Dunedin-based archaeologist Shar Briden spoke with Jenny Rankine
Pākehā lesbian Shar was born in Auckland and followed a girlfriend to Dunedin when she was younger; she says it’s the best move she ever made. “The people are friendly, the air’s fresh, there’s no traffic, and then I found out that ancestors of mine, three Smith brothers, arrived in Port Chalmers then moved to Kaitangata. I hadn’t even known that when I moved down here.”
Shar’s first job was as a structural designer of cardboard boxes – “you have to see them in 3D. I was also doing scrimshaw, bone carving, and learning carpentry.”
“I used to walk with my dog on the beaches around Otago peninsula, and found hundreds of artefacts – bone tools, fishing hooks, chisels, pounamu and adzes. I became friendly with a couple of local Māori women and showed them what I was finding.
Those discoveries led her to archaeology. “I wanted to know more about them, to identify those artefacts. I never thought I’d go to university and realised I’d have to study, but varsity just opened my world.”
Shar studied part-time for a BA in Anthropology, making a living drawing artefacts for a lecturer, and carving and selling scrimshaw at Maggies Cottage on the peninsula. She and her then partner Lorraine bought this early cottage in the early 1990s; it’s now a B&B.
Then Shar studied for a postgraduate diploma in archaeology, followed by ten years with the Department of Conservation (DOC) as Technical Advisor Historic. “My main job was reviewing historical and cultural features of high country pastoral leases.”
She surveyed Māori stone sources and sites, early pastoral features and gold mining sites. “I did a lot of surveys, reporting on what is significant for the Crown to protect. I learnt about bringing sites into the public eye so we’re aware of them.
“With DOC, I also helped recover koiwi (human burials) that get exposed and need to be respectfully collected and reburied. The iwi decides what to do; usually they don’t want anything that will destroy the bone. Sometimes they want further research, so the material goes to bio-anthropologists at the University of Otago.”
“I’ve been helicoptered to Rakiura (Stewart Island) twice to help with exposed burials; usually they’re reburied close by.” Shar has also recovered koiwi at Puketeraki Pa, Karitane Peninsula, Fortrose in Southland, Normanby near Timaru, and Papanui on the Otago Peninsula.
After a decade with DOC, Shar resigned and started her own archaeology business, Absolute Archaeology, a year ago. She has worked on excavations and sites around the South Island. “Forming a relationship with local Māori early on helped immensely to gain the acceptance of iwi groups for me to work on their behalf.”
Much of her work is managing and protecting sites that are being developed, doing archaeological assessments for proposed developments, and monitoring earthworks for archaeological material or sites. Heritage New Zealand authority is required for developments within 100m of protected sites, and that requires an approved archaeologist. “Wherever we’ve been, people have been before us, usually Māori.” Shar is pictured kneeling at the Heritage NZ Bendigo Bakehouse, with Matt Schmidt.
A highlight for Shar was “following Brian Allingham and Amanda Symon around for over 15 years – they have worked with Ngai Tahu for decades, and both taught me a lot.” Shar currently works part-time upgrading the records of Ngai Tahu’s South Island Māori Rock Art Trust; Amanda is the Ngai Tahu Rock Art Trust curator.
“Matt Hill and I go out for three days a fortnight looking for rock art that Brian Allingham had previously photographed – he’s recorded three times as much as there is on the archaeological database. We GPS the location of each shelter with rock art, and photograph the figures to see how much they’ve changed since the 1970s photographs.”
“It blows your mind to see some of this art that the public will never see. A lot is on private land, although some wonderful sites are open to the public. Matt uses Image J software to isolate the art clearly, in a way you can’t see with the naked eye. Over the years rock art degrades, the limestone drops off; unfortunately it has a limited life.”
Shar has come full circle, gaining a five-year authority from Heritage New Zealand to recover taonga from Okia Reserve at Papanui Inlet, which is owned by DCC (Dunedin City Council) and the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust.
A highlight was recovering a waka over six metres long, above. “It looked like the top edge of a totara fence post, so I got permission to have a look at the side of it. We realised it was too big to lift immediately and waited two months to get the authority – it took us all weekend to dig the waka out.”
The waka, and plaited rope lying inside it, were preserved by peat where vegetation collapsed over the site, creating an anerobic environment. “We were able to date the plaited rope to about 460 years ago, a period we don’t know much about.” The waka is now in a water tank at Otakau Marae, being conserved by Dilys Johns, Wet Organic Conservator at Auckland University.
Local Māori have been involved in the Papanui project for the past decade. “We’d had trouble with people fossicking in the area, and bringing the locals into our volunteer group meant the site is being treated with more respect.”
“Local interest has been incredible. This project has pulled the local community together, and increased the mana of iwi, especially young people who’ve been on site to share the excitement.”
Shar and Rachel Wesley, Otago Museum’s Curator Māori, led a week-long excavation at Papanui at the end of January, with help from the University of Otago “and a wonderful team of volunteers. The northern foreshore of the inlet is continually eroding along a kilometre of sand dune. We’ll be looking at how many layers of occupation there are beneath the dunes.”
Shar’s other excavations include rescuing an eroding archaeological layer at Raincliff Rock Art shelter for DOC and iwi, and monitoring Jamie Wood with Landcare Research, in the recovery of moa coprolites (preserved shit) at the Borland Shelter near Te Anau, a traditional Māori pathway to the West coast.
She has just completed an archaeological assessment for an upgrade to the Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau/Sinclair Wetlands Visitor Centre Treatment and Disposal system for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. “A canoe prow and a paddle have been found there in the past, so there is potential we could come across something significant.”
“I like dealing with dead things – I have an affinity for working with bone and stone.”
Shar came out as a lesbian when a friend took her to the Alex Pub in Auckland when she was 20 “and I picked up a woman”, she laughs. “I never looked back. It felt right – I knew where I fit.”
“Luckily my family were accepting, my mum said ‘It’s about time’; she’d known since I was much younger. When I was five I told mum that I was never going to get married. They knew I was different, so got me into judo so I could look after myself from possible bullying. I was an Auckland judo champ at age six which kept me safe; the kids didn’t bother me cos they were too scared. I was lonely though.”
“When I was younger I was hassled a lot and excluded because I looked like a dyke; I got a lot of verbal abuse in public.” Shar has always been out in her archaeological work. “Sometimes I wasn’t respected because I was a woman; sometimes I didn’t know if it was just sexism or homophobia.”
Over the years Shar has carved lots of labryses and lesbian symbols, which she sold from Maggies Cottage. “I’ve got all these bone and wood pieces I started 15 years ago and am now able to continue carving and finishing them off.”
Shar has had two major neck operations in the last few years, which fused her neck and ended most of the neck and spine pain she experienced for much of her life. Two collapsed discs in her neck from when she was dropped as a baby were misdiagnosed for years as repetitive strain injury.
“My lower back also collapsed when I was doing my post graduate diploma and I had to work at the computer standing up. Life has been a bit of a struggle for over 50 years, but it’s really good now. Thank goodness for Dunedin’s neuro-surgery and determination.”
One of the difficulties of getting older is the increasing numbers of the people one knows, loves and respects who lose their grip on their various perches. On Saturday January 27 we fare welled Denise, left, at a funeral service at Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland.
Denise was a proud Westie, and was an out and proud lesbian for over 30 years in her various communities and employment. She was a mother, and a grandmother, and a committed conservationist.
Denise and her partner Jo Quatermass were active in the struggle for the rights of working people, particularly for working women. They met through the union movement when they both worked for the Public Service Association in the mid-1980s.
Denise was working in Hamilton, and Jo in Auckland. Denise left the PSA, and came and worked with me at the Bank Officers’ Union for a couple of years until there was a vacancy at the Auckland office of the PSA.
Denise and Jo took some time out from the union movement from 1987 to 1991 to run the General Store at Muriwai, but Denise went back to advocating for working people with several union and advocate positions.
She was elected to the Waitakere Community Board in 1998 and she and I were two of a quite small number of out lesbian local body members. Denise became a Waitakere City Councillor, and with the Super City, was elected to the Waitakere Ranges Local Board.
She remained on the board until her death. She was subject to the usual homophobia in her early days as councillor, with nasty graffiti on her billboards, but she was not the sort of person to be deterred.
Denise loved the Waitakere Ranges, and was one of the major figures in achieving the protected legal status for the ranges. She also served on the Auckland Conservation Board and the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society.
Denise died on Tuesday January 23 after a brief illness. She would have been 78 at her birthday in April.
See the LNA interview with Denise before the last local body elections in 2016.
LGBT issues are being debated in the smallest country in the European Union (population 1.3m). The Republic of Estonia in northern Europe is bordered by Latvia to the south, Russia to the east, the gulf of Finland to the north and the Baltic Sea to the west. It currently has its first female President, Kersti Kaljulaid, and one Rainbow NGO, Eesti LGBT Ühing/the Estonian LGBT Association. Jenny Rankine spoke with Kristel Rannaääre, the association’s half-time Executive Director, and Kristiina Raud, the half-time Community Co-ordinator, about the Cohabitation Act which passed in 2014.
Kristiina says that the act was passed without an accompanying implementation act, which specifies all the amendments to be made to other laws, “so the law isn’t actually functional. LGBT people are signing civil union contracts and adopting children, but they are not registered anywhere.”
“For example, if one partner adopts the other partner’s biological child, it’s not in the registry that controls all the online systems. So every time that you want to enrol your adopted kid in kindergarten or open their bank account, you have to bring their adoption papers, but it still might not be accepted because it isn’t online.”
The Minister of Justice announced after being elected in 2015 that he would not work on the implementation act, so it is likely to be introduced by members of the Riigikogu (parliament), as the Cohabitation Bill had been. The Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond (EKRE), the Conservative People’s Party, which has seven MPs, was pushing for the Cohabitation Act to be repealed at the time of the interview. If the implementation act is not passed, the Estonian Human Rights Centre NGO expects same-sex partners to sue the state for failing to enact their rights.
The debate has aroused strong feelings, including conservative bigotry. Just before the law was passed, a conservative demonstration slogan was “aberration must be treated”.
Kristiina described a recent public debate that changed minds: “A top TV discussion show had a group of supporters and opponents, and two Lutheran pastors from different congregations [Lutheran is the main Christian denomination]. The older male pastor was against the law and a female pastor was very supportive.”
“She kept looking at the representative of EKRE who was spewing hateful stuff, and said ‘I’m trying to understand what happened to you, why you are so full of hate and pain?’ Her long comment went viral on Estonian social media. It moved you, whether you’re LGBT or just an intelligent, compassionate human being. Thousands of people sent her thank you letters and flowers.”
“The head of the Lutheran Church said she went against the church policy, but it stirred things up in a good direction. People see how cruel other people can be and think ‘LGBT people need my support’.”
Just under half the population (46%) supports same-sex civil unions, and support for marriage equality has grown to 39 percent. While 52 percent still don’t accept homosexuality, acceptance increased to 41 percent in a 2017 survey. Attitudes are more positive among Estonian than Russian-speaking people, “who tend to consume media from Russia, which is anti-LGBT,” says Kristiina.
Standing for public office
In October, Kristel boosted lesbian visibility by standing for a municipal seat in the capital, Tallinn, on the Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond (Social Democrat) ticket. She was asked to stand by the Social Democrats leader, who had been a panellist in the Pride conference organised by the association’s Education Co-ordinator Maret Ney in July, and wanted more young female candidates who were expert in different fields.
Says Kristel: “We don’t have out LGBT people in the Riigikogu or outside the human rights field, so I decided maybe I will start with myself. Also I’ve been working in the association for five years, so I have some experience. It’s a good starting point if I want to do something more.”
She received 160 votes. Kristiina says: “To think that there are 150 queers or queer supporters in one district is great!”
Fighting through the courts
Kristiina, below left, and her US wife Sarah have also been in the news from a court case against the state denial of Sarah’s residency. “I met Sarah when she was came over for a conference,” she says. “Sarah went back to the States and we went back and forth to see each other a lot, but that meant a three-month visa every time. We got married in the States in 2015, and she moved here.”
The timing of the country’s denial of Sarah’s residency “worked out really well because the Human Rights Centre was looking for an example couple, willing to go public, for strategic court litigation. They paid for the court case and we talked about the case and our relationship to the media.”
“It seems to be working, maybe not legally because the Immigration Office is very stubborn, but people have said to me ‘I saw you on TV and that made it easier for me to come out to my parents’. Or they’ve written ‘I never really cared what’s going on with the law because it doesn’t concern me, but after seeing how much crap the state makes people go through, now I see how horrible our bureaucratic system is and now I support same-sex couples’.”
The pair received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but lost the case in November in the second-level circuit court. They will appeal to the Supreme Court, “So it will go on for a while”. But this wasn’t the only court case Kristiina was involved in.
“While we were in court, Sarah had to go back and forth all the time, which was very financially and emotionally draining. We asked that she be protected while the case was in court, so she could at least stay here. Because the Immigration Office kept appealing, that case went to the Riigikohus (Supreme Court of Estonia), the first case where it could take a stance on same-sex issues.”
“They said that same-sex couples deserved the same protections as any other family. It was symbolic but it didn’t help our main case. There’s still a long way to go.”
The association’s activities
“We run all kinds of events,” says Kristel; “support groups for transpeople, gay Christians, youth, and same-sex parents, fun events like board game and movie nights, and information nights about issues such as the Cohabitation Act. We provide a psychologist, peer-to-peer counselling, and a library, where high school and university students can do research.”
“We educate youth workers and teachers, and are planning to do that with health workers and journalists,” says Kristel, who also works as a high school teacher. “The school curriculum requires acknowledgement of different family forms,” says Kristiina, “but teachers don’t always do it. Our education co-ordinator has been training teachers and going into schools to talk with kids about those things.”
“Some schools are very welcoming, and others say ‘Oh, I’ve never met a gay person, why do you have to come and do this?’” A recent article by Maret, about how many LGBT kids there are in schools, saying teachers need to realise that these kids might be affected by the way teachers talk about LGBT issues, caused a big debate. Says Kristiina: “The conservative Foundation for Defence of Family and Traditions website devoted an episode to her, they called her a paedophile, and she’s received angry and threatening letters, just because she dared to put LGBT and kids in the same sentence.”
“It’s funny because the pundits from the foundation, work somewhere nearby and we see them walking by all the time, so me and my wife we hold hands and walk in front of them.”
The association is funded from gambling taxes; “at the end of the year we don’t know if we’ll get any money for the next year – it’s really difficult,” says Kristel. The association has also received occasional project funding from groups like the Council of Nordic Ministers and the Open Society Foundation, set up by billionaire George Soros to promote inclusive democracies.
Says Kristel: “There are more female LGBT activists, but there are more men out in the LGBT community. But those men who are out don’t contribute to activism. Most of us are lesbian in the association; we have only one man, who is trans. Any field that is underpaid will be mostly women, but especially activism.”
Baltic and Tallinn Pride
Before human rights laws and the LGBT Association, Estonian activists organised an annual Tallinn Pride Parade from 2005 to 2007. In the first year a few hundred people marched, but numbers dwindled. “In the last year opponents got violent and people stopped organising it,” says Kristiina.
The annual Baltic Pride event started in 2009 and rotates between Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania and Tallinn in Estonia; “they are small countries without the resources or communities to have Pride every year yet,” says Kristiina. Estonia hosted the event in 2011, 2014 and in July 2017, with Kristiina as project manager.
After two festivals in Estonia without a parade, “people decided it was time to have a parade as well, since it had been ten years”, she says. “We set up Tallinn Pride to run it, while the association organised the festival. We thought if we got 500 people we would have exceeded all our expectations. We got about 2,000 people, which was pretty amazing.”
“We were prepared for opponents – we had security, the police were briefed on the risks. But we only had one Bible-waving lady and a friend, and a couple more who were just ridiculous rather than threatening.”
Most of the Pride events were full or over-subscribed. “The opening night at a cinema had speeches, an exhibition and a movie – we thought we might get 80 people and we got 200. It was so full half the people couldn’t fit in, and people were sitting right under the screen looking up. The first Pride conference was full with just over 100 people.”
“The gender imbalance in activism was really apparent during Baltic Pride,” Kristiina says. “The face of the Pride Parade was overwhelmingly that of young women. Lots of high school students and younger women came out, more than any other group.”
Kristiina is a contributing author and the Instagram co-ordinator for “the only feminist website in Estonia”, Feministeerium or Feministry, which is part of a network of queer-feminist, leftist and anti-fascist groups.
Ladyfest, a grass-roots, international feminist festival in Tallinn, has been organised from the same networks for seven years, rotating between different organisers, including Kristiina. “It’s very queer, feminist, DIY, anti-capitalist”.
Both the women described women’s rights in Estonia as under attack. Estonia’s gender pay gap – 28% – is the worst in Europe.
Kristiina says: “The conservatives were against ratifying the Istanbul Convention; the states that sign it pledge to actively combat violence against women. You would think that’s a good thing, but the conservatives think it’s another ploy to force genderless, homosexual, extreme feminist propaganda on our country and our children, because feminists hate traditional gender roles. Not because they’re toxic and dangerous, but because we want all people to be genderless blobs.” Eventually, Estonia ratified the convention.
EKRE “built their platform on three issues: women are not oppressed and are trying to overthrow men; gays and refugees are bad. The conservatives said that women who are over 27 and haven’t had children are dangerous elements to society” says Kristiina.
She has also been an organiser for Queer Planet, which was started by people at the Anarchist Social Centre. “It’s a contrast to the mainstream male-dominated gay clubs – it’s an anarchist, not transphobic, anti-racist, anti-nationalist, queer party. Lots of queer and non-binary young people come, very few guys.”