Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Love Life Fono 5: And the Emancipation of the Third Spirit

In the weekend I was extremely honoured to attend (my very first) Love Life Fono. This was the 5th Bi Annual Love Life Fono and I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend my Labour (long) weekend.

The purpose of the Love Life Fono as officially described on the working committee's facebook page as:

                         Love Life is about acknowledging our cultural heritage and honouring the                                  special people in our communities. Whether you are mahu, vakasalewalewa,                            palopa, fa’afafine, akava’ine, fakaleiti, fakafifine (MVPFAFF), or GLBTI, Love Life                          Fono is for you. 

Click here for more information.

The Love Life Fono was an amazing experience! Or should I say Fa-fa-Faboulous!! It combined the beauty and pageantry of a fa’afafine show, but most importantly provided a space where the MVPFAFF and GLBTI community could come together to share their experiences, knowledges, values and beliefs and provided a platform for many to begin to think how as a community, we are able to collectively address issues that affect all of us on the national level.

The Love Life Fono was a beautiful gathering of ‘Pacific People’, people of and from the Pacific. Unfortunately, it also happened to be a gathering of the most stigmatised and often ignored sector of the vast and diverse Pacific community here in Aotearoa and the Pacific.

Interestingly, Sua William Sio released a press release about his new vision for Pacific peoples in New Zealand. You have to wonder who, and what (arbitrarily) determines who is in this Pacific Community and also what it looks like. The fact that most Pacific Members of Parliament (bar I think Charles Chauvel and Kris Faafoi) voted against Marriage Equality highlights who they believe they supposedly represent. The traditional, conservative church going Pacific people – but this very narrow understanding and surface level view of what constitutes Pacific peoples in Pacific communities further isolates those who do not fit into those particular categories.

We then have the issue of poor youth engagement in this country. Is it any wonder given all the fantastic youth I met over the course of the love life Fono (there were over 100 participants the entire weekend) felt misrepresented, underrepresented, and were particularly disappointed in the leaders whose self -proclaimed task is to supposedly ‘Advance Pasifika’. Who are they advancing? And in what ways?

Despite the shortcomings of our community and political representatives, what all participants of the Fono were very sure of, is that all of us are an important part of the Pacific Community. Despite the alienation and subjugation, we are also from/of the Pacific. And we are most definitely a valid part of the Pacific community! And we are here to stay.

One of the outcomes of the Fono was the establishment of a National Coalition of ethnic specific Pacific representatives, a body which will work towards representing and advocating for Voices of the Third Spirit, on issues that affect our communities, and also other members of the Pacific community.

The opportunities for networking, building social/professional relationships were one of the highlights. I have left the Fono feeling empowered, feeling refreshed and renewed about my social obligations to my community. As a newly appointed representative to the National Coalition I look forward to devoting what skills and talent I have to further advancing and advocating for voices of the third spirit.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the organisers of the Love Life Fono 5 Committee; Elton Raharaha,  Cindy Of Samoa, Frances Anderson, Jaroncye Lole, Tanu Gago, Phlyesha Brown- Acton and all those who supported,  for not only their hard work in organising and executing this Fono, but their continued service and dedication to advancing and advocating for the voices of the ‘Third Spirit’. I look forward to all the work ahead.

*Please note that these are my own individual/ random thoughts about my experience of the Love Life Fono, and are not an official representation from the organising committee.

Friday, 18 January 2013

It started off with an article on climate change.....

Works been so busy lately that I haven't had time to post any articles, or do my rants about the government  (yes I can hear the sighs of relief lol)

And I haven't written in my blog lately, so I thought i'd vent here instead of writing essays on my FB status. So here it is my first entry for 2013. And on such a positive note lol....

But as I'm reading this article I am critically questioning NZ and it's role as a supposed leader in the Pacific, and wonder if most people know that this government, has pulled NZ out of the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol. (Probably wouldn't have because of the holidays). Purely based on the fact that "well Australia and the USA haven't signed up so why should we". National Government logic has done wonders for our public service. Just look at how perfect Education and Welfare are doing.....

I wonder how this makes people feel, especially our Pacific people. Especially given that a lot of us have witnessed first hand the terribly significant devastation natural events have caused to our homelands in the Pacific, which have no doubt been further intensified by processes of global warming and climate change. And yet we have a situation here where developed nations (including NZ) are refusing to commit to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint/levels of emissions basically because it isn't economically viable to do so. When it comes down to it, it's always about money and power!

But we're not talking just money here, we're talking about the state of our planet, we're talking about the kind of world we want our future generations to inherit, but we're also talking about current peoples lives. We don't have to look far to see how this is impacting on our people. We only need to look at what is happening with Tuvalu sinking, increasingly consistent and severe droughts in Samoa, Kiribati having to buy land in Fiji to relocate it's entire population in anticipation of the inevitable. Then there is the story of one women, Ursula Rakova, and her mission to save the people of the Carteret Islands (which up until this point I knew never existed) from rising sea levels. You'll notice that all of my links are not mainstream media links, why would they even bother. 

But you start to see a general pattern emerging. And the sad thing is, the stories are becoming more frequent. The government needs to be held accountable. And we as the people need to be asking the hard questions! The government does after all represent us (however I want to make it clear I did not vote for any of these fools), and therefore what our government does, we  bare some of the responsibility for the actions of our country.

 I saw and heard a whole lot of my own people, yapping away after Cyclone Evan, complaining that they were not going to donate because of all the corruption, misuse of funds that occurred during the Tsunami Relief effort in 2009.

I even heard one person say they wanted receipts for everything Samoa purchased through financial aid. At first I thought SHUTUP! I still do. But then I thought about it again, and was amazed at how quick the Samoa NZ community jumped to immediately condemn, and then demand transparency from the Government and people of Samoa. 

Interestingly though, we're not as quick to demand accountability and transparency from this government on most matters. And especially on such a critical issue of global warming/ climate change, given what we know about it's devastating impacts on our islands. 

I don't have the answers. It continues to baffle me today.

But I'm hoping that by writing this, that it will get people to start taking this issue seriously. Or even just to get some people thinking about it. That would be a start.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Epidemic of Truthiness

It really upsets me sometimes how judgmental some people can be. And it's not always explicit. It's implicit in some of the things we say and so sometimes people can be cruel or patronising without even knowing the impact their words can have on others. Over the course of the last few days, there has been much discussion about how the vast Samoan Community here in NZ is going to respond to the devastation of our home land by Cyclone Evan. A whole heap of discussions on the radio. Comments on my news feed and discussions in general, and it would appear that most of us have become blinded by "truthiness" - or common/ popular understandings around particular situations, to which we know nothing about personally. But heard from so and so that this is what it is, and then, without critical thought, adopt it as truth and knowledge. Tapu Misa tells us that "Truthiness", according to the American comedian Stephen Colbert, who coined the word in a pilot episode of his hit TV show back in 2005, is "the truth that you feel in your gut regardless of what the facts support".

In 2009 the NZ response (particularly that around the "financial aid", "donations" from the community) to the Tsunami that devastated much of the East Cost of Upolu, was dogged by much controversy and anger over the "apparent" lack of transparency in terms of where money went, fueled by the somewhat (petty) semi-reliable investigations of John Campbell. It would appear that people still have not got over that (nor  have they bothered to do any of their own research) and have accepted this is absoloute truth, or truthiness. 

Whilst the general desire of people here in NZ is to "help" and to "give", it isn't always that easy to understand it as such, especially when discourses around it are structured in a way that establishes an uneven, unfair and detrimental power relationship between 1. those who help and give and 2. those  who need help and receive. This is a deficit lens approach which typically assumes our people are stupid. Have no idea what they are doing. We have no faith in Samoa's government. They will take advantage of those most vulnerable - the poor. The uneducated. Ultimately then, following this line of criticism, we have no faith in the ability and capacity of the people of Samoa to function.

Not that most people outrightly say these things, but it is implicit in the way we continue to criticise and lament at the ability of our people to get the job done. Who is helping who here? I know friends in Samoa hold back from lashing out. One they're too busy getting on with it. Two, taking time to acknowledge stupidity, only fuels it even more.

Now one cannot have a conversation about "aid" or "assistance" without the accompanying calls for transparency. "We need receipts" some say. And fair enough. Transparency is a critical part of any organisation, government working with/ or for people. It's what gives people confidence that these institutions are working in the best interests of all involved. 

But this new found championing of transparency in this "community" is inconsistent! Where was the call for transparency when NZ decided it would not be party to the second stage of the Kyoto Protocol? When we know, our Pacific islands are suffering because of the results of poor environmental management by developed countries. Where is the call for transparency from the so called developed Nations who have pledged time and time again, millions more money in development and aid, climate financing, and have not fronted up with it? Where are the calls for transparency, when every time this government changes something that impacts negatively on Pacific people in NZ?

And yet, when it comes to our own people we are we so quick to criticize, and chastise them, at a time when they need us most.