At the end of the day, Maori and other indigenous people need to be vigilant to ensure that we are never used as stalking horses by those seeking a resumption of commercial whaling interests. We also must never ourselves be guilty of cultural double-standards by being selective in espousing our cultural relationship with these amazing ancient mammals of the deep.
For my own people, at least, we must balance our customary use of the material from stranded whales against our other relationship with them. Some iwi regard the whale as an ancestor. My own iwi holds to the tradition that we were guided here by one. Perhaps the best message that iwi can contribute is that the whale has sustained indigenous people all the world over in times past, when the animals were not massively hunted, and now we indigenous people have a duty to sustain these amazing creatures for their own sake.
That’s a quote from one of my role models, Sandra Lee, in her address to the World Council of Whalers. It’s a quote that, in light of recent noises from Te Ohu Kaimoana, is still relevant today.
Te Ohu Kaimonana (TOKM), the Maori fisheries body, has reaffirmed support for indigenous whaling. While I have no problem with whaling for basic sustenance, I object to whaling for profit. Reading between and beyond the lines, TOKM support for indigenous whaling appears to be an attempt to test the waters (excuse the pun). Peter Douglas, the CEO TOKM, told the Otago Daily Times that his organisation would be interested in taking meat from stranded whales unable to be saved. TOKM is not, apparently, interested in other whaling activities. Well, this contradicts previous actions. Metiria Turei points out that TOKM have hosted commercial whaling organisations and prepared and presented papers on the economics and trade of whaling.
Maori were participants on European whaling ships and would often harvest stranded whales (given they were dead and the appropriate rituals were performed). However, in many areas of the country whales are considered sacred. In my own iwi, Ngati Awa, there is a legend about a whale called Tutarakauika. Many iwi have tales of whales, tohunga and so on. The tales usually serve to denote the status of whales in the particular area. With that in mind, I’d find it culturally offensive for other Maori to engage in whale hunting, hell even harvesting dead whales is offensive not only to my cultural beliefs, but my conservation values.
In any event, Maori whaling in 2012 would not be done along cultural lines. It would be done, I can assure you, for profit. That is repugnant. As I said, whaling for sustenance is acceptable, but whaling for profit is not. There are other ways to make money and create jobs without having to hunt such a precious and in many cases threatened species.
There is something not quite right in TOKM. The organisation’s lax and inadequate response to slave fishing in our waters left much to be desired. Why, I ask, was TOKM more concerned with their profit margins than with the abuses that were occurring on the vessels they contracted? Why, I ask, is TOKM making noises around whaling? Why, I ask, has TOKM forgotten good corporate values and sound cultural values? Why, I ask, is TOKM just driven by profit?