Star Wars and Māori land wars

Star Wars the Force Awakens opened up this holiday season. How like my Māori ancestors in our battle against the British colonial forces were General Leia and Jedi knights!

In 1868 at Tauranga-ika in Taranaki  Aōtearoa, New Zealand, led by our own General Titokwaru and his lieutenants, my Māori ancestors were far out-numbered by the British colonial forces, yet we defeated them.

One battle victory however was not enough to stop 1.25 million acres of our Taranaki land being taken, nor did it stop the thousands of immigrants mostly from the United Kingdom who’s arrival made Māori, the minority.

In the simplistic yet great escapism of Star Wars the Force Awakens the battle of good versus evil of the First Order is clear cut.

In 2016, just over 150 years after the wrongful confiscation of 1.25 million acres of Taranaki Māori land – the new Māori land bill due to come into law is not so easy to decipher – what force will it awaken? 

Check out Screen Natives – my newly launched movie review of the actual ‘Star Wars the Force Awakens’ here.

Waiheke island 2013

I’m going to declare my interest, I am a Māori land owner.

A cursory wander thru cyber land files reveals in 2013 the NZ Law Society published their response to the bill including their concerns that the bill was being pushed thru.

The lead claimants opposing the new bill issued statements in December 2015 that the bill  is not being driven by Māori landowners, but by the government.

But surely all Māori landowners have the right to be able to raise capital against the land and use our communal land as we wish.

So what if that’s to develop and well, develop and perhaps develop? As it turns out we can already do this, as per Parininihi ki Waitōtara incorporation (PKW) ‘which was estimated to be worth approximately $5 million at establishment – is now worth $250 million’ 1

We are part of the 9000 shareholders in PKW but our yearly dividend, due to the size of our share is minuscule.  Including PKW and all our other Māori land shares we get around $50 per year in payments and that’s then divided by three, so around $17 each a year! And we’ve never lived on any of the blocks that we share.

Some of my cousins have done the trek home to our rural marae, built homes on our shared land blocks and its worked out for them. They’re actually the smart ones as with land prices in the big smoke making millionaires of all house owners in Auckland, our largest city, they’re sitting sweet. Sweeter than, sweet as.

So why do I feel uneasy about the new Māori land bill ‘unlocking the potential’ of my current $17 per year return from our land? Don’t I want my children and my children’s children to reap the potential $17.50c per year benefit that the new land reform bill promises?

Perhaps it’s finally time to get my Nanny shareholder groove on and take active interest in the various Māori land court hearings, Annual general meetings, marae kōmiti, like my kaumatua have done and continue to do so.

Just like Luke Skywalker and his troubles – on the new Māori land bill we will just have to wait and see the next instalment.

He tangata, He whenua. He Oranga. –  Our well-being is our people and land.





1 – Dion Tuuta CEO PKW Pg 11, Whenua Magazine, Issue 16, December 2015



Being Native Creatives at Xmas

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” It is unacceptable for children in New Zealand to suffer from poverty-related illness at rates much higher than other developed countries; and for particular groups – such as Māori and Pacific children – to carry the burden of poverty and illness.

Every year there are 40,000 hospitalisations linked to socio-economic status and much of this is due to poor quality housing and the inability to heat homes.

Experience over the past thirty years confirms UNICEF’s view that Government policy has the single biggest impact on child poverty rates, not economic growth alone. ”   

Open letter: Ensure an adequate standard of living l UNICEF New Zealand (9 Dec 2015) Response to Child Poverty Monitor Report New Zealand 2015

 I had been reflecting on the past year and in particular celebrating examples of the many, many Native Creatives that were working at such an amazing level from Māori Directors, Writers, Producers screening films at ImagineNative and Toronto film festivals in Canada to Rena Owen from Moerewa living and working in Hollywood, USA to the amazing longevity of our performance luminaries like George Henare, Christina Asher , Wiremu Davis, Tina Cook who have graced our stages and screens for over thirty years.

 We were collectively and individually as artists, making what we believed was a difference.
But in the wake of the release of the  NZ Children’s Commissioner annual Child Poverty Monitor report citing once again, vast numbers of mostly Māori children living in such abject poverty, it was all too easy to become overwhelmed and numbed by the pain and anguish that it represented.
Our collective Native Creatives story successes were just not enough to do anything practical for the vast numbers of Native children, here. Not in Australia, Canada, Africa, here in our lands.
Nationally, the report caused an outcry for two days and was then subsumed by the tsunami of ‘how many shopping days till Xmas?’ sales, the Oprah Winfrey visit to Ngāti Whātua marae where she said after her traditional welcome ‘I have deep respect and awe (and) regard for what just happened here’ combined with the launch of the latest ‘Star Wars – The Force Awakens’ franchise.
The report went back into the ‘to do’ lists of all the usual suspects, opposition politicians keen to bring the government down, child action poverty groups, Māori activists groups in all fields, all government agencies that deal with Children.
 I couldn’t ignore the report.  I had to take stock because Being a Native Creative is arguably;
  • not going to lead to large numbers of houses being built for families in need
  • not going to lead to provision of cheap fruit and vegetables for below the poverty line families or
  • shame politicians into doing the unthinkable and ending poverty in our nation.
So what was the point of all our struggle to be recognised as Creative Natives?
Hope. By telling our stories, whatever they may be, to the best of our hard won craft abilities, about the everyday lives of our families, children and our native worlds that we walk in,  is going to bring, HOPE.
You can’t buy hope, it can’t be faked as it’s eventually found out, and it never ever goes on a boxing day sale.
We are the bringers of HOPE. As Native Creatives we have the power to create dream worlds  in films, live theatre, games, poetry, music, literature, visual arts as if they were real possibilities.
The immediate effect of being a Native Creative and telling our stories is that Native people can get;
  • Joy of recognition of seeing others like themselves being reflected on the big, small , mobile screens.
  • Pride in hearing their native tongue, maybe for the first time being broadcast on the web, airwaves.
  • Happiness in viewing their cultural ‘norms’ and language  portrayed in the theatre
  • Excitement in native language music broadcast as popular culture
  • Understanding that some-one who looks, talks, lives and has lived just like them is a Creative and it is possible for them to be one too.

Being a Native Creative at Xmas is recognising and being confident that  through our story lens  we can envision a hope for all of us. And that is enough to eventually change the whole universe!

Ka whawhai tonu matou ake, ake, ake!

2015 IMAGES: Clockwise bottom L – R Mika Haka presents his short film Taniwha at ImagineNative Film Festival Toronto Canada, Māoriland Festival, Otaki, Dr Leonie Pihama San Francisco USA, Author Whetu Fala with Rena Owen Hollywood Los Angeles, Wiremu Davis & Tina Cook film Premiere Paramount Theatre Wellington, Māori elder actors panel Wellington.


When Cynthia Lickers-Sage – one of the founders of ImagineNATIVE attended a Te Manu Aute hui at Tapu Te Ranga marae in Island Bay, circa 1995-ish she announced she would start a native film festival. Lynette Crawford Williams reminded me of this moment recently!
Sixteen years after the first festival began and after three films I’ve been involved with have screened there, I’m going to see Cynthia’s dream come true. And what a dream it’s become, now the largest international native film festival it has thru programming, goodwill and sheer hard work, carved it’s way into an enviable position as native film festivals finest. Thanks to Jason Ryle, Executive Director and Marcia Nickerson Chairman of ImagineNATIVE board for coming to Aōtearoa to meet with us face to face and for the gracious invitation.
Ka mau te wehi!


Ngā Wai ō Horotiu Marae, Auckland University of Technology

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Matariki is the Māori name of the Pleiades star cluster, which reappears on the night sky horizon each year in May or June. Its appearance heralds the ‘new year’ for Māori, the new season for planting and for starting new initiatives. Fale is the word ‘house’ that is shared by the indigenous peoples of  the South Pacific, whether it be whare (Māori), vale (Fijian), fale (Samoan, Tongan), hale (Hawaiian), fare (Tahitian), or ‘are (Rarotongan)

In 2013, ‘Fale  Matariki’ will bring together Māori and Pasefika film-makers, artists and educators, under the umbrella of one house, to celebrate and support each other’s work and develop strategies to build capacity for Māori Pasefika creative arts and screen production, and to take our work to a  global audience.

‘Fale Matariki’ is hosted by Te Ara Poutama, the Faculty of Māori Development at Auckland University of Technology, and is being organised by Dr. Ella Henry and film-maker Whetu Fala, of Fala Media.

This event is a collaboration between Ngā Aho Whakaari, the association of Māori in screen production, the Pacific Island Media Association, Pacific Islanders in Film & Television, Auckland Council and the Commonwealth Foundation (UK).

Also at this event will be the launch of “The Brown Book” a guideline and protocols handbook for film productions wishing to engage with Māori. It was written by the late Melissa Wikaire along with Dr Ella Henry made possible with the support of Ngā Aho Whakaari, NZ On Air and NZ Film Commission.

The event will comprise screenings of Pasifika and Māori films, archival and contemporary; workshops focussing on skills-development for the creative arts and screen production, and a forum in which to discuss strategies for building capacity, enhancing opportunities, and forging networks between and on behalf of Māori and Pasifika creative artists and film-makers, both in Aotearoa and the Pacific.

A key outcome of this gathering will be the development of a strategic vision for, and resultant infrastructure to foster a cohesive and comprehensive Pasefika Māori screen industry collaboration.

     Ngā mihi, fa’afetai lava, Fãi’åkse’ea,

thanks to;

                            PACIFIC ISLAND MEDIA ASSOCIATION                 


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VENUE: Ngā Wai ō Horotiu Marae, Auckland University of Technology, cnr Wellesley street East and Symonds street, Auckland Central.

Entry to the marae is via the Māori gateway on the corner of Wellesley street East and St Paul Street, opposite the Subway.

Car parking is across from the marae in the Wilsons Unipark carpark 6 St Paul Street or around the corner in the Symonds street carpark.

Catch the Airport bus to Symonds street stop right outside the marae gateway and across the road for easy return to the airport.

Melissa Wikaire – Māori Filmmaker Gone too Soon

Melissa Anne Wikaire

                                    7 June 1970 – 7 May 2013

                                              Ngāti Hine

On Saturday 11 May 2013 at Takaparawha Marae, Ōrakei, Melissa’s final call sheet was published and she was laid to rest at the Urupa, Okahu Bay, Auckland. With over 500 gathered to farewell her; she is survived by partner Neil James and their whānau, Manaia and Waka. For all of us present on the cloudless sunny day it was a bittersweet occasion. Melissa was too young, talented and had just begun a new pathway in Rongoa Māori, convinced that this was the answer to her cancer. We mourn her passing and yet are grateful for the time we were lucky enough to spend with her, our colleague, our friend, and our sister, our beloved Mel.

Melissa in her short 42 years had attained her dream professional and personal life goals. She lived with her darling partner Neil on his papakainga in Ōrakei, their sons Manaia and Waka were doing well at school and their extended whānau rejoiced in their success.

In her professional life, Melissa was a programme Commissioner at Māori Television (MTS). A powerful position in NZ broadcasting (there being only 12 in total across all national channels) that her colleagues also held her in high regard was a rarity. This was due to her experience and expertise in all facets of production and also to her quiet, calm, practical approach. Melissa was universally liked, no mean feat in the fiercely competitive screen production sector.

Raised by her Mum Marion and step Dad, Tuia Brell, Melissa lived in a close knit and extended whānau household. It included five uncles and four generations, and as the oldest mokopuna, it was natural that Melissa after doing a rare media studies option upon graduation from Penrose High in 1987, gravitated towards a Māori focused film pathway.

1987 was a critical time in Māori screen production Ngati directed by Barry Barclay starring Wi Kuki Kaa and associate-produced and written by Tama Poata with John O’Shea had become the first NZ feature directed, written, produced and starring Māori to be selected for International Critics’ Week at Cannes Film Festival. This success enabled funding be made available for training young Māori in film & television careers,  including Don Selwyns’ He Taonga i Tawhiti course that Melissa entered in 1988.

He Taonga I Tāwhiti was run at Waiatarau Marae, Freemans Bay in Auckland. It was a six-month course funded by the then Māori Affairs (now Te Puni Kōkiri) Tu Tangata programme. Her classmates of the time have said theirs was the third six-month intake. Don, a founding member of NZ Māori Theatre trust and also a trained primary school teacher had made the switch to acting and was already a household name on NZ screens (TV – Pukemanu, Mortimers Patch; Film – Sleeping Dogs ). Don used all his contacts to get the best working film & television makers of the time for his trainees, some of these tutors included the legendary Dick Reade (Sound).

Melissa was one of only two women in her class of 10 trainees that included Dell Raerino, Lee Allison, Ted Koopu. After completing her training, at 18 years of age she landed her first three-month job on a feature film in Wellington, working as Continuity or Script Supervisor. This is a ‘self-charge’ position that demands an eye for minute detail and the ability to work closely with crew. From that first film, she worked hard to excel in that position, freelancing in mainstream and the fledging Māori film and television industry for ten years. She trained many of the current NZ continuity workers and before she was 30 years old, told me she had worked with 100 different directors.

At the same time as Melissa was starting her career, Don Selwyn encouraged all his trainees to engage in Māori film and television hui that Te Manu Aute were organising. Melissa attended the 1988 Te Manu Aute Hui at Hoani Waititi Marae in Auckland, and met Karen Sidney and Kara Paewai. These three were to become influential partners in later projects.

In 1989 Melissa was appointed to Te Ara Whakaata the first and only Māori film and television committee of Te Waka Toi, former Māori arm of Creative New Zealand. Her fellow committee members included Gabrielle Huria Wi Kuki Kaa, Anne Keating, Kara Paewai and Whetu Fala.

In their short 12 month existence the committee published three issues about Māori films and filmmakers in the Te Ara Whakaata magazine edited by Karen and Gabrielle and ran a national Māori film and television hui at Turangawaewae Marae, Ngāruawahia.

Melissa volunteered in Auckland and Karen in Wellington as the secretaries for Te Manu Aute and when Karen moved to Auckland in the late 80’s Kara Paewai took over in Wellington.

In 1993 Melissa and Kara published a world first – The Brown Pages a directory of Māori film & television crew. This is now an online directory that is edited by Iuelia Leilua.


1993 Te Manu Aute Production Managers’ Course run by Jane Gilbert at Pacific Films, Wellington NZ  L – R Helen Morris, Karen Sidney, Melissa Wikaire, Sharon Hawke, Christina Asher, Kara Paewai, Ruhia Edna Stirling, Jane Gilbert.

In 1994 Melissa travelled to Dreamspeakers Festival Canada with writer Karen Sidney to screen and present the Don Selwyn drama ‘Kahu & Maia’ starring Cliff Curtis and Vanessa Rare . It won the top film award for Karen and earned Melissa the title of ‘Iniskimaki – Buffalo Stone Woman’ gifted to her by elder Joe Croweshoe, of the Blackfoot Peigan people.

In 1996 Melissa co-founded with Kara Paewai, Ella Henry and others,Ngå Aho Whakaari – Måori in Film and Television Melissa served as the secretary for the Executive till 1999 when she was appointed to the Short Film Fund of Creative NZ co-financed by NZ Film Commission. Her fellow committee members included, Sima Urale.

In 2000 Melissa stepped down from the Ngā Aho Whakaari executive and was selected to represent Māori filmmakers at the South Pacific Festival of the Arts in Noumea, New Caledonia.  Melissa and Ella raised the funds and organised the screening programme they called ‘Wāhine Whitiwhiti Ahua ki Kanaky.’ Filmmakers that attended included Karen Sidney and Ruhia Edna Stirling. Screenings were held in the festival village next to the Māori moko stall and also in the art gallery.

In 2001 Melissa co-produced the ‘Aroha Māori language 6 part half hour drama series. This series screened to critical acclaim in the 2002 NZ International Film Festival, Dreamspeakers Canada, Hawaii Film Festival, Message Sticks Australia and won Best Drama at ImagiNative film festival in Toronto, Canada. Also that year, Melissa was selected along with Lisa Reihana to represent Māori filmmakers and screen their work at the FESTIVAL DE CINÉMA DE DOUARNENEZ in France.

In 2006 she joined Māori Television where she produced several popular in-house series and trained a new generation of Māori broadcasters, before becoming a programme Commissioner.

Maunga Hiona - 4 feb Whiu!2013 Mt Zion Film World premiere; Melissa Wikaire with MTS Producer Teremoana Rapley – Urale

Her 500 production credits include crewing on television 1989 E Tipu e Rea (First Māori drama series), feature film 1993 Once Were Warriors, second television Måori drama series 1993 Ngā Puna series, television 1995 Xena Warrior Princess, first Måori language feature film 2002 Te Tangata Whai Rawa a Weneti – Måori Merchant of Venice 2006  Māori Television series Tau ke and 2012 Songs from the Inside.

Hoki ki ō matua tupuna, kua wheturangitia koe! Haere e hine, haere atu rā!