Reclaiming Our Stories through Community Publications
As the old saying goes “history is written by the victors.”
Although originally relating to stories of war and conquest, this notion continues to be relevant in modern Western society. The victors of our world are those who have been born with the most opportunity, thanks to a system that has been built to maintain a wealthy, white, and male status quo at its core. As a result, written history is often told from a single perspective. “Official” narratives are woven into our classrooms, books, and collective memory, solidifying stories that are often biased and exclusionary. Although a more diverse retelling is now being shared thanks to the efforts of underrepresented groups, it was within relatively recent memory that we saw Māori taonga being displayed in museums as relics of a dying race, a lack of LGBTQ+ representation and education in schools, and the commemoration of historical figures who most likely didn’t deserve it (i.e., the many Captain James Cook statues in Tairāwhiti, despite the trauma he inflicted on local iwi and his long-standing misnomer for the region, Poverty Bay).
The exclusion of diverse perspectives throughout written history wasn’t an accident. The official narratives portrayed in academia and mainstream media aim to reflect the political climate of the time, redacting the voices of many who do not fit its desired structure. From women academics to LGBTQ+ communities, historic underrepresentation has maintained a façade of the monolithically white, straight patriarchy our society has spent so long drowning in. For Māori, this purposeful exclusion contributed to a phenomenon known across the colonised world as “colonial amnesia”, in which the murkier bits of colonisation (theft, genocide, exploitation) are left out of history books to create a dream-scape narrative of an exciting new settler frontier. The amnesia absolves the colonisers, and their descendants, from any guilt associated with their new homeland and its original inhabitants. If the official fairy tales were to be believed, Māori, as the “noble savages”, were brought into the light of European modernisation and the civility that accompanied it. If the voices of those iwi who endured the first century of colonialism were to be heard, a very different story would be told.
When it comes to preserving the history of the silenced, it often falls on these groups themselves to ensure they are being seen and heard. Rewriting a biased and exclusionary narrative is vital to the advancement of society and the dismantling of the status quo. Publications, such as newsletters, blogs, and magazines, are an effective way to not only broadly disseminate information, but to also bring communities together. Māori publications such as Ta Kaea: The Māori Magazine played an essential role in the Māori cultural renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s. Combatting language loss through printing in Te Reo Māori, these publications provided space for Māori writers and editors to tell their own stories while sharing their achievements and struggles.
Other community-based publications have played important roles in the de-alienation of minority groups left out of broader outlets. LGBTQ+ groups have routinely been excluded from mainstream media and content, with some, such as bisexual and queer Pasifika, still being severely underrepresented in Aotearoa’s official archives. This is a clear reflection of the political and societal discrimination experienced by queer communities throughout history, who have had to tirelessly fight to advance a movement for equal rights and representation. One such publication was the Tamaki Makauru Lesbian Newsletter, an in-print newsletter established in 1990. The newsletter provided an inclusive space for the lesbian community in Aotearoa to circulate news, articles, and stories from their own perspectives. For 25 years, this newsletter was published and distributed across the country, raising awareness of the Lesbian voice and, in-turn, razing the official narrative of heteronormativity in Aotearoa.
As technology has advanced and society has adapted to keep up, in-print publications have become less and less ubiquitous. Online platforms such as blogs, social media pages, and video sharing have become the go-to for connecting communities and sharing their stories. Online publications are wide-reaching and easily accessible, allowing a greater number of people, both inside and outside of these groups, to educate themselves and acknowledge differing experiences. The benefits of the internet for advancing social movements are vast; however, understanding the roots of a cause and the perspectives of those who fought before is integral to the life force and whakapapa of many groups. The digitisation process is a crucial task in ensuring these voices of the past are not lost and has been picked up as an important body of work by many groups, institutions, and official departments across Aotearoa. The National Library of New Zealand, which as of 2018 was in the process of digitising 40 years’ worth of Māori magazine content, have described archival digitisation as a key part of their strategy, citing its ability “to enrich our online collections, and enable people to turn knowledge into value.”
Tamaki Makauru Lesbian Newsletter ceased publication in 2015. The Charlotte Museum Trust holds a complete collection within its archives, and an additional research set is available in person to the public. In order to create a broader scope for the myriad of voices and stories found within its 25 years of publication, the Museum will soon be digitising the entire collection for online access. In doing so, lesbian history that would otherwise have been limited in its reach will soon be widely accessible to anyone using an internet search engine. As such, the legacy of this publication, and the many diverse stories within it, will be immortalised. Working to undo discriminatory narratives within society, this online space will foster reconnections, education, and the reclamation of stories. Digitising diverse perspectives and experiences throughout history works to broaden our collective horizons, all while unravelling the male and pale veil over Aotearoa.
Starr Ratapu is a student at the University of Auckland and is currently working at the Charlotte Museum as part of our internship programme through the Museum and Cultural Heritage course.
All images from the collections at the Charlotte Museum.