Tuesday, 25 October 2016

To strike or not to strike: The repercussions of being a 'big mouth' who cares.

So today I participated in a New Zealand Tertiary Education Union protest around seeking a better deal for Professional Staff at my place of work - notably for those who are paid lower than the current living wage for the incredible amount of work that they do.

Because I participated in this protest, I and other colleagues will have an hours worth of our salary deducted from our next pay round to reflect what I am being made to feel is considered civil disobedience lol.

I just laughed at that but really I am baffled. Working in the tertiary sector is not what I imagined it to be. It's not a 9 -5 job. You can't just leave work at work. I bring work home every day. I miss out on so many family/friend moments because I'm constantly doing work. It's not a 9-5 job because my students also work full time. They send me work at 11.00pm. In my bid to build and maintain an international profile (one of the requirements) I am up skyping and emailing at ungodly hours. I know for other people in other sectors this is also true.

The tertiary sector is in a constant state of endless change. Although public investment in tertiary education in NZ is high (in comparison to the OECD average) much of that goes to students as loans and grants than as direct funding to institutions which means Universities have to act more and more like businesses to stay afloat - at least that's what I'm told. One of the benefits of today's protest was the opportunity to talk to other union members about the ever increasing workloads, the lack of appreciation for the over-and-beyond (what we get paid) service to further the character, aims, goals, aspirations and public profile of the institution. Not to mention the collective sense of surprise and disappointment at the uncalled for reaction of the employer - given the incredible amount of unpaid work we all contribute in our various roles.

The last time this protest happened, the reaction was the same. I beamed with pride as other colleagues collectively noted their dissatisfaction with the response from the ivory tower, coupled with anecdotes of the over-and-beyond service this place so much depends on in order for it to be the best it can be - for our students.

Although I don't earn as much as my other colleagues :'( I was happy to sacrifice what little I had in support of this cause. I then went back to my office and finished late again because at the end of the day - the work still has to be done. Four Universities were engaged in some form of collective action today I was told.

And here I am at home, on my laptop, about to respond to emails and work on other projects I have due. And the fight continues. #TEU

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Emancipation of Pati & the Validation of Me.

On finishing my copy of "Out of the Vaipe", I felt a strange sense of completeness. A bewildering peace took over, and I suddenly realised this is the first time I have felt like this in a long time. The first time, I, as a Samoan, living in NZ felt validated, felt I was finally visible within a piece of literature! I felt real. I wanted to write and profusely thank the professor. I wanted to give him a gift of thanks. But what could I give? And what words could I draw upon that would rightfully acknowledge my whole hearted appreciation of this latest piece of work, and of him, and the impact it has had on me?

I begin humming. 'Butterfly'. Most people who know me know I worship at the temple of Ms Carey. I know what you're thinking. Mariah Carey and Albert Wendt - how absurd. I did worry how the Professor would take being compared to Mariah - on the surface level - to many a pop star, but an artist in her own right.

There are however some connections that can be made. The two of them represent the best in their fields.  Mariah, the number 1 selling solo/female artist of all time, and Pati - the Pacific's greatest literary hero - of all time. Sure the thematic focus of their work is markedly different - however those of you who are able to look beyond the glitz and glamour of the 'Touch My Body' - Mariah will appreciate the depth of her work, and understand how her pain and life experiences feature ever so melodically and soberly in works like 1991's 'Vision of love', 1995's 'I am free', 'Looking In', 1998's 'Outside', 'Butterfly', 1999's 'Petals', 'Can't take that away', 2001's 'Reflections' 2002's 'Through the Rain', and 'My Saving Grace', 2005's 'Fly Like a Bird'2008's 'I wish you well'.

These to me were/are more than mere pop singles - they are anthems that a lot of people have connected to in different ways. Music is an art form that is able to express and understand that which social conversation often shuns and ridicules. The power of validation can thus take shape in many different forms. 

It's true what they say about indigenous people who struggle in education systems that rob them of their cultural identity, glossing over indigenous stories as Wendt highlight's in 'Vaipe'. I had similar experiences in the NZ education system, gripped with the same anxiety, self doubt and hopelessness as a result and what I suspect was the purpose of the entire system at the time. I too had no stories that I could connect to. I learnt about the American Wild West - how settlers begun their lives in their new lands, constantly plagued by the Natives who lived there. We learnt about Australian ore mining in geography (zzzzzz), Shakespearean literature in English, and very little about Aotearoa's history - history from the perspective of it's indigenous peoples. 

At the same time, mainstream media and society were promulgating extremely negative perceptions of what it meant to be a Pacific islander in NZ. The forever present and growing gaps in academic achievement, the predominant focus of high rates of crime and poverty in low socio economic areas where most of us lived. There was no escape. And although I loved learning and gaining insights from different aspects of the Western World, I struggled as a younger version of myself, to balance a strong cultural identity and way of living at home, with an education system and society that basically whitewashed and sought to exterminate everything we knew, and everything we were.

I immediately drew upon Carey's extensive catalogue for solace, comfort, and hope. At the time, she was the only person I felt who was speaking clearly to those who did not conform to mainstream social stereotypes of gender/race. Mariah, through her art spoke of the struggles of being Bi Racial in a largely racist America, the identity crisis brought on by the obsession of other's and their need to feel superior and constantly question difference (Outside). I connected quite easily to messages of hope, serenity and the drive to break through and to break free (Butterfly). I dreamed of a future where Pacific people in NZ would no longer have to be treated and viewed in this way (Vision Of love/ Heavenly). It was Mariah and Me. She was my 'hero' from afar. 

My parents were my local heroes, but their lived experiences and journeys were markedly different from mine. Complaining about how unfair the world was thanks to capitalism and how western education systems diminish indigenous identities and cultures appeared pretty rich for someone who schooled in the land of 'milk and honey' and did not have to 'walk miles barefoot on rocks in the sweltering sun and monsoon-like rain with no lunch to get to school'! Got it every time :) They did what any good Samoan parent would do, which was to 'encourage' (in the broadest sense, sometimes by force) their children to get on with it :)

Having finished 'Vaipe', I felt a strong connection to Professor Wendt's life and story. Another not so far away hero. Although we are not connected by blood, I felt connected to him as a fellow son of Samoa - spending much of his life outside of the homeland. At the book launch  I felt at ease knowing that even at this stage in his prolific career, he still get's nervous about things like public speaking. I felt a strong connection to the reality of this great man, stripped bare for all to see. I connected to his love for family and friends, his passion for learning, and an ever present feeling of self-doubt and nervousness. I too eagerly awaited 'fagogo' from grandma Mele, smiled in acknowledgement of his scholarship. I also felt his dread and fear as he departed Samoa for Taranaki. I cried when he received that fateful letter about his mother. 

I entitled this piece 'The Emancipation of Pati' because of the sense I got from both the book launch and from reading this book, that it's production and completion represented a sense of emancipation. A great achievement of sorts which captures ever so poetically different moments of the Professor's life. A life which he said he 'carefully sifted through' in order to produce for public consumption. He alluded to other stories remaining untold, and the potential for those stories to hurt those he loved. Initially I was curious to know what those stories are. I then continued to read and that curiosity vanished. I respect his answer. The Professor makes it rather clear that he and his experiences are only part of the puzzle that is life. His wonderfully articulate and clear conceptualisation of the 'va', and the significance of relational space(s) to him affirms this.

I am not sure what else an Emeritus Professor and Great Chief would have left on his list of things to do/achieve at this point in his life - but I hope he can lay to rest all those anxieties and fears he felt over the years, and enjoy his emancipation; and join in the celebration of his legacy. I am certainly enjoying my validation :)

You can get your copy of 'Out of the Vaipe' right here!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Yes this was the most exciting thing to take place on a Tuesday night! And the most important! The first of the #TPPADontSign tours/public meetings took place in the Auckland Town Hall tonight. 

I wanted to learn more about what other great atrocities this government continues to commit, and so I watched enthusiastically tonight to listen and learn from the voices and insights of the experts, Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland and fellow International TPPA expert Lori Wallach followed by commentary from political party representatives in NZ opposed to the TPPA.

If you don't know by now, the TPPA stands for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Background information on the TPPA, who it involves, and what it means for ordinary citizens like you and I, is nicely summarised here http://itsourfuture.org.nz/what-is-the-tppa/

Essentially, the gist is that our rights as citizens, our democracy and freedom of choice are being undermined. Sold off to Multi National Corporations (MNC's). In addition, the process to which NZ has signed up and 'consulted' on this agreement has been terribly flawed. The National Government have all but lied, and kept in secret the true intentions of such an agreement. Professor Kelsey highlighted how the recent National Interest Analysis (NIA) (a document required ahead of parliamentary selection committee inquiry) is yet another set of lies, 'devoid of independent insight', by a government desperate to sell the TPPA as a winner.

Marama Fox of the Maori Party put it bluntly when she declared that the audience (country) was now experiencing what Maori had experienced (and continue to experience) over 175 years ago, having their sovereignty ripped away! The Maori Party came out quite clear and strong outlining where they stood on the issue! Anything that jeopardizes the the Treaty will be opposed by them! Marama also rightly asserted that what work's for Maori - works for the rest of us.

The Green's Meitiria Turei was the only political party (leader present) representative who boldly claimed that if in Government, the Greens would work to pull NZ out of the agreement and that any such future agreement would require a fair and transparent process that considered the impacts on both the people and the environment. Labour's Grant Robertson spent the first half of his 8 allocated minutes romanticizing over Labour's legacy and impact on trade historically, also attempting to promote Labour's housing policy. While it was clear from Robertson that Labour were firmly against the process this government has taken on the TPPA, it was not all clear that the Labour party would vote against it. Robertson then finished by unconvincingly stating that the Agreement did have some economic benefit, before running out of time.

NZ First's Fletcher Tabuteau agreed that there would be some increase in GDP, 1% to be exact and that it would only benefit MNC's already trading in NZ. NZ First was quite clear in it's stance against the agreement.

Expert papers have been drafted which consider the impact of the TPPA over 5 broad key areas which you can access here including: 

  • democracy and the rule of law (sovereignty)
  • Investment
  • Maori Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • Enviornment
  • Economy
All is however not all lost. Once the agreement is signed on 4th February in Auckland, it will still need to be ratified in Parliament. And it will not go ahead until each of the 12 partner members to the TPPA ratify this on the ground level. We have an opportunity to continue fighting this and stopping it in it's tracks!

If you're free come along to the Public Protest Feb 4th 12.00pm on Queen Street

If you're based outside of Auckland check out the other public meetings scheduled here: 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Love Life Fono: Conversation, community and diversity

The Love Life Fono kicks off this evening, marking it’s 10th anniversary of celebrating, supporting and advocating for gender and sexually diverse Pacific communities in New Zealand and the broader Pacific region. We chat to member of the organising committee, Tim Baice, about his Love Life Fono journey and the importance of community discussion.
“I first heard of the Love Life Fono in 2013 through some colleagues and was immediately drawn by the theme 'Voices of the Third Spirit' which to me presented a unique opportunity to meet with other members of the Rainbow Pacific community, and to listen to their stories and share our experiences,” says Tim who has been responsible for the International strand and the Education strand of the workshops which take place on Friday.

Liaising with participants from across the region who are engaged in similar advocacy work from a variety of organisations Tim says he has been deliberate in attempting to connect what is currently happening across the region to what is a currently happening in New Zealand. “In particular connecting to current discussions on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals across the world.”

Tim says Love life Fono provides an opportunity for a conversation that would otherwise take place in isolated spaces and different silos. “This is a bringing together of a diverse and often misunderstood members of the Rainbow Pacific community, wherever they may or may not find themselves on the LGBTQUI spectrum or alternatively on the MVPAFF.

“We know that Pacific youth have the highest rates of youth suicide and often issues of identity (whether cultural, gender or sex/sexuality) are often attributed causes. 

“The Fono is a space where health/education/social sector organisations focused on raising awareness, and supporting Rainbow Pacific people's which creates a safe and enabling space for younger members to have access to key health/ sexual health/social services. Because of the vastness of the community the Fono is a great example of the intergenerational equity as well as intergender solidarity, where young people are mentored by older peers, and older peers learn and are in touch with the younger generations within the rainbow Pacific community.” 

With a significant amount of thinking and planning going into the development of the Love life Fono, Tim says that the great thing about the organising committee is that they are all from different professional and community backgrounds. 

“What unites us are our Pacific cultures and our common commitment to supporting and advancing our communities,” he says.

“Our working contributions to this Fono have been informed by these diverse professional and community backgrounds, for example in negotiating the theme/ programme for this year's Fono we brainstormed as an organising committee and then allowed community members through the various organisations we are associated with to provide feedback. In addition, a Cultural Custodians Council was formed comprised of senior Pacific community leaders who have had previous involvement in the Fono, or are working in spaces directly linked to this work such as the Member of Parliament for Manurewa Ms Louisa Wall, and Siaosi Mulipola of Village Collective. 

“The organising committee met with the CCC in late October, and the feedback received on our ideas was generally positive, and focused specifically on how we could draw some actionable outcome statements at the end of the Fono, something the Committee had already pre-empted.”

While Tim acknowledges community support as instrumental to the work done by the committee he says it is also important to note that communities are diverse and varied. “They are not homogenous social groupings and this is important to understand when working across different sectors/ and groupings within communities.

“Families, Schools, Churches etc that make up ones local community are important sties for individuals to navigate and negotiate their identities and roles, and it is important that we continue to ensure that these spaces are safe and empowering for them.”

Tim says across the Pacific region there are common areas that need to be highlighted and discussed in relation to LGBTI people’s rights and well-being.

“Discrimination and access in the spaces of employment and education and the need to create safe and empowering spaces is important,” he says. “For our trans community this has been a particular issue, but more broadly in schools being able to create safe, accepting and empowering environments which requires us all to continue working with schools, churches and families.

“For others, law reform is needed in Pacific countries where same sex relationships and self identifying as gay is still illegal.” 

He says it is important to highlight "the freedom and power of being able to self identify."

Published online 3 December 2015 via: http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/33/article_17631.php

Thursday, 26 November 2015

No woman no cry

On reflecting on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which is today, I think back about Fatima Tupa'i - a young mother in Samoa who was beaten to death by her husband while she slept next to her two kids. There are too many tragic stories like this in our small region and it must stop!
Recently I listened to a young North Korean woman, Yeonmi Park who spoke at the recent One Young World Summit in Thailand, but it was speech at the Summit in Dublin 2014 that captured the worlds heart and highlights why in this day and age we require the observation of this day. Internationally observed days like the day for the Elimination of Violence against women provide us all with an opportunity to critically reflect on our own lives, but more importantly to look outside that box and to see and understand how others live and experience theirs. Yeonmi literally had the audience in tears with harrowing tales of life under the repressive North Korean regime and her perilous escape to freedom.
Here she speaks about being brainwashed; of seeing executions; of starving; of having to watch her mother being raped; of burying her father on her own at just 14; and of threatening to kill herself rather than allow Mongolian soldiers to send her back to North Korea.
I cannot even begin to imagine or fathom what these experiences must of been like, and so on this day and on every other day I will continue to acknowledge and salute her strength and resilience, as a symbol of hope and a beacon of light for all other women across the world who find themselves in similar circumstances. Yeonmi is a survivor.
I pay tribute to and pray for those who died in vain; and those who will continue to lose their lives in vain unless we as a global community tackle this issue of addressing and eliminating all forms of violence against woman. I hope we all pause to reflect on this during this years White Ribbon Campaign.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The poverty blame game that we cannot afford to continue

My heart sank when I read an illustrious Professor in Samoa joined the ranks of those who continue to blame the poor for their poverty. This negative - lens approach is not only disempowering, but also contributes  to a greater misunderstanding about the multidimensional nature of poverty, and to the inflation of some of the worst myths and stereotypes we have about our own people (simply lazy, that's why they are poor) hampering any genuine attempts to greater understand this in critical depth, also undermining  attempts  to mobilize social support in initiating change within our communities.
In reading this article I wasn't fully sure what point Professor Viali was trying to make. In his attempt to provide a level headed analysis of the current situation of 'poverty' in Samoa, he leaves out some fundamental points about the nature of poverty which leaves room for misinterpretation.

“Everyone cannot be rich, so we need the poor in society to continue to drive social policy of our country, we need that.
“When there is no poverty we suffer because that part of us that requires giving to the poor is missing. “Giving and feeding the poor is absolutely necessary for our psyche.”

What the Professor should have pointed out is that under capitalist neoliberalism this assertion that societies need people to remain as the underclass is true. Capitalism is predisposed to function successfully where there is an underclass to support and buttress the wealth of the rich. That is fundamentally how it works. This would probably be a somewhat accurate depiction of Samoa given the current economic modus operandi..... however I think it is somewhat misleading to then say traditional models of kinship and subsistence farming are the answers to addressing poverty; these are after all the traditional social institutions which have been compromised thanks to the hand of the free market and ongoing globalization.

Indeed, in responding to claims of poverty most Pacific people will tell you that our cultures and societies had never heard of such a thing, and that poverty is the antithesis of how our societies and social relationships were traditionally structured and organised. This well rehearsed notion which figures in many a study about Poverty in the Pacific is at times over romanticized, and is still being used to justify our social stances against people who we consider to be lazy, and as a consequence of that laziness, poor. "Giving and feeding" are core aspects of the reciprocal  nature our culture, but I disagree with the assertion that people need to be poor so we can feel better about ourselves. This I believe to be the remnants of our colonial past, indoctrinated by the church and then adopted uncritically within our cultures.

Professor Viali does make a couple of claims that most people will agree with; the problematic nature in which development projects/assistance are structured and that of the prevalence of relative poverty vs absolute poverty in Samoa (great to read that the Ombudsman's office is currently working on collecting extensive data on all forms of poverty in Samoa).

However, the article also fails to elaborate on this concept of 'relative poverty' - the discussion should of then moved on to consider the implications of 'income inequality' in Samoa as the instigator of relative poverty, highlighting that the trickle down effects of neoliberal economics and development have failed; to trickle down that is with wealth largely concentrated  within the hands of a select few. But this is the problematic nature of this concept of 'relative poverty' being assessed within the context of the economic reality and the social and cultural perceptions of poverty on Samoa. Those who 'have' lament the plight of the 'have-nots' with little understanding (and perhaps little care) about the impact of structural (economic, cultural,  historical) forces and how these shape the unequal playing field we all must operate within and negotiate.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently said in an interview that he had a hard time growing up when his father gave him a small loan of US $1 Million to begin his business. In his small world (and mind) of the ridiculously wealthy, that amount of money is probably considered small, but it just goes to show how we as humans can manipulate words and their meanings to suit our individual purposes.

Edwin Tamasese recently highlighted the costs of cash crop farming and agriculture in Samoa is beyond the reach of most local farmers, who are further  disadvantaged by their lack of access to capital. Lazy we say? Parents whose children are on the streets as vendors who wish to forgo rural lifestyles to pursue urban opportunities against a system which says "you do not have a place here, where is your land and why are you not working it? "- Again we say Lazy. At the end of the day we all have an agenda. It is unfortunate however that the agenda of this rhetoric is to maintain the status quo so that 'we' can revel in our 'wealth' and ensuing powers of access, opportunity and choice, and then use this advantage to look distastefully at those who lack and are working their hardest to address this, effectively keeping people in poverty. (Downward envy much).

What gains do we make from constantly belittling and labeling people as lazy? How are we within the comfort of our own relative wealth justified to then pass judgement on others who do not enjoy the same freedoms and accessibilities in life?

We all know that communities of people who are constantly told negative things about themselves tend to internalise and adopt these identities, which then shapes wider social perceptions and thus our responses. We can achieve so much more with a positive and more understanding approach and realising our roles are not as judges upon this earth but as fellow citizens committed to a fair realization of social justice for all!!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Asia Pacific Greens Federation Congress

I have had such a great time at the Asia Pacific Greens Federation Congress (June 12 - 14 2015 in Wellington) meeting people from the region hearing about the fantastic advocacy work they are doing in representing their people, indigenous groups and more vulnerable groups in society as well  as the work they are doing around climate change it has been great sharing ideas and knowledge around what works.

Although I was initially disssapointed at the lack of Pacific representation at the forum I now see it as the task of the few of us that are here (myself, two  reps from Solomon Islands and one from Papua New Guinea) to reach out into our networks and to get them connected.I came to this congress a bit hesitant, thinking anything that is Asia-Pacific is largely going to be about Asia, but instead of complaining we need action to tie in the wonderful work that is currently being done across the Pacific through bodies and organisations that are not necessarily political parties. There are of course numerous benefits in working together but we must also note that there are significant differences that warrant specific, special  and regional attention and I am happy that as a result of numerous discussions, a Pacific network is now being advocated for and that the Congress do its part to reach out to groups across the Pacific - with the assistance of the few of us that are now part of the Congress.

Benefits include being part of a global network, being part of an international movement seeking to hold everyone to account on Climate change, providing a forum for networking and sharing of ideas and best practice - providing international support and recognition for local level advocacy projects, having access to the tools and knowledge needed to implement this stuff on the ground.I have had two major concerns and priorities during this congress, connecting this movement to the fantastic work and groups doing this work in the Pacific I. E. The Pacific Youth Council, Pacific National youth councils (SNYC), various NGOs and also connecting Pasifika communities to the local and global movement here in Aotearoa NZ.

I note that climate change is not everyone's number 1 breakfast topic, but it should be, and to those of us (within the Pacific community) who still this day deny that it has any relevance to inner-city, suburban 'diasporic Pasifika communities', just remember where you came from, where your parents and ancestors are from! We have a responsibility as a regional and 'global community' to care and to be accountable and do our parts and to hold our government's to account when they are not doing all that they can (hello Pacific people in NZ, AUS, USA). We,  on this side of the ocean, MUST for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the ocean, do our parts, to try our best, and to think about the Pacific as a whole - not just those of us who are (unfortunate) fortunate to live inside the diaspora. This is important in remembering that many of our elders not only left their island homes so that their children could have better lives and better access to education (somewhat questionable in some parts and no Latafale it was not to gain 'wisdom' that is any better than that accessed in the homeland) but also so that WE (yes the collective and royal we) do what we can to give back to the land and people that nurtured (and the culture) that sustains us and also to support the ongoing development of our islands/ communities and families.

There were over 21 resolutions passed at the Congress and a few of them involved the Pacific I. E the call to support West Papua's desire to join the Melenesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as a sovereign independent entity (although a bit dissapointed that the clause in which we condemn the Indonesian government's ghastly human rights record in the area had been somewhat watered down).  Another resolution condemned the government's of Australia and New Zealand and their spying on the electronic activities of SOVEREIGN countries in the Pacific in order to maintain power imbalances /status quo. Another resolution called on Australia and NZ to take more seriously their obligations to refugees via the UN Refugee Convention.

It has been wonderful sharing with like minded people passionate about the environment and social justice, and it is through opportunities like this which enable all of us to pause, reflect and to refresh and enhance our knowledge and approaches and to keep fighting the good fight.Looking forward to getting more of our 'Pasifika' warriors on board!!