems. They are a product of how our societies are organised. So I think it’s right to challenge the Australian government on what they are planning to do, to forcibly close 150 indigenous communities – that’s certainly wrong – but I think we also have to realise the ongoing policy of genocide, cultural genocide.

I understand that term is quite a strong sounding term. But look at the criteria under international law and under our conventions for the prevention and punishment of genocide: the policies that the Australian government is carrying out has and continues to meet that definition of genocide. So I do not think we are being hyperbolic when we say that what Tony Abbott is doing is genocide, and I think we also have to recognise that this has been a longstanding campaign.

Our Aboriginal brothers and sisters – I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how they do it, surviving in a country that purports to be a first world nation, that  purports to be based on all these liberal freedoms and human rights, yet most of their policies are equivalent, as John Pilger states, to apartheid South Africa. They have the highest child suicide rate in the world. They have 5-8 times the incarceration rate of the height of the de Klerk-lead South African apartheid government. And those are not realities that affect all of Australia, those are the realities that affect our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.

We need to keep paying attention to that wider context, and draw connections between what’s going on there and other injustices including here in New Zealand, and we need to continue to hold to the truth. Because we don’t have much power, and we don’t have much power when you compare the resources we have with the resources of the corporations and the corporate state that is carrying out these policies. The only thing we can hold fast to are moral imperatives: what Vaclav Havel calls the ‘power of the powerless’. It’s when we refuse to bend our principles to privilege and power, and we hold to truth and justice. I think that’s what we are doing here today and in solidarity with everyone else throughout the world and in Australia.