The Good Council: Annika Weis and Pauline Tangiora


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Intro: Hello, and welcome to The Good Council, the podcast of the World Future Council. In each episode, we’ll highlight current challenges and policy solutions. And we’ll also take you on a journey of inspiring stories. Listen in to another of our intergenerational dialogues from around the globe.

Annika: This is a slightly different episode of our podcast series. For starters, it begins with a traditional Maori greeting…

Kosha: Greeting

Annika: One of the most cherished Councillors of the World Future Council is Pauline Tangiora. A Maori elder and leading figure for indigenous communities, she is described as a repository for knowledge and wisdom. She is a daughter, a mother and grandmother, and not just to her family, but to many people around the world. She is also a tireless fighter and campaigner for the rights of nature, for peace and disarmament, and for intergenerational conversations—just like the one she had with me. Pauline has been a member of the World Future Council since its foundation in 2007. But I wanted to get to know her as a person, what she did before she joined, and why she does what she does. I hoped to learn about her views on life, on her work and on her community, and about her message to present and future generations.

For example, I read that Pauline’s community is much more collective than we are used to in Europe, and often lives together across generations where generations can benefit from one another. So, I asked her how exactly she practices inter-generational living.

Pauline: Well, it’s a difficult question to answer. By bringing on board—over few years that I’ve travelled overseas, taking a younger person with me, and then dropping them into the situation that they have to speak because we, we as Maori, usually do things together. Not on our own. And that’s the way that we have been doing it for several years. My travels overseas haven’t been for me, they’ve been for the younger people to learn so that they can carry on to the future or to each other. That’s the way our people live, by sharing what knowledge we have. So, everybody is on board, because of different generations have different values. And if we can’t dialogue with the generation what is happening is a generation gap if we are not understanding or not sharing that knowledge.

Annika: I was also really interested in her indigenous community. I wondered, is there prhaps a particular message that the Maori have for the WFC?

Pauline: Well, I can’t talk for everybody. I can only talk from my perspective and my community… to achieve the dreams of this modern age we have to get everybody on board and that is like in any other community, trying to get everybody on board is very difficult.

You’ve had an extra little experience of how Maori start their day, when Kosha-Joy opened with our language and introduced me. Those things are important to retain. It’s very important that every indigenous community in the world retains those introductions in a world which is so European.

But we have some young people like Kosha-Joy and that, who are working very hard to bring the “new world” to the “old world”. Cause some of us are not prepared yet for that new world. As for indigenous people internationally, in my work with the indigenous peoples around the world, many of them have looked to Maori to help them to succeed.

But at the Rio Conference, of Kari-Oca, one thing we were all united in—the over [ninety] nationalities—was that, we mustn’t lose that, which we’ve had.

Annika: In June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—also known as the ‘Earth Summit’—was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was a major UN conference that sought to rethink economic development and to find ways to stop polluting the planet and depleting its natural resources. But while heads of governments met in Rio, indigenous peoples had their own summit at Kari-Oca, a village outside Rio: the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Territory, Environment and Development. And following their Kari-Oca Conference, the indigenous leaders shared their perspectives with the State representatives.

Pauline: One of the things that we have noticed in the international world: international companies look at some of our young indigenous peoples, they grab them and put them into places where they lose their contact with their indigenous world. And that’s a danger that all indigenous communities around the world have. And I think the WFC have given a little bit of a leeway for the indigenous peoples to come forward from their perspective, especially some of the women of Africa who have come forward planting millions of trees, the waterways; the women in India, trying to save Gujarat; the women in the Amazon, trying to stop the forest being cut down. Because indigenous peoples can only work with the environment that they’re around, those environments vary from country to country. And it doesn’t matter how big a community you have, it’s all the same, it’s retaining the knowledge of how Mother Earth works with humanity. If we don’t work this together, we are not above Mother Earth, we are within Mother Earth, and humanity must be tamed.


Annika: One thing that I learned in advance of my call with Pauline was that Maori people believe in Kaitiakitanga, which can be translated into trusteeship (of the Earth). What does this fascinating concept mean, and what does it entail?

Pauline: That number one, you have a responsibility for yourself. To make sure that you are honest, your morals are above reproach. Because unless you yourself can look within yourself, you cannot work within the environment or with the new community. Because to look after anything, you must be there for the purpose of, number one, your people, humanity, and the world as such. So, sometimes it’s a hard-y road to walk. But other times people can come to understand if indigenous peoples go to the government and say “this is not right”.

Unfortunately, the government has different values. But in my experience in approaching other governments around the world, saying “this is the way these people that I am with today, see it”—but people seem to think that you ask one or two people, how to do things, and that is why the Rio Conference in ‘92 for environment, it was set up by [Maurice] Strong [former Under-Secretary of the UN], the Kari-Oca Conference—free conference where all these 90 year old national, independent indigenous peoples of the world came together—and they decided with the Kari-Oca document “this is the way we do it”. And when Marcos Terena presented to the Rio Conference, which is only visited by heads of state, he walked in there with bare feet. And I heard somebody say “the poor man hasn’t got any shoes!”. Now, to Marcos, having his feet touch Mother Earth gave him the strength to present that document. So, if you’re a Kaitiaki, you must be able to stand for what you believe is right, but you can’t always get everybody to agree with you.

Indigenous peoples know the difference in Europeans. But if you can sit and come together, to listen to what Mother Earth is your guiding light. For instance, if I can’t hear the frogs, I know something’s wrong with the environment. Climate, and the environment is not two separate things, they work together. That’s how indigenous people see the circle is all complete. But once you start taking one thing out of the circle, and talking about just the climate, or the environment, or health, then you’ve lost the whole concept of being Kaitiaki. Because everything in that circle makes up the life force of a person, and you’re wider or your whole person is within that circle. That’s about how I can explain it to you Annemike.

Annika: Before my call with Pauline, I had the chance to speak to one of the Councillors of the WFC, Neshan Gunasekera from Sri Lanka…

Pauline: Oh, Neshan is a great man! He worked for Judge Weeramantry…

Annika: Judge Weeramantry was a Sri Lankan judge at the International Court of Justice, in the Hague. After his tenure at the ICJ ended, he took up the position of President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and became an influential figure in the area of international environmental law.

Pauline: When Neshan came onto the World Future Council, it was great to see a young person who’s come who has worked alongside Judge Weeramantry who could bring the dreams of the youth of Sri Lankra with the old values that Judge Weeramantry had. And one of the things I really admired about Neshan was that he is carried on these workshops for the young people, in Sri Lanka, for people from all around the world together, and I think the WFC is very lucky–or very blessed more than luck—to have him on board with that sort of thing.

Annika: Neshan shared with me an amazing story about a time he met Pauline in Hamburg, during one of the early annual general meetings of the Council. He told me that on a dark snowy evening, Pauline was barefoot in the snow. She encouraged others to also take their shoes off; Neshan, who is used to the warmth and sun, actually took off his shoes, and tried not to show how freezing it was. And yet, it was a lesson of bearing the elements, and I ask Pauline to remember…

Pauline: Ah yes… Well, everything is a living live force, doesn’t matter whether it’s snow, or whether it’s the rain, or whether it’s the sun. Everything is a living life force, and without that none of us would survive for future generations. So when I sit here with the birds, and look at the sunrise here just a little while ago, they are all living life forces which starts our life when we open our eyes in the morning. We must remember to pay respect to those that living life force, it may not be the same to everybody. But if we can train or teach our young people what a living life force is, then I think we’ve done the greatest part of our lives, what the Creator created us for.

I don’t think there are any boundaries of life forces, we are all the same, we need to breathe the air, and have the sun. And without those two things, we are nothing. Because the spirituality of our life comes from those areas of the light of the days. And what we do through the day will be how we can teach our younger people, my grandchildren, and some of them say they want to go into space, and live in space. And I say, how are you going to survive in space? So, we have to bring that to our young people how the space is there as a creation of the Creator, and not to take control of the space. Because nothing of our lives can be controlled, it’s controlled by the Creator. That’s the living life force that the Creator has given to each and every one of us to use, for the betterment of humanity.

Annika: Listen to this story about one of Pauline’s grandchildren… a story that reminds us also to look at our own relations with others, and between children and grandchildren…

Pauline: I remember one of my grandchildren when he was three years old. He decided he was going to climb a tree out at the back of my place. He got up to two or three branches and then he looked up sky and he said “Nanny, one day I’m going to climb up this tree and climb and have a look at the sky”. That’s some proof of how young people learn things. And when he comes back now and again, he has a look at that tree and says “see, that tree has grown taller”. And I said “Well, when are you going to climb up?” And he said, “well, it’s not yet up to the sky”, so he’s got the idea that the tree will keep growing—simple things like that. I think it’s very important to encourage in our young people. Too often they’re sitting watching the films on space and they’ve forgotten just to run around.

And look at dandelions, for instance. One day, I picked some dandelions, and he said “what are you gonna do with that nanny?” And I said, “I’m gonna make salad of them”. And he said “you can’t make salad out of the weed!”. And I said “well, you go watch because that’s what we’re gonna have for dinner”. Simple things like that. Us as elders and young people must continually come together and talk. I don’t know why is when my discussions with my grandchildren, or with my own children where I think it’s good to help have a healthy discussion. Not with the kid, the children watching television and all these programs and learn all those things—they need to talk face to face. And the elders don’t lose anything by missing out and young people show you that you might have to have another look at your world view. One of the basic things about the world view of the indigenous thinking is: never forget that you are the creation of the Creator. Unless you continually remember that, you are not here to serve yourself, you’re here to look after and be with your people.


Annika: We then moved on to talking about Pauline’s rich experience on the international stage. As a leading figure for indigenous communities, she travelled to Mexico to face militaries with Indigenous community members, comforted child victims of chemical weapons attacks in Iraq, and drove to Big Mountain in Arizona in a peace caravan. So, I asked her: What did you learn from representing indigenous communities on the world stage? But first, rightly so, Pauline corrected me…

Pauline: I can never represent indigenous peoples, but I can be the voice to carry to the UN. For instance, the people in Africa, South Africa, wanted their land back, the bush people, but they could not get into the UN. And through Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, we could get into the UN, and have a voice because you must be accredited as you will know. And with Kim Langbecker, we managed to get into the UN and put their case so that at the World Environmental Conference at the beginning of 2000, I was very humbly honoured by the government taking me up to see that the bush people will be given the land back because the pressure of the UN on the South African government pushed it that those bush people will now have their land back. So that’s the sort of thing I think that we must be available for other indigenous peoples—or any person—to voice their concern. The honour is not ours, the honour is of those people who we are the voices of. If we don’t pick up those concerns, you don’t win any friends on the international scene, I’ll tell you that!

Annika: In the Western hemisphere, there are currently large campaigns taking place that advocate for the rights of nature to be codified in law. This would allow for the possibility that violations of nature can be enforced in a court of law. But this consideration isn’t new. The American law professor Christopher D Stone first argued that environmental interests should be recognised apart from human ones in his book “Should Trees Have Standing?”, in 1972. Similarly, there are advocacy campaigns under way to lobby the UN Human Rights Council to consider a historic resolution on the right to a healthy environment. Again, the difference to indigenous communities is striking, for in 2017, New Zealand granted legal rights to the Whanganui River. The Maori had been fighting for more than 160 years to get legal protection for the river, relying on it for food, travel, and their livelihood.

Pauline: We haven’t put it into law. It’s a natural right and responsibility of the government to accept.  You’re talking about the river, aren’t you? The Whanganui River. The government had to accept that that was the right of those indigenous tribes of the Whanganui River. That was there was a lifeforce. To me, they didn’t need a law. But for Europeans, you have to have laws. So there’s two conflicts here: one is the ‘lore’, L-O-R-E, the lore of the people. And L-A-W, the European way of living.

Annika: And here’s Kosha-Joy, joining the conversation.

Kosha-Joy: I have a question, though. What about the Takutai Moana stuff. Does that relate to this question?

Pauline: Well, we have te takutai moana on the coast. We live on a peninsula, which is three quarters surrounded by the ocean. And we made an application because the government declared in 2004 that we had no rights to the oceans, the foreshore and seabed. But they belong to everybody. What became confusing for me, was how can you make a law to say that we who were here for hundreds of years have taken your food basket from your back door is not ours to look after. And that was why our people would have applied to the court in 2004 to have it put back into the hands of the people to look after, not after the law, L-A-W of the country and we’re still fighting that at the moment. So, there is a confusion of the L-A-W with the L-O-R-E. And Europeans have come from an ownership, nuclear ownership background of the Westminster parliamentary system, which makes it very difficult for many Europeans. And it becomes then a racial thing or discrimination: Why is one people getting more than the other? But unfortunately for the world, people forget to look back at who has looked after it for the millions of years before somebody else has moved into a country and decided that they want to do it this way.

And that’s why we’ve got within the Amazon forests all those farmers that have come in after the Second World War and taken over the forestry of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Now that’s why we’ve got forest fires going on all the time in the Amazon which is affecting the climate.

Annika: Pauline’s concerns hit close to home. Her community is protesting against letting a US-owned rocket company launch US military technology from the Mahia Peninsula, which has an impact on the local flora and fauna.

Pauline: Those people know that if you start doing that sort of thing, you’re going to affect the climate. And so it is with our foreshore and our seabed. The government saying, the government argue on behalf of the people. That’s why I was our foreshore and our seabed are becoming contaminated. Nobody was looking after it because if you want to try and do something, oh, then you’ve got a local council who says, “Oh, no, you can’t go fishing this time because this area of the foreshores and seabed must be locked down, because there’s a rocket going up, on our peninsula”.

So we’ve got this now that the local council gave permission for rocket land company to set themselves up on my peninsula where I live. And now, when that rocket goes off, that company is allowed by law, L-A-W, to close down that collection area of picking up seafoods. Now, that is wrong, you can’t do that sort of thing because our people rely on them for their sustenance, for their livelihood. When people pass away, that is the most important place that they go, to get the seafood to feed all the hundreds of people who come to pay their respects, but when this rocket is going up, that coastline has closed down. So there already is a very non-compliance of recognition, or acceptance rather, that our people, indigenous peoples of the Mahia peninsula, have that responsibility, it’s not a right, it’s a responsibility to look after that foreshore. And that’s a takutai moana [the marine and coastal area] which we have taken to the court in 2004. We’re still wanting that to be accepted. But then saying that, we have to get all our people to understand, it’s not a law L-A-W we’re going for, it’s a L-O-R-E, and that nobody will be missing out if we come together as one group because within Maoridom you have fano, which is a group of families, you have hapū [“subtribe”, or “clan”], which is when those families will come together. And you have a iwi [“people” or “nation”] group which has a responsibility to carry out those things which the people, the fano and the hapū, the families and the group of families, have come together and agreed to carry out so that the iwi group’s responsibility is to go forward and carry the request with all our people on board.


Annika: After this lesson in Maoridom and the concerns that they have about the use of the Mahia peninsula, I moved our conversation to other issues that Pauline dedicates her life to, which are also core areas of work of the World Future Council: Peace and disarmament, ocean diversity, rights of women and young people, and climate and energy issues.

Pauline is particularly concerned about nuclear issues. In a previous interview with the World Future Council, Pauline clarified that the issue is four-fold: first, the mining of uranium destroys indigenous lands. The second issue is the so‐called civil use for nuclear power plants. Thirdly, nuclear energy is used as an instrument of war, and fourthly, there are concerns about the handling of nuclear waste. Aotearoa / New Zealand became nuclear free in all four aspects in 1984, but Pauline still had to witness the nuclear destruction in the South Pacific while raising her children in the 50s and 60s.

Pauline: Well, that is a very dangerous area, the Pacific at the moment, and also north of Russia, Belarus. Because people have dumped their natural nuclear waste in the Pacific, and they say they’ve got it encased in a stone vault. Now anybody with any two-piece brain in their head will know that where it’s situated that it drives on an earthquake fault. And when we’ve seen so many earthquakes going up at the moment, spitting the land around the world, that that could damage the concrete vault, and then waste will go into the ocean. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Japan has their waste sunk which is on the edge of the ocean because it’s in big bags apparently, from the blowout of some years back. And that was opened through the climate destruction which is happening with earthquakes now as well, in Japan.

What’s going to happen? Who’s gonna feed the world because 75% of the world’s surface is oceans? How do all these millions and billions of people who live around the coastlines going to feed themselves? It’s a living disaster. And before we talk about climate change, we have to look at how are we going to deal with the disaster which is sitting under our noses but we don’t want to address it. The scientists need to first come up with something, you’re getting all these warm oceans, and the warm oceans will destroy the streams. So, the basic is the nuclear waste is really hot. So that’s where you really have to start looking at Belarus, Russia, and the Pacific Ocean. Because nobody has thought about why is the Pacific Ocean warming up? Recently, people of the Pacific have said to me, “Well, naturally, if you’re warming up those concrete slabs which the nuclear waste is in, naturally that’s going to warm the ocean”. Because the nuclear reactors, when they’ve dumped all that nuclear waste, it will naturally heat up the concrete vaults which they’re contained in. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that.

Annika: To Pauline, this constitutes the greatest threat to the environment.

Well, there won’t be any humanity left. That how simple it is. The damage will kill us. The environment will die down, humanity will die down. I’m not a scientist and I’m not a bearer of bad news or good news. It’s only common sense that with the Ocean, even though we’re near the Pacific, where’s the food going to come from? Already, the fish is contaminated with mercury poisoning. And that’s not very well known. Many people buy fish overseas, that’s already contaminated with mercury poison, unless we as humanity are going to go otherwise, it won’t be even humanity if you’re going to damage the oceans like that.

Annika: So, what are her hopes for how we can improve this?

Pauline: Number one: war—sou stop the wars; you help to stop the destruction. But we don’t need nuclear bombs. You don’t need nuclear fallout. That’s how simple it is… War does not bring peace to anyone. If you look around the world today, the wars are a destruction, killing humanity on every continent, that’s very simple. Stop the wars and start living peacefully together.


Annika: Pauline has already done so much and has been a role model and continues to be a role model for many peopl