New Zealander 'honoured' to perform haka at Standing Rock

Tu'ulenana Iuli performing Tika Tonu at the Standing Rock Reservation (Facebook)
Tu'ulenana Iuli performing Tika Tonu at the Standing Rock Reservation (Facebook)

No longer is he "a lone Maori performing a passionate haka". The man who inspired people across the world to record and post a haka online has a name. It's Tu'ulenana Iuli.

The Samoan-born New Zealander was in the United States representing the Polynesian Panthers for the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party when he heard the call to action from Native American activist Myron Dewey.

The Native American community of Standing Rock in North Dakota is fighting the construction of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline through their land. There are concerns a leak in the pipeline would pollute the tribe's only water supply.

New Zealander 'honoured' to perform haka at Standing Rock

Mr Iuli drove with a friend for 48 hours straight to make the journey from San Francisco to North Dakota.

Speaking to Newshub from the main camp at the Standing Rock Reservation, Mr Iuli says he knew right away he had to stand up for the rights of the indigenous Standing Rock people.

"When times like these come up you have to think to yourself 'how do you honour these people properly?'... and for me the only way to do it is through haka."

He said he chose that moment because he had an opportunity to ask permission from an elder of the First Nations people.

"I didn't realise anybody was going to film it. I just wanted to do it for those people there. [For the people] that had 80 people arrested before but then they had the courage to come back the next day and say 'we are standing again'."

Mr Iuli says haka is so important because it reinforced the korero that had taken place on that day.

"I'm doing it in a way that it is culture but it is not violent. An expression of solidarity in a way that is not hurting anyone physically but showing them that they understand how powerful what we are doing is."

He chose Tika Tonu because of its relevance to the cause.

"It's all about a parent saying to his child that you have the power, the power to receive everything you need to and I think that is so appropriate."

Although there were few there who understood the literal meaning of the haka, Mr Iuli says the understanding was universal.

"There are warriors out here, and they know when they see something powerful."

Mr Iuli will stay at the protest for another week before heading home to Australia.

Until then, he will stand united with fellow Maori, Samoan, Hawaiian and Papua New Guinean people at the site to represent the southern hemisphere and indigenous people the world over.

"Standing Rock represents what we can do. Standing Rock represents looking after our earth, our protected species, the water. Standing Rock represents everything we need to do look after it."

Mr Iuli says he is just happy he could do his part to support the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

"I'm honoured to perform this to you because you are here standing and I'm standing with you and everyone behind you in Aotearoa is standing with you too."