Hui Review ( Talking Together About Race And Place ) by Elli Yates


Ko Ranginui e tū nei, ko Papatūānuku e takoto nei, tēnā kōrua. E mihi ana ki te te māunga, ko Wharepapa, tēnā koe. Ki te awa, ko Wangapeka, tēnā koe. Ki ngā mana whenua o te motu, ko Ngāti Kuia koutou ko Ngāti Rārua, ko Ngāti Koata, ko Ngāti Toa Rangatira, ko Ngāti Tama, ko Te Ati Awa, ka tuku mihi ki a koutou.

The moss underfoot was sparkling spongey green, the scent of woodsmoke filled the air, a pot of green Tara soup bubbled on the stove. I remember thinking: oh no, I’m not ready for this; the community’s not ready for this; I wish we’d just decided to have a heart sharing about our love for the land, that would have been so much more relaxing, isn’t that what everyone needs right now?

It’s a familiar feeling – wanting to backtrack to a place of comfort. The key is to smile at the offended ego, the one who’s worried about appearing incompetent, the one who doesn’t want to acknowledge pain. Offering a smile to the perfectionist inside, I was reminded of all the conversations I’ve had with people I respect about the uprisings on Turtle Island (AKA the USA) following George Floyd’s death in May, and the oceanic waves of action throughout the world since. In the centre of my discomfort sits a belief that I’m not smart enough or awake enough to join the conversation, and that if I do there’ll be so much hurt to face that I won’t know how to cope. Pausing by the new steriliser, I recognised this feeling as white fragility, and pressed on.

If there’s one key message I’ve taken from anti-colonisation / anti-racism work this year it would be that white people need to talk to other white people about race and power and privilege. Just like sexism is not a ‘women’s problem,’ racism is not a problem belonging to people of colour. So, when Willow, Hadleigh, Dan, Rowan and I were called to host the 2020 Community Hui, there was no doubt in my mind about what I wanted to bring.

The obvious place to start with this is whakapapa, or genealogy – the kinship layers that connect us to all other living beings. Personally I have been inspired by whakapapa work in te ao Māori, so I’ve started researching my own family history, and found this to be a rich inquiry. We began the day with an exploration of family histories which, among other things, saw two members in the circle identify a recent(ish) blood connection. In te ao Māori this process is called whakawhanaungatanga – the practice of making relations through the recitation of stories.

Secondly, we opened a kōrero around the Five Precepts, drawing on work from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Themes emerged from this exercise about how we can relate, as a largely white sangha, to histories we don’t understand and cannot know fully. Recognising the difference between intent and impact helped us explore the first noble truth – that we suffer and others suffer at our hands, and often we are completely unaware of this. In the same way, we recognised there are thoughts and feelings and habits of mind that are so deeply moulded by a culture of domination and supremacy that we are mostly blind to our own racism.

Touching on ignorance and voicing our insecurities about ‘not knowing enough’ was a poignant moment to share the beginning of a long research project into the history of Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Māui and its many inhabitants from beginningless time until now (in indigenous words – Te kore, Te pō, Ranginui, Papatūānuku and the many many beings that follow). This was a chance to mihi to the ancestors of the land, acknowledging their presence and mana. This mihi evoked a palpable sense of connection to something far deeper and more ancient than our own forty five year history on the mountainside

Having acknowledged some of the pre-colonial whakapapa of place, we turned to an acknowledgement of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which has allowed Tauiwi (non-Māori) to live here. There was a general feeling of “I never learned this in school” shared by many, especially when we came to read aloud a timeline of ways in which Te Tiriti has been dishonoured since 1840 to now. Covering this content was eye-opening, and left me feeling a bit empty. The perfectionist inside wants confident answers to all the questions, to unpack all the reasons why and get wound up inside an intellectual discussion about it. But there’s room for another journey alongside this, one that can sit with not knowing and humbly accept the challenge of non-closure. As a Pākehā, I recognise I have a long journey ahead and behind, of reckoning with my white privilege and unlearning some of what I have absorbed through conditioning . I have never been so grateful for the practices of clear seeing in light of such complexity.

As I switched off the faithful urn after the last person had gone to bed that night, I reflected on our sharing circle in the afternoon: how the light dimmed as the day closed in, the fire burned down to embers, the kid’s lively voices from outside interweaving with solemn moments of heart-sharing. In the end, the hui was about our love for the land. In this spirit, it was exciting to explore as a sangha what it might mean to live in right relation as ancestors on this land. I hope the kōrero continues and that we can reach out to each other for support on the path of awakening to and healing around colonial histories. I hope that as a sangha we can step into more respectful relationship with tangata whenua. I am committed to opening my eyes wider to creative ways of decolonising this land, and the hui helped me feel our strength as a collective to carry this intention forward. I believe that during this lifetime a Tiriti-based world will emerge, and I hope that the Wangapeka community will continue to develop in support of this kaupapa.
Elli Yates