Author Archives: Racquel

About Racquel

Geography and History major at UW.

Integrate to Perpetuate


A mural of a Māori deity located in the Waitangi Tribunal lobby. This piece shapes the atmosphere of the Tribunal’s space.

September 7th 2017,

What does sovereignty actually mean? Before touring the Te Papa national museum, I believed the concept needed to be bound to legislation. However, our guide, Puawai Cairns, explained that sovereignty isn’t an event or destination, but rather, a process. This statement forced me to rethink my understanding of sovereignty, jurisdiction, and self-determination. If sovereignty was not an end point but was potentially a means of obtaining something, then what were the Māori people trying to obtain?

I began reflecting on what I’d learned since arriving in Aotearoa. Earlier in the trip, we saw how the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi shaped Māori’s claim to sovereignty; as the new nation tried to create a partnership between the indigenous peoples and settlers, institutional biases and privileges marginalized and displaced the Māori peoples. Today, we met with the Waitangi Tribunal, which is the government institution employed to review how Parliament should respond to Māori claims regarding breaches in the Treaty of Waitangi. The Tribunal explained their goals and the processes to produce these reports. It seemed incredibly complex, strict, and limiting, especially due to how these claims are categorized. Māori can only make claims regarding injustices made after 1840, the year the Treaty was signed. In theory, this makes sense. Why would the Crown (a term for the New Zealand government) compensate for transgressions made before the partnership was declared? However, while this may appear logical, the historical injustices do not always follow this timeline, which complicates the Tribunal settlement process. Along with this, it was interesting to see a government program made to research Māori claims, which could support and give legitimacy to the Māori, have no legal power over the Crown. I left the meeting impressed with the Tribunal’s work, but feeling confused on how to perceive sovereignty.

For the last event of the day, we met with High Court Judge Williams. Throughout our discussion, Judge Williams highlighted the idea that Māori needed to “integrate to perpetuate” in regard to establishing their sovereignty to protect and foster their culture and identity. Manuhuia Barcham addressed a similar idea in his paper titled ‘Politics of Indigeneity’ concerning proper acknowledgement, stating that problems arise because “the fact that the atemporality of difference predicated on the maintenance of a prior identity implicitly, and perhaps unintentionally, reduces group identity to a dichotomy of being or ‘non-being’, thereby effectively excluding recognition of the possibility of becoming” (139).  To perpetuate sovereignty as a process, a marginalized community must continue in a state of ‘becoming’ as a form of adaption, while striving to continuously achieve, display, and receive recognition for their self-determination and rights. Judge Williams emphasized that Māori identity is “to be related, to embody something.” This “something” not only represents their community, but also the space needed to foster their culture that the community derives from. Therefore, sovereignty for the Māori is possibly a mode of exercising power over, while existing within, the land that the people belong to. As I ended the day back at our hostel, I remembered a quote from Patricia Grace’s novel Potiki that explains how the environment embodies the Māori, their culture, and ultimately, their sovereignty, proving the importance of the Tribunal: “Remember that land does not belong to people, but that people belong to the land,” (110).




Sheep and Settler Colonialism

September 2, 2017

Today, we took the scenic route to Wellington aboard the Northern Express for a ten-hour train ride. We traveled through tunnels, in the shadow of a mountain, and beside small industrial towns; all the while, we ate, listened to music, talked, and most importantly, slept. The lengthy trip was used for rest, bonding, and reflection as we looked onto Aotearoa’s beautiful countryside.

A reoccurring feature of this landscape was the green grass used as pastures for grazing cows and sheep. Animal agriculture was so prominent throughout the ride that I was able to comprehend how vastly outnumbered humans are by sheep: 29.5 million to 4.6 million. It began to strike me as odd, how have these non-indigenous animals become such a staple in the country’s geography? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is quite layered involving both the Treaty of Waitangi and Western ideology.

Cows on a pasture next to the railroad tracks

Throughout this trip, we have learned the effects of having two separate founding national documents; the Māori’s version of the Treaty is a completely separate piece of work when compared to the British version, ultimately causing disparities which left the nation, specifically the Māori peoples, with intergenerational traumas. As the country grew off of the British version of the Treaty, the Pākehā’s (non-Māori) needs and values were cemented into the nation’s identity. The Māori peoples became marginalized as the partnership outlined in their version of the Treaty was not upheld. Due to this structure, the Crown was able to “buy” Aotearoa’s lands and level them in order to make space for agrarian traditions and the Pākehā.

The polarity between the grazing fields and natural, thick forests is stark and highlights the settler colonialism—immigrating to embody the space and spatial interaction of a location while imposing a foreign culture—etched into the environment. However, since Aotearoa and its entities were not empty, the Māori were left without the rights detailed in their Treaty. I was reminded of the Māori’s fight for sovereignty as I looked out onto lands that were mostly taken with unjust methods such as confiscation or purchasing land for less than it’s worth.

However, despite the seemingly negative situation, the Māori people have continued to adapt to their circumstances in order to persevere and thrive.  For example, Māori peoples have adopted animal agriculture to take part in this lucrative business. This idea of adaption was discussed while in Auckland at the Tikanga Rangahau Wananga conference we attended. We were able to hear from Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Māori scholar. She gave us a unique experience by giving her lecture through stories. This technique is quite reflective of the culture because “Skills such as weaving and carving, along with a rich tradition of song, dance, whakapapa, tribal histories and creation stories, were passed on through the generations” (6487).  In doing so, she personified her culture’s practices as she spoke of resistance and remaining firm in their identity. One story in particular stuck out in a poem-like tale called “You Can’t Erase Me” that retold a conversation between herself and another scholar. The exchange ended as her colleague stated, “You are here because of race, I’m here because of merit.” Her response silenced the audience and reaffirmed the intensity of Māori determination and unwillingness to be disregarded by settler colonialism: “No, you’re here because of race, I’m here because you can’t erase me.”


Racquel West

Me looking out a window.

Hello, my name is Racquel and I am a student at the University of Washington. I am double majoring in History, with a concentration in Race, Gender, and Power, and Geography, with a concentration in Globalization, Health, and Development. I am currently a sophomore and will finish my undergraduate degrees by 2020. I hope to attend graduate school and receive a Ph.D. in Geography. In the future, I would like to be a social science researcher; I would enjoy being an ethnographer or working for the Smithsonian.  I will focus my career on working with marginalized communities and understanding the systematic processes that perpetuate oppression and inequality.

During spring quarter of my freshman year, I took a class on American Indian History since 1815. This was my introduction to indigenous studies and the concept of settler colonialism. Through this class, I learned the extent of colonialism, marginalization, and historical traumas that have led to our reality in modern-day America. Since this class, I have narrowed my interests to studying intergenerational, socio-economic, and intersectional issues regarding borders and how people utilize, describe themselves, and transition through these definitive, yet invisible spatial boundaries.

This is my first study abroad program. While I am in Aotearoa, I hope to learn as much as I can in regard to how the Maori peoples are currently working to overcome the obstacles that are restricting their rights and sovereignty. I am particularly interested in the current political climate and the attempts from the government and indigenous communities to reach a mutually beneficial, and fairer, interpretation of the different versions of the Treaty of Waitangi. Along with this, I want to see how the borders between these communities are becoming more, or less, prominent during this process. Lastly, I am interested in understanding how settler colonialism has embedded itself in the spatial interactions and landscape of New Zealand. While I have learned how America has dealt with the lasting impacts its own settler colonialism, it will be interesting to see how a different county, with different historical traumas, will work to move forward.