Sunday, 6 May 2007

Freedom Roadworks - Building a Road to Freedom: A new model for sustainable struggle - Suzanne Menzies-Culling

Freedom Roadworks is a family-based community group that was formed in Dunedin in 1993. Initially there were six families, 1 Māori, 3 Samoan, 1 Cook Island 1 Pākehā and we were connected through ties of blood or political struggle. Prior to 1990 some of the women had been active in local national and international political work and networks including Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific, Youth, Women, Treaty, Justice and development. We were part of te Whanau a Matariki which great into a large political group active on Treaty issues and NFIP issues.

However by 1990 many of us had burnt out and most had left town. We were also faced with situations in our families where younger siblings were involved destructive lifestyles, drugs and alcohol, young parents ill equipped for parenthood who were neglecting their babies, and young people who were involved in violent relationships who had themselves suffered violence in their childhood.

First Born Women
We decided to use a tool of Polynesia by inviting women who were the eldest in their families to begin to talk together to see how we could support them working with their families and also how to begin to do the decolonisation work that needed to be done if we were to break cycles of abuse and violence and then in 1992 we began working with two groups of young parents from our families.

The decolonisation workshops were designed to explore colonisation in Aotearoa and the Pacific which is historical and ongoing; it is a process of violence which breed violence in families and communities and is a process of loss and alienation. Most importantly we wanted to help them see how colonisation has taken over our minds.Setting up

Freedom Roadworks
In 1993 the mothers of some of the young children got together to talk about how we deal with three of them approaching school age and how we look after them. Because most parents had really negative experiences of the NZ education system they were very loath to put their own children into school. After more hui - now including the fathers we came up with a plan which would help us work together to home school the children as well as continue to work in the community and not isolate them or ourselves from what was happening and the political work that we were committed to.

We decided that families were the foundation of our work and also knew that this was our greatest strength. We were also committed to tino rangatiratanga and to a nuclear free and independent Pacific, so the liberation of all peoples was an important stand for us. We wanted to finding another way to live self sufficiently,We wanted to work collectively, work with our families, and make sure that what we are doing was connected to everything else - reflecting our beliefs,~ having a political analysis,~ building new models and making choices to develop the whole person.

What we expect of ourselves and each other
1) To do the personal healing work we need to do to make sure we can continue the struggle for liberation, that people deal with old unfinished business so that they are fully able to commit themselves to go for the vision.

2) To do the political learning so we can decolonise ourselves and our families and that as part of de -colonising our “self”, we each stop acting individually.

3) To support each other with the healing work we need to do with our families.

4)That people will stick around, growing old together and staying in ONE place.

5) That our vision will not be restrictive- there will be room to move - that we will make space to negotiate and talk things through - there is ALWAYS another way.

6) Being resources for our communities

Our Vision
We are working to build a way of life that is decolonised, where people have control over how they live and what they do, and where people can live with dignity.

We want a world where Māori exercise Tino Rangatiratanga in Aotearoa as is the responsibility of tangata whenua, accepted in the Declaration of Independence in 1835, and affirmed in te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840.

We believe that the rebuilding of families is crucial in our preparation for independence, and we made our own political and personal decolonisation work the cornerstone of the whanau and community development programme that we designed.


  • Breaking the shackles of capitalism, the emotional physical and mental shackles.
  • Decolonising our minds and our lives
  • Breaking out of the insular world we live in - NOT just looking at You, Your family, Your people and NOT looking at only liberation for Indigenous/Black/White
  • Women and men working together
  • A Transfer of knowledge, knowing how to use the knowledge and understanding and dealing with the BLOCKS in your culture and conditioning and Building a clear analysis - so that you can change the situation (of oppression, injustice, colonisation)

The personal work that we agreed to do for ourselves and our families grew out of our exploring the violence of colonisation and the need for us to find another way of living, so that we live our political vision now, rather than talk political and live our lives as abusers of ourselves and our loved ones.

How we funded our work
Our commitment to independence meant we agreed from the beginning that we would not seek government funding for any of our work as Freedom Roadworks.Tithing, sausage sizzles, catering, quiz nights.

Because of our experiences in the 1980s we wanted to find ways to debate and discuss differences that were safe for people. It was necessary to find ways and forums to explore our differences and share those values. So we always met as families, but also at time in women’s and men’s groups meetings where we had saunas, massage and celebrations. We also talked as First Born Women, Women of Polynesia, Tangata Whenua caucus, Samoan Caucus, Recovering Catholic Caucus and Values Groups. The men also organised fortnightly “Boys’ and Men’s tim” which was especially valuable for the boys who did not have a relationship with their fathers.

Have we achieved what we hoped
Freedom Roadworks is still a work in progress and has undergone a number of changes since 1993. However there are some measurable things we can point to.

  • Unlike the previous generation, none of our teenage girls have had babies before the age of 16;
  • We were able to home-school up to 15 of our children for 12 years from 1993- 2005;
  • Only 4 people were employed in 1993, 2 were students and 10 were on benefits. Now in 2007, everyone is employed apart from the 2 youngest who are students. This is one reason we are no longer home-schooling.
  • We were able to support each other to do tertiary education and get off benefits
  • We were able to network and mobilise many sections of the Dunedin community to challenge the racist treatment of Māori and Pacific workers at Work and Income in 1995.
  • Unlike the previous generation, none of our teenager girls has been sexually or physically abused.
  • None of our teenagers is living a lifestyle of drug and alcohol abuse
  • We have been able to build a different model in the community.
  • Other families have decided to try home schooling their children because they saw we were doing it.
  • No one in the next generation is on a benefit.
  • One family was able to set up a family trust to buy their family home and purchase the house next door for the overflow.
  • We set up a community garden to teach each other how to grow food.
  • We worked with a Dunedin housing trust to build a house for one of our families

We have survived !

Prepared by Suzanne Menzies-Culling

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Suzanne Menzies-Culling paints a rosy, idealistic and ultimately dishonest picture of who Freedom Roadworks is and what they have achieved. Those of us who have been close to this group know first hand of their destructive patterns of behaviour stemming from the fact that they do not "deal with their past issues" but mask them. As for their successes: the younger generation who have been (poorly) home-schooled are working at MacD's, BK and as cleaners in the very schools they shunned, with no high school qualfications and very little hope of further education. Freedome Roadworks must be applauded for their vision which if they had been true to it would have been fantastic. The reality, unfortunately, is sad and dissappointing.