A walk on an (un)finished path

I spoke to a beautiful Māori woman about her life without Māori language. She lived through a World War. She knew that her grandfather signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but she couldn’t prove his mark. In the face of colonisation and economic hardship, she was raised to be Pākehā, and to live without full participation in her Māori heritage. She talked to me about how her grandfather gave his land to Pākehā and how they also took his land and drove his family away.

I walked on his land. I walked on the town footpath, and when the footpath ended suddenly, forcing me to stumble, and watch my step, I knew that I had reached Māori country. I knew that Pākehā didn’t need to use that footpath anymore. They already had the road. That town, silent in it’s privilege, had no idea of the pain that was carried through the generations.

The narrative below is fictional, but the inter-related events are real. 

1845 May

Occupiers, how much land do you crave? I have given you land to build your town, and now we are cut off from the road we always travelled. We cannot hold back your appetite for more than you need. I saw the Treaty and the korero teka, the lies, that it held. In exchange for land, we were promised the same rights as you white people.

I know that if I do not give you land that you will take it, and you will take my people and put them in a cave prison, and turn them into your slaves. At least this way, we have a contract, and you, an obligation. I trust you. If I do not, I will go mad. I watch you build your homes and your towns. But for now, our food, and our knowledge is keeping you from starving, because while you have land, you do not know how to live in this environment. You came here to plant sheep and cows. Soon you will kill the land to eat meat.

1850 June

From my house I can see the post office, stores, drinking places – (why do you drink so much?) and the school. My children can read and write. Yet, I see in time that with new technologies created with our resources, you will leave us behind. The war in the North terrifies me – will the guns come here if I resist you? I need to be here to keep you away from my daughters – but I have to go to your stealing-courts, to petition your stealing-judges, to keep your stealing-hands off the land that remains to me.

Now you want more of my land to build a road to travel in the other direction past my village. You want to walk right in front of my home. You tell us that it will make travel easier for everyone. “We will all benefit” you say.

1855

Now I know that our lives have changed, and will never be the same. The Deed of Settlement that we signed means nothing to you. The Treaty your people signed, means nothing to you. Those papers, with so much promise and lies, will be food for rats and fire.

We have been cut off from our trading neighbours. We now take the back roads, through the bush, circling your town, adding an extra day to our journey. My children are not allowed in your schools. We are not allowed in your stores. We cannot even send a letter from your post office to your government protesting your actions.

1865

The wars in the North will reach here if we do not give in to you. You put a whole village of men in prison. Separated families, took women and abused children. My worry grows. You are like the rata – the strangler tree.

1890

You built a footpath for everyone in your town, and yet you stopped building at the boundary to my land. Yes, this is not the same as the pain endured by others – but it is another sign that the rata is growing stronger.

You take the water from our river, yet the water pipes do not come to my village.

1900 the century that I die

My land – is your land. My people – are your slaves. My language – is your language of lies and occupation. Where will the taking of my land, people and language end? Will my children know who they are if they are not allowed to be Māori?

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