What It Means To Be Māori: A Story of Finding My Identity

Updated: 5 days ago

Guest writer for "mynzdreamblog"

By Del Gibson

Somebody asked me a question the other day. Do I find being Māori an advantage or a disadvantage? First off, let me say, I was answering a survey for a University student who was interviewing me about COVID and being Māori; how we got through lockdown with our Tamariki and their schooling. Since then I have pondered this…as my answer was, “I feel it is neither one nor the other, I just am.” Hindsight is always good and dandy, there is more now I wish I had have said.

That the truth is, I grew up not knowing anything about my heritage. I learned bits and pieces, like what my deceased grandparent's names were. That my mum and dad met when they were both serving with the New Zealand Army; Mum was a nurse. I knew my dad’s family was from somewhere up the top of the North Island of New Zealand. I wasn’t taught to speak Māori at home, and in fact, at the Private Catholic girl’s school my twin sister and I attended, they didn’t even offer Te Reo Māori as part of their curriculum – it was a choice between learning German, French or Japanese! I ended up choosing French, only to learn years later that we are actually part German and Danish too. If I had have known that then, I would have chosen to study German instead of French.

This is what I believe. Being Māori is about whakapapa – lineage and community connections with our Iwi, Hapū, Whanau, Marae, and the stories of our Ancestors. It’s about connections. In my opinion, unfortunately, colonization took away a lot of what it meant to be Māori. So, in a way, to me, being Māori means a certain loss of identity. When Māori was colonized, they took away our way of being. Eventually, we moved away from the Marea and those connections important to our wellbeing. We were urbanized through their colonization tools and methods. They gave us guns, alcohol, and tobacco and brought diseases that nearly wiped us out. Our language was prohibited from schools in 1867 – this had a flow-on effect. Children were admonished and punished for speaking their natural language in school. During this time, Te Reo Māori was taken from us, hence today the loss is insurmountable: A people who do not know the language of their people.

Is being Māori an advantage? Well, we are a disadvantaged minority in the country. We are indigenous. Māori is overrepresented in our prison system with 50% of all incarcerated. We have the highest domestic violence and mental illness statistics. When the government “pepper potted” us to live in the suburbs, we were clumped together after being taken away from our homes and our Marae. These places are now deemed as being lower socio-economic communities; merely surviving in the reality of dire poverty, from one week to the next. In the early years of colonization, our land was taken and sold off, in some cases confiscated as a consequence of non-compliance, especially for those tribes not willing to participate in the signing of Te Tiriti O Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) which was signed in 1840. One of my Ancestors, Māori Chief, Hone Heke, axed down the flag three times in Flagstaff, Russell, in the Bay of Islands in the 1850s, in protest of the changes the colonialists wanted to incorporate. So, is it an advantage?

Is being Māori a disadvantage? In some cases, I would have to say, yes, it is. As I mentioned, the overrepresentation in many areas, there are also additional issues. Addictions to alcohol and drugs, gambling, gang membership, and crime. These are real issues Māori have to face and have faced since colonization. When the colonists arrived on their ships, they called us savages that needed to assimilate to their way of living. They brought their Bibles, churches, and missionaries. Our spirituality/Wairua, was converted to that of the Christian faith. Gone were our gods and our way of living; off the land and the water. So is it a disadvantage?

During the years, I have come to learn a lot about my whanau, Iwi, Hapū, and Marae. Though admittedly many Māori only visit their Marae when they have to go home for a Tangihanga (funeral). In some cases, this is their only connection left. There are Māori out there who don’t know anything about their whakapapa, and this saddens me. They call people like me “Plastic Māori” and to me, that is a shame. So, as much as I can, with the little information I know, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I tell my children where they come from.

Copyright © Gibson, Del 2022


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