Colonial States of Exception: Terrorizing Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand

I wrote this a couple of years ago but have decided to put it on teh tubes now because the case of the four remaining defendents has just reached the High Court (click here for an update). Oh, that and because the cretinous spew of one of the the most truly rancorous pieces of afterbirth to ever slither across a keyboard has fucked me off. Interesting that Paul Holmes decided set up his one man freak show of redneck racism just as the state was pitching Cirque de Psychotic Settler Sovereignty in the High Court. Download a more easily readable PDF here. Free the Urewera four!

The white-line up fingers its weapons. Yet again. Ready to do violence. This is the system that whites are part of. There is no sitting on the fence. For the Māori, without sovereignty we are dead as a nation. It is not sovereignty or no sovereignty. It is sovereignty or nothing. We have no choice.

— Donna Awatere in Māori Sovereignty


 The response of the U.S to the attacks of 9/11 has had profound and far reaching effects on the freedoms of people globally, completely out of proportion to the threat posed by the attacks. Subsequent pressure from the U.S has enlisted other nations to side with them, if not in the military ‘war on terror’, then at least in the ‘war on potential terror’ at home. In New Zealand joining the latter meant increased power for the state in law, and increased freedoms and funding for scrutinising the population. In an atmosphere of hysterical paranoia over a spectral terror manufactured, then believed in, by Western governments and media, it is not surprising, although it remains grotesque, that the people of Tūhoe should be made the ‘terror’ that the government was looking for. Tūhoe are an Iwi (Māori tribal grouping) with a long history of violent mistreatment by the state. Tellingly, in terms of their recent persecution by the state as terrorists, Tūhoe have the strongest claim to having their sovereignty returned and are the most active campaigners for this. Since the founding violence of New Zealand as colonial venture the settler state has held a deep fear and mistrust of Māori who express anything other than passive acceptance of the new European forms of power. The recent para-military raids on the men, women and children of Tūhoe can be seen as merely the latest expression of the states compulsion to engender an indivisible sovereignty; a sovereignty that has as its “Truth” a need for violence against those it decides are enemies, as well as the need to make that decision. Apart from the concern that such a spectacular display of state violence on the bodies of the people of Tūhoe should arouse, the line of thought I will follow from a number of other authors illustrates the broader concern that this violence is always and everywhere the fact of sovereignty.

What becomes urgent then, if the claim that state sovereignty is intrinsically violent is taken seriously, is to look at ways that this will to violence could be reduced in intensity. It is here where I will turn to issues of Māori sovereignty and specifically the histories, presents and possible futures of Tūhoe’s struggle for Mana motuhake. Mana motuhake may be roughly approximated in translation as sovereignty or self-determination but it is important to note that it has a completely different genealogy to those concepts and in fact, Māori tribal sovereignties displayed nothing like the brutal violence of their European counterparts.[i] Although the issue of state sovereignty has global relevance, my express concern in this essay is Aotearoa/New Zealand. I will argue that as it is, the New Zealand state is illegal and therefore illegitimate and requires a deep reconfiguration that will finally honour the partnership between two peoples stipulated in the Treaty of Waitangi. This reevaluation of the foundations of our nation-state is essential if, as contended by Donna Awatere in the quote that prefixes this essay, Māori are to survive, as Māori, with any real richness of life and depth of being – being Māori. It is also crucial (in the dual sense of being both “all important” and “pivotal”) if we are to move beyond the paranoid nationalism and deep anxiety concerning identity characteristic of New Zealand’s white settler majority.[ii] I will conclude by asserting that returning sovereignty to Tūhoe, and indeed to all Māori, quite apart from being the only just course of action, offers a real chance to fragment state sovereignty and start to win back some freedom from the post-9/11 perennial states of exception.

Sovereignty is a multivalanced signifier that has shifting stakes, charges and meanings in different contexts and discourses. For example, “sovereignty” means very differently in a contemporary discourse about the right of First Peoples to govern themselves than it does in say, a juridical discourse in 1920’s Germany. Despite this, the different meanings are never entirely unrelated and form a nexus from which the concept gathers its meaning in various ways and at different points. The aspect I will treat initially refers most explicitly to that European (or so called ‘Western’ if the Greeks are posited on the continuum) lineage of the concept of sovereignty. This concept which finds it’s present embodiment in the modern nation state, the state which has become the common denominator for international relations. To be recognised as a state in this context, one must appear to other states as a comparable entity. What they share, however, and arguably more importantly for the concept of sovereignty, is the ability and will to exert violence over populations within states.

Sovereignty is the force that exists everywhere behind and in front of, below and at the same time above the modern nation state: behind, because it is the legitimation that allows the use of violence by the state – a violence which in turn legitimates the state (in front of); below, because it is the absent foundation upon which the legitimation of the state is built; and above because a particular sovereign, sovereignty’s animated force, may be removed but sovereignty itself overarches the particularities of its embodiment. I do not contend that modern states are completely aware or completely in control, of the mystical force that characterizes sovereignty and therefore completely in control of how situations are manipulated to increase state power – and hence increase violence. Rather, I argue that, similar to the way in which in Marx’s theory capitalists are still a product of the forces within a system, so too state violence is put in motion by the configurations that underlie it. When all the pieces of the modern/nation/state/subjects/on a territory are in place, as with capacitors/fuses/power source/resisters/on a circuit board, the result is decided in advance. In the one case electricity will course through the components in a certain way, in the other violence is assured.

Sovereign violence is not necessarily always purely physical but is ever present as spectral violence – a memory for bodies of the violence to come. That the essential fact of sovereignty is violence has been described in various terms: as the lung of the machinic state; as the wolf we can make out under the tissue of the sovereign and as the sovereign we perceive when we look into mouth of the wolf; as the biblical sea beast of Hobbes’ Leviathan; as the moment of the decision on the exception, and simultaneously the power that allows the sovereign to decide (the moment to which Schmitt attends with such relish); as Divine violence in Benjamin; as the raw and primal pouring fourth in ecstasy of violence, death and power in Bataille. A mad parade indeed. A more detailed account of some of these figures of the sovereign and figurations of sovereignty will give a better understanding sovereignty’s violent character.[iii]

The thinker of Sovereignty who seems unavoidable in any discussion of the topic since, is Carl Schmitt. In the opening line of his Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Schmitt encapsulates his definition of sovereignty: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”[iv] The exception is the moment of “extreme peril, danger to the existence of the state” that can not be predicted, or accounted for in law prior to the moment.[v] Because it is impossible to predict the specifics of a true emergency, a true threat to the state, or the best way to go about extinguishing it, the ability to exert authority must “necessarily be unlimited.”[vi] Every legal order, he categorizes, is based on two fundamental elements: norm and decision. It is, however, the decision, in its purity and unboundedness, that founds and gives the norm and not the other way round: “In such a situation [of exception] it is clear that the state remains, whereas law recedes” but “[u]nlike the normal situation, when the autonomous moment of the decision recedes to a minimum, the norm is destroyed in the exception.”[vii] Schmitt finds something akin to bad faith, or disingenuousness, in modern liberal states that attempt to put checks and balances on sovereign power in these moments of exception because the situation is never predictable and the norm is always excepted, the legal order always suspended. It is not only that the sovereign gains unlimited power once an emergency occurs, the sovereign decides that an emergency exists and whether the law needs to be suspended.

Agamben finds in Schmitt the illustration of the “essential contiguity” between sovereignty and the state of exception.[viii] What Agamben, amongst others, shows is that the state of exception has increasingly become the norm in the majority of supposedly liberal nation states, and that due to this, they have come to more closely resemble authoritarian rule. Agamben argues that despite Schmitt’s early workings on the problem legal scholars and policy makers have neglected the necessity for a theory of the state of exception because they erroneously believe that it constitutes only a practical concern. Agamben however, via Schmitt,  convincingly argues that because it involves a suspension of the law, it marks a threshold or limit concept of the law. Topographical ways of understanding the issue as being a relationship between an inside and an outside of the legal order miss the point that it is neither. It is instead “a threshold or zone of indifference, where inside and outside do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other.”[ix] In this zone the possibility of declaring a state of emergency, of justifying unlimited power for political authority, remains at the heart of the concept of sovereignty. Post 9/11 the ever present threat of ‘terrorism’ has been the guise under which governments have induced a situation in which they may act above the law. There are multiple examples that clearly illustrate that this has become the case, especially from the U.K and America, the widespread practice of extraordinary rendition, activists and protesters being treated as terrorists,  and massively increased surveillance of citizens, to name just a few. What is implicitly or explicitly called upon to legitimate the suspension of the legal order is the perceived subjective right of the state to protect itself at all costs.[x] As agamben contends, declaring the exception as a protection of democratic principals leads only to their ruin. [xi]

Derrida takes from Schmitt what he terms the minimal features of sovereignty “a certain power to give, to make, but also to suspend the law”.[xii] This singular ability to act outside of the law, to make the unlawful appear as lawful, pushes the human sovereign towards two seemingly contradictory figurations. On the one hand toward the omnipotent divine. On the other hand, in this moment of the suspension of all law unto itself, there is the risk the sovereign will resemble the beast who respects nothing and acts contemptuously in the face of the law. Derrida finds in the historical, analogic entwining of the figures of the the beast and the sovereign a symmetry in which both are outside the law but whereas the sovereign rises above the law, the beast drops out the bottom. For sovereignty, being above the law is the condition for law, its guarantee, whereas for the beast the law does “not appear, or is not respected, or is violated.”[xiii] In this, what Derrida terms being-outside-the-law, the beast corresponds to the outlaw or the criminal, but also to the sovereign who is above and outside the law. It is because of the commonality of being outside the law that Derrida finds an eerie resemblance in supposed antitheses:

I believe that this resemblance explains and engenders a sort of hypnotic fascination or irresistible hallucination, which makes us see, project, perceive, as in a X-ray, the face of the beast under the features of the sovereign; or conversely if you prefer, it is as though, through the maw of the untamable beast, a figure of the sovereign were to appear.[xiv]

Immediately following this Derrida suggests as a parallel to this uncanny resemblance between the beast and the sovereign the usage in America of the term “rogue states” to designate their enemies. The parallel is drawn, following Noam Chomsky’s book Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs,[xv] when, in going after these so called rogue states, America very much starts to resemble it’s own definition of one. The same parallel, which I will later discuss in detail, holds when the Tūhoe people from Rūātoki are terrorized by the New Zealand government’s completely unjustified “terror raids.”

It is here that I would like to continue the discussion regarding sovereign states of exception by looking to how the issue has played out in the New Zealand context, specifically the ‘terror raids’ of 2007. On the morning of the 15th October 2007 the New Zealand Police force mounted a large scale operation involving 300 officers, the majority of whom were carrying machine guns, hand guns and knives. They raided an undisclosed number of locations throughout the country, targeting the homes of various activists, and notably the entire Tūhoe town of Rūātoki. The raids were followed extensive surveillance of activists who supported a wide variety of causes, and were intended to back charges under The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. Following the raids the Police Commissioner made a statement asserting that the ‘terror raids’ were necessary because certain individuals represented a pronounced threat to New Zealand’s security. In this spectacular attempt to find terrorists in our backyard the Police confiscated four unregistered firearms and less ammunition than it would have taken to shoot every police officer used in the raids.[xvi] In addition to this the solicitor general later deemed that no charges could be be brought under The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 and the police were forced to reduce their charges against the seventeen people arrested to firearm and drug charges. Despite this the media and even the Prime Minister latched on to the incongruous language of ‘terror’ imported from the U.S and the U.K that, not to mention destroying any notion of sub judice, served to hide the more sinister logics that motivated the state’s action.[xvii]

As has been pointed out by a number of authors, the police acted in a conspicuously different way when they raided the the Tūhoe town of Rūātoki.[xviii] Elsewhere in the country addresses had been raided, houses ransacked, families marched outside at gun point, but in Rūātoki the police locked down the entire settlement. As indigenous rights    lawyer and theorist Moana Jackson describes:

Rūātoki was the only place where the whole community was locked down and barricaded by police. Rūātoki was the only place where people were forced out of their cars at gunpoint and photographed in breach not just of police procedure but basic human rights. Rūātoki was the only place where mothers, old people and children were held at gunpoint, sometimes for hours, with no pretense at respect and no potential for arrest. And it was in the Rūātoki Valley, so close to Maungapōhatu, that the police dredged up the specter of past oppression by erecting their roadblock along the aukati line.

The moment Jackson describes resonates uncomfortably with Schmitt’s assertion that “[i]n the exception the power of real life breaks through the crust of the mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.” The torpid mechanism referred to is the normal functioning of the legal order in it’s day to day disciplining of individuals. What breaks through in this example is the spectacular display of violence on the people of Tūhoe by a state acting outside the bounds of the law, even the law, as the Solicitor General’s later finding proved, that had supposedly been enacted especially for such a situation. Members of the community at Rūātoki would later assert that they felt “terrorized” by a state that was on the hunt for terrorists itself – the figure of the wolf appears in the visage of the sovereign, and the sovereign through the jaws of the wolf.

Prior to 9/11 it was unconscionable that police would storm suburbs and rural towns under the pretense of protecting the nation from an immanent terrorist threat. As Brendan Hokowhitu points out the language and ‘logic of terror’ had seeped so deeply into the national consciousness that the subsequent raids are merely the rational unfolding of a prevalent international logic.[xix] There is undoubtedly a great deal of truth in this contention but there is also, as its underside, the continued unfolding of the cynical logic of colonisation. Indeed, it was following 9/11 that The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 was passed. With the Act came a massive new anti-terrorism force and more ability and freedom to surveil the population. Importantly, liaison officers from both the Police and the Security Intelligence Service were sent to London and Washington to channel U.S and U.K thinking regarding anti-terrorism back to New Zealand.[xx] Undoubtedly, the new procedure of intense surveillance and profiling of all types of political activists deemed ‘special interest extremists’ was a technique learnt from the Bush and Blair administrations.[xxi] It is tempting here, to make some variant of the “give a child a hammer and the whole world starts to look like a nail” argument, and there is certainly also evidence for this in other cases.[xxii] But what the exceptional treatment of the people of Rūātoki betrays, and what the fears of Māori that The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 would be first used on Māori predicted,[xxiii] was that the ‘logic of terror’ was commingling with, covering over and heating up, an older logic of colonisation.

In the Jackson quote I cited above, the last sentence alludes to three important points regarding the context of the raids on Rūātoki: “that the police dredged up the specter of past oppression” by “erecting their roadblock along the aukati line” and that it was “so close to Maungapōhatu”.  These three markers are important, but by no means exhaustive, signifiers of Tūhoe’s long history of violent mistreatment by the New Zealand Government. Although it is impossible to do their history justice within the scope of this essay, a brief account is necessary to illustrate the fact that the recent raids were merely the most recent unfolding of a sustained history of oppression and suppression. Broadly, that the police “dredged up the specter of past oppression” intimates the ruthless treatment that characterises the history of Tūhoe interaction with Europeans. This has, since the 1860s, included being forced off their most fertile lands and hence reduced to abject poverty, the government’s malicious failure to stand by agreements, the wrongful and politically motivated arrest of their leaders, the killing of non-combatants, old women and children, the rape of their women, the burning down of their houses and the destruction of crops and already limited food stores. The motivations behind these actions was precisely: a fear of Tūhoe’s independence, their reputation as warriors and hence their threat to state sovereignty; a pointed desire to gain their lands for colonisers; and a creeping fantasy that there might be gold in the heart of Tūhoe’s homeland, Te Urewera. It remains unclear whether the police did so out of ignorance or purposively, but in the recent raids of Rūātoki they formed their roadblock along the aukati line. The aukati line marks the edge of the government’s 1866 confiscation of a massive tract of Tūhoe’s most fertile land, that also gave them access to the plentiful supplies of kaimoana (seafood.) It brought about acute poverty and starvation, and effectively broke the legs of Tūhoe’s possibilities for economic development, factors that still have ramifications in the present. The line, for Tūhoe, is an indelible marker of the the wrongful theft of their land by the state and of the suffering that this loss of land inflicted on their community.  The original 1866 confiscation was made under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 which stipulated that any tribe or section of a tribe who the Governor in Council decided had been engaged in rebellion could have their lands taken for colonial settlements. In recent Waitangi Tribunal hearings, the crown has conceded that Tūhoe cannot be considered as being ‘in rebellion’ prior to the period of confiscation and that the confiscation was ‘a breach of the Treaty, unjust and excessive’.[xxiv] Tūhoe claimants to the tribunal and respected historian Judith Binney maintain that the confiscation was made deliberately because Tūhoe represented, in Binney’s words,  ‘a threatening zone of potential Māori autonomy.’[xxv] The Crown, however, refuses to concede that there is proof that the confiscations were motivated by a fear of this kind, preferring only to admit that it was simply a blunt taking of land for further European settlement. The Crown also maintains that the quality of the land taken is questionable and that Tūhoe ‘were not affected by the raupatu [confiscation] to the same degree as other iwi who had all their land taken.’[xxvi] In these macabre skirmishes over which atrocities The Crown is prepared to admit to the law is revealed as a tool of colonisation par excellence. What is revealed by the fact that the police again formed their ranks on the aukati line is that, whether or not it can admit it, there was, and still is, a deep fear of Māori autonomy.

Jackson’s words “so close to Maungapōhatu” signify both that Rūātoki is geographically near Maungapōhatu, but also that the raids were redolent of another moment in Tūhoe history.  Māmari Stephens has warned against drawing analogies with past events because of weak links and the danger of catachresis which can undermine the ability to come to a clear understanding of the 2007 raids in their own terms.[xxvii] My intention, however, is to place two historical occurrences side by side to show that they are both products of the same logic of colonisation, with the aim of disrupting the myth that New Zealand is somehow beyond colonisation. The event from Tūhoe’s past that seemed resonant with the most recent raids was the police raid of Maungapōhatu and arrest of Tūhoe prophet, visionary and leader Rua Kēnana in 1916. Kēnana saw that his people were in grave decline and were becoming increasingly landless whilst European’s were increasing in wealth and numbers. He perceived that all contact with the Europeans ended in landlessness and poverty for Māori. His response was to found an autonomous community deep in Te Urewera that drew from certain aspects of European culture. The community at Maungapōhatu had a bank, a village store and a large circular meeting house that served also as a court and a church. This can be seen as an attempt by Kēnana to embody with his community what he perceived as essential elements of state-hood in the hope of forcing the colonial rule to recognise it as such in law.

For the colonial rule however, the community appeared as a threat that laid bare the myth of an indivisible sovereignty and exposed the lie of a just legal foundation of the colony. Accordingly, the Police Commissioner led a military style operation of over 65 police to arrest Kēnana on held-over liquor charges from the previous year. On their arrival at Maungapōhatu they were offered tea by Kēnana and subsequently, two of Kēnana’s followers, one of them his son, were killed in the confusion caused by the arrest. As Richard Hill points out “the attempt to arrest [Kēnana] was technically illegal, as the authorities later acknowledged” and no proper investigation into the events ever followed. Hill goes on to note that the full endorsement by the Prime Minister at the time showed “both the primacy of government policy in matters of policing and the willingness of the state to transgress its own rules”. Because of the casualties caused by the operation the government was determined to secure high-level convictions against Kēnana and his supporters but was forced to reduce them to much less substantial ones. The statement that the judge made to Kēnana at the conclusion of the trial reverberates through history as a damming indictment of the motivations of the police who planned, and the government who allowed, the 2007 ‘terror raids’ to occur: “[The] lesson your people should learn from this trial [is that] in every corner of the Empire to which we belong, the King’s law can reach anyone who offends against him.”[xxviii]

What is laid bare by the Judge’s comments, and the fact that they followed a raid that was illegal in the terms of the same law the judge represented, is that the “King’s law”, or the “Crown’s law” as we would now call it, is regularly a pretense under which the state can behave arbitrarily, completely outside of the law – the sovereign only heeds the law as long as it is in their interest. As Agamben asserts, the force of law remains whilst the law itself is suspended, or as he represents it, the force-of-law.[xxix] That the force of law remains even when the law is suspended was especially pointed for Māori because the force of law, in the form of the New Zealand Police Force (acting outside the law),[xxx] has been regularly used against them. Agamben goes on to say that “in extreme situations ‘force of law’ floats as an indeterminate element that can be claimed both by the state authority… and by a revolutionary organisation”. That the force of law offers a space in which legitimacy and sovereignty can be questioned and contested is the fear that has regularly spurred the New Zealand state into violent overreaction.  Kēnana’s community at Maungapōhatu is however better understood as an attempt to preserve Mana Motuhake through withdrawal from European influence than it is as a revolutionary force against the state. In both the 1916 and 2007 raids on Tūhoe it is Tūhoe’s will to preserve Mana Motuhake, legitimate non-state sovereignty, that the state hallucinates and promulgates as a terrorist threat to state sovereignty and the colonial project.

Kēnana understood clearly the injustice of being accountable to a law that was intended to produce and maintain European privilege at Māori expense. One of his flags bore the slogan ‘Kotahi Te Ture Mo Nga Iwi E Rua’: one law for both peoples.[xxxi] Vitally important to Kēnana also was the prescient statement by the earlier prophet and leader Te Turuki Rikirangi: ‘the canoe for you to paddle after my departure is the Law. Only the Law can be pitched against the Law.’[xxxii] Te Turuki comprehended that European law was very much, what Binney calls, ‘Imperial Law’[xxxiii] – a law whose main purpose was to alienate Māori from their land for the sake of the colonial venture. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi is a prime example of this lawful violence. The treaty was essentially a way to legitimate conquest as discovery, to give Māori property rights over their territory, turning it into land that could be readily appropriated and exploited. It also served to artificially totalise Māori as a Nation, rather than the actuality of multiple independent chieftainships, so that their sovereignty could be totally displaced. The fact that the Māori text of the treaty in no way signed away their sovereignty (and arguably did not in both texts of Article 2) is inconsequential here. The government immediately proclaimed its sovereignty over the new nation as had always been their intention – centralised power and ownership. Tūhoe, however, did not sign the treaty, and it is on this basis that they negotiated the right to autonomy under the Urewera District Reserves Act 1896 (UDRA). The negotiation of this Act is the originary moment where the two parties, the state and the Tūhoe tribal sovereigns first recognised each other’s authority. The Tūhoe chiefs believed that they had won autonomy in law and made great efforts at bringing about a workable partnership between authorities. In practice, however, the government could not tolerate what it demanded be it’s own radical sovereignty fissuring in a zone of Māori autonomy. The promises made by the government were broken and the Act served only to further break down tribal sovereignties and open them up to domination. Presently, Tūhoe again have a constitutional claim against the government, seeking their right to autonomy in law through the Waitangi Tribunal. It remains important to remember that the state has broken its promises before and may well do so again. After all, the recent attempt by the state to cast Tūhoe as terrorists took place once the Tūhoe constitutional claim was in process. Despite this, Tūhoe’s claim for sovereignty and struggle for Mana Motuhake, if heeded, holds an ability to transform the legal order by opening up a space in between indigenous law and colonial law that would mediate between the two. This can be seen to some extent in the Waitangi Tribunal, in which tribal groupings may present their evidence from ancestral forms of knowledge and from the perspective of a Māori world view. A Taniwha (supernatural creature) may be given as a reason against the state building a dam, for example. This must then be reported on by the Tribunal who make recommendations to the Crown. In a constitutional claim especially, there exists a real possibility that the legal order may be transformed from within. In addition, it would necessarily require that state sovereignty as it currently stands be re-imagined, renegotiated, reconfigured, fragmented and ultimately reduced in intensity.

The struggle for Mana Motuhake for Tūhoe is an all or nothing undertaking in that it is an essential part of Tūhoetanga (Tūhoeness). Tāmati Kruger likens the concept of Mana Motuhake to it’s European counterpart, Sovereignty: ‘the absolute political authority that every culture develops to govern itself.’[xxxiv] He tells the story of eponymous ancestor Tūhoe-pōtiki who killed his brother rather than live under his authority and below his status. It is this act, Kruger explains, that still generates in Tūhoe a craving for autonomy and dislike of outside authority. The founding act of violence that characterises Mana Motuhake suggests that Kruger is correct in likening it to the European conception and practice of sovereignty. This raises the question that if sovereignty has violence as it ‘fact’ what are the stakes of Tūhoe, or Māori generally, regaining it. Mana Motuhake cannot be conceived of as a lifeless or abstract concept but only as lived and embodied through Tūhoe themselves. It is ‘the continuity and consistency of our philosophies through the practical expression of our tikanga[xxxv]’ and the ‘ability to dream [our] own dreams rather than being forced to live the dreams of others.’[xxxvi] Regaining sovereignty in this sense must be to regain sovereignty over ones selfs instead of a paradigmatically violent, enforced colonial sovereignty. For Tūhoe to give up the struggle for Mana Motuhake would be for them to cease to be Tūhoe at even the barest of levels. For Tūhoe to truly flourish as Tūhoe, in their own terms, it remains essential that they be returned their sovereignty.

As Donna Awatere forcefully argued, ‘Māori sovereignty is the Māori ability to determine our own destiny and to do so from the basis of our lands and fisheries.’[xxxvii] The claim of Awatere’s manifesto is that Māori sovereignty would require ‘the acknowledgement that New Zealand is Māori land, and further seeks the return of that land.’ At its very minimum this could take the form of ‘a bicultural society, one in which taha Māori receives an equal consideration with, and equally determines the course of this country as taha Pakeha.’[xxxviii] For Awatere ‘culturalism’ whether it be ‘bi-’ or ‘mutli-’ is for the people of the land to offer to all the second comers instead of a patronising gesture of recognition from the state.[xxxix] She adds to this though that it is not a question of whether Pākehā have to leave New Zealand. This, she states, emanates from a paranoia that Māori have as much contempt for Pakeha she sees Pakeha having for Māori. It is this contempt that Awatere sees as the most obstinate and offensive barrier to a partnership that could offer a real depth of ‘richness, fairness and Aotearoa-ness that included the Māori.’[xl] She sees this contempt as originating from a lack of identity and an amnesia regarding history that seeks to base itself in a New Zealand culture that doesn’t yet exist whilst generating the delusion that ties to British culture have somehow been severed. Because of this lack Pākehā must always define themselves against Māori. She finds also a fundamental refusal by Pakeha to acknowledge the violence that allowed them to settle in New Zealand and the ‘kill wish excesses of their own British cultural heritage.’[xli]  To enter into a partnership with Māori offers the only real opportunity for Pakeha to develop an identity that is not built on a foundational lack. This offers a chance for settlers to fulfill the acute desire that has eluded them since settlement, a kind of becoming-indigenous, starting of a process of coming to actually belong to the land – necessarily conferred by Māori on Pakeha and on Māori terms.[xlii]

A current line of thought supported by a number of authors, notably Scott Lash, suggests that power after hegemony should no longer be considered as power over but is now more accurately conceived as power from within; and that what was previously conceived of as cultural reproduction is now better characterised as a chronic production of culture.[xliii] If we are to take these assertions seriously it becomes clear that the stakes of the struggle for Māori sovereignty have become much higher. For Māori to survive as Māori and Tūhoe to survive as Tūhoe in these conditions sovereignty becomes an urgent necessity. Britain is implicated in this. New Zealand is not and possibly never will be postcolonial. The term ‘postcolonial’ may actually malign the plights of peoples like Māori, or Tibetans, for whom colonisation is still very much still in process. The damage done to Māori by British conquest remains very much alive in the present as do the economic gains that this conquest afforded Britain. It is disingenuous for Britain to pretend there has been some causal break in the relatively short period between the colonisation of New Zealand and the present, as if the past could somehow be bracketed off from the present. The focus of this essay has been predominantly on the types of sovereignty within states. There remains however an important aspect of sovereignty that finds its paradigm in the Peace of Westphalia: sovereignty as arising out of the recognition of that sovereignty by other states. The colonisation of New Zealand was done under the banner of British law and in breach of that law. If British law is to hold any claim to justice it is unavoidable that Britain acknowledge Māori sovereignty in New Zealand and seek to make redress for the acts of violence they committed in the past that still exist as deep wounds in the present.

The New Zealand state designating a rural, indigenous group as terrorists indicates that a logic of colonisation is still exerting violence on the indigenous population contrary to the prevalent discourse of liberalism and multiculturalism. That a similar thing happened in Australia when a group of Aboriginal protesters, protesting the fact that another Aboriginal person had been beaten to death in police custody, were treated as a “National Security Threat” adds weight to this assertion. One of the protesters, who was carrying a shovel was imprisoned for six years; the policeman who had administered the fatal beating was acquitted after two.[xliv] The abhorrent violence visited on both the Aboriginal people of Palm Island and the Tūhoe of Rūātoki is indicative of the void at the foundations of both nations. This void forms precisely because of the fact that the settler dream of discovering a pristine new land must neurotically and at times psychotically cover over the fact of an already existing indigineity. This is mirrored by a lack at the core of identity that arises from the fact that to avoid confronting the lands longer history, history must be started at the point of European arrival.

In its mystical foundations sovereignty itself is characterised by an ontological gap from which necessarily issues violence. If sovereignty retains violence as its ‘Truth’, then what is achieved by returning sovereignty to Māori or to Tūhoe is at issue. Firstly, this question must necessarily come after the return of that sovereignty because anything else would be to propagate the chauvinistic logic of paternal colonisation. But there are also reasons that suggest it would be of beneficial to both Māori and Pākehā. Although sovereignty of some form is unavoidable it is my conclusion that it must be fragmented and reduced intensity – especially given the fever pitch it has reached post 9/11. Prior to European contact, Māori sovereignties were nothing like the monolith of state sovereignty that Europeans brought with them. Territories were not owned in the strict European sense but were defined in the way that they grounded and sustained existence. Sovereignties and usage rights over territories could blur and overlap without the friction endemic to individual property rights. Hapu, or family groupings, exerted their own sovereignty within larger tribal groupings and rangatira could have different mana[xlv]  in different territories. To some extent Māori sovereignties diffused the centralising tendency that characterises European sovereignty based on ownership. In the same way, Tūhoe again being in possession of their sovereignty, a true partnership with Māori and the re-imagining and reconfiguration of the state in law that this would necessarily require, offer a unique chance to modulate state sovereignty down a pitch. As shown, it is essential both if Māoritanga (Maoriness) is to survive and if Pākehā are to heal the lack at the foundation of our identity. To try to bring about this change through violence would not work in New Zealand. The state has repeatedly shown its willingness to crush even the slightest hint of dissent in this regard. As Te Turuki wisely counseled, the canoe we must now paddle is the law.


I am only a very small part Māori and given that my upbringing, and hence inculcation, was very much European, I may be more similar to the “white potato” that Māoritanga is absorbed into in Donna Awatere’s thought. It is not, and has not, been my aim to try to talk for Māori, but rather to talk for myself back to the white majority and white majoritarian power. The following quote is from The New Zealand Herald comment section on their website and is in response to a question regarding the ‘terror raids.’ It is the very first response of many, the vast majority of which are in basic agreement with its assertions:

Absolutly the police done the right thing, if these mugs don’t wont to be part of the normal NZ society then they get whatever the police see as been fit. Aso as a caution to these people, be very careful not to wake a sleeping giant because middle NZer’s might just bite back.[sic][xlvi]

If you are in agreement with the assertions of the previous statement, more or less eloquently stated, and if it is your honest belief that New Zealand should be a country in which the police have free reign to discipline and punish any body or group that deviates from “normal NZ society”, so be it. If it is your conviction that what is needed, when faced with the grievances of an indigenous people who have been violently dispossessed of their lands, is to “bite back”, so be it. If on the other hand you believe that the state should be in the service of its people, all its people, and not the other way round, then it becomes imperative that we challenge and reduce the powers that the state has gathered under an incongruent rubric of ‘terror.’  And if you recognise that the foundations on which New Zealand is built are rendered unsound by the truth they attempt to cover over, then the only way forward is to finally honour The Treaty Of Waitangi, interpreted in favour of the weaker party, with the intent of building a solid partnership between tāngata whenua and all of us who have no claim to being “people of the land.”

[i] This is central to Judith Binney’s testimony presented to the Waitangi Tribunal, published in book form as: Binney, Judith. Encircled Lands : Te Urewera, 1820-1921. Wellington, N.Z.: Bridget Williams Books, 2009.

[ii] For a sustained argument regarding paranoid nationalism in New Zealand see:  Turner, Stephen. “Compulsory Nationalism.” Moving Worlds 8, no. 2 (2008): 107-13.

[iii] Unfortunately, due to the limit of space it is not possible to give a fuller survey of conceptions of Sovereignty. If undertaken this list would include: Bodin, Hobbes, Rousseau, Foucault, Derrida, Benjamin, Deleuze.

[iv] Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology : Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. University of Chicago Press ed. ed. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press ; Bristol : University Presses Marketing, 2005. Pg 5.

[v] Ibid Schmitt (2005) Pg 6.

[vi] Ibid Schmitt (2005) Pg 12.

[vii] In a less serious context we might be able to say that the decision effectively tears the norm – the legal order – a new arsehole: the sovereign.

[viii]Agamben, Giorgio. State of Exception. Chicago, Ill. ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Pg 1.

[ix] Ibid. Agamben (2005). Pg 23.

[x] Cox, Damian, Michael P. Levine, and Saul Newman. Politics Most Unusual : Violence, Sovereignty and Democracy in the ‘War on Terror’. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Pg 70.

[xi] Ibid. Agamben (2005). Pg 7.

[xii] Derrida, Jacques, and Geoffrey Bennington. The Beast and the Sovereign. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009. Pg 16. [His italics.]

[xiii] Ibid. Derrida (2009). Pg 17.

[xiv] Ibid. Derrida (2009). Pg 18-20.

[xv] Chomsky, Noam. Rogue States : The Rule of Force in World Affairs. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.

[xvi] Keenan, Danny. Terror in Our Midst? : Searching for Terror in Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington, N.Z.: Huia Publishers, 2008. Pg 17 – 33.

[xvii] Jackson, Moana. “Preface – The Constancy of Terror” in ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 1 – 10.

[xviii] Ibid Keenan (2008) The various authors of this book are all in agreement with this point.

[xix] Brendan Hokowhitu “The Logic of Terror”, in ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 165-179.

[xx] Ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 17 – 33.

[xxi] Ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 17 – 33.

[xxii] This was undoubtedly the case in examples such as a T-shirt bearing the slogan “GE – you are what you eat” being confiscated by police for 9 months after a protest that involved spreading hay in the reception of a large chicken processing company.

[xxiii] Jackson, Moana. “Preface – The Constancy of Terror” in ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 1 – 10, and The New Zealand Herald. “Bail revoked for man accused of declaring war on NZ.” 16/October/2007. Accessed at on 28/December/2007

[xxiv] “Te Urewera: Pre-Publication Part I.” edited by Waitangi Tribunal, 500. Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal, Wellington, New Zealand, 2009. Pg 155.

[xxv] Ibid Waitangi Tribunal (2009) Pg 163.

[xxvi] Ibid Waitangi Tribunal (2009) Pg 163.

[xxvii] Māmari Stevens,  “Beware the Hollow ‘Calabash’: Narrative, Analogy and the acts of Suppression, in ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 181 – 193.

[xxviii] Hill, Richard. “Maori, Police and Coercion in New Zealand History”, in in ibid Keenan (2008) Pg 39 – 61.

[xxix] Ibid. Agamben (2005). Pg 38, 89.

[xxx] As Richard Hill has shown the New Zealand Police Force has that name because it was originally an arm of the military. The police force alternated between being a military force when needed to quash Māori uprisings and returned to a constabulary in times of peace.

[xxxi] Binney, Judith, Gillian Chaplin, and Craig Wallace. Mihaia : The Prophet Rua Kenana and His Community at Maungapohatu. Wellington, N.Z.: Oxford University Press, 1979. Pg 26.

[xxxii] Ibid Binney et al. (1979) Pg 26.

[xxxiii] Binney, Judith. Encircled Lands, part 2 (A 15), Chapter 09. Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal, Wellington, New Zealand, 2004.

[xxxiv] Ibid Waitangi Tribunal (2009) Pg 136.

[xxxv] Ibid Waitangi Tribunal (2009) Pg 80.‘Tikanga’ translates variously as: custom, habit, rule, plan, method, rights, law.

[xxxvi] Ibid Waitangi Tribunal (2009) Pg 81

[xxxvii] Awatere, Donna. Maori Sovereignty. Auckland: Broadsheet, 1984. Pg 10.

[xxxviii] Ibid. Awatere  (1984) Pg 10.

[xxxix]Ibid. Awatere  (1984) Pg 40.

[xl] Ibid. Awatere  (1984) Pg 20.

[xli] Ibid. Awatere  (1984) Pg 53.

[xlii] Patton, Paul. Deleuze and the Political. London: Routledge, 2000. Pg 129.

[xliii] Lash, Scott. Power after Hegemony: Cultural Studies in Mutation? Theory Culture Society 2007; 24; 55.

[xliv] Interview with Barbara Glowczewski by Erin Manning and Brian Massumi in Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. No. 3. October . Pg 9 – 11.

[xlv] “Rangatira” translates as “chief” and “mana” translates variously as “authority”, “control”, “influence”, “prestige”, “power”, “reputation”.

[xlvi] 23/November/2007 The New Zealand Herald, “your view’s: Do we have the right to know the police’s case in the terror raids?” accessed 28/Dec/2009


2 thoughts on “Colonial States of Exception: Terrorizing Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand

  1. Joseph Taurua Terrill says:

    Kia ora my name is Joseph Taurua Terrill, of part Tuhoe descent, currently I am in my final year of completing my Kura Maunga Toi/Maori Visual Arts degree through Te Wananga o Aotearoa, please excuse my taking liberties in using your art piece above as part of a diptych I am completing, nga mihi whakawhetai!

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