Words which came to me while looking at the photos of the 'Urewera Four' after the verdict was returned in their trial yesterday: relief, support, consolidation, depth. Browsing the photos on the stuff.co.nz website, I was distracted by the 'Maori photos' which some website's algorithm decided might also be of interest. A black and white photo of the face of a kuia with moko kauwae, a vibrant shot of a young man during the powhiri at Te Matatini in Gisborne, some tourist snap of 'Maori culture.'
Of course, this is how it always is: ourselves, the Crown, dominant media representation. It is impossible to understand the vigour and paranoia displayed by the Crown throughout this circus since the raids and arrests in October 2007 without taking a step back and noticing the long, slow shaping of non-Maori views of Maori people as noble, savage or comical - and nothing else. As the crown has bumbled violently around, like a bull in a rodeo, enraged by the deep pain of its own violent underpinnings, bucking and stomping in a way which would be hilarious if it wasn't for the fact that this is real: there are real victims here; real lives, real people.
The courtroom has long been a place of theatre, drama, performance; it's a stage in its purest form. The court has, despite rare moments of proximity to justice, frequently been an industrious worker bee in the hive of imperialism. Who could disprove of the high ideals of truth and justice? And yet, who could look at the role of the courts in the theft of our land and not wonder whether the courts are too saturated in blood to ever produce a clean decision?
This case brings to mind a line I wrote about Parihaka in another poem - 'The day the Crown morally defeated itself' - and yet moral self-defeat of the perpetrators of violence does not magically remove the burden of the victims. This outcome isn't a victory for truth: it's justice with a migraine, wincing and squeezing the temples to dull the pain.
Today my sister attended the Maori Land Court in Wellington on behalf of our Mum and Auntie, in order to complete the process of legal succession for Grandad's Maori land. We buried him last year, singing 'Au e Ihu,' crying, holding onto one another, watching him go down back into the earth beside Nana. And yet, his connection to earth - to specific ground - was legal as well as physical. Although Grandad was born in a house on land which had been ours through inheritance in the depest sense of the word, by 2012 his shares in several blocks of land are now the only link we have to the literal dirt of home. Sure, emotional and relational links are important too, but whenua is whenua is whenua and that's why my sister was there this morning representing all of us. It's not quite a burial, but it feels like today was another important stage in the process of saying goodbye to Grandad.
She txted from outside the court, saying she wished she was a poet so she could convey the feeling of being there. Later, she sent through an email that described the event, and I have decided she's a poet after all. These are all her words - I hope she doesn't mind - which I have gently pushed and shaped into quiet rows.
Everyone sitting outside
clutching their bits of paper,
as if they had people with them
‘trusts’ ‘whānau’ ‘iwi’
Mostly old nannies and koro
with a young thing holding the paperwork
Court started late:
stood for the judge,
We were the first case called.
The court giveth and the court taketh away.