The recent milestone of the Global Oceans Treaty, which aims to protect marine biodiversity and regulate human activities in the high seas, was a hard-won victory for the international community. As an indigenous person from the Pacific, I felt a sense of hope and pride in our collective efforts to safeguard the world’s oceans for future generations.
However, that sense of hope stirred into further inspiration when I found myself only weeks later in the water, confronting a ship that bore the name of a notorious coloniser in the Pacific, James Cook, and was seeking to push the agenda of deep sea mining in the region. The ship’s presence in the Pacific Ocean is a stark reminder of the ongoing legacy of colonialism and the exploitation of natural resources that has plagued the region for centuries.
The fact that a ship involved in the deeply controversial practice of deep sea mining has taken the name of a figure who represents the very worst of colonial exploitation in the Pacific, is a cruel insult to my people, and the people of the Pacific. Cook’s expeditions were part of a larger pattern of European colonisation and exploitation in the Pacific, which had devastating consequences for indigenous communities. Cook’s encounters with tangata o le moana – the people of the Pacific, were characterised by violence, forced displacement, and cultural erasure, as European imperial powers sought to impose their values and norms on indigenous people.
Deep sea mining, like the colonising endeavours of figures such as Cook, represents a continuation of this legacy of exploitation and disregard for the rights and dignity of Pacific people. The environmental impact of deep sea mining is a major concern, as it could harm fragile ecosystems and disrupt deep-sea processes that are poorly understood. The extraction of resources from the Pacific region without adequately consulting or compensating local communities is a form of neo-colonialism that perpetuates the legacy of Cook in the region.
As a Pacific person from Aotearoa, I am deeply concerned about the impacts of deep sea mining and the continued exploitation of te Moananui-ā-Kiwa (the Pacific ocean). It’s time for the international community to recognise the harm caused by figures like Cook and the ongoing legacy of colonialism in the Pacific, and to work towards a more equitable and sustainable future for the oceans and our people.
Captain Cook’s voyages of exploration in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii were integral to the broader project of British colonialism and imperialism. Funded by the British government, Cook’s expeditions were not simply scientific missions, but were part of a larger effort to extend British territorial control, extract resources, and assert political influence over indigenous populations. Cook’s voyages played a key role in the colonisation and subjugation of many parts of the world, leading to the displacement and oppression of countless indigenous communities.
The lasting effects of colonialism on the Pacific region are profound, with indigenous communities continuing to face ongoing challenges as a result of historical injustices. Colonisation attempted to take our cultural traditions and suppress language, take our lands, and exploit our natural resources, leading to devastating consequences. Colonial governance and economic systems locked us into a society that placed our people in the path of intergenerational inequality.
It is important to view Cook’s legacy, and the legacy of colonisation as a whole through a critical lens and to acknowledge the harm that was inflicted upon the peoples and environments encountered by colonisers. The devastating impacts of colonialism are still felt today, with many indigenous communities facing ongoing struggles for recognition, reparations, and justice. It is crucial that we recognise and address the ongoing legacies of colonialism, and work towards a more just and equitable future for all people.
I’m reminded of the story of the Banaban people. How their lands were mined beyond repair, beyond habitability. This led to their forced relocation and the loss of parts of their culture. Where did those resources go? The phosphate that was mined in Banaba was shipped to nations including New Zealand, where it became fertiliser to kick off the agricultural revolution in this country. Yet another colonial imposition on the Pacific, and this time the people of Aotearoa. Are you seeing the pattern of loss forming in this story? Of indigenous Pacific people losing our lands, seas, resources, and therefore our livelihoods to the ongoing impact of colonisation.
It’s happening again right now.
Deep sea mining is a perpetuation of the legacy of colonial exploitation in the Pacific, as it involves the extraction of resources from indigenous territories without their full, free, and prior informed consent. This is particularly concerning given the history of exploitation and marginalisation that Pacific nations have experienced at the hands of colonial powers, and the ongoing struggles for decolonisation and self-determination in the region. It’s yet another cruel irony that the majority of these money hungry corporations are from the Global North.
Corporations such as The Metals Company have more resources and influence than small island developing states, creating a significant power imbalance when negotiating agreements around deep sea mining. Pacific island nations are often put in a position of trying to pick between the lesser of many evils. But it’s essential that we never forget, there is a way forward that doesn’t destroy the planet or the people on it. For the Pacific ocean, that means saying no to mining an area the size of the continental United States. It means saying no to an ongoing colonial influence in the region. It means saying no to endless extraction and exploitation of the planet.
The struggle for self-determination in the Pacific is ongoing, with many Pacific island nations continuing to advocate for greater autonomy and control over their resources. However, the push for deep sea mining threatens to further entrench colonial relations and undermine these efforts. It is imperative that the voices and interests of Pacific island nations are prioritised in any decision-making around deep sea mining, rather than the profits and interests of multinational corporations.
There is no room for deep sea mining in the future of the Pacific, nor the world. It’s time that we all see the connection between deep sea mining, exploitation of the planet’s natural resources, colonial powers, and prioritise our deep spiritual connection to the planet over profit.
It’s time for New Zealand to take a stand. Join our call on the New Zealand government to back a global moratorium on seabed mining.