Anti-colonialism and Black Power: Indigenous Periodicals in the Pacific



From the 1970s to today, publications have played and continue to play an important role in the indigenous struggles against settler colonialism in Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Kanaky (New Caledonia). Angélique Stastny writes about their genealogy, their similarities, as well as their many specificities.

Black Consciousness and Black Power in the Pacific ///

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Cover of the first Polynesian Panther Party newsletter Panther’s Rapp, (January-February. 1975), Ponsonby, Auckland.

Black consciousness and Black Power profoundly shaped indigenous activism in the Pacific in the 1960s and 1970s. Black consciousness was not new to indigenous politics, but the indigenous activist groups that emerged at that time in the Pacific marked a break from older political methods. They advocated self-determination and liberation, reflecting the ideological circulation of Black Power internationally, which had originated in the United States in the 1960s. Influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, the negritude movement and Frantz Fanon’s writings, Black and African American activists and thinkers were the catalyst of a movement that would inspire and redefine anti-colonial struggles worldwide. Black consciousness and Black Power spread far and wide and resulted in alliances of colonized peoples that fought for liberation from colonial and racist systems of exploitation and domination. Black Power ideas of color-conscious unity and political separatism were adapted by North American Indigenous communities and quickly reached other indigenous activists internationally. Indeed, belief in black empowerment and self-determination through radical means appealed to marginalized indigenous nations and communities that were leading their own struggles against settler colonialism; among them were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in so-called Australia, Māori and Pacific people in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Kanak people in Kanaky (New Caledonia).

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Cover of Black Nation – A National Black Newspaper, Issue No. 4, (February 1983).

The Black Power ideology spread through interactions with Black Power advocates as well as through philosophical and political writings, and self-run media. The U.S. Black Panthers provided an intellectual and organizational template for adaptation by indigenous activists in the Pacific. Their aim was to achieve political unity based on color consciousness, self-determination and liberation through independent community organizations, rather than reform and integration through existing white-run institutions. The Black Panthers used their own media, the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, to raise awareness about issues that Black people faced in the U.S., and to show their support to anti-colonial struggles elsewhere. They also published periodicals such as The Black Panther, which enabled activists to disseminate Black Power ideas and strategies to a wider audience.

It is largely through these media that indigenous people in the Pacific became increasingly aware of the commonalities of their political, social, and economic situation. They became familiar with the ideologies of colonial subjection, cultural pride, and self-empowerment. Black Power politics were nurtured by international exchanges of ideas, but were grounded in local contexts of injustices and racism. Indigenous people in the Pacific shared a sense of alienation and injustice. Solidarity formed through this shared sense of adversity and transnational networks were established between Black Power activists in the U.S. and indigenous activist groups in the Pacific.

Indigenous Activist Periodicals ///

Indigenous Black Power-inspired activist groups in Australia, Aotearoa, and Kanaky created their own media to reach their communities more effectively. Self-determination necessitated self-publication. That is, to control their own affairs, they needed the capacity to control their means of self-expression and communication. The decades from the late 1960s to the early 1980s saw a profusion of indigenous activist publications in these societies.

In Australia, the Melbourne-based Koorier — “Koori,” also spelt “Koorie,” is a group self-identification among Indigenous people from the south-east of Australia — circulated widely in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s. Its diverse content ranged from columns, letters to the editor, community news, and newspaper reprints, to poetry, humor, and community ads. It was a high-quality and entertaining publication that addressed sensitive issues with intelligence, wit and self-derision. Its circulation reached 1,000 copies within few months. Guwamu/Kooma activist, writer and publisher Cheryl Buchanan and Murri writer Lionel Fogarty helped establish the Black Resource Centre in Melbourne  — it later moved to Brisbane — in 1975, which published the Black News Service as well as the periodical Black Liberation from 1975 to 1977. Black News Service reached as wide a readership as the Koorier and published about 1,000 copies nationally and internationally. The Redfern-based Black Women’s Action Group — co-founded by Aboriginal women Sue Chilli, Marcia Langton, Naomi Myers and Black activist Roberta Sykes — published the monthly newspaper Koori-bina (translated as “listen up”) from 1976 to 1979. Koori-bina vigorously denounced social injustices and often reported issues facing indigenous peoples from a women’s point of view. It later became the Aboriginal Islander Message (A.I.M) and circulated until 1982. The magazine Black Nation emerged out of the land rights movement and was edited by Ross Watson. Five editions were published between 1982 and 1985.

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Cover of the magazine Rongo, Huinga Rangatahi o Aotearoa, Auckland, N.Z.: Brian McDonald, Ngahuia Volkerling, and John Miller, 1973.

These publications varied in tone, style and content, but they were consistent in resolutely opposing government policy, moved away from white media forms and contents, and were stylistically closer to Black and anti-colonial media from overseas. Written media became a very effective tool to raise awareness among the population about institutional racism indigenous peoples faced and to create solidarity across experiences between indigenous nations and beyond national boundaries. Activist publications were also used as a basis for organizing and galvanizing the political movement around critical issues. These activist groups published content on a range of issues including land rights, education, incarceration and welfare. Political resistance and denunciation of socio-economic injustices were also regularly articulated in the form of poetry in activist newspapers and magazines. The Koorier regularly published poetry and had a section dedicated to the form, the “Poetry Corner.” Black activists’ involvement in art encouraged greater and more transnational connections among Black Power activists from near and far. Activist publications had sections dedicated to art reviews and published interviews with Black artists from home or overseas. The Koorier, for instance, reviewed three African American plays by prominent artists in 1969: Three Negro Plays by Langston Hugues, The Slave by LeRoy Jones, and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry.

These indigenous activist publications also documented interactions with Black activists overseas and informed their readership of anti-colonial struggles led by other people around the world. In October 1969, The Koorier published for instance the transcript of an interview with Roosevelt Brown, chairman of the Caribbean and Latin American Black Power Movement and, two months later, an interview with Zimbabwean activist Judith Todd. With a similar transnational verve, the Black News Service consisted mostly of reprints from foreign anti-colonial and Black Power press. They regularly relayed speeches by African and African American leaders. These publications intended to encourage communities to see the bigger picture, to understand the international political ramification of colonialism, and connect what happened overseas with their own realities at home.

In Aotearoa, several activist groups were formed in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Māori Organization on Human Rights (MOOHR), the Māori activist collective Ngā Tamatoa, the Polynesian Panthers Party with its Brown Power rhetoric, the Māori People’s Liberation Movement of Aotearoa, and The Black Women. Several of these activist groups published newsletters. Te Hokioi, first published in Wellington in 1968 articulated the struggle in terms of class but also attempted to raise a Māori consciousness. Te Hokioi was presented as a “taiaha [weapon] of truth for the Maori nation.” Around the same time, the Māori Organization on Human Rights (MOOHR) was formed. Its newsletters touched on land theft as well as social issues such as inequality, imprisonment and housing. Black-Power inspired group Ngā Tamatoa also circulated a newsletter, calling for land restitution, the Treaty of Waitangi to be ratified, and the teaching of Te Reo Māori in schools. The Māori People’s Liberation Movement of Aotearoa newsletters included articles, pamphlets, petitions and reports of indigenous struggles overseas. For instance, their newsletter of December 1980 reported on Aboriginal contacts in Australia. Ngā Tamatoa, the Polynesian Panthers and Te Huinga Rangatahi o Aotearoa (New Zealand Federation of Māori Students) collaborated on the one-off release of the magazine Rongo in 1973. It voiced the issues and grievances affecting Māori and Pacific Island people in Aotearoa, and published texts in Te Reo Māori, Samoan, Tongan and English. It also included coverage of issues facing indigenous peoples overseas, such as the Mohawk or the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee. These indigenous activist groups fought against racism, discrimination, government oppression, and sought Māori control of Māori affairs and, ultimately, Māori sovereignty through Polynesian solidarity.

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Cover of Bwenando, Issue 12, 1985.

For several Kanak activists in Kanaky, moving to “metropolitan” France for their studies marked a decisive step in their political struggle. Kanak students who studied in France in the 1960s had a greater exposure to Black consciousness and anti-colonialism, as well as Black-run media. They were influenced by Black Power ideology, negritude, writings by Fanon, the 1968 uprisings, and movements for decolonization. They became increasingly conscious of the colonial condition of Kanak people back home and of possible means by which such condition could be fought. They went back to Kanaky in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the determination to challenge the segregation, racism and discrimination that Kanak people were constantly facing in their own country. In 1969, Nidoïsh Naisseline started the Foulards Rouges (the Red Scarves), a negritude-inspired political group. In the same way as Aimé Césaire had reclaimed the word “nègre,” Naisseline reclaimed, in an anti-colonial gesture, the word “canaque,” a term used pejoratively towards the Indigenous people of this Pacific archipelago. The Foulards Rouges fought against the colonial and paternalistic character of the state apparatus, also creating the periodical Réveil Canaque (Kanak Awakening) in 1970, which ran until 1974. Réveil Canaque enabled these activists to have a common platform where they could share their ideas and unite around the struggle against French settler colonialism and continuing colonial injustices. Like its counterparts in Australia and Aotearoa, this activist publication was the fruit of strong personal and community determination and creativity despite running on a low budget. The head office was in Naisseline’s home. The front page was hand-written, and articles were often illustrated with hand-drawn illustrations (Issue nº38 in 1974 is the first one to be typed). The periodical had a print run fluctuating between 1,000 and 5,000 issues and was sold between 30 and 100 CFP Francs, depending on the issue. The January 1974 issue of Réveil Canaque entitled “There ain’t any justice!” (Y a pas de justice!) had the largest run and was issued at 5,000 copies. In 1974, they renamed the publication Réveil Kanak, dropping the French spelling “Canaque” and adopting the noncompliant and more militant spelling “Kanak.”

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Cover of Bwenando, Issue 12, 1985

A few years after The Foulards Rouges and following some violent arrests and imprisonments that had taken place in Nouméa, another activist group was formed in 1974 by Déwé Gorodey and Elie Poigoune: the Groupe 1878. The latter denounced colonization and called for Kanak independence and an unconditional restitution of Kanak lands. The Groupe 1878, in turn, launched a newsletter Nouvelles 1878 Andi Ma Dhô (“Andi ma Dhô” means “money and land”) that ran between 1975 and 1981. In 1984, pro-independence Kanak people led by Jean-Marie Tjibaou founded the Provisional Government of Kanaky. They developed pro-independence media such as the publishing house EDIPOP, Djiido Radio, the Kanak Press Agency (Agence Kanak de Presse), and the publications La Dépêche Kanak (The Kanak Dispatch) and Bwenando (which means “customary way”). La Dépêche Kanak was a daily press review published in the late 1980s by the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), a political alliance of pro-independence parties. It consisted of daily issues in French as well as weekly bilingual (French and English) issues in which summaries were provided in English. The Kanak Press Agency offered a service of dispatches by postal and fax services as well as by airmail for subscribers in Kanaky and overseas. Bwenando — whose subtitle read “le premier journal de Kanaky” (Kanaky’s first newspaper) — was initially a weekly and then bi-monthly periodical published between 1985 and 1989, directed by Suzanne Ouneï and Luc Tutugoro. Like other indigenous publications at the time, Bwenando reflected Black consciousness and put emphasis on black unity and transnational solidarities between anti-colonial struggles led by other colonized peoples around the world, reporting on the Americas and Africa for instance. It also focused on local struggles, injustices and the conflicts that were taking place during the 1984-88 war. This periodical provided analyses of Kanak political claims in a depth not seen in white-run New Caledonian media. However, Bwenando received little financial support and ceased to appear in 1989.

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Cover of La Voix de Kanaky, Issue 6, March-April 2018

The emergence of Indigenous activist periodicals in Australia, Aotearoa and Kanaky was a stance against white-controlled media and the colonialist ideology that these media disseminated (and continue to today). Control over the resources and media for self-expression and self-publication was crucial to the process towards self-determination. Black consciousness and Black Power became a dramatic driving force in that process. These publications not only relied on limited funds from indigenous organizations, community donations and fundraising to continue existing, but they also faced an overtly hostile and racist environment. In Kanaky for instance, some activists were assaulted by anti-independence and anti-Kanak extremists — bomb attack attempts were also made on the premises of Bwenando to silence them and deter them from publishing. Due to such hostility and lack of financial support, most indigenous activist groups/organizations only ran for a few years. Nonetheless, the periodicals and newsletters they published profoundly shaped the political debate and the indigenous media sphere in these societies. In Kanaky, such activist organizing even led to the creation of new political parties and alliances that profoundly reshaped New Caledonian party politics and that continue to exist today. For instance, the Groupe 1878 and the activist groups Atsai, Ciciquadry and Wayagi (that had emerged from the Foulards Rouges and were based in the Loyalty Islands of Iaai, Drehu and Nengone respectively) banded together to form the political party Palika in 1976. The indigenous activist groups emerging from the 1960s to 1980s were seminal in the rise of an indigenous publishing industry and indigenous news media in these societies in the following decades. They also provided a model for future indigenous activist organizations to learn from and be inspired by in their ongoing struggle for justice and decolonization.

Indigenous Activist Publications Now ///

The legacy of this form of indigenous activism can still be felt today in these societies. Based in the Australian cities of Brisbane and Melbourne, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activist group, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), started the magazine Brisbane Blacks in 2013. The collective later decided to extend its reach and rename the publication Black Nations Rising (BNR) in 2015 to stress its national focus (the name changed to The Black Rising in 2016). They work on a “pay-the-rent” model of subscription requiring non-Aboriginal people to pay so that the money gathered can then cover the postage costs of Aboriginal subscribers who receive the publication for free. They launched a first print run of 5,000 copies, and social media (such as Issuu and Facebook) has since become their main mode of distribution.

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Cover of Brisbane Blacks, Issue 5, August 2014.

WAR draws inspiration from indigenous activist publications from the Black Power era (such as The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service in the U.S. and Black Nation in Australia) but also from the growing movement for indigenous resurgence that has spread in the settler colonial societies of North America, the Pacific and elsewhere in the last couple of decades. They follow in the steps of other indigenous activist publications such as Warrior Publications, which started in 2006 on Turtle Island (North America).

Black consciousness and liberation inform the magazine’s objective and content. The Brisbane Blacks for instance aimed at “awakening the Black conscience, raising Black awareness and articulating the Black resistance.” The Black Rising magazine is now an annual publication and focuses on decolonial/anti-colonial organizing within Australia and internationally. The magazine includes news reports, opinion pieces, poetry as well as contributions from other indigenous people. It is still based on the principle that self-determination necessitates self-publishing.

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Cover of Black Nations Rising, Issue 5, April 2016.

Likewise, the association l’Élan des Conques (the Impulse of the Conch Shells) in Kanaky started publishing the bimonthly periodical La Voie du FLNKS in 2008. Its distribution and sales were carried out by volunteers in the eight Kanak customary areas that make up the archipelago. This periodical was followed by La voix de Kanaky in 2017 and continues to rely on the help of volunteers, such as Madeleine Ounou, Laurie Le Pen and Christian Tein. It has a run of 3,000 copies and is sold for 100 CFP Francs. The periodical is self-funded and money from sales enables to cover the publication cost of the following issue. This periodical ensures that, with the little financial means they have, pro-independence Kanak perspectives are present in the press media.

Therefore, anti-colonial indigenous media in these societies continue to be a tool and a method to mobilize, organize the struggle, resist settler colonialism, tell stories and report issues from indigenous perspectives. In that respect, indigenous activist publications play a fundamental role in the present and for the future. In refusing assimilation and integration into settler colonial media, indigenous activist groups that self-publish, such as the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance and l’Élan des Conques, engage in the decolonization process and provide a most-needed and compelling alternative to the settler colonial mindset.