It took a long time for me to embrace my Maori identity.
From my mother’s side, I have whakapapa (related by descent) to Kāi Tahu, the largest iwi (tribe) of Te Waipounamu (the south island of New Zealand), but I grew up believing that I was just Pākehā (New Zealand European). I spent most of my childhood living with my father Pākehā. Even though my Maori ancestry has been mentioned on occasion, I have resisted the suggestion that I was Maori. I didn’t grow up in a marae (Maori village) or speak te reo – and I wasn’t like the Maori children I knew.
It was not until adulthood, with the encouragement of my grandmother, from my mother’s side, that I began to explore my Maori heritage. Today, I proudly identify myself as being both Pākehā and Maori. I have returned to my marae and claim my native language.
I have been supported in this by the aroha (love) of whānau (family) and friends, as well as by the writings of thinkers such as Tā Tīmoti Kāretu, who reminds us that if we have Maori ancestors, we are Maori. , and Hana O’Regan, whose work on the history and identity of Kāi Tahu continues to support me.
At one point, I had a realization: we are not all “one or the other”. The urge to separate is a urge to colonize, and it has been used to marginalize and exclude people of color across the world. Questioning binary distinctions – “either / or” – in favor of inclusion – “both… and” – underpins many radical thinking, including feminism and queer theory.
“Either / or” doesn’t really work for us here in Aotearoa. For a long time there has been a tendency to regard New Zealanders as “either Maori Where Pākehā ”- but many of us are both, and some of us are neither. For example, there are Chinese families who have been here much longer than some Pākehā families; and many Chinese New Zealanders are also Maori.
Why do I tend to describe myself as ‘Pākehā’ rather than ‘New Zealand European’? Maybe it’s because it wasn’t until I started learning te reo that I really started to pay attention to my heritage – including my English, Irish and Scottish ancestors. Additionally, the word “Pākehā”, being a Maori word, captures a connection to this place that “European NZ” does not have.
Some people mistakenly believe that the word “Pākehā” is an insult, but I think it has mana (honor or prestige). When I think of Pākehā, I think of the people I know who carry the term comfortably. They are, without exception, generous, thoughtful and humble.
Yet many white New Zealanders reject the term in favor of “NZ European”. I don’t know why they think we have to choose. Avoiding the ‘either / or’ mindset allows those of us of European descent to embrace both – explicitly acknowledging our European heritage with one and emphasizing our connection to that. place with each other.
There are those who think that anyone who rejects the term “Pākehā” is racist, but this is not the case. Some New Zealanders born in Europe are reluctant to call themselves Pākehā, as it is often interpreted to mean people whose ancestors settles in Aotearoa. Additionally, I know people of European descent, but who immigrated to New Zealand from non-European countries (like South Africa) and are not sure the word describes them accurately.
Some New Zealand Europeans may simply think that a Maori word they have trouble pronouncing is not the best suited to describe their non-Maori heritage.
It is helpful to remember, however, that reciprocity requires us to give the same consideration to others. If New Zealand Europeans think they are misrepresented when people call them ‘Pākehā’, I encourage them to take a moment to reflect on the many ways that Maori have been and continue to be ‘other’ in our own lands. .
They might also consider the ways in which they relate – or resist the relationship – to te ao Māori (the Maori world). As New Zealanders, we all have a responsibility to learn and familiarize ourselves with the indigenous heritage of our country – whether our ancestors have been here from the beginning or for 250 years … or if we have done it ourselves. the courageous journey to Aotearoa.
(Learning Maori te reo – even just a little – is a great place to start!)
It is natural that a discussion of ethnicity begins with personal identity – but it should not end there. Considering ethnicity will help us create a better community.
It can help us to think critically about the distribution of power and who is unfairly disadvantaged in our society. Data on ethnicity helps us see that our education, health and criminal justice systems are failing for Maori and Pasifika. Registration and monitoring can help us design and evaluate initiatives that tackle institutional racism. Likewise, a critical understanding of ethnicity in Aotearoa may challenge the anti-Asian sentiment that has intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we continue to explore ethnicity, let us remember that we all belong here. There are a number of ways we can partner with Aotearoa, but together we can imagine a community in which everyone thrives.