As a born and bred Wellingtonian it’s more than a little embarrassing to admit that I have never, before today, been on a parliamentary tour. For all my interest in politics I’d not been into the very centre of it all, located an easy five minute stroll from my work. Today with a new friend and colleague of mine, I decided to rectify that.
The Beehive is an impressive building and walking inside was intimidating. Exciting. I’m no architecture expert but the structure itself is amazing. I have absolutely no evidence to back this up but I’m fairly certain there aren’t a lot of other ‘beehive shaped,’ places of Government around the world.
The tour began with a sit down video, some beautiful imagery of the grounds on a sunnier day than today was. The first face to grace the screen was Speaker of the House, Labour party’s Trevor Mallard. Trevor both introduced us to the Beehive and butchered Te Reo in the same sentence. I shared a sideways wince with my colleague, and braced myself for more to come. The fact that some people who represent our country can’t manage a basic Kia ora, is unacceptable. My pronunciation is far from perfect, and it is more difficult for some, but if it matters enough you can learn to say it right. (Would that be too wild if I said I felt it necessary for all MPs to take a Te Reo course as a requirement?) I felt irritated and we were only one minute in to the tour, brace yourselves. Side note: when I had to call the Wellington Police Department a few months ago, the voicemail was also a tragic attempt at Te Reo, (surely they could’ve chosen someone with accurate pronunciation to record it?). Again to reiterate, if it matters enough people will get it correct. If they really can’t they will ask someone else to speak for them. Mispronunciation is incredibly disrespectful and shows that you do not care and do not think it is important.
Because it’s all too much to expect our Government representatives to say hello correctly in our native, official language. If we do that, what’s next? Saying place names of our country correctly? Teaching Te Reo in all of our schools? Outrageous!
This year my goal is to completely eradicate my lingering old habits of mispronouncing place names. To my embarrassment I only just recently realised my dear friend Mt Kaukau in Khandallah, is quite obviously NOT, Mt COW-COW. Looking at the word even with my limited Te Reo I can see that, it’s just been ingrained in me to say it wrong. To all of us with questionable pronunciation, let’s collectively choose to say it right. (I’m listening out hard the next time one of you is going off to Taupo).
Moving on to the next section of the tour we were escorted through the old billiards room, former upper and lower houses, and eventually where the house meets. Again, architecture wise, it was beautiful. You don’t get to see a lot of ‘old history,’ in Aotearoa so I could fancy myself over in London for a minute or two. And I mean, I may as well of been in the UK, what with the row of old white dudes portraits lining the walls. Not to mention the Victorian era aesthetic that definitely wasn’t inspired by a marae.
Now, the House of Representatives. Seeing the room in which MPs debate and appear online/TV was pretty exciting. I glanced at old David Seymour’s name tag and took note that one of the National MP’s has a permanent sheepskin across their chair. I populated the room with the familiar faces of MPs and as we were fed a bit of (history, I reimagined how it would have looked in the nineties, the eighties, the seventies, the twenties. Each decade backwards a little more male and a little more pale. On this, I’m more than aware of the fact that our Government was not and still is not reflective of Aotearoa and Māori people. But seeing and visualising it in person really hit home.
Cue walking out down the hallway of former Prime Ministers, shout out to the two past females, and a whole bunch of white dudes. At this point the bitter familiarity started rising in my chest, the kind that often fuels me to offend every white person in hearing distance. Because, hearing about racism and colonialism is just as bad as actually facing the effects and consequences, isn’t it? Right. (I however restrained myself and only caught one furtive glance from some guy when I laughingly commented ‘lots of old white guys huh.’)
Next was the Parliamentary Library and hanging on the wall was a painting of a Māori female. She looked regal, (like a total Warrior Queen to be honest). One of the tourists asked, ‘who is she,’ at which the tour guide informed us that they didn’t know. It was estimated the painting was from the 1920s. Standing there looking up at her really struck me. Forty minutes into my parliamentary tour and the first Māori face we’d come across was that of an unknown woman. I couldn’t help but stand there and imagine her life, picture how she likely may have suffered at the hands of the very men that later hung her painting in their library. That down the hall hung celebrated paintings of men that represented the destruction of much of her people and culture. That this woman didn’t belong in the dusty back of the library as some colonialist’s ‘prize’. I don’t even know who she was. There wasn’t even a name.
I was hit again and again with the thought that this is a place that still largely represents everything stolen from Māori people, yet they are meant to have faith in this ‘place’ representing them? That England invading and stripping the land, culture, people (and then some) is meant to be undone by a few measly Māori seats that half the racist country think shouldn’t even be there. That a badly attempted Kia ora is sufficient penance?
Back to the tour… we saw some beautiful artwork next, select committee rooms, the base isolators underground and the tour was wrapped up after a little over an hour. I don’t know what I’d expected, I mean – obviously they weren’t going to launch into the history of the Treaty of Waitangi and all of the cruelty after this that eventually led to the formation of these buildings. For all my disappointments it seems I’m still too hopeful that people will be interested in exploring our real history so we can really begin to mitigate and repair some of the damage. At the very least.
It’s a pretty basic concept that you can’t fix a problem you don’t even admit exists.
I left the parliament grounds with a burning desire to well, burn the place down. Not literally, please don’t report me. I was also simultaneously hit with a level of guilt because as much as the visit struck me, I was also reminded that this is not my direct fight to engage in. As much as I want to dismantle the foundations of colonialism and institutional racism, which I will continue to try to do, I must remember that in relation to Aotearoa specifically, this is something to support and do alongside my Māori brothers and sisters. I can speak from my own position as a Kiwi and a Pacific Islander, but I need to also make sure that when I speak I am very clear that my thoughts and feelings come from me. I’m like a sort of side cousin that understands but only to a certain extent. Although Aotearoa is very much my home, as a Samoan I still have a country that is largely its own. There aren’t rows of white men’s portraits along the walls in the Government over there.
I wondered how people feel being asked to vote for an institution, and people, that were never meant to represent them. That sit in a place that represents everything that worked to destroy them. I felt frustrated and angry. I was again reminded that Aotearoa was not only built on (after being destroyed by), colonialism, but that it is still the foundation of our society. It’s built into everything, it’s entrenched in our Government. We’re not even a republic. We have a union jack on our flag (side note again but I promise it’s funny, I’ve been having good chats with dad lately and he goes is colonialism why lots of us have that same flag symbol? lmao… yes dad. Also, he asked me why Christchurch has Worcester street like the British sauce). Basically, the more you know, the more you see. Colonialism is still incredibly apparent in all of our daily life here. Once you start noticing it it’s impossible to ignore, it’s so prevalent.
I don’t know exactly what the answers are. This is far from simple. I do however know that the answers do not lie in many of the people that work within the walls I entered today. I do also know that the answers can begin to be found by decolonising Aotearoa.
I feel both sad and exhilarated. I want to learn and learn and learn, and most importantly unlearn. They say in much academedia that you have to ‘decolonise’ your knowledge. I want to decolonise my entire world. I don’t know where I will end up but I know that it starts here. (Like literally, my ass is on the Library website searching decolonising knowledge).
Hugs friends – thanks for reading and stay learning – decolonise your minds (alongside me!)
Welly peeps – get your asses down to do a Parliamentary tour if you haven’t.