"I am Kiwi, Chinese, a young cis-gender female, relatively able-bodied."

Updated: Oct 30

By Lanxin (Lucy) Li

Course: SOCIOL 101/G Understanding Aotearoa

Prompt: “Critically explore how the settler colonial history of Aotearoa relates to you by reflecting

on your positionality in Aotearoa."

Positionality can be defined as the social and political contexts in which identity can be described, through relational labels such as race, gender, or ability(Maher & Tetreault, 1993). My positionality, in the context of my day-to-day ife, is simple: I am Kiwi, Chinese, a young cis-gender female, relatively able-bodied. However, I have come to realize that in the context of Aotearoa, I am also tangata tiriti, people here because of the treaty, and my positionality is intrinsically linked to the settler colonial history of Aotearoa.

Settler colonialism is the expansion of one country over another territory that results in occupation of the land and its peoples(Horvath, 1972). In Aotearoa, the movement of large amounts of British settlers intending to permanently occupy land could be called mass settler colonialism. In the process, indigenous land is taken, culture is replaced or destroyed, oppression of the indigenous people occurs. Colonialism is not a one-off historical event, but an ongoing system of oppression which has plays a determining role in the current structures of Aotearoa. As someone born here, it is unavoidable that I am part of the effects of colonialism.

The most relevant example is my family’s ownership of land. Primitive accumulation describes the processes through which land is acquired by settlers (Marx, 1867). This dispossession and theft of land from the indigenous people, justified by dehumanisation, is particularly important in Aotearoa’s history. Whenua – land - for Māori is important as a concept intrinsically related to wellbeing (Tupu.NZ, n.d.). However, land was desired by settlers as a method to generate wealth (Wynyard, 2017). The theft of land from Māori through legal justifications, coercion, and violence (Wynyard, 2017) led to “a structural relationship of Pakeha dominance and Māori subjection” (Walker R. , 1990). In 1860, 80% of land in the North Island was held by Māori yet by 2000, only around 4% was (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2021).

The theft of such a fundamental part of the Māori identity could be considered ontological violence – the suppression of indigenous ways of experiencing the world (Walker P. , 2004). It is the same theft of land that allows my family to claim ownership over a section of land we live on. Despite being neither Pakeha nor Māori, the fact that I can live here on stolen land is a consequence of colonial history which I benefit from. My identity as tangata tiriti living in Aotearoa is intrinsically tied to colonialism.

Immigration is a fundamental part of Aotearoa’s colonial history. As Spoonley and Bedford (2012) observed, the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi was a major event. It was followed by a mass influx of British settlers, and later immigration from many countries, creating the multicultural Aotearoa of today. One way to examine my positionality is specifically in terms of immigration as part of colonialism.

Immigration into Aotearoa can be broadly separated into three phases: white settlers, labour migration from the Pacific, and skilled labour migration from Asian countries (Spoonley and Bedford, 2012). Although the first phase had the strongest colonial ideological aspect – spreading British culture – the control over immigration overall was by the dominant white settler society established by colonialism. Immigration is itself a consequence of colonialism.

My family came here as part of the third phase. A possible model of why people like my family migrate is the human capital model of migration, which relates immigration, colonialism, and capitalism. People are viewed as simply resources, and migration is driven by the economic benefits of moving compared to staying (Clark & Lisowski, 2019). This perspective can facilitate oppression, exemplified by the government welcoming immigrants to fill labour shortages after World War II, but launching a campaign against Pacific overstayers during a later economic recession, despite Pacifica being only one third of overstayers (Allen & Bruce, 2017).

On a more personal level, the consequences of immigration as part of colonialism links to my identity as a Chinese person, born here because of my family’s migration. As someone who does not look like the dominant racialised group, I experience racial discrimination. Immigration as a colonial project is thus intimately a part of my positionality in Aotearoa.

Ultimately, the reason my family came here can be traced to colonialism. Furthermore, my existence as a second-generation immigrant is intertwined with the history of immigration as a colonial project. The effects of immigration as a colonial project – different cultures in Aotearoa, oppression of minority racialised groups – are thus linked to my identity as someone both Chinese and Kiwi.

In considering the colonial history of Aotearoa, the establishing of a dominant group over minority groups, and subsequent oppression, one indigenous concept allows for a lens through which seemingly disparate experiences can be linked together.

Whanaungatanga is a Māori word, roughly translating to kinship in English (Te Aka, n.d.), describing the connections between people, the establishing of relationships and relating to others (Stewart, 2020). Whanaungatanga is a relationist worldview useful for exploring positionality.

Firstly, in the context of Aotearoa, I am connected to people who live in the same society. Though I may experience discrimination for looking Asian and someone else experience discrimination for a disability, it is all the same oppressive systems laid down by colonial society – racism tracing back to immigration and ableism tracing back to capitalism. Secondly, whanaungatanga can be used as a window to theorize liberation. Although colonialism affects different positionalities differently, everyone who lives in Aotearoa is unavoidably connected. Thirdly, although we are all linked to colonialism, whanaungatanga lets us see our identities can be defined by our relationships to each other rather than the history of oppression (Rata & Al-Asaad, 2019).

By recognizing the relationships between different groups of people, the connections behind lived experiences, and that it is the same system that perpetuates oppression, we can recognize that we can work together to make substantial changes in the systems of the society we live in, as well as define our positionality in a way that liberates us from colonial history.

Through exploring Aotearoa’s settler colonial history, I find that I must acknowledge my identity in Aotearoa is intrinsically related. How I can live here, why I can live here, and my experiences here are all tied in some way to colonialism. Viewing the system through the concept of whanaungatanga, it is clear that though I am neither the dominant racialised group among the tangata tiriti or the tangata whenua, the history of colonialism still matters to me in the present, both on a personal, emotional level and in terms of my positionality.


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