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August 5, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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He waka eke noa: Sailing the Ship for World Youth

The Ship for World Youth (SWY) was a whole lotta journeys for me. It was a geographical journey that took me from Aotearoa to Japan and around South-East Asia and back again. It was a multicultural journey where I spent six weeks breathing, teaching, listening, dancing, learning, and so many other ‘ings’ with 240 rangatahi from 13 countries, from Japan to Peru to Egypt to Russia. It was an internal journey where, although I got to learn about heaps of other cultures, I actually learnt a whole lot more about my own.

In its simplest, boring-est form, SWY is an international leadership programme sponsored by the Japanese Government that brings together “young leaders” from all over the world. I was one of 11 in the New Zealand delegation that sailed in 2012. It was a great privilege to get to meet new people, see new places, taste new kai, learn new things, to hang with Tangaroa whilst sailing the seas, and more generally just to be exposed to new everythings and anythings. The experience was surreal, and really was a huge journey that even more than a year later I am still travelling.

I felt quite responsible on SWY. If people knew anything about our country, it was limited to rugby, Māori, haka and the All Blacks. Now although I tick all those boxes—that is, I’ve played rugby, I coach rugby, I am Māori and sometimes I wear all-black clothes—I, along with our whole delegation, was ‘New Zealand’.

How we acted, talked, danced, ate, breathed, became the standard for all New Zealanders. There are now 230 young people around the world who think all New Zealanders are loud, wear jandals or no shoes at all, and consider showing up five minutes late to something as ‘arriving early’. Over half of our delegation was Māori. So that meant everyone thought Aotearoa’s entire population (not prison population) was half-Māori.

I had many one-on-one conversations with people explaining that no, New Zealand’s population is not half-Māori, and no, not all New Zealanders speak te reo Māori, including myself. Ehara au I te tangata korero Māori.  But it was really cool to be surrounded by so many people who absolutely LOVED anything and everything to do with Māori culture and wanted to learn as much as possible. And the fact that that was cool is also very sad, because that’s not really the reality here at home.  Reading Stuff or Yahoo comments on any article that has anything to do with Māori can be very depressing.  We live in a country where there are heaps of people who will proudly shed a tear when the All Blacks do ‘the’ haka but then get all angus when the Treaty of Waitangi or even the word ‘Māori’ gets mentioned.

Earlier this year, SWY 25 set sail with another New Zealand roopu on the boat again. I got to help out and meet some participants from Japan who travelled over as part of the programme.  As I was taking some of them on a tiki tour through Wellington (Te Papa, Cuba, and at some point, sheep!), one of the girls asked me straight up, “Why are there no brown people in Wellington?” It took me a bit by surprise, and I thought back to when I was on SWY 24 where everyone thought that most of Aotearoa was brown. I gave an honest response. I kept it real with the fact that, the further we drove out of central Wellington, the lower the socioeconomic decile of the area, and the browner the population became. But this isn’t a social-inequality article. It just highlighted the very different and surreal journey of SWY as someone who is Māori to the realities of living in our country.

SWY was a place where I got to play rugby in Sri Lanka, get a taste of India, fall in love with Peru, learn how to dance in Spain, and much, much more. As a delegation, we could proudly fly the tino rangatiratanga flag with our New Zealand flag, without protest, question, or need for justification. It’s very much part of the fabric of the continuing journey that is the rest of my life.

SWY was an amazing six-week journey, during which I met people who are part of my lifetime journey. But it really was the place where I was faced with the reality that these strangers to New Zealand absolutely loved Māori culture and people, and I had to ask why that is not a reflection of our own country. So I’m part of the journey to bring what I had on SWY to our home here.

He waka eke noa.

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  1. key order julia. i fail to understand why over half the delegation was maori. this pc nonsense surrounding making sure maori get a fair deal has gone too far. who selects the delegation? are they aware that they’re stealing opportunities from real new zealanders?

  2. Dear Key Order ( DID YOU FEEL COMFORTED) WITH THE INSULT SPELLING AS WELL. Are you saying all countries questioning where are the brown people? Got it wrong. Did you notice at all there was no insult intended while reading this artical. My heart truly goes out to you. For you have truly failed to embark on the Ark. Noah said no. Definitely not for ones who hate.

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