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: