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Tokey to Okey-Oklahoma that is

7 June 2019

Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated Chairman Update  (Click on the pictures to enlarge)


"Okla" means "red" and " humma" means " human" so Oklahoma means " red people" in the Choctaw language. Oklahoma is close to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the south  Arizona and Colorado on one side with Kansas and Missouri to the north with Arkansas to the side. I saw it on TV in a cowboy series  Wagon Train, Annie Oakley and the musical "Oklahoma !". But in Tokyo on the CNN  news we saw that it was flooding with tornadoes at the moment  in OKC leaving 6 dead on the eve we were leaving. I rang the faclitator and tried to bail out but the conference organisers said" no problems here - fix to get on the plane now- yawl come on down now ya hea?" We found out later that "yawl" and "fix to" are local idioms. So here we are. 11 hours from Tokyo to LA, 5 hoha hours getting through customs, 3 hours to Denver Colorado then 2 hours to Oklahoma by plane which for over 1 hour was like being pitched and tossed on a crazy bucking bronco. We were flying through the tornado. Wizard of Oz stuff! Dorothy, Toto, Tinman, Lion and the scarecrow flashed before my eyes. Still my freakiest movie ! From the airport to our hotel we saw tornado wrecked neighbourhoods yet just over the fences both sides unscathed. Amazing! They say  Okies are mad because when storms are brewing the tornado chasers ultimate high is to try to smash into the eye of the twister. Nuts!


There are 39 native tribes in Oklahoma and we are hosted by the Cheyanne, Arapaho, Choctaw, Chicawa, Potowotomi and Miscogie- "Im proud to be an Okie from Miscogie- the place where good ole folks still have a ball....". Yep right here. Many US tribes were either sacked and driven off their homelands from Mexico to Canada to Oklahoma  by the government of the day or  threatened with tribal massacre. This mass forced Indian migration was called " The Trail of Tears". Cultural genocide keeps coming up during the conference and the "Trail of Tears" is referred by almost every speaker. It would be like all our tribes being herded into 1 rohe - unthinkable.

On sunday along with 60 other tribal delegates we visit a buffalo farm of 200 hectares run by the tribes next to their massive casino,  who will now set up an abbatoir and processing plant- the 1st in the US. Buffalo are back! And the meat is good for diabetes- pushes it back. 


Tribal business leaders from Canada the US Costa Rica and us are here and straight away I know we are all on the same page- indigenous trade becoming a reality. We visit the National Cowboy Museum  which now tells the story of the Indians too . The commentary around the Indian bands is positive and around the cowboys is more realistic without the John Wayne shoot-em-up type stories although they have a typical Hollywood cowboy town included showing cameos of those movies.


Richard Jones from Poutama Trust is here as is Robert Joseph from Waikato University.  There is a big push to get intertribal seamless trade from Canada to US to Mexico at this conference and they all cite Te Tiriti o Waitangi as an example of indigenous provision in Free Trade Agreements. One speaker Michael Woods from Canada  refers to Maori as trying to estabish " a parallel universe of trade" which he heard from  Rotorua in our " Pokaiao" presentation. Uuee!


The tribes here are quiet but ambitious. They have amazing business diversity in truckloads from making potato chips to titanium tips, from high tensile fences to missile defences, from artifacts to data factories from $5 million to $5 billion in investments.They also have procurement access to government and federal contracts. They are still surprised then when Richard Robert Mere and myself the most pohara amongst these tribes present though- I suppose its the simplicity of how we do things.They are academics historians lawyers and politicians. But  I wonder if anyone of them have picked apples cut scrub or killed animals to get by.However the korero is stunning and Im glad I came. I was doubting my participation here and probably looking at reasons to abandon the Global Tribal Trading kaupapa weve set ourselves. But the opposite is true- we need to be in these international arenas to share and gather intel from the big bad world of life. That we as tribes  have INHERENT SOVEREIGNTY TO TRADE WITH OTHER TRIBES that no one can give or take from us. What the Indians heard at Rotorua was even beyond their own thinking- that is a GLOBAL tribal trading system not just IN the Americas. They were surprised at our easy connection  with Asia given their countries wars in Japan Korea Vietnam ( which we were in too)and now the standoff with China. Yes there is great curiosity at our affinity with Asia. Add to this our strong Pacific heritage and the evolving connection with the UAE and the Middle East then we have opened up their eyes beyond themselves which they called " a parallel trading universe" which we are charging out on even though theyve been going for 10 years or more. And thats why the National Iwi Chairs Forum is important to this country and to the international indigenous community. We are not afraid of much anything except ourselves. We have so much potential we just dont realise it yet.


The hotel we stay at is  a campus for the National Post Office which they use as their training base and there are 100s here everyday from around the country getting upskilled. But during the weekends its rented to sports and school groups. On sunday morning there were 150 plus cheerleaders here going through routines for the big womens regional baseball semifinal that afternoon in Bricktown. Yep over 150 all decked out in their tiny uniforms some more out than in. They all came in for breakfast ready to rock for the day and instead of going for the yoghurts healthy fruits  and foods without exception they went straight for the bacon eggs pork spuds patties cream mushrooms french toast and pancakes washed down with pepsi sprite coke or Dr Peppers cherry cola. Oh to be young and fit!!


Down the highway from us is the National Meteorological Centre where they monitor all the weather patterns in the country particularly for storms floods and tornadoes. 3 local tv channels are dedicated solely to weather all day  another monitoring for climate change. This is also part of the "bible belt" and many tv reports are started or finished with " god bless" or something similar.


Casinos are an essential part of the tribal renaissance and economies here despite the raging debates to their appropriateness. On the face it seems bizarre and absurd that the tribes should be thriving on gambling revenue when their own people are much haunted by the saloons and parlours of the past. But they tell us its a means to an end and very few of their people gamble anyway. There are over 250 casinos in Oklahoma and growing  all owned by different tribal entities. The Cheyanne and Arapaho tribes are rebuilding their buffalo herds and farms from gaming and are now building an abbatoir and processing factory to take buffalo meat to the market - all from gaming revenue. The Potowotomi tribe has built an innovation hub  called Ironhorse Industrial Park which Google is locating some of its data storage to, all from gaming. Employment opportunities are booming for tribal members with  outreach to other tribes to fill the vacancies.They tell me they would still be destitute if the gaming revenue hadnt existed. And this is all part of the bible belt. Halleluia.


And marijuana is legal here. Along the highway you see a church, a steakhouse bar, a car and truck sales, another church,  another casino then a marijuana shop. Hemp is also just been grown here and the tribes are looking into it in earnest bringing in top guns from Canada and Mexico.


Well I hope I havent bored you to death but its about time to head home so thanks to everyone who has supported this successful trip especially to our team , KAHC and one of the KAHC directors who wouldnt want me to name her...

And its also key to note that some of these places we've visited are hard wired into us through song " LA international airport...." " Viva Las Vegas.." " Dont go down to Reno stay another night" " Is this the way to Amarillo..." " Im going to Kansas city Kansas city here I come..." " And I was only 24 hours from Tulsa..."


And so we're 24 hours from home and we're " leaving on a jet plane dont know if I'll be back again..."


Well yawl I'm not fixing to anytime soon.Fixing to see yawl soon!


Ngahiwi and Mere.




















Before we left Tokyo we visited the Shibuya Crossing which is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Millions use it per week as busses trains the subway and normal traffic converge here and even on a saturday morning 1000s use it at a time. Its like Lord of the Rings orc bullrush. Mere crossed several times and the crowds got bigger every crossing. The great wall of China to the great wall of ninjas.Then we bussed it to the airport expecting things to be more chaotic in the US.


But when we arrived in Oklahoma City we asked " where are the people?" Especially post Hong Kong Beijing and Tokyo. It's so spread out with huge roads and little traffic with ribbon settlements and shopping precincts along the infamous Route 66 which used to run from Malibu to Michigan. No city centre  in Oklahoma City although there is civic CBD admin centre and adjacent Bricktown comes close which is a cafe, tourism, stadium hub .There are over 1 million in this area  even though you cant see them because things are so scattered. And its because of the hurricanes.













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