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Our Land, Our Body: Training Advisory, June 2017

“For as long as Pōhakuloa has provided training for America’s military forces, the post has endeavored to be a good neighbor to the Big Island community.”

(U.S. Army)

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Love thy neighbor as thyself?

 I suppose that depends on how you see your neighbor, and more so, on how you see yourself.

I once heard the story of a young girl, innocent in mind and optimistic about the world around her. She loved to laugh. One day, she was taken by force, abused, and assaulted by a neighbor. And nine months later, she birthed the product of that violence, a reminder that neighbors do not always love, a reminder that neighbors are not always good.

There is no law saying that neighbors must first love themselves in order to love you. There is no law saying that neighbors who are destructive towards themselves must defy nature and treat you better. There is no law on neighborly conduct.

A couple of months ago, I stood in front of my students talking about military training at Pōhakuloa, the proposed bombing of Pagan Island in Micronesia, and the history of Bikini Atoll, Moruroa, Kahoʻolawe, and other islands in the Pacific, all targeted and abused.

We talked about the theory that the aquatic community in the popular children’s cartoon, Sponge Bob Square Pants, is the result of nuclear training in the Pacific, specifically Bikini Atoll, and that Sponge Bob and his friends are mutated sea creatures. We talked about a “vintage” aloha shirt from the 1950s that features the names of various Pacific Islands above pictures of mushroom clouds formed by explosions, and we questioned how a society can erase and replace such violence with bright colors and cartoons.

How do we come to celebrate conquest, we wondered.

One of my students, a man who once served in the army, then raised his hand and said, “When you’re basically being trained to kill, you’ll tell yourself anything to make it seem okay. That’s the only way you’ll be able to live through it.”

I paused: did the man who abused the little girl convince himself that it was for her own good? Was the child, who grew to be beautiful, meant to cover the pain of his creation? Was the girl supposed to forget?

My teacher, the late Teresia Teaiwa (1992), once wrote:

“The language of colonialism is closely related to sexual idioms of male dominance and female subordination…imperialists often describe the colony as feminine, submissive, and irrational…‘a certain freedom of intercourse was always the Westerner’s privilege; because his was the stronger culture, he could penetrate…” (p. 131).

Penetrate. Land. Mother. Daughter. Neighbor?

Last month, the U.S. Army issued their regular monthly Training Advisory. In June 2017, Pōhakuloa was to be made submissive, yet again, by force: by bombs, by live-fire training, by helicopter gunnery, and by various exercises and activities, day and night.

Month after month, it is an endless cycle of violent, non-consensual intercourse.

The neighbor continues to convince himself that this is his right, his privilege.

And the land, like the girl who loved to laugh, is made to believe that this is for her own good.

Love thy neighbor as thyself?

With the exception of proximity, there is nothing neighborly about the U.S. Military. We’ve prayed and protested. We’ve written and called. We’ve shouted and chanted.

We’ve cried.

And yet the violence has continued. The poisoning has continued. The silencing has continued, like hands over our mouths proceeding forced entry.

But the rhetoric of the “good neighbor” is strong. It convinces and fools. It tells you to be thankful for “security,” for “defense,” for “safety,” while the true villain stands before us, mocking.

But we will not lie down and take it. As long as we have breath, we will sing for change. We will never forget the little girl. We will never forget the violence.

For violence against our land is violence against us, personally:

“If you’re destroying and poisoning the things that give us life, the things that shape our identity, the places that we are from and the things that sustain us, then how can you not be poisoning us? How can that not be direct violence against our bodies…?” (WEA & NYSHN, 2016, p. 14).

We did not give our consent and we never will.

Love thy neighbor as thyself?

When a neighbors’ world is so destructive, there is no law saying that we must accept it.

And there is no law saying that we cannot put out our own advisories. Today, we advise on how to be a better neighbor, how to love land as self, how to stand for justice, and we send out an invitation to “train” for a different world.

References:

Teaiwa, T. (1992). Microwomen: U.S. Colonialism and Micronesian Women Activists. In The Proceedings of the Eighth Pacific History Conference, Guam, December 1990, edited by Donald Rubinstein. Mangilao: University of Guam Press and Micronesian Area Research Center, 125-141.

U.S. Army. Pōhakuloa Training Area. https://www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil/pta/

Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) and Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN). 2016. Violence on the land, violence on our bodies: Building an indigenous response to environmental violence. WEA and NYSHN. http://landbodydefense.org/uploads/files/VLVBReportToolkit2016.pdf


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Feel This: For Pōhakuloa

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Ruth Aloua at Pōhakuloa (permission to use photo granted by Hāwane Rios)

I do not have a knack for science.
I’m directionally challenged.
I lack common sense.
And I still use my fingers to complete simple math problems (my toes too).

So, when I’m encouraged to play the “scientific” game, or to speak in terms that powerful entities can understand (and respect), I feel insufficient.

I have a knack for words.
I find them in corners and silences.
I see them in colors and try to smell and taste them when I can.
And I still cry when I write my words down (each and every time).

So, when I’m told that my heart words are not enough to argue for justice, I feel like I am not enough.

A couple of months ago, I submitted a letter to the U.S. Army Garrison-Pōhakuloa (USAG-P) regarding the continued abuse of our land. The recipients of my letter did not know how to respond. It was well articulated and crafty, they admitted, but did not leave any room for negotiations or compromise.

I tried to explain that my poetics were meant to catch their attention, to point to the absurdity that there could even be compromise, and to highlight the fact that asking the public for complaints about “noise” marginalizes all other complaints.

I wanted to speak about more than noise.
I wanted to uncover hurt and make them feel it.
I wanted to unbury voice and make them listen to it.
I wanted to expose truth and make them eat it.

I wanted them to feel my words, our words, and cry with us.

But, I had to change. I had to start speaking in a matter-of-fact way.

I had to put my tasty words on the side and converse with them in terms they could understand. I had to attempt to engage in scientific discussions that I do not have the mind for.

I’ve written back asking about Depleted Uranium (DU), asking about a Hawaiʻi County Resolution that called for the suspension of live fire training, asking about when the military would honor the requests of the public—the public who has a right to know how they are being impacted.

With my limitations, I’ve tried to ask meaningful questions, questions that use their language, questions that they may see as worth answering.

And I have been told, time and time again, the same things: that DU is not dangerous, that there is monumental evidence to support this, and that if it posed any serious risk, they would not be there.

I’ve been told that they have nothing to hide.

I have been told that the County Resolution was non-binding, without the force of law, and that although they do not need to honor it, they do follow Federal laws.

I have been told that the Army is committed to the goal of transparency.

And yet they cannot see what is so apparent to me, or to us:

  1. Their lies.
  2. Bombing Must Stop. Period.

And still I try to read and comprehend the files sent, the websites referenced, the reports offered, those citing figures, presenting graphs, and making claims with jargon I can’t seem to “get”. And I wonder why they cannot make the same effort.

I engage in their game of science because they’ve already dismissed my heart. They want me to prove the injustice. They want me to prove the abuse. They want me to prove—with numbers, graphs, pictures, and scientific distractions—that bombing our land is wrong.

They don’t want to hear about Papa.
They don’t want to know her.
They don’t want to taste her.
They don’t want to feel her, to smell her, to touch her.

They don’t want to cry.

Meanwhile, that’s all I can do: stumbling with my science, gathering my words from corners and silences, trying to bring them together with tears.

And despite the fact that they do not know what to do with these words, I write them anyway, and will continue to do so.

Until they can move beyond mundane attempts to understand them with the mind and can begin to feel their pulse and,

Feel this.
Feel us.


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Earth Day Doom: In Defense of the Moral Argument

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I once had a friend who threw trash on the ground.

Not just his cigarette butts—which people tend to think are so small that they are somehow allowed to be smashed into the dirt and left there—no, not just the butts of his own addiction, but more than that.

We often argued about trash. Looking back, it seems like a waste of energy to fight over something that I thought should have been commonsense.

Don’t litter. Isn’t that just a given, a universal standard, something we can all agree on as just being good?

#PickUpTrash

Apparently not.

“It’s someone’s job to clean it up; I’m keeping them employed,” he’d say, as if he was really doing anyone a favor.

“What about the earth?” I’d plead. “What about Papatūāanuku?” I’d wonder pulling on the stories of his home.

He never believed in “stories.”

“Do you really think a woman gave birth to islands, do you reaaallly?” he’d ask as if there was no way anyone with a mind could value such “myth.”

#MyPhDExaminesMyth

I’d try to explain that it wasn’t the literal interpretation of the story that mattered, as much but the lessons. The stories tell us to care about the earth as we would our mother.

But this story isn’t really about my friend.

Rather, this story is about why so many people don’t care:
don’t care about the earth,
don’t care about the future,
don’t care to genuinely
care.

And what’s worse, this story is about those who pretend to care, or who put on the mask of concern, all the while being advocates of destruction.

#EarthDayDoomed

In her book great tide rising, philosopher and nature essayist Kathleen Dean Moore (2016) recounts a conversation with her neighbor about how to move people to care, to care enough to “save the world” (as pageant-y and overly-optimistic as that may sound). In a conversation about climate change, she states:

“My neighbor is a practical man. ‘Look,’ he says to me, ʻif you want to call people to action on climate change [or any other disaster], talk to them about what moves people to action—self-interest, money, and fear. Don’t tell them it’s wrong to wreck the world. Tell them it’s stupid or expensive or dangerous” (p. 17).

What her neighbor meant is that it’s not enough to fight the moral argument, to draw on ethics to make change. You have to show people how destroying the earth will impact them economically, raising the cost of food when our earth is so devastated that food is scarce; that it will impact them socially, as countries fight for what is left and as bombs are dropped, and fighting ensues, and as world wars are ignited to ensure a people’s ability to live in particular places over others; and that it will impact them culturally, as people lose ground to stand upon, land to live upon, the capacity to breathe clean air, to raise their children in the ways of their ancestors.

You can’t just say, “Hey, it’s wrong,” in other words. You have to tug at people’s concerns, he argued, which (unfortunately) are not often centered on the life of the planet for the sake of the planet, but rather on the life of the planet for the sake of human beings’ self-serving concerns: money, possessions, power.

I read this and wondered if that’s why the “moral” argument of “You should care for the earth as you would your mother” never quite worked with my friend.

While I sometimes took his apparent disregard of the land and ocean as a personal offense against my mother, Papahānaumoku, and against all of creation, he just couldn’t see how the immediate act of throwing trash on the ground led to larger, worldly consequences.

“What if 10 people, 100 people, 1,000 people, 10,000 people, 100,000 people all have the same attitude as you?” I’d ask.

That still never worked. And time and time again, I felt as if I had to send a personal apology to the ground, his whenua, on his behalf.

“I’m so sorry,” I’d say silently. “He’s been disconnected, the tie severed and never repaired; he doesn’t know you anymore,” I insisted. “But I will help him see you, embrace you, care for you.”

I hate to think that I never quite succeeded at that. But that, too, is another story.

#PersonalReflections

Suffice it to say, that was not my journey, but one I hope he makes on his own, when he is ready to reconnect to his own turangawaewae, his own place to stand, and his own place and role to protect.

As Kathleen Dean Moore (2016) expands:

“It’s not that we aren’t natural creatures, it’s not that we don’t live always in the most intimate contact with the natural world, which seeps in our pores and rushes through our blood. It’s that we lose track of that fact or deny it, and so shut ourselves off from a large part of our humanity” (p. 85).

Is it possible, I wonder, that a large part of our human race has lost such a large part of our humanity?

I thought about my friend yesterday and about Kathleen’s neighbor as I rode my bike in the ʻEwa sun. What kind of world are we living in when the moral argument is not enough, when people cannot just care to care, when they have to see how it’s impacting their wealth, their success, or their material possessions to give a damn?

What kind of world are we living in when we are so numbed that we cannot even respond to the world, the natural world, that “seeps in our pores and rushes through our blood,” seeing the world and our selves as interconnected, as one, always?

What kind of world are we living in when seeing the earth as mother is laughed at, mocked, pushed aside as “myth” even while humans all over the planet create actual myths: false notions of caring, false motivations, false connections, false support?

This is what’s happening at Pōhakuloa today.

Today, the U.S. Army Garrison-Pōhakuloa Training Area is celebrating Earth Day.

#CanICallThatAnOxymoron?

Brief advertisements state that the day will feature everything from recycling and upcycling, to garden tours, to petroglyph activities, to a “showcase” of the USAG-P’s “management of threatened and endangered species” (Hawaiʻi Tribune Herald).

When we express our concerns about the earth, not just on a designated “Earth Day,” but every day, our moral arguments—our arguments saying, “This is just the right thing to do!”—are pushed aside. Last month I wrote to the USAG-P. I submitted a poetic letter about “noise” (as they had invited expressions of concern about noise, as if that would be our main complaint).

With complete respect for the person who responded to me, and who has continued to have open communication with me, he didn’t know what to do with my letter. “Your email articulated thoughts and ideas very well,” he said, “but didn’t seem to leave any room…for compromise.”

Compromise?

#Hmmmm.

The life of the earth is not a compromise I’m willing to make. There should be no discussion when it comes to our mother, when it comes to our future.

But, apparently, not everyone feels this way.

And I can’t blame them.

Disconnection is the tragedy of our times.

Yesterday, though, I met with passionate people, people wanting to raise their voice for our ʻāina, wanting to use music and poetry, picture and film, political analysis and scientific knowledge to fight for the earth, knowing that we must make noise for her, even if and when people are not willing to listen.

Why?

Because we must show our children, and their children, and their grandchildren, that the moral argument is important, that the moral argument is enough, that standing up for the earth is just the right thing to do. Period.

A few weeks ago another friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook. It was a photo of trash that she had picked up at a beach in Kohala, a place that links the two of us, a place that nurtured our ancestors on the Big Island. She could not believe the disrespect, the disregard, the inability to simply pick something up, to look after the earth, to care. Her long, delicate fingers held out a bag of trash she collected, her wrist adorned with gentle tattooed reminders of connection: to the earth, to earth’s creatures, to the elements.

It made me think of the indigenous wisdom that she lives her life by: caring for the earth as our ancestors would. Native American environmentalist and activist Winona LaDuke (1999) argues that there is “a direct relationship between the loss of cultural diversity and the loss of biodiversity. Wherever Indigenous peoples still remain, there is a corresponding enclave of biodiversity” (p. 1). In other words, if we could just tap into the knowledge of our indigenous ancestors, we could remember ourselves, remember our connection, remember our ability to care for the earth as mother, to not strip her of diversity and beauty for our own sake, but to nurture her for the sake of the earth.

Of course, none of us are perfect and we do slip up and do cause harm, often in our daily actions: driving cars; purchasing foods that were farmed in unethical ways on land that has been destroyed; contributing to food waste; using too much plastic, etc. But, I see people like my friend and am reminded that we can make efforts to live more consciously, to be aware of the impacts of our actions, and to live by example.

My friend gives me reminders, ethnical and moral arguments, to care, and to care genuinely.

Of course, when she posted her photo, I noticed my other friend give it a big thumbs-up, an official Facebook “Like.” This was the same friend who would throw cigarette butts onto the ground, smashing them into Papa’s skin. Why did he like her photo, I wondered?

#KeyboardWarrior?

And that’s when it hit me: Sometimes it’s cool to care, or it’s cool to appear to care. So many of our youth are caught up in worrying about what others think of them. They are insecure, trying to find acceptance, trying to find themselves. The same goes for the not-so-young, like my friend. And the same goes for the powerful. Yes, the same even goes for entities like the U.S. Army Garrison-Pōhakuloa.

Celebrate Earth Day on a military training ground?

Celebrate Earth Day where destruction is a daily occurrence, where desecration is a daily occurrence, where pollution is a daily occurrence, where training for and advocating death is a daily occurrence?

#WHY???

Perhaps, just as it was cool for my friend to show his support of a “pick up trash” picture on social media—even while it was perhaps not cool enough to act upon that plea, to pick up his own trash, to pick up someone else’s, or better yet, to not throw any on the ground, ever—it’s “cool” for the USAG-P to appear to care.

While they “celebrate” Earth Day, they simultaneously attempt to cover-up the fact that they are Earth’s Doomsday. They appear to care, appear to accept the moral argument that loving the land is right, appear to be genuine in their attempts.

But I can’t accept that, not while they simultaneously abuse her, pounding her day after day, year after year!

They are like the insecure teen (or the once-was teen) who loves to “like” everything moral on Facebook, while not actually wanting to do anything about it, or not being able to.

And I for one think that our youth need far better role models, as do the not-so young and disconnected, as do all of us.

#ItStartsWithUs

For a real earth day, we can start now. Start with picking up trash because it’s just right to do so. Period. Maybe once we buy into one moral argument about something my friend once thought was insignificant, then we can encourage people to buy into more moral and ethical arguments.

And who knows, when these arguments become to norm and are no longer laughed at or pushed aside with eye rolls or dismissive email responses, maybe something like “Let’s stop bombing the land because it’s the right thing to do” will be so commonsense, so widely accepted, that we can’t help but do it.

Protect the earth. It’s just a good idea, right? I hope for the day when that’s not seen as overly optimistic, dreamy, or even fantastical, the day when the USAG-P not only recognizes the absurdity of celebrating “Earth Day” on a piece of earth they actively and purposefully destroy, but stops altogether.

I hope for the day we can all see just how cool it is to care. And more than that, just how super cool it is to care genuinely.
Not for appearances.
Not for the ego.
Not for a social prank, or a “let’s -soften-the-‘blow’-of-our-bombs-with-garden-tours” initiative.
Not even for us, really, but for the earth.

I have faith that even my friend will get there one day for he comes from far too great a heritage of kaitiakitanga not to.

We all do, even those at Pōhakuloa.

We are all born attentive and curious of the earth. We are all born as innocent creatures connected to the earth. We are born to be protectors of our mother. And although we may lose that as we grow, it’s about time we remember who we are.

Who we were born to be.

#AlohaʻĀina
References:

LaDuke, W. (1999). All Our RelationsChicago: Haymarket Books.
Moore, K. D. (2016). great tide rising. Berkeley: Counterpoint.


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Stop the Noise: An Open Letter to the U.S. Army Garrison-Pōhakuloa

pohakuloa

Pōhakuloa (photos by Hāwane Rios)

To the U.S. Army Garrison-Pōhakuloa (USAG-P),

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this letter of concern regarding your military training.

You opened up this space for community members to express their concerns related to “noise.” Therefore, I’d like to take a moment to comment on the noise and hope that these words will not be met with silence but with a swell of voices and actions, chorusing together for justice.

Noise, as you are well aware, refers to sounds: loud and sometimes-disturbing sounds, confused and sometimes-violent sounds.

Noise disrupts.
Noise destroys.

Noise, also has origins in Old English, in the sense that it was applied to quarreling. And in Old French and Latin, it comes from the word “nausea,” meaning seasickness.

Noise causes disagreement and argument.
Noise causes sickness.

In Hawaiian, we refer to noise as “hana kuli,” something that makes us deaf, something that can make us close our ears, our eyes, and eventually our minds, to injustice.

I’m afraid that so much noise may result in the loss of an ability to listen, to really hear us, to hear the earth, to hear our collective cries. I’m afraid that so much noise will result in silence, your silence…

…or the ultimate tragedy: our silence, our complacency, and our ultimate demise.

Last night I lay awake listening to the noise, feeling the noise. Each bomb shook my body. Each bomb shook my heart. And my thoughts shifted to my two-month old nephew, sleeping “peacefully.” I wondered about “peace.”

What kind of world is he growing up in? What kind of world am I to introduce him to when there have been more bombs than days he’s been alive and he cannot sleep without feeling them: his tiny body being impacted by the noise, his future being destroyed by noise, his home being bombed by your noise? When did his life, and the life of all of our children, become so un-important, so un-significant, so un-valuable that you would dare to bomb his home, threatening his resources, his livelihood, his chance to live in true peace?

As I write this I watch him drink, sucking at the source of sustenance that feeds him and I wonder, what about his mother? The earth? What about her? Who will feed him when she is too tired to deal with the noise, the disruptions, the desecration, the sounds that make us deaf?

Our mother lays exposed at Pōhakuloa. And you rape her; you take advantage of her, penetrating her with your phallic bombs, as if trying to show off your own masculinity, your own power, your own control. And all the while, I hear her screaming. I feel her screaming.

There. Is. So. Much. Noise.

And we are expected to be quiet, to be quiet-ed by the noise. We are expected to cower in the face of your supposed strength and force. We are expected to be rendered deaf, blind, and heartless.

We are expected to forget:

To forget that you seized 84,000 acres of our land at no cost.
To forget that Pōhakuloa is larger than the islands of Kahoʻolawe and Lanaʻi combined.
To forget that bombing any piece of land is unjust, but that bombing land that people live on is an act of war.
To forget that you used Depleted Uranium on our mother, letting it seep into her skin, our skin.
To forget that you destroyed historic sites, attacking the physical and spiritual center of our livelihood.
And to forget that you threatened—and continue to threaten—our health in every imaginable way.

But you forget. You forget that we are connected to our mother, to Papa, to the very land that we call home. And as long as she makes noise—voicing her discontent, voicing her anger, voicing her pain—we will be here to listen and we will speak, chant, shout, pray and sing until you hear us.

Do not feign deafness. This noise, our noise, cannot be ignored.

I will continue to be noisy: to speak noisily, to type noisily, to raise my voice with volume and intensity until you can hear me, until you can hear us, until you can hear the earth, and until you are moved and shaken enough to care.

Like a bomb to your heart, you will feel this. You must feel this and act.

So, I ask, what will you do to stop the noise?

Hear us and do not respond with silence.

Sincerely,
Emalani Case (making noise for all the protectors of this land)

Here are some of them:


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Plant Your Kūmara: Food and the TPPA

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“Whether we’re marching down Queen Street or planting kūmara, our movements matter. So, plant your kūmara.”

On the eve of the controversial signing of the TPPA in Auckland, New Zealand—a highly debated move that will be met with protest around the country—I sit on my narrow patio, admiring our small, city garden, and think about the impacts of this agreement. I will be the first to admit that there are aspects of the TPPA that baffle me, that test me, and that make me feel, for lack of a better word, quite dumb. And I’m not alone. I’ve been in many conversations over the last few months where people have quietly confessed that they do not know enough, or that they do not understand enough, or that the TPPA simply confuses them. They know they are against it; they just don’t know why.

So, I sit here, looking at my small garden—a large feat in a concrete, city dwelling—and wonder, is it really as complicated as it seems? Last weekend, wanting to both learn more and to support TPPA opponents, I attended a hīkoi, a march, to deliver a petition to New Zealand’s Governor General, urging him to not support this agreement. Before the gates of Government House, a woman grabbed the microphone and spoke passionately about the potential impacts of the TPPA. As signs and posters shouted phrases like, “Don’t sign away our sovereignty,” and “NZ is not for sale,” or “TPPA, Backroom Dirty Politics,” I realized that perhaps the reason for my own ignorance regarding the TPPA has something to do with the enormity of it. “Think about any aspect of your life,” she said, “health, education, children, food. The TPPA will affect it all.” Then she ended with what perhaps became the simplest and yet most profound phrase of the day—at least for me—“Our movements matter. Whether we’re marching down Queen Street or planting kūmara, our movements matter. So, plant your kūmara.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have room for kūmara (ʻuala, sweet potato) in my small garden, but I understand her point. Among the many aspects of our lives that the TPPA will impact, one is food, something that I am extremely passionate about, something that I feel is an avenue towards decolonization and sovereignty. To plant your own kūmara, the woman briefly explained, is to resist those large corporations that will and do seek to control what we put into our mouths. Therefore, resistance to the TPPA can be that simple: it’s about protecting our rights, our freedom, our sovereignty and, yes, even our right to choose and grow what will nourish us.

In her article, “Food, Farmers, and the TPPA,” Auckland University PhD candidate, Andrea Brower explains:

“There is a lot to loose [sic] in the TPP—control over land and resources, the tino rangatiratanga of Maori, affordable medicine, intellectual and cultural heritage, internet freedom, the ability to regulate the financial sector, tobacco laws…food and agriculture… it’s bad for farmers and local food security…”

As she further explains, other free trade agreements have had devastating impacts on local farmers and rural communities around the world when they were forced to compete with products from other countries. According to Brower, after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, “Mexico went from a country producing virtually all of its own corn to one importing nearly half of its staple food… Mexican consumers are paying a higher price for their (now GMO) tortillas…” Can New Zealand and other countries suffer a similar fate? It’s certainly possible. And with that, the TPPA may also impact New Zealand’s laws regarding Genetically Engineered Foods: “GE food labeling is only one of many food safety regulations that New Zealand may be forced to eliminate under the TPP agreement,” says Brower. When those laws are done away with, what then will we be putting into our mouths, what genetically modified crop from another country will find itself on our plates?

All of this makes me think. Perhaps planting kūmara, or even the small amount of vegetables that I have in my garden, is a movement—an action—that does indeed matter! It’s a small and subtle resistance, a small stand. Therefore, while I hope to attend TPPA demonstrations, marches, and protests, I will also plant my metaphoric kūmara because each of these movements is done with reason and intention. They have purpose in reminding us what we stand for and what we stand against, because we must know both.

As the sun shines down on my small garden, I look at the plants that I’ve already been able to pick and eat from, and I think, “This is a start.” Planting my own food, my own kūmara, will not solve everything. It will not prevent the signing of the TPPA tomorrow. But, it is an action that has purpose, an action that matters. In fact, even in countries devastated by war, by injustice, and by torture and brutality, where people are fighting for their lives, planting matters. In the country of West Papua, for example, planting kūmara is important. Last year, reporters from Māori Television’s, Native Affairs, visited West Papua—a country that has suffered human rights abuses at the hands of Indonesia, a country that deserves freedom and justice—and they recorded the words of one West Papuan who promotes, yes, the planting of kūmara, of sweet potato, because it forms the foundation of life: “The education of children happens in the garden. Men [and women] teach everything about life, the rules of life, behaviour, morals, even our aspirations, they are all taught in the garden.”

Therefore, perhaps it is in the garden, hands deep in soil, planting our kūmara, where we will not only learn about why we must stand against agreements like the TPPA, but where we will also show and teach future generations the values that we stand for, those that the TPPA threatens.

So go ahead and plant your kūmara, or whatever it is that you can plant, whether seeds or roots because our movements—even the small ones in city dwellings—must grow.


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Spiritual Action

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It’s time for “spiritual action,” he said.

Spiritual Action!

I stood back thinking about what an incredibly deep yet profoundly simple concept this was. “This is a year for prayer,” he declared, a soft feather hanging from his neck, dancing across the center of his chest. “Last year was a year for outreach, for education. This is a year for spiritual action.”

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t experience one of those, “Is he speaking directly to me?” moments. Perhaps some things are destined for our ears. Or perhaps sometimes we arrive at points in our lives when we are ready to not only hear certain things, but to truly listen to the messages that they have to teach us. I suppose I was ready for his ideas; or maybe, just maybe, I was ready for him to remind me how act upon my spirit.

A little over two weeks ago, I left Aotearoa and returned to my beloved Hawaiʻi for a visit. What I assumed would be a “normal” trip home, however, turned out to be so much more. I visited the same places: the farm, the hillsides, the valleys, the mist. Yet, something had changed. But the more I looked outward, searching for the difference, the more I had to go inward, realizing that what had changed was me.

One day, I found myself standing on the outskirts of a classroom, listening to his deep voice speak of prayer, and I realized that to pray is an action, one of recognizing connection and responsibility. It is far more than a solemn request or an offer of thanks. It is something that acts upon our relationships to the land, sea, and sky; to the past, the present, and the future; to ourselves and to one another. To pray, I realized, is to know our place in the world.

Having just completed an academic course of study, I wondered if there is any institution that can teach us this. We can write about prayer and the spirit; we can talk about it and even analyze it. Yet, to live it, or to act upon the guidance of the spirit, is an internal journey, an individual one. Perhaps that journey is what had changed my view of the external world, what changed the way I treat it, or the way that I greet it, each and every day.

I learned much from his speech, standing near a classroom of children, thinking about how fortunate they were to receive his words. He and his friends, affectionately known as the “Oak Flat Boys,” had come to sing on our mountain, to offer their prayers and blessing to our land and people. Coming home with no agenda, no set schedule or expectations, I opened up to the possibility of anything and everything, and on one breathtakingly beautiful day, I found myself on the summit of Mauna Kea, witnessing them lift their voices into the wind, sending it to the Piko o Wākea and beyond. They knew their place as defenders of the earth, as guardians of the spirit, as the singers of stories, the composers of hope, the choreographers of history. I stood alongside them, offering my own song, realizing that although we sang in different languages, and although our foundations lay in different lands, that we were standing for the same things: connection and responsibility.

We understood that to stand on the Piko o Wākea, on the summit of our tallest mountain, was to stand to protect it. It was to stand for all that it represents, to stand for the relationship that the land shares with the sky, that connects ancestors to descendants, that connects the people with their stories. We understood that origin and ethnicity did not matter in prayer, neither did language, for we recognized our shared responsibility to the earth, a responsibility that we were born to carry, that we are all born to carry. We understood that to guard the soils that we stand upon, the oceans that we sail upon, the skies that we gaze upon, and the histories that we build upon, is to stand strongly, shoulder to shoulder, nation to nation. That was spiritual action, using prayer—whether sung, spoken, or even meditated—to cultivate and motivate change.

We stood in the wind, a strong wind that carried our voices and our prayers on its currents, sending them floating and flowing to different realms: different lands, seas, and skies. And when we were finished, I knew that to act upon my spirit is to recognize my connections and my responsibilities daily, in both the small and seemingly mundane moments as well as the large and profound. We need not stand on mountains everyday, in other words, in order to stand for mountains. We need not be physically present on each sacred landscape in order to speak for them, in order to sing for them, in order to hope and pray and work for their protection. We need only recognize that to be of the earth is to be connected to it in the same way that a child will always be connected to its mother, long after the umbilical cord is severed. Physical distance never separates us from responsibility, from being guardians of the earth, protectors of the sacred, creators of history.

In spiritual action, I have learned, there is little room for hesitation and much room for courage: courage to stand, courage to act, courage to sing and dance. These are not new lessons or new insights. In fact they are old, incredibly old. I believe that my ancestors, as well as other indigenous people of the earth, understood this. They understood how to act upon their connections and to use that to motivate and inspire change. Therefore, perhaps all that is “new” is my being able to finally explain to myself what I always knew inherently but could never describe. It is quite simply and yet quite profoundly, spiritual action! It is the courage to act upon my spirit, to let it lead, to let it influence, to let it cultivate thought and to motivate action, to let it live.

I thank my Oak Flat teachers for this reminder: shoulder to shoulder, nation to nation, we will stand, our voices lifted into the wind.

Resources:

For more information on Oak Flat, visit: http://www.apache-stronghold.com


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Write, Write, and Right On!

“There lies your hope. Hope to rage and write. To rage and dance and stomp-shake the ground… laugh and rage and write, write, keep on writing, don’t stop till you get there.”

Epeli Hauʻofa, “Write You Bastard”

My niece, ʻĀkōlea, sign-waving for Mauna Kea and bringing me along with her.

My niece, ʻĀkōlea, sign-waving for Mauna Kea and bringing me along with her.

My skin can’t comprehend the cold. It’s bitterly cold, painfully cold. At times, my skin freezes, dries, even seems to stop breathing. I’m caught still. So I search for sources of warmth, anything to bring relief to my skin born out of warmer soil.

Today, I retreat to my desk and watch my fingers dance across the keyboard. I feel a small heat begin to spread slowly: from my fingertips, to my palms, to my wrists, arms, chest. It touches my heart. I rage and write, write, and right on, dancing, and shaking the ground. I find warmth in rage, not an angry rage, but a poetic one: an ardor, a fervor, a passion, a raging poetic passion.

“Poetry…is not what we simply recognize as the formal ‘poem,’” says Robin Kelley in Freedom Dreams, “but a revolt: a scream in the night, an emancipation of language and old ways of thinking” (9). I write for freedom, the freedom to dream and hope for a better future, even if I don’t know what that future will be. Perhaps that is radical: “What makes hope radical,” Jonathan Lear reminds us, “is that it is directed toward a future of goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is” (103).

So I write because I have to, because “In the poetics of struggle and lived experience, in the utterances of ordinary folk, in the cultural products of social movements, in the reflections of activists, we discover the many different cognitive maps of the future, of a world not yet born” (Kelly 9-10). I imagine and dream of that world, the one that my children and grandchildren will one day live in, and I choose to picture a world better than this one.

Today, I choose to imagine a mountain free of telescopes. The chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, Henry Yang, recently announced that construction will commence this Wednesday on Mauna Kea. Like a chill and like the polar blast that’s settled into Aotearoa, his words sting. But I do not let them stop me from dreaming because I refuse to fight and stand against something without knowing what I am fighting and standing for.

So I rage and write, write, and right on for the future that I’ve pictured, imagined, and dreamt of: a future where my descendants will not have to fight against the desecration of their sacred sites. This includes every “site,” from their land, to their ocean, to their very bodies, minds, and hearts. I may be called radical; I may even be called naïve. But my body burns, heated with rage, and as I write, I can no longer feel the cold. I am warmed by movement, by social movements of hope, justice, freedom, and true aloha!

So these are my words, my poetic ragings. I will write, sing, shout, and dance them, taking my fingers from the keyboard and putting them to the sky, the sea, and the soil, as I choreograph a better future, my feet dancing, stomp-shaking the ground.

Whatever happens, continue to rage. Continue to write, write, and right on.

E kūpaʻa mau ma hope o ka pono.

Works Cited

Hauʻofa, Epeli. “Write You Bastard.” Wasafiri. 12:25 (2008): 67. Print.

Kelley, Robin. Freedom Dreams. Boston: Beacon Press Books, 2002. Print.

Lear, Jonathan. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.