By Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F. Tauafiafi,Manila
“I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Matthew Hooper as the next deputy Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA),” Mr James Movick, FFA’s Director General told Pacific media at a press briefing last night.
“He will take over when the incumbent Mr Wez Norris leaves us in mid-January.”
There were two significant points revealed in Mr Movick’s announcement at the Philippines International Conference Centre.
“Matthew being a New Zealand citizen has the distinction of spending some of his childhood and early schooling in Tokelau. So that’s rather distinctive as not many people have been to Tokelau and he’s spent his early years growing up and going to school there.”
This first point is pertinent as it is well established in the ‘Western psyche’ that the geography of our childhood helps shape our understanding of the world. The place where we grow up is the starting point of our identity and perception, our first context for reality.
If one looks at an individual’s identity from the vantage point of geography, it is that their world is shaped by the feel, characteristics, and weather of a landscape: a rugged coastline with crashing waves, the open horizon of flat plains, a lush tropical forest, or an urban complex. That the contours and intricacies of childhood landscapes influence their first assumptions about how the world looks and works.
For Mr Hooper, many of those early childhood geographical features belonged to the three atolls of Tokelau. Islands with a combined land area of 12 square kilometers it is dominated by the Pacific Ocean. A place that is accessible only by boat. Isolated, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. But more than the beauty and spirituality of its physical environment, Tokelau is shaped by its people their culture and traditions. Its ‘inati system’ of sharing embodies equality in sharing and solidarity in effort, aspirations, achievements and hardship. A rare and selfless behavior that fortifies the characteristics of respect, service, sharing and love that result in actions for the ‘greater good’.
The second point of significance in the announcement is Mr Hooper’s involvement with the Treaty of Waitangi and settlement of the injustices dealt to the Maori people by the British crown in the late 19th century.
“Matthew when he first started in fisheries around 1976 started in a very complex issue which was incorporating or facilitating Maori communities to begin to implement the rights they won under the Treaty of Waitangi settlement,” explained Mr Movick.
“So Matthew, as a very young man was given the job of working with all the iwi* in trying to put all of that together in order to enable a Maori fisheries management to be incorporated within the overall New Zealand fisheries management, a very challenging job.”
It is these two points that stand out about Mr Hooper’s appointment and ultimately, is what got him the job according to Mr Movick.
“He is well known and respected for his capability to work with people and it’s a very tricky situation to help resolve issues. And I think at the end of the day that was the principal basis for the recommendation from the interview panel comprised of five members of the Forum Fisheries Committee.
“… and I saw no reason not to accept the recommendation of the panel. Certainly, I hope that all our FFA colleagues, CROP and fisheries constituencies and leaders will welcome him in his new job.”
It should also be of comfort to the weavers, planters, fishers and children of the Pacific, that one of their Tokelau raised sons will spearhead the efforts to sustainably manage their oceanic tuna and other fisheries resource; and maximize economic returns and opportunities.
* The iwi (tribe) is the largest of the groups that form Māori society. Each iwi is made up of various hapū (clans or descent groups), which might have up to several hundred members. Traditionally, the main purposes of a hapū were to defend land, and to provide support for its members.
Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand. It is located in the Pacific Ocean north of Samoa and south of the Equator (9 00 S, 172 00 W). It is only accessible by boat, taking an estimated 28 hours to reach the closest atoll, Fakaofo, a further three hours to Nukunonu, and another six hours to Atafu.
It is made up of the three small atolls named above, separated from each other by high seas. The total land area is approximately 12 km². The total sea area of the exclusive economic zone is approximately 518,000 km². The height above sea level is between 3-5 meters, the maximum width is 200 meters. Tokelau is therefore particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and impacts of climate change such as sea-level rise.
The population of 1499 (2016 census) is spread approximately equally among the three atolls (Atafu (541); Fakaofo (506) and Nukunonu (452). The traditional lifestyle was subsistence but Tokelau has moved to a cash economy. The only natural resource of any current economic significance is the fishery of the exclusive economic zone.
Tokelau has no main town; each island has its own administrative centre, hospital, school and basic infrastructure. There are no airstrips or harbours. Access is by ship only, through the Port of Apia, Samoa.
There are approximately 7000 Tokelauans living in New Zealand, and smaller communities live in Australia, American Samoa, Samoa, Rapa Nui, and Hawaii.