Lynnsay Rongokea Francis: Embrace the richness cultural diversity brings

Friday 19 June 2020 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Editorials

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Lynnsay Rongokea Francis: Embrace the richness cultural diversity brings
Ellena Tavioni and other women protest the court's involvement in land succession decisions for adopted children. 19100301 / 19100302

OPINION: Consultation on the definition of a Cook Islanders has renewed debate about adopted children inheriting land.

The current discourse on the Immigration Bill brings to the fore the issue of identity, adoption and people’s prejudices.

In the bill, a Cook Islander is defined as a person of the Polynesian race indigenous to the Cook Islands or a person descended from a person of the Polynesian race indigenous to the Cook Islands and including a child adopted by a Cook Islander in a manner recognised by Cook Islands Law. I have not included provisions for Permanent Residents.

On social media it has been stated, “some people fear that we are creating a new class of Cook Islanders who havë no ‘blood’ connection to the land... and that the Land Court has shown that no one respects ancient customs anymore.”

This Bill is not creating a “new class” of Cook Islanders. The purpose of the Immigration Bill is to manage immigration in a way that balances the national interest, as determined by the Crown, and the rights of individuals. Land succession and adoption is covered in the Cook Islands Act 1915 and its amendments.

Identity like culture is fluid and complex and changes all the time. Polynesians have mutltiple racial ancestries.

One only needs to look at our past history and the external influences that have shaped our society. Our ancient customs, attitudes and beliefs have changed through diffusion, intermarriage with people of different races and contact with other cultures.

Many of us come from families that include mixed-race individuals, some are dark skinned with brown eyes and some are fairskinned with blue eyes each have different experiences and stories on how they encounter prejudices or exclusion.

During the Investigation of Land Titles in the 1900s, included in the Order on Investigation of titles in a number of my family lands the names of persons with “no blood” connection to the land were put in the land because of their relationship to the landowner, being the wife, husband or adopted child.

In some cases these same people were given blocks of lands in their names solely. They were from the different branches of the Polynesian race, such as New Zealand Māori, Samoan and Tahitian.

In a 1949 Land Court decision the Court stated: “As for the alleged custom that adopted children not of the blood are entitled to no more than a life interest in the lands of their foster parents the Court cannot accept this as ancient custom ...A persual of the Court records discloses that many adopted children not of the blood have been included as owners.”

The Privy Council decision also espouses this decision on adoptions.

We no longer have a single identity. We have multiple identities based on race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, religion, social class/social economic status. We are New Zealand citizens and hold New Zealand passports.

In some cases people have dual/multiple citizenship and multiple nationalities because their parents or grandparents are from different countries.

No single name will be able to describe our multi faceted identities and cultures that changes through time due to the natural succession of each new generation.

We need to recognise and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own. We should embrace the richness cultural diversity brings to our country.