Auckland Museum panel discussion: Mana Wahine

The history and current state of feminism was the subject of a lively panel discussion recorded by Radio New Zealand at the Auckland Museum.

“According to Dr Pala Molisa, pay inequality is one of the most fundamental economic issues that a lot of women fought for in the early years of feminism, and it’s still a problem today.

However, he thinks that it’s really only one of the symptoms of gender inequality which exists in a patriarchal culture greatly affected by colonisation. “We really can’t start to get our heads around pay equity,” he adds, “until you start confronting the wider structural realities of colonisation as a whole.”

Not necessarily so, according to Dr Ngahuia Te Awekotuku.”

Click the link above for the Radio New Zealand podcast.

Radio New Zealand: Pala Molisa – A Ni Vanuatu Radical Accountant

See here for a Sunday morning radio interview with Pala Molisa.

Pala Molisa is the son of two of the leading lights of Vanuatu’s independence movement, he represented Vanuatu in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games, and he’s an advocate of a radical new accountancy that brings a whole raft of social indicators to your typical balance sheet. Pala Molisa is a lecturer at Victoria University Business school.

Kava club: On climate change for beginners, decolonisation, and self-care

On Sunday evening, May 15, the Kava Club ran a screening of the film “Plastic Paradise”, and followed this with a panel discussion on climate change. Ahilapapa Rands facilitated, with Pala Molisa, Teanau Tuiono, and Tina ‘Non Plastic Maori’ Ngata answering her questions.

To follow is a transcription of Pala’s contribution.

Ahilapapa Rands: Can you give us your “beginner’s guide” to climate change?

Pala Molisa: I teach down at Victoria University – I teach accounting. So a lot of the students that I teach, they don’t have much of an “environmental” background. So I try to boil it down to the most important points, and one thing I always say is that climate change – globally, collectively – is probably our most serious issue. It’s probably an understatement to call it an “issue” as well.

Your generation – the ones I see up the front here, you young people – if we don’t do something now, to substantially change the rate of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere… well, in scientific terms, they say we are 1.5 degrees warmer than baseline. Baseline is where we were somewhere around the 1800s – that’s when the industrial revolution started. That’s when we started having big factories, big industry, burning with coal – big steamships. That’s really when we started noticing the world getting warmer because of human activity.

So right now, we’re about 1.5 degrees above baseline. Most scientists would agree that if we go to 2 degrees above baseline, most complex life on the planet will die. We’re gone. Humanity – as a species – we’re gone.

The other thing I always tell my students as well – the Pacific, it’s really special. Well – it’s kind of obvious, we are special.

Teanau Tuiono: Look at us!

Pala Molisa: But I mean in a different way as well. The Pacific is special when it comes to climate change, because we’re going to experience the effects first, and we’re going to experience the effects the worst. We’re going to be the hardest hit. And the first hit. So, for instance, we’ve already seen five islands in the Solomon islands go underwater.

We’re the first that’s going to experience things like sea-level rise – we’re going to get crop failures, extreme weather events like superstorms: cyclone Pam last year, hitting Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu; cyclone Winston hitting Fiji this year – that’s all part of this global climate crisis.

The thing we need to keep in mind: 2 degrees doesn’t sound a lot, huh? But 2 degrees is really important if you compare it against the ability of plants to adapt to weather changes. Plants – the ecosystem is really fragile. The rate we are warming the planet is something like ten thousand times faster than our plants can adapt to those warming changes. So they just die off. We just have whole species of plants, die off. That’s the situation now.

Ahilapapa Rands: So – what if you are in a position where you are coming to the table, and you want to affect change – it’s a two-tiered thing. It’s not just a climate change issue – it’s also structural racism, it’s also white supremacy… I’m sure we’re all on the same page that, these kinds of [social justice and environmental movements] have to be decolonising, or they’ll be nothing, right? Because we are at the front lines: it’s our bodies that are on the line, it’s our islands, it’s our whenua. So it would be good to hear from you Pala, what your thoughts are on that. 

Pala Molisa: Thanks Ahi. That’s something I think about all the time – in my work, and in the political projects I get involved in. I go through phases – in social change, you need to develop and realise different things, eh? One of the things that cuts across everything you do – you have to ground everything you do on a real concern to question everything. Critical education has to be one of the fundamental platforms of our struggle. Question everything – particularly question the education system, the conventional knowledge and wisdom you get from mainstream society.

Because one of the most important tools of colonisation is teaching us, “your culture is deficient, there’s something wrong with it”. That’s designed to make you lose confidence and pride in where you come from. And a lot of that’s connected to the erasing of our Pacific histories that link us together. One of my favourite Pacific thinkers is Epeli Hau’ofa, the great Tongan scholar who passed away in the mid 2000s. When our decolonisation movements started coming through the Pacific in the sixties, seventies, Epeli was one of the ones who came at the end there.

One of the things he touched on, he said: Really, in order to rise up to the challenges of our time, we need to reclaim again cultural models of who we are that are rich enough and that empower us.

I go out to Naenae – I look at the way our boys are schooled – most of our boys are schooled and taught that you better be amazing athlete and rugby player, league player – because if you don’t make it in either that or music – it’s over for you. because that intellect isn’t valuable. I call it “brown masculinity”: all body, no head. Then they teach other boys, Pakeha boys white masculinity – which values intellectual development.

But if you look at our models coming out of our own oral, cultural and spiritual traditions – look for instance at our model of the Navigator. What do you have to be to be able to navigate the biggest body of water on earth for 3,000 or more years? Coming and going between our islands? You have to be a scientist, you have to have knowledge of astronomy, you have to hold in your head all the different scientific knowledges of the seas, the winds, geography, and you have to be courageous. Fearless.

That – that is why we were able to survive here for thousands of years. And to live in place. You know – this world, this Western world, has so many problems now. You look at our own people, where we come from. Perfect food, perfect health, able to stay in place for thousands of years without destroying the land. That’s our cultures. We have a lot of the answers that this Western world has no idea about. And can’t solve. And they want to keep telling us that we have to look elsewhere, outside of our own foundations, to look for answers? No – no, my suggestion would be, No, that’s colonised thinking again.

If we can have the courage to go back to our roots, reclaim our roots – a lot of us don’t know it – my mum used to speak four indigenous languages. I’m not fluent in one. I can follow two. But again, that’s another consequence of colonisation. We have to stop looking outside for insight and inspiration.

This is our place. And if we don’t fight for it, no-one else is going to fight for it. No-one fights harder for Aotearoa than Maori – no-one fights harder, should fight harder for the Pacific than us. So when I say, What will we do? One of the most important things we can do is take that courageous first step, use a bit of imagination, and start tapping in again. Reclaiming that strength that’s in our cultures. And challenging everything that paints us out as somehow deficient, second-class and lower. This, this is our place.

This sea of islands – you know, we’re not little, fragile islands in this vast ocean. This vast ocean, this is our place. Some people would even say, this is our vast ocean empire. And colonised history took that away and tried to – you know, in the public sector we talk about “deficit models” – we are always being placed in deficit models. Our kids are somehow deficient, one way or the other – that’s not true. That’s not true. This system’s deficient. That’s why you see all these problems around the place now. And they got no answers.

So, to decolonsie, I would say: let’s follow some of our foremothers and forefathers like Epeli. Let’s start going back, and searching for those models that are going to be our guides. And let’s fight. Let’s fight to keep this place that we all love.

Ahilapapa Rands: On my own personal journey of decolonisation, which is just starting tentatively in the last few years or so – one of the things that I’ve encountered is a sense of – just becoming really overwhelmed. Or it just becoming too much. So I’m wondering about what your individual strategies are for self-care – how do you navigate those times, when the layers start to come off your eyes and you just can’t believe what you’re seeing, or what you’ve been internalising for so long? Could I get a little take-away piece of advice from you?

Pala Molisa: The individual journey – that’s really important, because you get strength from being able to make changes to changes that are easily within your grasp, eh. Reducing your plastic consumption, that sort of thing. But – actual change of institutions – you can’t do that by yourself. You have to get together with each other, you have to build collectives, movements. You look at all our independence struggles, you look at all our working class social justice struggles here – it’s through movements you build together, and, our base is in our community.

The thing I’d add to that is, especially for the young people here tonight – I think one of the challenges, one of the struggles that’s really going to help us collectively – is if you guys go searching for your truth.

Power always relies on lies. All systems of power. Whether it’s capitalism, the class power of capitalism; whether it’s the institutionalised racism of white supremacy telling you lies about your cultures being deficient, you people being good for nothing, all systems of power are built on lies. So if you can find truth – if you can find truth, you’ll feel it inside you, you’ll get stronger.

That’s one of the very first things you can do. Start questioning, start going: What are the lies I’ve been told? What are the really basic lies I’m being fed, especially at school? And you go finding your mates. And if you don’t have mates there, you can come talk to people like us, yeah. But the struggle to change is also built on the struggle to find truth. And there’s truth inside each and every one of you. You’ve got a unique voice, you’ve got something to contribute, but you’ll find that contribution if you find your truth.

That’s what I’ve found on my journey as well. My mum, she was an independence freedom fighter for Vanuatu, alongside Dad – she was also a poet and a feminist, a woman’s rights freedom fighter, and she taught me a lot of that. I ended up doing my PhD because of her, when she passed away. But that’s what started me on my journey. Tina Ngata talked about always being accountable to our whanau, and our ancestors as well. For me, the first one in line is Mum.

She’s already gone, but I know I’m going to meet her one day, and I want to make sure when I see her – I’ll be able to look her in the eye. And I think everyone will have whanau that you’re going to be responsible for.

All our ancestors, they gave us things to look after. Papatuanuku. And that’s being destroyed, so – responsibility. I always go back to – What’s the truth? Does this resonate? And that’s – once you start searching for that, you’ll start going places. Bumping into people. It’s almost like our ancestors are actually waiting for us to wake up, and once you start waking up, they’ll start pushing us where we need to go.

Teanau Tuiono: Like to Palmerston North.



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.


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.