Unravelling my Colonised White Self

Hamish Lindop
6 min readMar 21, 2024

You might be wondering what I am playing at in this photo, my buddy Tammy certainly was. You might be wondering how a pakeha like me, whose ancestors did the colonising, could possibly need to decolonise himself, what’s the deal with that? Let’s have a yarn about that. Really just wander all over the place oratorily. Ready? Let’s go.

I’d just been to a big hui yesterday connecting community development funders in Auckland Council, Foundation North, and DIA, the three big funders in Tāmaki Makaurau. It was awesome, they ran open space, so people could make up their own topics, I made up one about participatory cocreation (surprise surprise!) But it took a lot out of me, and I’m still a bit in regeneration mode after travelling to Ausy for the ALIVE symposium last week, which was amazing but intense.

So I stopped by Little Shoal Bay, which is a lovely little bay which looks right onto the harbour bridge, and went down to the sand and the mud, low tide. When I was at ALIVE, we were invited to kōrero with some first people leaders and some whitefellas, about how things are, and how they could or should be, at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, around the Eternal Flame, as an experiential participation project. This embassy was set up through activism in the seventies, and has remained there in an unofficial capacity ever since (crazy how the mainstream govt keeps first people voices marginalised indefinitely like that but aaaanyways…) There is a custodian making sure that the eternal flame has never gone out since the embassy was set up. Phil, the lead guy for first peoples’ outcomes in ALIVE, got permission for us to feed the fire with some wood, and taught us to connect to the ground, to the earth, to rub our hands in it. Tammy my buddy who I was at ALIVE with, took it a step further and put some on her cheeks. I followed suit, being her teina. So back to Little Shoal Bay now, I feel that I need to put the earth on my face again. I keep a bunch on my hands and bless the steering wheel of my CX5 with it (and feel slightly anxious about getting sand all in the crack of the steering wheel and other mechanical parts of the car; machines and nature sometimes don’t mix, I wonder what that could be a metaphor for…)

My Tuakanas at ALIVE symposium, Tammy and Phil, thanks for all the ako guys!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what decolonisation means for whitefellas and pakeha like me. I did some looking into my recent ancestral past and found that my tupuna seem to have been pretty complicit in the actions of colonisation, in a deep and profoundly consequential way. I’m sure that the material comfort and financial security I experience every day is a priviledged consequence of that heritage. I believe it also comes with a karmic account, and I see how my lineage hasn’t been quite as spiritually healthy the last couple generations including me, and I reckon those colonising actions by my ancestors have got a lot to do with why. I’ve had to do a lot of healing in order to be happy, secure, and a generally nice human being to be around and learn how to be supportive of others, and I’m still learning this every day from my son, my wonderful life partner, and great mahi partners like Tammy(more on that below).

Tutus I’ve started doing since ALIVE symposium, when I wove fishing nets while listening to kōreros; I noticed how using my hands, connected to Taiao(environment) led to better listening and learning

Last year I was having big trouble sleeping, and feeling quite fragile after having a concussion the year before, so I went to see a health psychologist. She helped me get big emotions under control by learning acceptance commitment therapy, but she also helped me with some basics around sleep hygiene. I learnt that when the sun goes down, the more we keep artificial light on, especially blue light from our screens, the more we impede the natural process of becoming calmer, going into a rest state, which the darkness of night naturally does to us, where the brightness of day spurs us to activity. The light at sunset literally turns seratonin that we pick up by being in sunlight during the day into melatonin, the brain chemical which sends us to sleep. I noticed that when I sit in the near darkness at night, not doing anything, there’s a special stillness to it. A very different energy to sitting in daylight. We’ve colonised ourselves into thinking we can stay up all hours with artificial lights blaring (think NY, “the city that never sleeps”, not too healthy when you think about it) and disconnected ourselves from the natural rhythms of light and dark, and decolonising myself from this gave me heaps more energy to do more good mahi at mahi, often contributing to improving Māori outcomes(or throughcomes) and in my personal/family/community life. I found that I wasn’t investing enough to my connection with food, which you could look at as our connection to the mauri of the land, by literally not making very nutritious meals for myself with many fresh ingredients. Nourishing myself made me stronger, and decolonised me in another way.

When I was at ALIVE I encountered first people saying “I’m a salt water person” or “I’m a river person”. They were intimately connected to the land, and this was the first and most important context to understand how the life of the people should work. I grew up in Te Tauranga Waka a Manawatere, Cockle Bay. This was the landing place of Manawatere, a rangitira who then made his way with his people to Maraetai if I remember correctly. But first, he marked a Pohutukawa tree with ochre, a red clay, giving Pohutukawa its red blossoms. I realised that living most of my life next to salt water at Cockle Bay, and now Ōpaketai, Beach Haven, I’ve always been a salt water person. We waded out with her ashes sitting on top of her windsurfer board, and scattered them in the salt water. When we try to take good new innovative ways of doing things, and “scale” them to other places, are we paying enough attention to the salt water, or the desert, or the river, and how the people have grown up in these land and water contexts, or are we just recolonising places with another “it seemed like a good idea at the time”?

Connecting with some Kangaroos out walking at night during ALIVE. The animals are connected to the land, even in the vacuous capital core of Canberra (on Ngambri and Ngunuwal Lands)

Lastly, being at ALIVE allowed me to be in closer and closer partnership with my friend Tammy Potini. We’d been close and ended up working on many kaupapa together, and one of those had gotten us to ALIVE, the Waters of Te Maahia Project, part of the Kia Ora Te Whanau Hubs initiative in collaboration with Healthy Families South Auckland. Another way I think I’ve been decolonising is just by watching and learning by her rolemodelling; she was raised in Manaakitanga (mana enhancing reciprocal relationship), and she lives it and breathes it every day. I noticed all the times in a day, so many times, that she enhances someone’s mana, and I’m gradually trying to build my capability in that. She’s also teaching me to use my all my senses, especially my nose, keep it close to the ground to pick up the scents, not just my brain and all my kupu(words). She’s a master storyteller on Instagram (great example here from ALIVE), so I’ve been learning how to tell visual, sensory stories, not just one static picture with a bunch of words like this medium post!

So what I’m learning is this: We colonisers have also colonised ourselves in all sorts of ways, especially karmically and this has weakened us, especially spiritually in many cases. If we can decolonise ourselves and each other, we can also be good partners and allies in helping dismantle systemic racism and colonisation that impacts Māori (and analogously if you’re reading this in another legacy colonised country, the first peoples of that place). I hope these thoughts and experiences are of some small use to somebody who might read this. What are your experiences of decolonising yourself as pakeha/whitefellas? Do you think that this notion is even legit? Love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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Hamish Lindop

Sharing insights from community building and social innovation, and reflections on ways of (well) being