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April 29, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Being Maori

Kia ora

Ko Hikurangi te Maunga
Ko Waiapu te awa
Ko Ngāti Porou te iwi
Ko Julia toku ingoa

What does it mean to be Māori in 2013? Well, I can’t tell you that. I don’t speak for all Māori. We’re a diverse people and come in so many flavours. But I can tell you what it’s like for me to live and breathe in this space and time in my life.

I should probably give you all a sample of what kind of flavours I am. I am one of five siblings, born in Gisborne, lived half my life in Australia, moved back with my whānau to Blenheim where I finished college, and am now in my fifth and final year studying in Wellington. I am an aunty; I am a student; I am a rugby coach; I am a chocolate lover; I am me and those that walked before me and those that will walk after…

I am well-qualified to tell you how it feels to be Māori in my pockets of today’s Aotearoa. I feel privileged, hopeful, inspired, cynical, realistic, defensive, empowered, heavy, hungry—but what I am today, tomorrow and forevermore is proud. I am proud to be who I am: Māori. It’s a knowledge and gift I hold today, but I can’t say that it has always been this way.

It was hard for me to sit in my Criminal Law class and feel proud to be Māori. Sitting in a classroom, one of less than a handful of Māori students, listening to so many non-Māori talk about Māori people as perpetrators of all types of criminal offending in a detached kind of way was hard. I walked out of those classes feeling ashamed, disempowered and uncomfortable without really knowing why—except that it had something to do with the fact that I am Māori.

At least I had my whānau away from home; Ngā Rangahautira, our Māori Law Students’ Association, to go and re-centre myself after classes like that. Sometimes, when I’m in an environment where being me is uncomfortable, the best thing is to go to a place where I’m surrounded by people like me. If you have never been in a time and space where you’ve felt that way, I hope you can recognise the privilege in that.

It’s well known that Māori are overrepresented in tonnes of negative statistics. When stereotypes of Māori are built from the images pushed by our news and media reports it’s hard to blame people for their ignorance—but it’s also hard not to feel heavy and saddened at the predominant image that is painted and subscribed to.

Being Māori has nothing to do with the images you see or read in the news. Gangs; drugs; alcohol; violence; supposed Treaty ‘gravy trains'; welfare and whatever other compelling errant images painted does not a Māori make.

I recently spent a weekend away in Tauranga with about 30 young Māori from all over Aotearoa as part of Te Rārangatira. We had all the flavours of the world; mamas, papas, students, youth workers, singers, songwriters, lawyers, lecturers, health workers, artists and so much more. And we were all Māori doing awesome things. I left that weekend feeling so inspired and so proud to be me.

But in my world I’m also surrounded by so many awesome non-Māori. Pākehā who see issues that affect Māori as actually being issues that affect them. Being part of the whānau in JustSpeak makes me proud to be me. JustSpeak is a group of young New Zealanders who are inspired to address issues in our criminal justice system—the biggest issue being the fact that Māori comprise over half of our prison population. In this kaupapa I’m surrounded by heaps of non-Māori who see this as an injustice that affects them.

So what is the future for Māori? When I think of all the awesome people in my life doing awesome things in their lives, the future looks stunning. But I’m not blind to the fact that the hardships in our history that flow on to our present and future make it hard to be hopeful. When I see so many lonely warriors who have been pushing the rock alone discovering each other and pushing together, I see us moving forward. It doesn’t have to be fast, but it does need to be forward.

I once heard a wise man say that the best thing that we as Māori can do for Māori is to be the best at what we do—whatever that may be. I don’t know what that is yet, but I want to be part of making our tomorrow better than our yesterday.

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Comments (3)

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  1. bada says:

    Well said and I speak for many who cannot put into words what you have written.

  2. waiatanu2012@gmail.con says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article Julia it was a pleasure.:) We do have a beautiful culture and by the way the only culture in the world that can move every part of our body too when we entertain apart from our ears that is :) that what makes us unique..

  3. steven james says:

    Felt deeper than thought, an empathy at so many levels, beautifully conveyed. Sailent is the words of wisdom.

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