Turangawaewae Online

Where do I stand as a Digital Nomad? Where do I belong as a Digital Native?

Naomi Joy Smith
Sep 7, 2019 · 12 min read

This post is an exploration on the emergence of digital localism and community, and how it stands in solidarity with decolonization movements worldwide. I’m writing from a personal perspective, as someone who is working actively for ecosocial justice, yet lacks ancestral connection to land and culture.
Provoked by the protests (peaceful occupation for land protection) at Ihumātao, I question the role of ‘digital ecosystems’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘belonging’ in this new space and invite relationship between stewards of regenerative commons in all forms; whether physical, cultural, digital, intellectual, or spiritual.

You can follow GRDN on twitter to learn how I work with these topics through culture design, social permaculture, weaving, facilitation and coordination.

I find it easy to forget how walled the internet has become.

Like I’m believing this myth of hyperconnectivity and ease of access.

Like there wasn’t a whole market based on algorithms and venture capitalists attempting to stare my attention away from my own choice of what to engage with.

Like I could just log in and find who and what I’m looking for, without putting some fundamental care into building pathways to participation.

Where is my place to stand? What land, genealogy, and purpose renders me — an immigrant with colonial ancestry — a steward of the earth?

Aldo Tagliaferro (Italian, 1936–2009), Untitled, c.1965

September 5, 2019.

I found out about Ihumātao just now; caught totally off-guard by one hine’s retelling of her experience, to my surprise I began to cry as I read her quoting of protest leader, Pania Newton.

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi. Engari, he toa takitini.

My strength is not mine alone but is the strength of many.

I read a few more articles, to:

  • a) find out which iwi (tribe) Pania is from, so that I could attribute them beside her name in the above quote, and
  • b) feel deeper into the pulse of land & indigenous sovereignty struggles unfolding right now in the land who nourished me for 25 years.

I found that in response to (a) — am I surprised? — newshub and RNZ don’t mention this seemingly vital piece of info in their coverage of Pania’s profile; ‘vital information’, at least according to my understanding of tikanga māori. Instead, a sole individual was presented for media consumption: beautiful, smart and charismatic, and standing alone.

On the RNZ site I found Pania’s mihi in a video, and took down the phonetic sounds of her iwi, Ngāti Maniapoto e Ngāti Mahuta, double checking the spelling through a google search. I sensed it was important to attribute them; that this hui (gathering) had been a mahi (work, service) by all of them, including Pania in her leadership.

How I came across this news today might be connected to the catalyst of my emotions. This may be deeper than I can articulate yet. I’m going to explore that feeling openly here because I doubt that it’s really so unique (patterns to details); and perhaps many of us simply lack the ground to understand it.

I resonate with (identify with) lacking a turangawaewae (a place to stand): not growing up indigenous, being a pākeha (visitor) in my home country, as well as in the country I’m living in and to the areas I’m serving with my mahi (mainly in Brazil, while also this is global — their land and politics affect every earth inhabitant right now).

A real spiritual lack of connection to whenua (land) is echoed in a lack of connection to my iwi, my biological ancestors - whoever they are, really. European and British immigrants from afar.

This protest— a moment in my cultural history — suggested to me the importance of weaving digital ecosystems that are able to reconnect me, as an ancestor of travellers, as a global citizen indigenous to digital environments.

Tuning into the news of my local neighbourhood reconnects me to the sources of my ‘interpersonal belonging’ — a state of connectivity but with a very low frequency, a neighbourhood being quite a small group of about 10,000.

In the entire neighbourhood of my social media, news is competing for relevance to my interests and concerns. Geo-local news would connect my identity to the culture of my family through locally optimized knowledge exchange — but by now, information and interpersonal connections are so broadly mixed that my hometown is not the loudest voice in my feed.

Without access to gossip, my cultural evolutionary process is silenced.

The way the world wide web informed me of the Christchurch mosque massacre was through someone offering condolences to me because they found out I was a New Zealander. I get my news through conversation, not through feeds.

But even then, compared to such a tragic narrative in the midst of a humanity’s negativity bias, fear-rigged attention span, how would I learn about a peaceful protest for indigenous land rights and value recognition, from all the way in Sweden? Would this event, which sets a precedent for the perpetual struggle around land rights, make global news in the same way as a terrorist attack?*

Despite how connected I become on any online media interfaces, if I’m not sharing any daily local goss about my birth culture, or in regular contact with people who I grew up with, I would lose this indigeneity to place, to the people of that place, the culture. My reluctance to use Facebook (or scroll any addictive feed) further removes me from this news source, since that’s how pretty much everyone still shares, as far as I know.

I don’t know if I should go back to Aotearoa to practice my mahi locally there. I don’t know how a visitor can support Ihumātao or any hui for Māori solidarity. I don’t know where to stand.
It’s as though despite my work fighting for land, ecological farming and indigenous rights, I have no personal belonging to these concepts.

*The non-violent protests at Parihaka were said to have been the first of their kind, later inspiring both Nelson Mandela and Ghandi in their campaigns. However, this history is largely unknown to the world, and only recently has it become a recognizable moment of history by Pākeha New Zealanders).

Māori vajra, source unknown: please send any info so credit can be given to this awesome artist!

The guy at Gryningen (my local organic shop in Söder) asked me today if I was māori, when I shared my answer to his “where are you from?”. This foreshadowed my encounter of a story that I could have so easily missed in the noisy mess of data sharing and message dissemination across scales, scopes and target groups.

I maintain that I’m no one’s target group; it’s my strength, my weakness, my illusion. Hard to read, hard to place, hard to belong.

But I do belong somewhere, somehow.
I felt it during the Network Weaving community call today, discussing Systems Shifting networks with June Holley and Yasmin Yonis, Adrian Röbke and Ben Roberts and Keala Young and all these folk I feel connected to in a kind of digital native way (we’ve never met irl and besides Ben, haven’t come to know each other so deeply yet, but there’s a vibe of shared purpose that touches that of tribe).

‘Weaving’ as a social practice connects with the spiritual aspects of raranga in Te Ao Maori and the goddess Hineteiwaiwa, who plays crucial roles in other indigenous societies, and who is now coming forward in the digital landscape… the virtual manifestation of a world wide Indra’s web.

I have been tickled by the concept of ‘inter/diginous as an emerging form of indigeneity. This word and concept is in no way intended to oppose or diminish the platform that indigenous peoples have; I seek to coexist these concepts, not to overshadow those who are engaged in other cultures and other struggles.

It’s about having a place to stand. To farm. To tend. To grow.

For me and perhaps others, interdigineity opens a gateway into a space where I can make sense of the deep knowing that regardless of where I am on earth, my life is in embodied connected to my total whakapāpa (genealogy) — starting with te pū, te more, te aka, te rea, sky father, earth mother, the oceans, the forests, the rivers, the soil…

My mahi is grounded in the recognition that I am simply one temporary node supporting the constant flow of life, the best way I can find, whoever, with whomever and wherever I am.

For me, the who right now is ‘digital native’ (probably even legally) and of course let’s not forget, also a human under threat of species extinction.
The where is more complicated: both online and also in my traveling impulse, continuing my ancestors’ path of sporadic migration. Trying my luck to earn money to at least visit my other homes whenever I can.

So, while the rise of the ‘digital nomad’ could be considered a trend, it might also be understood as a symptomatic response to a crises of culture.
Sure, travel is sexy, but it doesn’t compare to belonging somewhere.

Perhaps the two whom remains to be known: the ‘separation of identity’ memetic tribe isolated-urban-independent-unit crisis is no small challenge for humankind.

Where I stand depends on who I am, to whom I am woven.
Interpersonal disconnection is a true concern to climate healing.

Esperanza by Hans Doller

Non-indigenous new zealander not living in new zealand

Immediately returning home, I got into some work; there wasn’t much happening in the Permaculture CoLab group today (our 'remote overlap work hours' are on Thursdays) so I got researching instead and eventually found myself distracted.

I open a message on Telegram from a new collaborator from the Food Sovereignty & DAOs group. He’s an old friend of Nora’s and wanted to know, as I’m in Stockholm, if I know her too. I had shared a reply mentioning that I was introduced to Gregory Bateson’s work in my permaculture education. His new message says, that’s interesting that his work would be taught in a PDC.

I get thinking about the concept of permaculture pedagogy and this misconception that “permaculture is just a farming technique” that follows me around all over the world. Of course Gregory Bateson is a permaculture pioneer! It’s a design ethos of applied systems thinking, after all.

So this provokes me to (somewhat reverently) search up my PDC educators, specifically Phoenix, since my kuia Robina isn’t active on facebook and Courtney’s back in the U.S. (of course, I’m homesick almost in perpetuity).

There, I find that Phoenix is sharing a few posts about tangata whenua rights and suddenly I see something is happening in Ihumātao. I’ve never heard of this place. But I’m in there like hot kumara chips, suddenly enraptured by the ongoings, this feeling of our work with Beyond Us, the questions I’ve been wrestling with over the last days, the community we are bringing into collaboration and how not once since the project birthed through our spontaneous cluster have I spoken with any indigenous person about it.

“That’s Philippe’s bit”, I reason, “and Felipe is from there, so it’s cool”, I keep hearing some weaker voice whispering when this doubt arises.
Over the last days I’ve been confronting this hypocrisy in how the project has come together. How can I preach cultural inclusivity and the project emphasizing indigenous voices, with no personal contact myself?

A good first step is that we will bring in an indigenous leader on each of the panels that we run during this online series (the concept is for everyone to learn together as we walk new paths, while inviting the guidance of those who have deeper experience on particular themes of emergence, culture, systems thinking, reforestation, on-chain technology, etc).

But the prickly thought I’ve had is, as a lead organizer of this digital hikoi, shouldn’t I myself have some connection?

Being in “interdiginess” is one thing, but we are talking full Gaia transformation here, and if I’m not actively bringing my Joanna Macy fangirl vibes to meet with those who I say I’m advocating for, then I’m failing myself and the project. Weaving means including all stakeholders at every step of the critical-level decision making.

I seek from now to put my work under the guidance of those with such mana (inner power, qi) that the earth vibrates when they speak. Those who know the cries of all the birds in their domain of kaitiaki (stewardship). Those — at least someone — who never untangled themselves from the mycelium where they and their ancestors belong.
Guidance, partnership, advice, whatever: it’s the relating that matters.
Coming together in resonance and reverence.

Identity is complex; fibres, threads…

This sharing doesn’t intend to shame anyone who is from a displaced culture.
I have felt shame, and I do carry some guilt about my colonial ancestry, and I make it a practice to observe this and notice what arises.

I want to share an interpretation, that gradually as I worked with it my guilt became an energy. By going through it I could reconnect with my deeper ancestry from wherever I am; locating identity beyond isolation and separation of ego, beyond the pigments of my skin and further into the soft clay of the wet earth that sculpted my body as a temporary vessel for the creator to come whole within a part.

All the while writing this piece and feeling the lower west coast of te Waka a Maui

While I miss being a long-time visitor on the lands of Aotearoa, there is no better place to work on my decolonization from than wherever I am right now, in the presence of whatever circumstance.

I defer to the guardians of the Brazilian rainforests while working for the protecting and restoration of the Brazilian rainforests. And if the struggle for sovereignty, connection and livelihood is happening online, then imma practice what I know about my connection (to others, to self) to heal that digital kinda land using digital tools for a kinda social farming.

In our knowledge gardens are the resources for wellness made available through countless wisdom traditions as well as augmented evolutionary steps forward via meta-analyses, embodied pattern language, and deep self enquiry. How we enter into cultural tenderness with these resources will determine the stories of a global species.

Blueprints for Wellbeing

Learning from native weavers

In her TEDx talk, Pania speaks about the lives of her peers; they’re having kids, careers, traveling. She mentions her lack of regret and hesitation in sacrificing these experiences to be a kaitiaki of her land, to become dedicated to progress. I resonate with this, as I’ve urgently been swept off into heart-led work for Gaia. The calling is unmistakable. And if I don’t have a specific land to protect, does that mean I’m standing for all land? Can I be local to the internet, to a neighbourhood, within the vast data web? How else will I act?

Building indigeneity where I am — who I am

Letting land stewards lead the way, I take on self responsibility.
Observing my assumptions and behaviours for chances to decolonize deep patterns, this clears me to act in service of my goals — not just in their way with (e.g.) neocolonial ‘rescuer’ narratives.

I speak frequently about inhabiting “the new world”.

It’s only just landing in me how colonial that is, how linear, how inaccurate.

Old and new are empty words, from this point of now, where I now stand.

The new world has existed alongside the old world for countless generations already; in fact, that’s how it always goes. It’s (r)evolution.

So which world is yours to stand in?

The choice rests in how your mind, your heart and your will synergize when you’re centered in your self and grounded into earth.

I want to reconnect to my people — my global family — as ancestral healing.

I’m choosing better digital platforms to encourage regenerative conditions for my life. It’s tough, like farming, but the most amazing fruit grows from sharing the land and labour with other practitioners of regenerative culture, like in today’s Network Weaving community call.

I can even connect to the sociodigital landscape of other kiwis, other cultural tinkerers tending to this soils of data, resources and spells.

(Culture is emergent and seems to be responsive and ‘spookily’ resonant to the inner and the environment. I came across some ‘local patch gossip’ —
kiwis and global citizens from my distributed/online community.)
Cool platforms and neighbourhoods are there if you go looking around!
Even better, you can connect them with geolocal hubs too!

Livelihood Design in the Modern Age

I’m choosing a decolonized approach to my platforms; it’s survival, and it’s political.

I won’t stand on the land of the profit hungry netocrat corporations who narc on insurance companies to raise my healthcare charge rate whenever their surveillance AI predicts I’m about to get ill; or routinely silences the voices of marginalized groups and provocative individuals; or creates echo chambers of self-congratulating ignorance between tribes for their own net gain.

DIY internet culture. Better digital worlds are possible. Maybe I’ll blog about my transition over to this new terra delta as it goes; I’m still quite fresh so hopefully my documentation can help others to try something new for themselves too. Shoutout to learning together as we walk the unknown paths.

Be kind to each other, play, and prosper. Kia kaha, kia ora, kia rawe.

Sincerely yours,

Naomi Joy Smith 🐙🌀🍀☄️🌺

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Beyond Us

Reconnecting. Decolonizing culture, regenerating the biosphere and wisely applying emerging technology. Writing about global resilience.

Naomi Joy Smith

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Casually researching wisdom & generosity for social design. I’m into weaving, tea, music, patterns & cultural evolution. What questions are living within you?

Beyond Us

Beyond Us

Reconnecting. Decolonizing culture, regenerating the biosphere and wisely applying emerging technology. Writing about global resilience.

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