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Activism @ the margins conference in Melbourne, Feb, 2020

The perfect conference for the research team and I got to go! The programme looked great – covering all kinds of activism. Aboriginal activists fighting uranium mining and coal mining at Adani and ‘White Haven’ spoke strongly about their struggle. (And I couldn’t help thinking that the coal mining company’s name ‘White Haven’ was the ultimate disconnect).

At the conference, I presented a paper on ‘activism and time’ that the team has been working on. The catalyst for the paper was noticing the different ways the 6 groups in this study negotiated time. Working for change feels time-pressured while the pace of achieving change can seem grindingly slow.

This led us on to how we think about time. We noticed an assumption of a universal concept of time in what we were reading, unless the articles were about indigenous concepts of time specifically. I had the good fortune to listen to Christine Winter (Ngāti Kahungungu) talk about spirals of time based on her article about time and intergenerational environmental justice. Christine Winter talks about how a linear concept of time sets up different generations to be in competition with each other – what is used now won’t be available for future generations – and she warns how this works against intergenerational justice. Instead she shows how imagining spirals of time enables us to think about current generations co-existing with past and future generations and other life-forms, which helps generations to feel more responsible for each other.

With so much to write about and only 20 minutes for the conference presentation, I ended up focusing on Protect Ihumātao and Generation Zero.

Torerenui a Rua Wilson’s passionate kōrero (part of Voices of Ihumātao on YouTube) demonstrates what we mean by a spiral of time – she opens her kōrero by saying ‘I tried to keep quiet but my ancestors wouldn’t let me’. She talks passionately about her responsibility to ancestors, present and future generations, and the whenua, in taking a stand against Fletcher’s housing development. Her kōrero is one of the ‘living manifestos’ (a statement of each group’s vision) that we are showcasing as part of the research.

Intergenerational responsibility is framed differently on Generation Zero’s website: “Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and young people are the inheritors of humanity’s response to climate change. For that reason – Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation, was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels”. ( I agree that climate change will impact younger generations more but Gen Zero’s second point – that they are the ones to provide solutions – is not a fair allocation of responsibility; providing and acting on solutions are the responsibility of older generations too. And certainly this message is coming through in some of our interviews with Gen Zero members. I think Christine Winter’s question asking how we can be good ancestors is more productive for thinking about how everyone, no matter which generation they are from, needs to take responsibility.

To give you a flavour of where our thinking is currently at, here are the key concluding points from the presentation…

  • how activists conceptualise time influences who they hold accountable for past & present injustices, how they allocate responsibility for creating change, & the solutions they promote.
  • Linear ways of thinking about time set generations up against each other, which works against sharing responsibility across generations & steers our attention away from our co-existence with non-human life forms.
  • Indigenous ways of thinking about time and intergenerational justice have a lot to offer us for envisioning how we live in a climate-altered world.

I’m still working on the full paper and I will let you know (via the blog) when it is ready to share. Your feedback is welcome on the ideas I’ve presented here – email me:

If you want to check out Christine Winter’s article, here are the details.

Winter, C. (2019). Does time colonise intergenerational environmental justice theory? Environmental Politics.

Karen Nairn

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