Kaupapa Vegan - peace for the land; peace for us.

Kaupapa Vegan

Emily Tuhi-Ao Bailey (Ngāti Mutunga, Te Ātiawa, Taranaki) is working with her Parihaka community to heal the region’s ecological and social wounds while drawing on indigenous knowledge to live in harmony with the land. Adrian Hatwell asks what vegans can learn from her tireless work. 

The 140th anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka fell on 5 November, 2021. To mark the occasion in the face of gathering and travel restrictions due to the Covid pandemic, an online event was hosted by environmental coalition Rise Up for Climate Justice, called Remember Parihaka: Colonialism, Dairy, and Climate Change.

The event’s two guests, Dr. Ruakere Hond and Emily Tuhi-Ao Bailey, spoke passionately about the history of the area, Parihaka’s living legacy of peaceful resistance in the face of unjust colonial oppression, and the ways that resistance persists and develops to this day. Dr. Ruakere is a key figure in the revitalisation of te reo and has been instrumental in recent relations between Parihaka and the government. Emily is an ecologist and community organiser who works with Climate Justice Taranaki to aid the Parihaka community in transitioning to sustainable energy, transport, and food production.

Dr. Ruakere presented a rousing examination of the region’s history through the lens of Parihaka and the way that legacy continues to influence our world today. Covering the Musket Wars, land confiscations and forced sales, the leadership of Tohu and Te Whiti, expressions of rangatiratanga, and the Day of Plunder is not something we have the space for here, but I highly recommend you head to www.riseupforclimate.nz to view a recording of his talk. 

Emily used her time to outline the way in which colonial confiscation of land and subsequent intensive farming practices have impacted the whenua, and the initiatives she and Climate Justice Taranaki have been working on to reverse the damage. 

Through an ecological lens, using pollen records to analyse the land’s historical forest cover, she examines the way the land has changed over time. One graph she presented showed from around 1300, when Māori are believed to have arrived, the land’s forest coverage took a dip as papakainga and tussock lands were established. This is followed by a period of equilibrium for several hundred years. This changes dramatically when tauiwi arrive, taking out large amounts of forested land in favour of introduced crops and exotic grasslands, with huge numbers of cattle and sheep being brought over. 

“So this is about how colonisation affected Aotearoa not just in taking away our land, but changing our land,” she explained.

Again, the details of Emily’s excellent talk are too comprehensive to cover in this space, but her presentation can also be found at www.riseupforclimate.nz. Following the event, I got in touch with Emily to ask her a few more questions about her work in Parihaka and how it might help to inform a just and intersectional mode of veganism in Aotearoa.

Emily has spent the past 15 years learning many skills for living off the land, helping the community at Parihaka in areas like reforestation and community food production without fossil fuels.

“We’ve almost got there, using things like recycled plastic silage wrap or billboards to smother weeds then using broadforks to lift and compost the weeds, then rakes, stirrup hoes to form rows we can plant and maintain just with the stirrup hoe and rake,” she outlines. “We focus a lot on feeding the soil and trying not to dig it up. Food forests are our favourite, mixed in with annual vegetable, bean, and grain production.”

Earlier in life, Emily lived in urban areas, studying ecology and geography while networking with activists and learning about community organising. Returning to her family’s whenua in Parihaka, she found ample opportunities to put her skills to practice and discover first-hand the difference between urban and rural life.

One of the big differences she found was the necessity of living in tune with nature and the seasons — getting firewood ready in early summer so it can dry, knowing when plants have their flushes of growth and you need to chop and drop to feed the soil and reduce weed takeovers. Having a long view of things seems to extend to communities as well, with rural communities being less transient and more reliant on each other than in urban neighbourhoods.

“Another thing is appreciating just how much work it is to look after huge tracts of land and waterways compared to a tiny city garden. It is not an easy shift from the mainstay dairy industry to something else but it needs to happen. A shortage of willing young workers in the country is a massive problem now that much of farming has been mechanised and working conditions and wages aren’t great.” 

She hopes that the future will see more farmers selling parcels of land so city dwellers can move out and start market gardens, habitat restoration, and work from home. “It’s a good life here,” she enthuses.

Whenever the impacts of colonialism are brought up, you can generally count on a few defensive responses that seem to insist whatever damage was inflicted was “worth it” for the material advances and conveniences that are often lumped in with colonisation. Making clear the link between European colonisation of Aotearoa and the intensive dairy industry that has risen as a result, Emily is well familiar with these sorts of responses, which tend to denigrate indigenous knowledge and experiences of living sustainably with nature.

“Of course it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t killing the planet like industrial capitalism is,” she says of life in this land before European contact. “I believe we can take the best from both worlds and heal the planet and our communities again if we stop being defensive and really listen to each other and work together. Indigenous people have heaps of skills and knowledge that are really essential right now for people to learn and take up.”

Food has always been an important element of Parihaka’s peaceful resistance; it was founded as a place for people to be self-sufficient and when the government’s armed troops moved on the settlement on 5 November, 1881, they were met not with fighting, but offerings of fresh loaves of bread and song. That spirit lives on today in the work Emily and friends are doing to redevelop the region’s food system into a community food production model.

“We volunteer in the garden and food forest and gather local wild kai and share it. You give what you can and you get what is available. It’s still only a small portion of the food we need, particularly because our awa and moana have been so damaged and because people are used to the fast foods and shop stuff like flour and sugar. 

“Most of the community still get much of their food from the shops, which is fine. You have to think long term and get creative. We have sugar cane, avocados, and bananas growing and are working on cornbread and other carbs you can grow that the introduced birds don’t eat.” 

It has been long, hard work to begin this transition in Parihaka, and to do it on a larger scale will require far more effort and resources — especially with the government currently focussing on ineffective areas, she warns.

“We really need to get some laws changed, such as stopping fossil fuel extraction, and some false solutions that are getting the green light, such as hydrogen, biofuel, and personal EVs. If we divert our renewable energy and rivers into making hydrogen for urea, heavy transport, planes, and shipping fuel, we just prop up industrial farming. If we allow food and trees to be fed as biofuel into factories and heavy vehicles we again prop up polluting, exploitative industries. Electric vehicles just mean more mining of foreign lands, typically in indigenous territories.”

What Emily and her network are building in Parihaka is an example of dismantling what she calls the existing “extractive economy” — one that takes people’s labour and resources and produces wealth for a small group of people — and replacing it with a “regenerative economy”, where people take and give back, people are cared for and the planet is protected.

This transformation can’t happen overnight, but as Emily and the community at Parihaka so heroically demonstrate, through committed action, understanding of the past, care for the future, and a commitment to peace, our collective strength can be greater than we know. And that sounds like a legacy the founders of Parihaka would smile upon.  

Kupu hou: New words

Here are some basic translations of the te reo Māori words and phrases in this article. The language is rich and deep and many of these concepts are far more complex than space here allows. We recommend using resources like Māori Dictionary (www.maoridictionary.co.nz) and Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (www.teara.govt.nz) to broaden and expand on the definitions here.

Parihaka: A community established on the slopes of Taranaki that become a centre of non-violent resistance to European occupation

Tohu and Te Whiti: Leaders and prophets from the Taranaki region who established Parihaka

Rangatiratanga: The right to exercise authority or chiefly autonomy

Papakāinga: Communal Māori land, home base

Tauiwi: Foreigner, non-Māori 

Awa: River, stream, creek

Moana: Sea, ocean


Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine

This article was sourced from the Summer 2021 edition of The Vegan Society magazine.
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The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.

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