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To Radio Waves, Are We The Ghosts? WAI 776: the Māori Claim to the Electromagnetic Spectrum at the Waitangi Tribunal


Between 1989-1999, Māori brought three claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, a semi-judicial body for post-colonial mediations between Māori and the New Zealand Crown, in which they asserted that the radio spectrum was their historical territory and thus subject to Tino Rangatiratanga, a Māori term associated with sovereignty, loosely translated as “absolute chieftainship.” These claims comprise a post-colonial conflict between disjunctive property rights regimes, catalyzed by emergent policies of neoliberal governance. I focus on the third claim, WAI 776, and explore how the already unstable ontology of the radio spectrum became politicized therein. From this examination, I propose a speculative history in which the formal demise of the luminiferous ether, being contemporaneous with the modernization of colonialism, fused the conquest of atmospheric electromagnetic nature with the dissociated unconscious of the collective modern colonial subject, sublimating both into the environmentally noumenal. The claim, I argue, activates a multi-fold return of these repressed.

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