Siobhan Patia: Acknowledge the mana in the challenge

The Ocean conference ended two weeks ago and since coming back I’ve had a mixed set of emotions and thoughts. Despite being disheartened and downright offended by our formal political leadership I had the opportunity to connect with amazing people doing purposeful work in this space. My compass has been a bit clouded in the last year as to "what's next?" and this space has offered some ideas on answering that question.

Connections & leadership

We met with the NZ Minister for Conservation and it was uneventful. We tried as a delegation to seek transparency on the voluntary commitments made. Being election year, promises are brittle and in any case the meeting was monopolised on the topic of pests and other concerns outside of ocean health. I won't delve into some of the more concerning rhetoric that came forth however it has made me heavily question my role and time working in Public Sector and it being a space for meaningful action and change (not that I don't already do that). I think at the frontline level it does but beyond that I am sceptical. 

I got to spend time with the group that was here from Te Tairawhiti, Te Ikaroa. I felt embarrassingly ignorant about indigenous rights and discourse however enjoyed their company. I am not surrounded by this in my day to day work so miss being in the space for this discussion daily, as I had flavours of this throughout my law and arts degrees. They invited me to sit in with them on some of their meetings with other groups like the family from the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe battling the issue with the Dakota Pipeline contract. Discussions revolved around transgressions against indigenous rights and issues which I know some things about from a fragmented perspective throughout my studies. They all seem like strong indigenous leaders which I was humbled by. If anything, spending time with them highlighted how very little I know but my desire to learn more in that area. I have a steep learning curve ahead of me and have begun looking into different avenues for learning, whilst maintaining a critical lens on the essence of the learning and experiences I’m looking for.

Meeting Barbara Pyle was also a delight – not only because she is the creator of the Captain Planet cartoon that I grew up on, but because she has a no-hold approach to getting environmental initiatives across the line. She is definitely a character I hope to bump into at a later stage again. 

On the Hudson with some of the boys from Te Ikaroa

On the Hudson with some of the boys from Te Ikaroa


The semantics of the development and sustainability interface were evident across most of the conference. However there was only one session I attended that explicitly bought it up; it may have been discussed in other sessions as well. In any case, it made me even more sceptical about which stakeholders weighed sustainability or protection higher than development. I must ask – how much of this development agenda would be radically different if it were not for colonialism and power-dynamics on an international scale? Or am I romanticising what and how I think my ancestor’s vision for their Pacific would be at various levels?

As an aside, I also question some of the side-event content that had a religious element – not because I am against it but because of the flavour of colonialism this adds to the arena for international relations.

New tides

It was quite an abrupt change of scene coming back to the hospital and I’m hastily catching up on my projects and work. I landed in time to finish my health management paper for the semester and have finally come down from the jet lag. When catching up with a mentor last Friday, I mentioned the acute sadness I had because it felt like coming back to a place where I question my value-add particularly because I am in a non-clinical role.

I spoke to a mentor about my desire to align myself to work that feeds my soul a little more whilst is still challenging and builds my skillset. Outside of this what she next shared had a wider application than just to my career-identity crisis (which shows my privilege somewhat). She said that every challenge is like a maunga (mountain) and that each maunga possesses mana. Despite the uneasiness prior to and during climbing that mountain, it is up to me to take the mana it possesses if I so choose. There is no point in climbing half a mountain to only receive half the mana, if there ever is such a thing; it doesn’t make sense. To this end, I am looking into options in further study and other work that allows me to have more interface with environmental justice.

Overall, the conference was as I expected however I think this trip was a success because of the relationships I started and discussions I was introduced to. The challenge from this point is to nurture them so that I stay engaged, particularly if I want to do work in this space.

Since returning some our delegation are planning to present an update to the UNANZ executive committee following their SDG Conference in Wellington. There is discussion underway on what voluntary commitments of our own we intend to undertake within the next 6 months as well as research projects. This forms part of our fellowship requirements with AYLI alongside attending the conference. There are discussions underway to do some joint education outreach to schools, Marae and community groups on ocean acidification. I’m toying with idea’s around tacking on a media/spoken word piece to this as well for my research project. In any regard, although the trip was really fun, the real work happens from here onward.

Last day at the conference - that's a wrap!

Last day at the conference - that's a wrap!

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on June 27, 2017 and filed under UN Ocean Conference 2017.