September 10, 2017
Another travel day, another exhausting day, but also another fruitful day. Today we woke up in Wellington, but will sleep in Auckland once again. The morning started out just like many others: rushed and hectic, with people scrambling to eat their breakfast and pack up their things. However, as soon as we left our hostel (The Dwellington), things calmed down and we started our voyage back to Auckland. After the shortest plane ride of my life, only 45 minutes in the air, things were beginning to look familiar again as we strolled through the Auckland airport looking for our gracious tour guide, Dr. Brad Coombes. Brad would be giving us a tour of a highly disputed piece of land historically owned by the Ngati Whatua of Orakei and known as the Orakei Block.
Although severely unprepared for the weather, the group followed, listened, and tried not to freeze our fingers off as we meandered through the Orakei block, stopping at several notable locations. Even though every stop was stunningly beautiful it was hard to pay the views any mind, while Brad informed us of the many evils committed to gain ownership of the land we stood on. From burning down Maori villages to running Auckland’s main sewer pipe right across their beach and into their waters, ruining one of the Ngati Whatua people’s main food sources, it was clear to see that the people here had been mistreated. The pipe didn’t just poison the ocean waters right at their front door, it also decimated the swamp they called home, ruining another food source and causing unhealthy living conditions. All of this happened amidst the Crown’s highly questionable acquisition of the Ngati Whatua of Orakei land. Even though this case of blatant theft seems particularly heinous it is not too unlike many others across the globe and many we have come across in Aotearoa.
Land has been, and continues to be, one of the biggest issues faced by indigenous peoples in settler colonial countries. The wrongs committed by the governments of these countries, such as the United States and Aotearoa, damage native people more than most can even imagine. My time here has provided me with a glimpse into their daily fight standing up for their own culture, but without my participation in this course I would have no idea about the struggle of indigenous peoples. I could have travelled all over the Orakei Block and not known any of its storied history just like I’m sure happens all the time when I travel across the United States. Perhaps one of the most important ideas I’ve adopted during my time here is to think critically no matter where I am, to consider who is writing the narrative, and whether I should take it at face value. I acknowledge that these are learned skills that I did not have before coming on the program, but as I spend more time travelling around this country I can’t help but to notice how useful they are. Perhaps if more people can attempt to do the same we can help protect what little indigenous peoples have left. Standing up for them together and doing what we can to right the crimes of the past.