Category — Features
Metanoia: The hard work of changing our minds.
By Sarah Hopkinson
Imagine thriving food production systems within Aotearoa that are not only environmentally just, but socially equitable too.
If we want to see truly transformative change – and I believe we so desperately need it – our growing practices need to reflect a much fuller sense of belonging to this place, to other living beings and to each other. Here in Aotearoa, this requires many Pākehā to grapple with our histories, uncover some long buried truths around our living interconnectedness, and share power with mana whenua to develop more holistic understandings of what success looks like.
I’m just one of a growing number of Pākehā who are inspired by the ways in which decolonisation could provide a way forward into collective healing and thriving. And I truly yearn to transform our understanding of what it is to be Pākehā on both a personal and political level. I hope I am not alone in that. As Ani Mikaere so powerfully wrote,
"There is nowhere else in the world that one can be Päkehä.
Whether the term remains forever linked to the shameful role of oppressor or whether it can become a positive source of identity and pride is up to Päkehä themselves. All that is required from them is a leap of faith.”
(Ani Mikaere, 2004)
So this article grew from that yearning, with the ‘simple’ mission of wanting to explore what Treaty-based approaches to regenerative food growing systems could look like. I wanted to seek answers to questions such as,
- What, and whose, values are defining regenerative approaches to growing food?
- In what ways could Te Tiriti o Waitangi inform these values?
- In what ways can mātauranga Māori underpin and inform our collective way forward – and how can tangata tiriti ensure space is created for this?
- How can we ensure that approaches to our contemporary environmental challenges authentically and genuinely address social inequities too?
- How could attention to a bicultural approach to regeneration improve tangata tiriti’s relationship to this place, each other and our collective story?
I thought they were fairly meaty questions and I wanted to studiously find out some wrapped-in-a-bow answers. I imagined having kōrero, soaking up workshops, reading literature, listening to interviews with expert thought leaders and then being able to write up something fairly pragmatic. Maybe some comments about the climate crisis, or about the opportunities Te Tiriti and Hua Parakore provides for us to imagine new possibilities. Probably a comment on how if we tend to the land, and not our relationships, then it's just a green reversioning of colonisation. That sort of thing.
I thought I knew where I was going, but I’ve not ended up there. The conversations around what is required next from Pākehā in this changing world, have taken me somewhere else entirely – somewhere far more foundational, deep into the spiritual space of what it might mean to be alive and the values that underpin our dominant epistemologies that brought us to this moment.
I can see now that the reductionist idea that I was originally carrying – that all that was required is simply some more knowledge, and that it was required from me – is symptomatic of being Pākehā in the first place. And this idea of “having solutions”, particularly those anchored in cerebral knowledge and not in grounded practice, is so very much part and parcel of the problems that we are facing in this climate crisis. It was in conversation with my past professor, and treasured mentor, Emeritus Professor Wally Penetito, that I was introduced to a new word that now frames this article: metanoia. He’d been speaking about the differences between Māori and Western worldviews, and how this impacts on what we see within this contemporary moment:
“We undoubtedly need transformation. The word, transform, it comes from the Greek word, “metanoia”, which means system change, but it also means changes in the mind. It is a really important concept, metanoia, a terrific word – this idea that it is not just about structural change but too the changes in the mind that accompanies that and how we might choose to contribute as people.”
I’ve hung on to this term ever since, metanoia. It speaks to the shapeshift that is required of Pākehā right now. It is what this process has presented to me, and what I now write about.
So I begin by orienting myself to the ground on which I stand, my place and my ancestors, before prodding at the dominant patterns that sit within my head and my heart, particularly as it relates to growing food. It is a wander that joins together dots from some rather unexpected paths and conversations, but I hope it is of value. Come along with me, I would love your company on the journey.
The ground on which I stand
I grew up at the ankles of the great mountain Taranaki and still call him home. These days, though, I am settled on the Kāpiti Coast, an hour north of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, with my husband, two boys, dog and nine chickens. I grow food in a regenerative front-yard farm called The Green Garden for my family and neighbourhood, on Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai whenua. I’m a trustee with For the Love of Bees, a charitable trust ‘growing radical hope through food’ through a series of urban farms and education courses. And I’m an education consultant in curriculum design, interested in place-based approaches and honouring Te Tiriti. I like yoga and costume parties (though I don't have enough of either in my life), swimming in the sea and a full table of friends and food. If you know how to break up with your phone, please let me know.
I write as a Pākehā woman. A descendant on my Dad’s side from Wales, Ireland and England and from Norway and England on my Mum’s side, the Tuffery side. One of my ancestral lines goes back a relatively long way here for Pākehā standards – my however-many-great grandmother was one of the very first settler babies to be born in Port Nicholson. Other parts of my ancestral line are remarkably short. My Grandpop, Dad’s father, sailed out to New Zealand just as soon as the orphanage in Wales released him. He arrived with nothing but his name and a penchant for drinking. I only found this out – that I am one quarter Welsh alcoholic (the largest recognisable chunk of me by some stretch) in the week before my Dad died two years ago. We were sat around our dear Dad’s fading, liminal body and his younger brother told us about Grandpop. He sounded like a hard man to have as a father, often absent, unpredictable, violent. I’d never seen my Dad get drunk and I finally understood why.
So, like many other Pākehā, I know scraps and pieces of myself, but nothing that equates to a definable identity. From conversations with those around me, I know this is common. As Delahunty (2007) wrote,
“So many of us, being the descendants of families starved out of Ireland, burnt out of the highlands of Scotland and made surplus…in the English class system…We, the children of cannon fodder and global capitalism can barely acknowledge the loss of bones and sacred places left on the other side of the world. The severing from ancestors and from the land has brought us material advantage and spiritual emptiness. The denial of this condition assists us in our denial of the tangata whenua indigenous reality and justifies our control of resources. But it has required a weird forgetfulness. Thus when it comes to…facing up to the huge environmental crisis coming our way, Pākehā are not collectively well equipped.”
I feel this. I know that I do not “belong-belong” to the land I grow on at the moment. No landforms around me now ever knew my parents, let alone my grandparents. I’ve been thinking a lot about the temporary relationships to land that Pākehā have, about our histories, about connection, dislocation, and perhaps, too, about grief. How all of these things impinge on and inform the modern-day relationship to soil, place and tangata whenua that for so many of us Pākehā is so woefully fractured and underdeveloped. As Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, Penawahpskeek Nation) writes,
“We cannot separate ourselves from those who have come before us or those who will follow, because we all exist together in this one moment. The harm experienced by our ancestors is felt by our bodies today and the harm we create today will be experienced by our future generations tomorrow. We are all inextricably linked through these shared experiences that cross time.” (2021)
An ethic of restoration
I do not belong in Wales, England or Norway, that I can be sure of. But to truly belong here, in Aotearoa, that requires the honouring of Te Tiriti, of place and of people, something that remains unequivocally undone. So understanding Te Tiriti, and leaning into decolonisation, is of primary importance to me as a regenerative food grower in this land.
The esteemed Moana Jackson uses the term, an ‘ethic of restoration’ instead of decolonisation (p.71 2020). And this idea really sparks something in me. To begin with, it doesn’t focus our attention on the very systems we want to dismantle, like the term decolonisation. An ‘ethic of restoration’ is action-oriented, as well as values-based – and, crucially, signifies the importance of returning to a balance.
For me, an ‘ethic of restoration’ speaks to the necessity, in these exceedingly urgent times, to stop and look at the threads that make up the warp and weft of our flawed cultural cloth.
There was a time, in my ancestral tapestry, when my kin weren’t disconnected from earth. And those ancient threads still run through us. They may have been heavily overdarned with all the destructive colours of patriarchy, separation and individualism. But underneath, and back, there was a time ‘somewhen’ when we too knew we are nature.
An ‘ethic of restoration’ speaks to this – the need to unwind and return – and that this is Pākehā work, of and for, ourselves. It might be that in this restoration process, Pākehā can evolve to be a responsive partner here, and step out of our practiced spaces of co-option, appropriation and erasure. Maybe with an ‘ethic of restoration’, we can be in a position of kin to tangata whenua so we can all thrive,
“Kinning does not depend on genetic codes. Rather, it is cultivated by humans, as one expression of life…. and it revolves around an ethical question: how do I rightly relate? We are kinning as we reconnect our bodies, minds, and spirits within a world that is not merely a collection of objects but a communion of subjects.”
This orientation towards kinship celebrates the social, mythological and practical connectivity of not just us humans but the interrelatedness, the kinship of all living things.
And it may provide us with the signpost direction that Pākehā so desperately need.
Headspace – redefining our understandings of success
I truly appreciate the expertise and wisdom that western science brings to our contemporary realities. Our eldest boy is really only here because of the knowledge and skills held within paediatric cardiology. Western science has saved our boy’s life time and again. All of which is to say, I am not in any sense at all, a science heretic.
It's this now decade-long experience of the western health model, transposed over my growing relationship with this earth, that has made me realise the shortfalls of this siloed reliance on western science for where we find ourselves as a society. Because it only takes us so far. Yes, on a biological level, my son’s heartbeat has been saved. And the primacy of this is not lost on me. But if you dive deeper, there is so much more to understand within this story of health. And there is no room within western science for these unquantifiable layers: for the unspooling of the intergenerational story; for considerations of his spiritual path, or his self-worth; for the social health of our family; or for the sense-making that is integral to processing and releasing all that is associated with his body being cut open. Was western science all that was needed for him, and us as his family, to thrive, or is there more to tend to within our small story of wellbeing?
I need to jump now from this (rather extended) analogy, to the Pākehā relationship we have to this earth under our feet. Western science is one valuable knowledge set, but it simply is not enough in itself. Western science will not solve our dominant culture’s insatiable hunger for accumulation, or our associated spiritual vacuousness. It doesn’t address capitalism or resource scarcity or community.
Alone, it is clearly not enough, and yet, we are continuing to utilise science measures as the primary informer for solving the climate crisis. As Dr Bayo Akomolafe so powerfully said, in a podcast I have returned to numerous occasions,
“We've lost sight of the fact that we are in way over our heads. We're dealing with something that is, in my calculations, fundamentally incalculable. It is un-frameable. It is something that calls for a shapeshift, not for a resolution or solutions… or funding. It is an invitation to stop in our tracks and feel – like failure is the gift that we are looking for right now.”
We are in way over our heads – it is powerful language, but I find it a useful metaphor. We have just about filled the deep tank that will drown us. And while western science does a solid job of measuring the tank's volume, does it have the ability to change the habits of the hand that turned the tap on in the first place?
All of this was evident within the delivery of the Climate Change Commission Report last year advising policy direction for the Government’s emissions-reduction plan. It imagined a “thriving, climate-resilient and low-emissions Aotearoa where our children thrive.” The report mapped out a bundle of urgent changes required within transport, buildings, electricity, natural gas use, industry and heat, agriculture, forestry and waste. But what was noticeably absent from the report, was a critical analysis of not just what we need immediately but how we might shift our current, deadend worldview.
Consumerism, materialism, exploitation, convenience, disconnection, capitalism, globalisation – these underpin how we got here and not one of them is mentioned, even once. How can we imagine a future on this planet from within a paradigm that remains unquestioningly committed to acquisition and growth? Put simply – we can not. As Jessica Hutchings writes,
“The global ecological crisis requires a paradigm shift where we reconnect with nature and restore the fragile ecosystem that supports human life. It is increasingly important to look towards the earth-based …Indigenous communities and their values and principles to guide us in the restoration of our reciprocal relationships with nature. This is because Indigenous and Māori knowledge are deeply rooted in intergenerational knowledge and value systems that, at their core, see themselves as part of nature.” (p. 17, 2020)
Pākehā have been collectively pickled in this idea that we ‘have the answers’ for such a long time that I think it may require some cultural humility, to be able to stand in this moment of chaos and finally feel that we don’t. To acknowledge that our broken food systems are a reflection of a Pākehā worldview, which is broken too.
We are in over our heads.
And maybe that means too, that more is required of us right now than just our thinking brain. Maybe it was the rupture of head knowledge from heart knowledge that got us here in the first place.
Heart space – on where we belong
“Diversity, survival and continuity are the problems that we all need to face up to. The Māori philosophies allow us to see answers to these through nature, as we are simply a part of nature, and of place… But Western philosophies believe that we have the answers only in our mind, and through our five senses. We have to find ways to talk about this, because our two cultural realities are profoundly different.”
At the end of last year, I attended a Hua Parakore (the kaupapa Māori system for food sovereignty) and biodynamics weekend workshop. It was co-led by the incredible Hua Parakore whānau food grower, Dr Jessica Hutchings (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Huirapa, Gujarat) and biodynamics practitioner Rachel Pomeroy at Papawhakaritorito. We explored the connections between Hua Parakore and biodynamics to heal Papatūānuku, restore our relationship with Hine-Ahu-One and to grow Kai Ora – food for hope and wellbeing. It was as enriching as it sounds.
I was struck by the language that was utilised in both Hua Parakore and biodynamics that accepts, as a given, that we are connected into a greater, divine whole. I wrote screeds of these down, a veritable lolly scramble of spiritual statements in my notebook, “we are not separate from soil” and “your tūpuna are guiding you to take your next step” and “when the whenua heals, the whānau do too” and this one, which I circled, “soil is a vehicle for social justice.”
This acceptance of how integrated we are with nature, because we simply are nature, has recurred time and again across indigenous knowledge authors, but remains steadfastly absent from mainstream environmental policy that continues to separate us from ‘the natural world’. As Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, Penawahpskeek Nation) writes,
“We must recognise that climate change is only one symptom of a larger problem. Human beings have fallen out of alignment with life itself…the anthropocene beliefs and philosophies that have ruled mainstream ideologies for generations are incapable of accommodating the holistic view needed to escape our current predicament.” ( p.20, 2021)
This split of rational understandings of the world from the spiritual was solidified in my kōrero with Emeritus Professor Wally Penetito,
“The development of the rational world, has excluded the spiritual world. The development of science too has separated us from spiritual thought. And this focus on secular approaches has reduced the importance of perhaps what it really means to be human – of our mauri, of our wairua… Our entire mythology has been reduced, and effectively excluded from what an education looks like, because it wasn’t seen to be secular. The problem is this – spirituality is central to what it means to be Māori…We need to accommodate both ways of knowing – it isn’t one way or the other.”
It feels to me that this sense of interconnectivity is central to what it means to be fully alive – that the rupture of this within Pākehā understandings of the world is at the heart of where we find ourselves today. As Teina Boasa-Dean and Ruth Nesi Bryce-Hare write,
“To accept there is a concrete link between the celestial, cosmic and terrestrial spaces is the start of a rehumanising process – one of reconnecting. This means bringing ourselves back to nature in acknowledgement that our bodies and the soil… emerge from the same origin.” ( p.103, 2020)
In what ways can science support the ideas of relationality, which many indigenous ways of knowing have been able to speak to for all of time? Just what are the spiritual truths around our interconnectivity that are played out in scientific discoveries and vice versa? How can the principles of Hua Parakore be complemented by emerging regenerative growing knowledges, and vice versa? As Rodriguez wrote, “Just as ecosystems need biodiversity to thrive, society needs cultural diversity to grow more possibilities. Monoculture deadens our collective potential.” (p. 123, 2021).
For me, it seems that maybe being culturally competent might start with understanding the impact and limits of our own monocultural truths first. Perhaps, as we remember the ancestral story that we carry in our veins, and lean into what we need to do to address wrongs still unrighted, we will become that Treaty partner that is truly worth growing beside.
To the earth, and beyond
A few years ago, anthropologist Jane Goodall spoke in Wellington. She spoke about landing on the moon, about how we have proven that we have the intellect to do almost anything. We just have to want it enough, not in our heads, but in our hearts. And that's the work, she said. Those words have come back to me here, again.
We can talk intellectually all we want about the need to half this and halt that, but alongside this we must guide our hearts back to being in relationship with this earth. We've forgotten where we belong, and how to be kin. Until that changes, nothing much else can. Belonging is not found in the conquest of territories or people or in the accumulation of things. Kinship is not found in suppressing our emotions or our stories. We have to put all our collective memory and imagination into reconnecting with this planet. Into the process of metanoia. To re-member where we truly belong.
As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his last book, “.. When you wake up and you see that the Earth is not just the environment, the Earth is us, you touch the nature of interbeing… In that kind of relationship, you will have all the love, strength and awakening you need to change.” (p.2, 2021)
And in that, Pākehā will no doubt shapeshift. I love that word. It's transformational. It's energetic – magical and earthbound and alchemic. The great news is, we don't need to go to the moon. We simply have to re-turn to our planet, under this southern sky. She's waiting for us right beneath our very white, and very wide, occupying feet.
Perhaps then we will have the understanding required to begin to seek the answers to Tiriti based approaches to growing food – the very questions that I started out with.
What is my ancestral story and what are the central values of my extended whānau? How do I contribute to these through my work in this world?
What are the ways in which I can make space in the systems I am operating in for mana whenua to lead?
How can I decentre my fixed (and possibly invisible) practices so that other ways of knowing can inform what happens next?
Am I brave enough to stand in the collective cultural space of not-knowing?
In what ways can I move slower and in season?
How can I develop an activated relationship to my landscape?
Boasa-Dean, T., Bryce-Hare, R.N. ‘Ngāhuia Lena: Kaitiaki of Moroiti’ in Te Mahi Oneone Hua Parakore: A Māori Soil Sovereignty and Wellbeing Handbook, edited by Jessica Hutchings and Jo Smith, 91-104.
Chayne, K. (Host and producer). ‘Bayo Akomolafe: Slowing down and surrendering human centrality’ (ep317). Green Dreamer Podcast, Retrieved from
Delahunty, C. (2007). ‘Flush and forget - Pākehā and Te Tiriti.’ State of the Pākehā Nation:collected Waitangi Day speeches and essays 2006 - 2015. Retrieved from https://trc.org.nz/sites/trc.o...;
Hanh, T.N (2021). Zen and the art of saving the planet. Penguin.
Hutchings, J., Smith.J (2020) ‘Building a Rauemi Hua Parakore for understanding soil health and wellbeing.’ in Te Mahi Oneone Hua Parakore: A Māori Soil Sovereignty and Wellbeing Handbook, edited by Jessica Hutchings and Jo Smith, 14-28.
Jackson, M. (2020) ‘Decolonisation and the stories in the land.’ Imagining Decolonisation. BWB Books.
Mikaere, A. (2004, 31 October). ‘Are we all New Zealanders now? A Māori response to the Pākehā quest for indigeneity’ Bruce Jenson Memorial Lecture, Retrieved from https://www.brucejesson.com/an...
Mitchell, S. (2021). ‘Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth’ in All we can save:truth, courage and solutions for the climate crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K Wilkinson.
Rodriguez, F. (2021) ‘Harnessing cultural power’ in All we can save:truth, courage and solutions for the climate crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K Wilkinson.
Servigne, P., Stevens, R., Chapelle, G. (2021) Another end of the world is possible: living the collapse and not merely surviving it. English translation. Polity Press:United Kingdom.
Van Horn, G. (2021) ‘Kinning: Introducing the Kinship Series’ Kinship: belonging in a world of relations: Volume 1: Planet.
Illustration by Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho
About the illusration: The poutama in the middle represents education, and learning, as well as whakapapa. The pattern in the middle next to the poutama is called whakarare, which means to disrupt or distort, the pattern outside of this is a play on purapura whetu, one interpretation of the meaning is that to survive as an iwi, a hāpu, a whānau, you must have numbers, just as the stars of the Milky Way, the reason I included it in this piece was basically to talk about the idea that systems change requires many people taking numerous approaches to problem solving. The diamond pattern at the sides is pātiki which is commonly used in tukutuku panels, essentially this pattern means abundance, and the ability to provide not only for your immediate whānau, but for the wider hāpu and iwi as well. I wanted to include the koru too, to represent regeneration, and new growth.