Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lessons from Waitangi

The most interesting part of my Waitangi Day experience to me actually happened after we’d left Waitangi and were stopped at The Warehouse (more or less a Kiwi equivalent to Kmart) to buy some dry clothes. We were browsing around the CDs when three women asked us if we knew where some Mariah Carey CD was. Their features could easily have passed for Maori, so they didn’t stick out until we heard their American accents. The women were from Native Americans from San Diego who had come all the way to New Zealand just to show support for other Pacific Rim indigenous peoples. Wow. I’d noticed an American flag in the hikoi (protest march), and was proud that some of my fellow countrymen/women were involved, but it didn’t occur to me that people might have come from the US just for that purpose. I wish I had gotten to talk to the women for longer to learn more about how they’d gotten connected to all this and what they do in the US.

This is no criticism of the women I met, considering that I know so little about them, but I found it interesting (and sort of disappointing) that American people of color were flying halfway around the world to support anti-colonization in other countries, yet it’s so difficult to put together multicultural coalitions in the United States. True, there is something unique connecting one indigenous group to another, but there are also a lot of things connecting American people of color together. Not to mention the obvious common goals around fighting racism and achieving equality.

You could argue that the women I met should be spending more time focused on the struggles faced by their own people—it’s not like Native Americans are faring too well. But I don’t doubt that these women are involved in their own communities, and more importantly, it’s more than possible to empower your own group while still being an ally to others. There’s no reason why it should be some sort of competition; it’s not like there is a limited amount of justice to go around. Success of, for example, Asian Americans does not have to come at the expense of Blacks, and vice versa. Divisions between people of color groups only serve to support and reinforce domination by the white power structure.

So although I did not make my journey to Waitangi with quite the same level of purpose as the San Diego women I met, I am still proud to have shown my support as a person of color. The effects of colonization that I experience may be different, but my understanding of the need to undo those effects is no less relevant.

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