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Economic globalisation, indigenous peoples, and the role of indigenous women

Makere Harawira

presented at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference, May 1999 the Hague, Netherlands


Although there is a great deal of rhetoric about the evils of globalisation it is a very poorly defined concept. At one level, the term `globalisation' refers to the processes by which the world is becoming more interdependent. Interdependence is a concept that is extremely well understood by indigenous peoples because it is embedded in our psyche. Our geneology or whakapapa, which to us as Maori is everything, connects us to first Papatuanuku, (Earth Mother) and to all her children, to Tangaora (God of the Sea) and his children, to Ranginui, (Sky Father) and beyond that to the stars and to other planets of the solar system. Tthese concepts are well-known to us because they are in our whakapapa (genealogy) and have been passed down through generations.

Globalisation also refers to other processes - for example the notion of the global village, to the way in which we are becoming politically and socially more and more interdependent. However it also and primarily these days, is used to refer to the creation of a single global economy. Renato Ruggerio, ex-Director of the World Trade Organisation stated: "We are creating a single global economy". Embedded within this new single global economy is a set of liberal European epistemologies which define human beings as economic units and the free market as a rationally operating framework within which perfect competition exists, which has its roots in the mercantilism of the earliest forms of imperialism, and which is deeply ideologically flawed. Economic liberalism and free trade are the lynch pins of the new economic order designed to carry humankind on a wave of economic triumph into the new millennium.

To extend the analysis, the problem is not just economic globalisation nor even the notion of the market. To explain, Adam Smith's theory of a self-regulating market efficiency depended upon small, locally-owned enterprises that compete in local markets on the basis of price and quality, not globalised free trade and footloose capital. What we are in fact witnessing is the assertion of a new form of global capitalism that are more dangerous than ever. The popular concept of nation-states exercising sovereignty on behalf of national interest and of the interests of the various groups residing within their borders is being heavily challenged by the locating economic power within transnational corporations whose wealth exceeds that of many countries. The architects of this global capitalist order are powerful businessmen, heads of transnational corporations who also sit in powerful positions of influence within the Clinton Administration.

Human rights, foreign policy, military engagements, are selectively responded to by states on the basis of economic interest, be it defined as political or strategic. Underneath every encounter of war, every humanitarian intervention by the US and its allies, including the interventions in Kosovo, is an economically defined set of interests or agendas. The United Nations, that body created following world war 2 as guardian of the new world order of the time, within which human rights instruments, regulations circumscribing the rights of multinational companies and ensuring the ability of states to provide for the rights of citizens, and within whose framework the draft declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples has been struggled over inch by inch, whom declared 1993 as the Year of Indigenous Peoples and declared at the time a new partnership with indigenous peoples, now has a new set of partners within the UNDP. They are the heads of multinational companies. Development within the UNDP is now defined and determined by this group of multinational business interests. We are witnessing the assertion of new forms of capitalism, of a new global capitalist order in which the resources, the wealth, the assets of the world are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, while the vast majority are increasingly dispossessed.

Arguably the most disenfranchised, disempowered and dispossessed groups within this new global economic order are indigenous peoples and minorities all over the world. This is well documented. The object of deliberate genocide, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have died during our time in the struggle to retain the right to live on and care for their territories to which they not only depend for survival but have ancient, deeply-held spiritual and genealogical connection. Despite the documented evidence, these facts determinedly ignored by mainstream reporting, ignored by governments, ignored by the majority of people who either don't know due to a well-controlled media, or simply are occupied with their own daily struggle. And then there are those whose need to ensure their own survival results in a particular and selective form of myopia. So that while righteous indignation can be freely generated over ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, that same righteous indignation is largely absent regarding the plight of thousands of indigenous peoples.

Multilateral Economic and Trade Agreements

The framework of this global capitalist economic order is sustained and regulated by a series of multilateral agreements whose function is to protect the interests of business over that of governments, civil society and most certainly indigenous peoples. International regulations which in the 1970s enabled states to regulate the activities of multinational interests within their borders have been overridden by multilateral economic and trade agreements which protect and enhance the rights of investors over the rights of citizens, over indigenous peoples' rights to their natural resources, to the land which is their very being, over environmental regulations, over labour agreements, over the most basic human rights to a decent living standard and a decent wage. These agreements are enforceable in courts of law both nationally and internationally.

One of the central pillars of this global economic order is the World Trade Organisation which came into existence in 1993 due to the inadequacy of the GATT agreement as an enforcer of the international regulations that provide the structure for the global capitalist order. New regional economic agreements such as NAFTA and APEC are also designed to reinforce this economic order. Built into these international and regional agreements are legally enforceable clauses protecting the rights of trade and investment - for which read transnational business interests - over those of local communities and countries.

For instance, the Most Favoured Nation clauses common to the GATT, WTO, NAFTA and APEC mean in simple terms that investors must be treated at least as well as the most favoured country with whom business is being done. It means that you cannot discriminate on the grounds of human rights, environmental regulations, genetically modified foodstuffs etc. National Treatment clauses mean that investors have to be given at least the same rights as local businesses. States can no longer support local businesses, protect labour conditions and the rights of women and children where they are deemed to restrict or inhibit the ability of foreign investment to make a profit.

The impact on indigenous peoples of economic agreements designed to remove the few remaining trade protections and barriers to market liberalisation is devastating. For Maori, the implications are enormous. Aotearoa/New Zealand has led the way in participating in international agreements with less protection barriers than any other participant. With the GATT negotiations for instance, Aotearoa put in place the least amount of protections whereas the initiating country, the United States, put in place carefully calculated protections to protect its own industry while reaping the benefits of less astute bargaining from other countries. The fact that such agreements enable the sale of or trade in almost all such resources, assets and enterprises as remain in New Zealand ownership, when they privilege foreign investors without requiring any return to this country, caused Maori as well as many other New Zealanders great concern. The claims by Donald Johnstone of the OECD to the effect that the Agreement will enshr ine protections for indigenous peoples' rights and resources are a significant mis-representation of the truth. Moreover they can be interpreted as a blatant attempt to gain the consensus of indigenous peoples to an agreement that will in fact marginalise the rights of indigenous peoples even further as well as remove their access to indigenous resources by misleading them with intent.

In Aotearoa Maori led the way in raising awareness of and resistance to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, in fact, when the multilateral agreement on investment negotiations became known, Maori women were in the forefront of highly successful mobilisation against the MAI. Despite this, in regards to APEC, determined efforts by the Crown to coopt Maori business leaders as part of the APEC process appears to be successfully fragmenting any cohesive efforts at challenging the APEC model of open regionalism as the pathway to fortune and happiness.

Removal of Environment and Resource Protections

The provisions of these regional and international agreements override nation-state regulations including environmental regulations, genetically modified or hormone treated foodstuffs, labour laws and all citizenship rights. The loss of nation-states ability to regulate environmental and other protections within their own borders has enormous implications for indigenous peoples' lands and resources including intellectual and cultural property rights over which the battle being waged in Aotearoa/New Zealand for some years now has been led Maori women and fiercely resisted by the government. Economic globalisation has fostered the rape and plunder of indigenous intellectual and cultural knowledge by multinational pharmaceutical companies who collect and study plant materials which have been used by particular indigenous groups for often thousands of years for very specific uses, and then patent the results of their research so that firstly, they own the property rights and therefore also the profits and second ly, so that in many cases, this plant can no longer be freely used by those who have traditionally used it. The entrenched nature of capitalist thinking and practice means it is almost impossible to counteract this practice.

In Aotearoa, Maori women have been the initiators of a claim before the Waitangi Tribunal which seeks to protect Maori intellectual and cultural rights over flora and fauna. The most noticeable aspect of this case which is a landmark case and which has implications for indigenous people everywhere, is the way that the Crown has consistently put obstacles in the way of the case because of its implications for foreign investment. The significance of this claim is wider than might at first be realised by non-Maori in that it represents the strongest case for protecting New Zealand's flora and fauna from pillaging and exploitation by overseas-owned multinational companies.

Structural Adjustment and The Global Economic Order

Structural adjustment programs such as those imposed in Yugoslavia, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Aotearoa, to name just a few, are an integral part of the development of the new global economic order as they are the means by which the assets and resources of countries are made available, often at rock bottom prices 1to the same groups of creditors whose debts are paid off by loans through the IMF. Because of the size of its population (less than four million with an indigenous population of 15%) and its isolation, Aotearoa has been regarded as ideally placed to be the experimental model for pushing the limits of New Right-driven economic structural adjustment. The embracing of these ideologies in the 1980's saw Aotearoa develop what the OECD promotes as a model open economy, one which is driven by free market ideologies. For the past 15 years this has entailed a steady move towards a minimalist form of governance that functions to increase the influence of power brokers and undermine democracy as we know it. A ke y principle of this restructuring is the separation of economics from social issues. At the international level, at the regional level - as in the APEC leaders decision-making - and at the local level - policy and decision-making is based on the notion of economic gain without counting the cost in human terms. Here in Aotearoa this has been reflected in the wholesale privatisation of a range of provisions including health and education, the sale of state owned enterprises including power and recent attempts by the government to remove itself from its own obligations under the human rights act. All of these policy directions are underpinned by the same economic agenda - that of making Aotearoa even more attractive to foreign investment by opening up these areas to private enterprise. Far from resulting in increased employment and the promised reduction of our overseas debt, the privatisation and structural adjustment program of these 15 years has resulted in not only in a record overseas debt of $102 billion but also an enormous increase in unemployment. This has been coupled with economic rationalisation applied to public policies for health, welfare and education, for all of which Maori statistics are the worst in the country. In fact the rapid reforms experienced during the past 15 years Aotearoa has been matche d by record negative statistics in the areas of health, employment, income and housing. The 1990s period has arguably been one of the most challenging and rapidly-changing periods in Aotearoa since the end of the Great Depression. The human cost has been enormous.

Included in these costs has been:

* the unnecessary and premature death of a Maori man refused dialysis on the basis of economic rationalisation;
* the lingering painful death of a 21 year old Maori youth who was refused proper examination of his extreme head pain for two months due to an assumption that he was a street kid looking for easy drugs;
* the suicide of record numbers of people - the majority of them aged between 14 and 24, the majority of them Maori and Pacific Island youth. Some of them are my own nieces and nephews. The youth suicide rate in Aotearoa is the highest in the world, the majority Maori and Pacific Island. Several suicides of 15 and 16 years old youth have occurred within the adult prison to which they were sentenced - because there was no money allocated for youth prisons or rehabilitation programs to replace those that were closed down in the structural adjustment process.

Global Economic Capitalism - Ongoing Colonisation

For indigenous peoples, these new forms of economic globalisation are a continuation of the colonisation which has been perpetrated on them since the beginnings of capitalist expansion. Nevertheless the experience of globalisation is not the same for all people within groups. Economic globalisation has enormously increased the hardship and despair of many groups of women. Indigenous women's experience of globalisation is one of multiple layers of oppression. From the very beginning, colonisation turned indigenous societies on their head. In the case of Aotearoa/New Zealand, colonisation has reversed the form and structure of our societies, rewritten our histories, redefined who we are and our relationships with one another as with the experience of my own iwi.

As was the case with some other tangata whenua groups in Aotearoa, Waitaha were a matriarchal people. Waitaha women had great mana, and were the holders of knowledge that was highly tapu, or sacred. They held the knowledge of whakapapa (genealogy), they held the knowledge of medicines, of plants, and of the stars that our whakapapa connects us to. With the advent of colonisation much of our whakapapa and particularly the whakapapa of many of our women and the knowledge that they held, was displaced and almost lost. The histories of many iwi are replete with famous and outstanding female rangatira. The systematic rewriting of Maori histories and the sustained and deliberate attack on Maori social structures and values of collectivity which has continued to this day has not only fragmented our people and dispossessed them of their lands but also removed the status of Maori women and relegated them to the lowest level of society. Today in the face of new forms of colonialism represented in the new global econo mic order, indigenous women are once again experiencing multiple layers of oppression - from both the new forms of global capitalism and from the further displacement of disruption of fundamental indigenous values.

The influence of western liberal patriarchal values has been one of the most significant contributions to the oppression of Maori women. The cooptation of indigenous leaders by neoliberal ideologies of individualism, competitiveness and consumerism is increasing the levels of oppression experienced by many indigenous peoples. The most significant and disruptive effect of colonisation which is being reiterated in the current forms of economic liberalism and globalisation of the economy has been the theft of long and deeply-held traditional values and understandings of collectivity, of manakitanga (caring for one another), of kaitiakitanga (Caring for Earth Mother), for Tangaroa (god of the sea) and for their children and in the further redefining of our social structures as corporate tribes.

The notion that Maori were a tribal people is highly arguable, certainly my own people were not. While Waitaha as a whole was composed of at least three distinctly different groups, our social structure consisted of large extended family groupings within which roles were distinctly defined. Today, the infiltration of neoliberal ideologies into Maori leadership can be interpreted as yet another level of oppression particularly of Maori women whose voice the male elite leadership often try to silence. Far from enabling a revival of traditionally-held beliefs and practices, self-determination for Maori is being reinterpreted in terms of an economic base. The attraction of economic wealth as the means to achieving tino rangatiratanga or self-determination for Maori is further displacing and fragmenting traditional social structures of whanau and hapu. It undermines the core values and whakapapa relationships which connect indigenous peoples to the land and to the spirituality and values which are the core of cu ltural identity. The whenua (land) with which we have deep spiritual connections and whose loss so traumatised our people has become a commodity to be traded, symbolising the theft of the deep spiritual beliefs and values which locate us within the universe and in relationship to each other in particular defined ways.

Much of the current practice being constructed as iwi or tribal development is in direct opposition to the deep cultural values and philosophies that underpin Maori social and spiritual life. One example is the trading of resource consents for activities such as mining. Another is hapu consents for experimental GMO farms within their rohe in exchange for the short-term benefits of employment and training is another. These contradictions and tensions that have arisen within Maoridom as a result of global capitalism add a further tension to the issues that Maori are engaged in struggling over.


The world order that is being currently created is terminally ill. It cannot be worked with. It cannot be fixed from inside. It is embedded in epistemologies that are counterproductive to any form of sane and genuinely sustainable and peaceful world order. It needs replacing with a completely new model. As indigenous peoples who are experiencing a further wave of colonisation through global economic capitalism, and who as a result are hugely over-represented in all negative indices, the challenge is to seek ways of transforming these outcomes not only for Maori but for all who live within Aotearoa. Outstanding whaea such as Whina Cooper, Eva Rickard, Mira Szaszy, Sana Murray to name but a few, have led the way for the current endeavours by Maori women to combat the loss of Maori traditional values and the insidious forms of colonisation being asserted by economic globalisation. Within indigenous peoples and in particular, indigenous women are the seeds for a new world order based on traditional values of manakitanga, kaitiakitanga, wairuatanga. However if this new global order is not to continue the same inequities that have been perpetuated on indigenous peoples and women through global free trade, that model requires as a basic fundamental the acknowledgement of indigenous peoples' continued colonisation and the acknowledgement of the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination.

It has been said that when women regain their rightful place within the world, wars will cease. It has also been said that women will refuse to give up their sons and daughters to war, wars will cease. Perhaps we could add that when women refuse to participate in or otherwise support power over politics, when women refuse to participate in the currently asserted global capitalist economic order and themselves begin the creation of a new order within which Papatuanuku and the traditional values of nurturance, equality, spirituality and just distribution are central, wars will cease and peace will finally begin.

Paper copyrighted to Makere Harawira

Makere Harawira

1 as for example, in the case of Yugoslavia, Russia, and Brazil

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