I’ve been noticing recolonising pressures on indigenous peoples to assimilate lately.
On the other side of the world a secondary school student has been fined $1000 and denied her high school diploma for daring to wear an eagle feather, the symbol of her belonging to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Meanwhile here in Aotearoa just recently – same root of colonial values, different venue of cultural attack – we’ve had the Air NZ approach to Māori art and images – “if it’s on someone’s arm, it makes you unemployable, if it’s on our plane, it’s a brand.”
These things are kinda shocking, right? Indigenous people not being allowed to go about daily business, in the place they are from, their tūrangawaewae, wearing symbols of their belonging without penalties.
It’s not new of course. Which is precisely why, when it happens, again, it should be immediately recognisable as cultural imperialism.
But here is Aotearoa it’s possible for mainstream newspapers to publish brutally racist cartoons and describe that as “making people think.” And our poor old Prime Minister finds it difficult to work out what racism is, a position he no doubt finds comfortable.
So in some ways such cultural imperialism is unsurprising. Even when Air New Zealand, from planes to their offices, is literally swimming in appropriated Māori imagery. Plastic tiki, anyone? Brand new tiki teeshirt?
If the ongoing cultural imperialism is unsurprising in a country where most of us are still all too ignorant of the harms colonisation has caused, so too is the response. Clare Nathan, the woman seeking employment while wearing tā moko, is fighting for her rights like hundreds of thousands of other indigenous peoples before her. From me, tautoko. It will be interesting to see how the Human Rights Commission responds.