Thomas Tarurongo Wynne: Cook Islander or not, we are all on the same team

Saturday May 30, 2020 Written by Published in Editorials
Thomas Tarurongo Wynne: Cook Islander  or not, we are  all on the  same team

OPINION: The new Immigration Bill defines who is a Cook Islander, and who is not.

Sweaty palms, is what I recall. How many of us remember playing a sport when the coach would pick out two players and then ask them to pick from the rest of standing there?

All would hope that the captain with the winning team would pick us, as surely, they would recognise how strong, swift or agile we were.

One by one, other names were called, and shouts as the group to pick from got smaller and smaller. In the end those left would be divided up like consolation prizes between the two teams and the game would begin.

There is something about choice that divides, and something about defining a team that says you are in our team or you are in their team and like with any choice or clarification there are those that are disappointed, those that are delighted with that choice.

Nonetheless, we each and every day go about our business making choices, having the freedom to choose and living with the consequences and benefits of those choices every day.

I have therefore followed with interest the draft and consultation on the Immigration Bill 2020.

Reading through it over the last week, the bill aims to address key issues like our national security, managing people of risk, maintaining the integrity of our borders and supporting our economic, social, cultural and national development agenda.

This including the critical areas of the contract workers, permanent residents and their definition, qualification and removal of these statuses. It’s seen by the frequent use throughout the bill of words like “define”, “qualify”, “duty of care”, “prohibit”, “require” and “apply”.

Like the boys picking their team, at the outset this bill defines clearly which team you are in – and significantly, who is a Cook Islander. And by virtue of the wording, who is not a Cook Islander.

This bill clearly and succinctly defines a Cook Islander as only someone of the Polynesian race who is indigenous to the Cook Islands. It includes a person descended from, or adopted by, someone of the Polynesian race and indigenous to the Cook Islands.

And there we have it, a legal definition, a line in the sand in law of what was always understood by Cook Islands Maori in life, language, in aka’papaanga, akonoanga, and Pe’u Maori.

And it is exclusive. By virtue of it being a definition, it defines who we are and this is exclusive.

After 50 years this bill finally comes into play and, in a world so deeply divided in so many ways, politically, economically, racially and philosophically, why do we then add to that divide? A divide, for myself and many others, that seemed more necessary because of the climate we live in and not less.

Because maybe it’s not the definition or divide that is contentious as much as the meaning people take away from that.

Waiting to be picked for the team, those picked first seemed always the fastest, those in the middle not so much and guys like me at the end, not fast at all – or was it something else?

Admittedly, there are aspects of the bill, especially around foreign workers and permanent residency, that will continue to be hotly debated.

And as a child of migrant workers, and seeing how my parents were treated in New Zealand, this issue sits close to my heart, as much as it does our place as iti tangata and Cook Islands Maori.

In a time when a policeman can kneel and crush the neck of another man and take his life, and this abuse of power is repeated again and again, it is clear we have to work harder.

In a time when a young woman is beheaded by her father for the sake of a disfigured sense of  honour we have to work harder.

And in a time when world leaders thrive by dividing, by weaponising fear, and by filtering the truth, we can rise above this by holding fast to this simple truth and simple reflection. 

We are a people made in his image and if we reflect that image more, the word would be a better place remembering as his children, in the end we are all on the same team.


And finally I just wanted to acknowledge the passing of Mama Matapo this week.


I’m so glad I got to see her late last month as our thoughts and prayers are with Papa Tiki and the Matapo kopu tangata.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Samuel Samuel Tuesday, 23 June 2020 00:09 posted by Samuel Samuel

    I was born in the 40s in Rarotonga. I came to school in New Zealand when I was 17 and for several reasons and my health I am still here.

    I was reading about Maori, Cook Islands Maori and Cook Islander.

    In my young days we have the Are Korero in Ngatangiia We sometime call around there just to listen.

    I also listened to my parents and the old people, as well as at school..

    What I have then learned about us was that we are the Maori People of the Cook Islands; the native of the Cook Islands, the Tahitians are Mahoi, meaning to us as Maori. The Hawaiins are Kaoli; again meaning to us as Maori. And I believe Easter Islands are Maori.

    My understanding of the word Maori then was, Tumu-Enua or a Toke Enua; the people of the land.

    We became the Cook Islands between 1822-1835, and was named by a Russian man, when he was doing the World Map.

    We are then, the Cook Islands Maori, a Maori people of the Moana Nui o Kiva. Those who have applied and given a Cook Islands citizen will then be Cook Islanders and our people should remain the cook islands people, the native of the Land, anyone with a Cook Islands blood is a Maori and only them are the Cook Islands Maori.

    Thank you

    na tetai Tumu Enua.

Leave a comment