Profile: Reclaiming the Right to Being article (

The following are my full remarks from an email interview done with Kaluhyanu:wes Michelle Schenandoah (Oneida) for her article 'Reclaiming the Right to Being' featured at You can find Michelle's excellent article, in which indigenous women from around the globe address the issue of violence and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women here.

Nga mihi Michelle. Thank you for bringing us together in spirit and on the page!


Hayley Marama Cavino

Ngati Pukenga, Ngati Whitikaupeka, Pakeha

Hayley Marama Cavino is the daughter of a Maori mother (her mother’s parents are from two different tribes) and an English/Pakeha father.

Michelle: Where does the violence against Indigenous women stem from? 

Hayley: I think that’s a complex question. Certainly, I feel that the explosion of violence against us is undergirded by colonialism. So for us in Aotearoa/New Zealand that would be British colonialism. But more specifically it’s about territory – it’s about land. So at its heart I think it’s about the acquisition of territory. Now the thing about making that argument is that it can’t just be applied solely to white people, to settlers. Certainly we can talk about settler history and even the contemporary moment—and we can see evidence of how whiteness is heavily implicated in that violence – because it’s essentially people from Europe that established those empires and went out into the world and attempted to take over. And of course they brought with them their knowledge systems, religions, education and beliefs/values – and all of that combines into this perfect storm that fundamentally changes our ways of being and knowing. And in all of this they enacted their own violence against us to get the land, but they also changed us in ways that saw that violence circulating in our own homes and communities. But going back to my earlier point we also need to look at inter-tribal conflicts pre-contact/pre-colonization – because a lot of that was about territory also – arguments/contestations about territory – we need to recover and speak story about how those moments were also sometimes about episodic violence against women. It’s my contention that it wasn’t systematized then the way it is now as a consequence of colonization (for example there are a lot of indigenous scholars who claim that it wasn’t intergenerational) but it did happen on an episodic basis and often for the explicit purpose of prompting violence between men over land (because an offense against women or children was understood as being very bad indeed and likely to invoke a response from the people targeted). So we need to look at all of it – and understand how land is often at the heart of the violences visited on our bodies as women. I’m also really interested in the reinstatement of indigenous women’s power and authority in our own communities—so the struggle is situated there as well as externalized to settlers and settlement.

Michelle: How do you feel about the violence that has happened to women in your home country? Is this linked to violence against indigenous women worldwide, how? 

Hayley: I think it’s definitely linked – one of the things I often say is that we need to understand how the violence we experience is nuanced and specific in some of its manifestations – but it’s actually not that unique – in that it gets replayed in all of these different geographies. Anywhere that there is settlement and empire building – you’re going to see this play out.

Michelle: What efforts are being done in your home country to address this issue? 

Hayley: A huge question! A lot. Some things are being done TO US (incarceration, institutionalization, being subject to all manner of helping professionals who practice from a very white and western kaupapa - program/pedagogy/knowledge base) and then also BY US. So focusing on the latter – there’s just a long history of interventions and talking back that has happened. More than I could possibly say here. One of the things I’ve been looking at is moteatea (these are sung poems – many composed by our women). They’re really an ancient form of speaking – and our women sometimes used them to speak to their experiences of abuse (and again, qualifying this by saying it was a relatively rare occurrence pre-colonization). But in those you’ll find not only speaking to those experiences but also what was done about it, how people felt about it. Those stories are available to us. We know for example that people were banished for abusing women, or they were killed outright. We know our women had the agency to up and leave. Leonie Pihama, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and other contemporary wahine Maori (Maori women) at home have shared pūrākau (contextualized stories, creation stories) from wahine perspectives about such instances and what was done, how we responded (from an ancestral perspective). In more contemporary times there’s been all kinds of responses – some marae based (our meeting houses, ceremonial spaces) and some within or tied to settler systems (Maori restorative justice programs used as diversion from settler criminal justice systems for example). We’ve got all kinds of activists and community workers– men and women – taking on these issues too. One example - #PedoFreePae – which is initiated by Chanz Mikaere, Koro Toby Curtis and others – that’s about getting pedophiles out of our leadership structures. There’s so much going on.

Michelle: Has this issue personally affected you? 

Hayley: This has really been my work for the last several years… actually for most of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of being sexually violated. I first spoke out about rape and sexual violence at 10 and 11 years old. I told men in my own family not to touch me (that came from having already been raped) – so from very young I was intervening around my own personal sovereignty and bodily integrity – and also on behalf of my sister and other children in our whanau (as were other young people in the whanau). I’ve been to court and spoken out there (along with cousins, aunties, uncles). I think those experiences really prepared me for my work – because they were incredibly scary. A lot of my aunties and whanau (extended family) supported the men who were abusing us. From that I understood that sexual violence is frequently not a private matter (it’s known), that people will go to great lengths to avoid dealing with their own trauma, and that it takes a village to enable this behavior. But also when you speak out at such a young age – it kind of galvanizes you and I think later on I took an attitude that I’d already been through a lot of shit so I knew I could handle it. Throughout my undergraduate work I spoke out and was active around issues of sexual violence. But it really wasn’t until my doctoral thesis that I took on the work full time. So I ended up writing a doctoral thesis that storied the three generations of women before my grandfather (who was one of the main men abusing women and children in my whanau). And in the process of recovering that story I was able to show how land – how hunger, homelessness and hysteria (to use Tracy McIntosh’s framing) - was really at the heart of the rape circulating in our whanau. So it was about contextualizing – that’s the core goal. We actually have to know why and how this is possible. Storywork is key here. I should also say that it was the untimely death of an uncle and teenage male cousin that really precipitated a lot of my more recent work. It just became critical to me that I begin to do my share of the work—I don’t want to be putting any more of our men in the ground before their time. I think that concern – for our men – is part of what makes us beautifully unique as indigenous peoples (the world over really) – there’s no healing for us as women without healing for our men.

Michelle: How has your work been influenced by this issue? 

Hayley: As above – I wrote a thesis – which I worked on for five years. That thesis is currently being transformed into a book – tentatively entitled ‘Decolonizing Rape: Rethinking Violence, Land & Belonging in Maori World’s’. Next I’ll go to a project that looks at my maternal line – so my grandmothers people. I’m looking at records of first contact with settlers – primarily missionaries – and how this contact was deeply gendered. I see that work as being very much connected to genealogies of violence against Maori women.

Michelle: Is there any stats on indigenous worldwide that you may be able to include? Or just on New Zealand?

Hayley: There are statistics. Whether they tell the story is another matter : ) Much is not properly disaggregated by ethnicity, or it’s unreported, or it’s representative of racist policing and reporting. The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse has some data

I’m cautious about relying on quantitative data alone because it can’t do the contextualization work that we so need. It also treats these instances as crimes committed by individuals—I don’t see it that way. The violence has a whakapapa (genealogy) and we know the impacts ripple out and affect EVERYONE. Data is also used to demonize us. I sometimes utilize Moana Jackson’s work – because it speaks to the limits of certain kinds of data. Here’s a good example of him speaking on this:



Comments on Decolonizing Rape & #metoo


Race Sex Power Conference. Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL. April 7th 2018

Plenary II: Sexual Violence and Racialized Bodies: Re/Centering Creative Practices of Representation and Resistance

Comments on Decolonizing Rape and #metoo (Hayley Marama Cavino)



Note: A slightly modified version of these comments was shared at the conference. I express my gratitiude, admiration, and respect to co-panelists: Salamishah Tillet (University of Pennsylvania), Kebo Drew (Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, Maya Mackrandalilal (Community Services Coordinator), Rosamond King (Brooklyn College, CUNY). Photo credit: Keisa Reynolds.



Nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa. Greetings and acknowledgments to you all.


I would like to extend my gratitutde to Natalie Bennett for convenning this panel—I’m humbled to have been included and to be speaking in such company. Thank you. I also want to express gratitude to Keisa Reynolds for all of her labor in making the arrangements for us to be here. Thank you Keisa. I am the daughter of a cleaner and line cook so I express my gratitude for the care show to us to include those that have cooked for us and helped in other ways seen and unseen. I want to also acknowledge my Kanaka Maoli sister Lisa Kahaleole Hall for connecting me to this space.


As an indigenous visitor to this territory I’d like to acknowledge the land and the people of the land to include the Illinois and Miami (me-ah-me), Potawatomi, Winnebago and all of the other people who’s ancestors have called this place home for generations upon generations. Greetings and acknowledgments to you. And with deep respect I feel I would be remiss if I did not also mark the ways in which the space created here over the last two days, for all it’s riches (of which there has been an abundance) is also paradoxically impoverished by the absence of the people of this land in the conversation. I just feel the need to mark that absence.


When I am not at home in Aotearoa New Zealand I live on occupied Onondaga Territory in what is currently known as Syracuse New York. So I would like to acknowledge the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Onondaga in particular, with gratitude. One of my jobs right now is to teach as contingent faculty in Native American & Indigenous Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies at Syracuse University. As a sidenote I want to speak the ways the academy is complicit in taking up the ‘erase and replace’ ethos of coloniality when indigenous knowledges and bodies are seemingly  always contingent, never core—we are barely surviving if we are even there at all.  That said, I’m speaking here today not primarily from an academic locaton but rather as a Pacific woman. I am the daughter of an English settler father and a Polynesian mother. My mother’s people are Māori (Aotearoa/New Zealand)– we are coastal people (Ngati Pukenga tribe) on my grandfathers side and mountain people (Ngati Whitikaupeka) on the maternal line.


So I am feeling today the challenge of having 8-10 minutes to try and tell a story. What fragments of a story will I tell?


I’m going to attempt to speak about sexual violence and indigenous people. I’d like to talk first about decolonizing rape and, if I have time, follow that up by sharing some brief preliminary thoughts on #metoo.


Decolonizing Rape


I need to further contextualize these comments by saying I speak of and from a raped mother, raped aunties and uncles, raped cousins, this raped body. I come from grandfathers and uncles and cousins who raped; and aunties, grandmothers and mothers who hoped, denied, and spoke that it was and wasn’t so. So that’s the place I story from. Technically speaking it was a dissertation—but in truth (and for the benefit of those surviving..... I said SURVIVING..... that process...and also those that refuse the cost and choose a different kind of survival) the work is not for the academy. I’m not speaking to you. It’s not for you. I was blessed to have a committee that let me write the way I wanted, and ancestors and whanau that made it happen. You might call the work autoethnography – we call it indigenous storywork – and us Māori call it pūrākau. Pū—the origin or foundation, the roots; rakau—the wood, branches and leaves. This is blood work. This is genealogy—ancestral work—facing forward into the past. This is long story. This is story as refusal—story that spills over the lip of the academic cup and flows wherever it needs to go.


When I started this work I sat with an elder at home who asked me ‘what happened?’. And I told “the story”. Basically I talked about who was raping who. And she stopped me. She told me that wasn’t the story and that if I couldn’t let that go I couldn’t do this work. Of my mother’s father she asked me: What happened to his people? How was this possible? So I no longer write about rape. I haven’t in a long time. I write about how rape is possible.


Decolonizing rape is about telling the truth about how it is possible. It’s about taking a full account of history and context. But critically it is about putting rape back into conversation with the land. Because the rape of bodies is made possible by the rape of the land. I defy us to think of an example where rape does not have the conquest of territory – in one form or another – as a pre-requisite. And to be clear – I have no interest in a romantic pre-colonial past. A number of years ago now I was a student of Southern African radical feminist scholar PatricianMcFadden—her Revolutionary Struggles syllabus lit my ass on fire – I have not claimed pre-colonial utopia since. The work I do now breaches the colonial divide. I tell old old stories of the rape and violation of my female ancestors by our men in order to precipitate inter-tribal conflict over territory and/or to broach agreements amongst men. Those are recovered stories and/or counterstories (stories that disrupt the hegemonic, heteropatriarchal versions settlers and some of our people continue to tell). I can not claim pre-colonial utopia without being willfully complicit in the silencing of my tipuna wahine—what I know to be true of their lives—and I refuse. I won’t do it. I have aroha/love for indigenous gender balance claims—but in framing them as aspirational (and damn it, being cool with claims that we were pretty damn good at actualizing it before white dudes in boats!) I’m holding space for counterstory.


So the pūrākau I weave is necessarily expansive and traverses a variety of terrains—it speaks our complex relationship to place because in order to story rape – it all matters. It matters that my grandfathers people had 200,000 acres of land stolen and were ‘gifted’ 98 back. It matters that some of our men were present as mining employees when the settler government dynamited our ancestors bones clean out of our sacred mother mountain. It matters that those bones are mixed up with the rhyolite rock they used to pave their roads and feed their infrastructure. It matters that three generations ago we were homeless and did to other tribes what had just been done to us. This is the story of our interwoven, inter-dependent rape—the land and ours. All of it matters. Tell the story.


Some other story I’d like to share here: excavating the influence of missionaries and settler marriage, the violence and shaming around our sexuality as Polynesian women, shutting down the frequently polyamorous nature of our intimacies... And, to the detriment of ALL of our people, the relentlessness with which they attempted to erase our memory of ourselves as always also takatāpui. That’s one of our words for queer. We were queer and we are recovering that memory and reconnecting to that genealogy in present time and space. All of it matters. Tell the story.


Decolonizing rape becomes praxis through story. I’m certainly not the first to hold space for indigenous storywork—I’m thinking about Sto:lo scholar Joann Archbald’s ‘Indigenous Storywork’ and Mvskoke legal scholar Sarah Deer’s ‘The Beginning and End of Rape’ as just two examples. Writing genealogies of violence that make clear the GROUNDED logic of rape is, I believe, a form of contemporary ceremony. In his book Research is Ceremony Cree scholar Shawn Wilson writes “If research doesn’t change you you’re not doing it right” (Wilson, 2008, p.135). Research/writing has a responsibility to heal.


One of the ways to enact this work as decolonial practice is through reestablishing and renormalizing storytelling in our communities—and I mean this in the active, creative, present tense—especially with our young people. For several years I’ve been teaching a scaffolded writing series to indigenous, settler and migrant young people that requires them to write their lives, their people, and encounter from their own social locations and places. The series, entitled Writing Lives on Land, is in conversation with and indebted to the established and groundbreaking work of my sister friend Dr Marcelle Haddix’s Writing Our Lives and Dark Girls projects. My citational praxis is purposeful here—I’m making visable the genealogy of this work—of indigenous brothers and sisters in conversation within and across territories and oceans—amongst ourselves and with other communities of color.


Indigenous Responses to #metoo


I want to finish by taking a moment to respond to #metoo. Despite and perhaps because of the work I do, I have found myself stubbornly resistant to using this hashtag and a full reckoning on why has just as stubbornly eluded me. So I share these words as thoughts in motion. And I assume the risk inherent in that. The ways that these transiting words might lead nowhere that we want or need to be. 


2006. Tarana Burke. CENTERS young girls of color in the conversation about sexual violence. In this room we either always knew this genealogy or we consider ourselves sat down and spoken to about it. So what I am NOT interested in is how #metoo circa 2006 was a call for inclusion. Rather I’m interested in how it was a call for specificity. If we understand #metoo as speaking Black specificity then I want to risk suggesting that subsequent white uptake and mainstreaming of #metoo can be a way of unhearing. Because to hear is to pay attention to the racialized specificities of Black Women’s experience of sexual violence and the ways whiteness is implicated in the perpetuation of the same. The ubiquity of #metoo circa 2017 flattens the very necessary specificity of Black experience. My refusal, as an indigenous woman, to take #metoo up with reference to our story occurs for a similar reason—I WANT and NEED specificity. I live there. I refuse precisely because the appropriated iteration of #metoo can not do the decolonizing work that we need to survive.


Please know that I am not here saying these words to belittle anyone who has used the hashtag. I’m not here for it. This is about the limits of the work we can ask of the hashtag now that it has gone viral. And it’s about the disproportionate consequences of those limits for people of color. For indigenous women, coloniality and struggles for territory are central to the explosion of violence against us. To be heard is to acknowledge this specificity. We are the missing and the murdered. Our bones are still being put under roads and inside infrastructure. We are scattered over ground.


Indigenous women have a long, long history of dealing with these issues. Plenty of indigenous women are also responding to #metoo. Just this week we premiered the brand new short documentary ‘An Indigenous Response To #metoo’ at Syracuse University. This beautiful, provocative, conversation-invoking film was shot at Awkesasne and was made by a current graduate student of mine – Michelle Schenandoah (Oneida, Wolf Clan) as part of her Rematriation project. You can find it, free, on Vimeo.


In closing I would like to suggest the work I see indigenous men and women doing on sexual violence is closer to #ustoo (if I HAD to hashtag it!). And it should be clear by now that this is not a request for inclusion. Rather the ‘US’ resists the colonial framing of rape as predominantly interpersonal, precisely because rape in indigenous worlds is frequently not an individual experience. Rather it is relational in its trespass against the blood—in the entirety of what that means. It is a whispering to past and future, a here and there, and amongst the now. It is always about somewhere. It is, and always will be, grounded—rooted in the story of place.