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Saturday 27 November 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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There is a relationship between our love of chopping down trees and trimming them back for convenience to this proposed attitude towards our people, yes, our people offshore trimmed and cut down like unwanted branches ready for the fire, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Many of us look forward to returning home to the Cook Islands after January 13th to see family and loved ones again and to connect with those we have missed dearly during this very challenging time. But for many here in Aotearoa and in Australia we do wonder what the Cook Islands we will return to, what will it look like and be like and we will see first-hand how well the country has managed with borders closed and tourists patiently waiting for the green light to return again.

We will have a country edging closer to seabed mining our ocean floors for the manganese deposits that sit there with exploration licences up for grabs, some by mining consortiums that will scope the potential for drawing those nodules up. For some governments in the Pacific, this mining has been fraught with exploitation and projects that ended in financial collapse.

That is not to say it will happen in the Cooks but it is something we should consider. Even the good Bishop Paul Donoghue who as a man of the cloth has taken a more impartial view to seabed mining. In his Church Talk column yesterday, he wrote: “The pandemic has taught us that money is not the only goal in life; that we can thrive with less.” Sage words I thought especially as those of us in New Zealand and Australia, in our Cook Islands communities, have seen the disparity these lockdowns have brought to our communities; nonetheless, we thrive. Because that’s who we are.

And now with the Immigration Bill making its way through Parliament, I watched with interest the discussion on the critical question of the cutting and trimming of trees. Nothing could be as critical at this time globally or nationally than tree trimming, in fact, some have built political careers or are building political careers on exactly that.

Nonetheless, the immigration discussions have a huge effect on all of us that akapapa back to the Cook Islands regardless of where we may now live or reside. Tomorrow (Sunday) a number of groups in Australia will be meeting with those in Aotearoa to discuss the proposals made by the Aronga Mana and House of Ariki especially with regard to their position that under customary law they acknowledge that we all as Cook Islanders have right to claim (pirianga) but that they want to find a way to establish whose claims should be upheld. They use the term “those who are genuinely invested” in the Cook Islands, and acknowledge that their recommendations will see some overseas Cook Islanders lose their pirianga.

This simply cannot be allowed to happen in its current form and there will be a written response from the leads of the 80,000 Cook Islanders living abroad. Let me be clear that we will not be silent on this matter and as much as this is a recognised issue by all, the remedy is as blunt as the chainsaw and trimming we do to our trees. Maybe there is a relationship between our love of chopping down trees and trimming them back for convenience to this proposed attitude towards our people, yes, our people offshore trimmed and cut down like unwanted branches ready for the fire. Because that is not who we are.

Nonetheless, we will return to the Cook Islands with 100 more PR given out and many of them have been waiting for many years, some more than many years despite living, working, and contributing to our communities and economy. We return to 99 percent vaccinated and this is a milestone and testament to the work of our government and Minster and Ministry of Health. Tourists by the planeload will be returning and along with their money comes the risk of Covid – this is a fact not a concern and something I hope we have considered especially when the Prime Minister has made it clear the borders will not close again.

We will have Cook Islanders like myself who currently work offshore returning home to recharge because it is our home, and maybe some residents forget that our love, our attachment, and our investment in our home changes little while we are away. In fact, we long for it more the further we are and longer we stay away from home and do not take for granted the connection, identity, and belonging that home brings.