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LETTERS: ‘Wise use of resources’

Tuesday 9 August 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion


LETTERS: ‘Wise use of resources’

Dear Editor, Kia Orana. I am writing in reply to the article in your paper of Saturday, July 30, 2022, written by some unknown person on behalf of Te Ipukarea Society (The greenwashing of deep sea mining).

Usually I do not bother about ghost writers, but I have written to your paper since the 1970s in relation to my capacity as a public servant and also as a private indigenous citizen of this nation. I write with conviction and faith in what I want to say and as such I put myself on the line, open to any criticism from anyone. I write from the heart and I always stand by what I say, regardless of the consequences.

I detest the implication from the Te Ipukarea Society that I do not know what I am talking about and that I was told and paid as to what and how to write to your paper in support of the collection – maybe scooping, maybe siphoning – of the polymetallic nodules that sit 3500-5500 metres down on our ocean floor.

TIS also stated that the CI Traditional Arts Trust financed the construction of my Gallery Tavioni and Vananga. The fact is that my Gallery Tavioni and Vananga was already in existence and operating long before CIC came to this country and long before the polymetallic nodules became the issue they are today.

My dream has always been to build an art gallery for all artists and art students to use. The vananga is all about teaching traditional art, the Maori language, cultural knowledge and traditional life skills.

I have received sponsorship from many friends and family, some of whom I will mention here. First, I have had a great relationship with the manager of the BSP bank, his wife and their two boys long before CIC set up company in the Cook Islands. I am very grateful to them and the bank for the financial sponsorship to upgrade the gallery kitchen and to build the gallery toilet facilities.

Furthermore, many bank staff members came to a few days of working bees to help me clean up around the Gallery Tavioni and Vananga. The bank funding was channelled through the CI Traditional Arts Trust, through which the spending of the funds could be monitored.

The bulk of the Gallery Tavioni and Vananga was paid for by myself. Apart from the BSP bank, I am also grateful to other friends and family members, as well as CIC and other donors who believed in the merits of what I am doing and have also donated or otherwise contributed towards my project.

Now I will take this opportunity to also thank the following people for their sponsorship: Natua Natua (one pallet of cement), Barbara Allpress (tanalised posts), the honourable Niki Rattle (timber) and a brother (ceiling and lights of the gallery). Thank you again and aroa ranuinui to all of you. Though I am very grateful indeed for all your generosity, you also know that I do not write what other people suggest or want me to write.

Now that TIS have raised the subject, I wish to ask them, “Who constructs your pay packets in the NGO Te Ipukarea Society?” I know you do not have to reveal that information under the law, but that is not a problem.

So now I wish to write about a unique moment. Not long ago, one of my best friends Edward Nia and I were continuing the process of writing a couple of documents. One was about issues relating to the traditional rights to water and the other was about our cultural values, ownership and boundaries related to our sea and ocean.

At that particular time, an American man came to chat with us and Edward knew of him. His mission was to put American money into an NGO that will object to any development project where there might be potential damage to the environment. Shortly after that, my friend Edward Nia showed me his brand-new expensive film camera and also an expensive ordinary camera. He told me that it was given to him by an NGO dedicated to conservation.

Then his costs were paid by this same NGO to travel with them around the Cook Islands and his job was to film and document meetings between the people and staff of the NGO. I saw those films and I have my own opinion on their value. I also know about other sources of fundings coming to this same NGO from other parts of the world.

My dictionary says that the meaning of the word conservation is to do with the sustainable use of resources – BUT, not necessarily the restriction of using those same resources.

In 1996, the Cook Islands government printed millions of dollars worth of $3 Cook Islands bank notes but that did not help, the government went bankrupt anyway.

I felt sorry not only for those public servants who were sacked by the government, but also for those who depended on them as breadwinners. I decided to do something. I wrote a document to present to the people who might care to read it. This document was called ‘Cook Islands resources and what are they worth’.

On the last pages of the book, I wrote several case studies regarding some ideas and resources. One of these case studies was a proposal to build the Punanga Nui market – this was later turned into a New Zealand Aid Project. We got the money and materials and I built the Punanga Nui Market. Thanks to Janice Pearson, Rosie Blake and the Cook Islands Catholic Church Community.

In 2002, I updated my Cook Islands resources document and renamed it ‘Swim Or Sink’. Sir Geoffrey Henry wrote the foreword to it and later Sir Barry Curtis suggested to the government members of the time to make time and read it.

I knew about the polymetallic nodules beginning in the 1970s while working in the Agriculture and Marine departments of Government. So in the 2002 issue of my ‘Swim Or Sink’ book, I wrote about the potential of the polymetallic nodules as a major source of revenue for the country which may enable our nation to be self-sufficient and self-supporting.

I have seen mining. To me, mining means the destruction of a landscape using explosives, heavy-duty bulldozers, loaders and trucks, as well as the use of toxic chemicals to extract minerals. That is what mining is to me, and it does not apply to the collection of nodules from the ocean floor.

To TIS, you should know that I have lectured in many schools over the years and many times about conservation. I have copies of thankful letters written by students on behalf of their classes, including one written by Michael de Luze a long time ago. I believe in the definition of the word conservation as meaning ‘wise use of resources’.

I would also like to say that when I saw the translation of CIC’s exploration licence application document, it was I who suggested to them the words ‘koikoi toka moana’, which translates into ‘collection of the stones of the ocean’.

I still have much more to write Sir, but I have already exceeded 1000 words. Thank you.


Michael Tavioni