My Māori identity as a Pākehā

By Hayley White

Reading time: 9 minutes

Ko Te Weraiti te māunga.
My mountain is Te Weraiti.
Ko Waihou te awa.
My river is the Waihau.
Ko Tainui te waka.
My waka is Tainui.
Ko Ngāti Raukawa te iwi.
My tribe is Ngāti Raukawa.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 9 minutes

Ko Te Weraiti te māunga.
My mountain is Te Weraiti.
Ko Waihou te awa.
My river is the Waihau.
Ko Tainui te waka.
My waka is Tainui.
Ko Ngāti Raukawa te iwi.
My tribe is Ngāti Raukawa.
Ko Ngāti Hinerangi te hapū.
My sub-tribe is Ngāti Hinerangi.
Ko Tangata te marae.
My meeting ground is Tangata.
Nō Tāmaki Makaurau ahau.
I am from Auckland.

Ko Hayley toku ingoa.
My name is Hayley.

I was 16 when I learned from my grandma that I have whakapapa Māori. She sat me down one night and talked me through our whakapapa and our tīpuna, our family history and ancestors.

I grew up not knowing that I have whakapapa Māori, and that had a profound effect on how I reacted when I was told that I had Māori blood in my veins. It was almost an immediate rejection, which plunged me into self doubt about who I thought I was. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really accepted my Māoritanga, my Māori identity and heritage, through registering and becoming an official member of my iwi.

During my time studying as a journalist, I came across a few of my fellow peers who felt as I did and had kōrerorero (discussions) around what that meant for us as Māori. Some of them grasped their culture and threw everything they had into immersing themselves. Others, like me, went through a period where they just didn’t do anything about it because they felt like they didn’t belong.

Since then, I came to understand that the internal battle I had been fighting with myself was one that many people also waged war against. I came to understand that everyone has a different story when it comes to being a fair-skinned Māori, and that everyone deals with that struggle differently.

 

Dylan

Ko Manaia te māunga
My mountain is Manaia
Ko Terenga Pāraoa O Whangārei te awa
My river is Terenga Pāraoa O Whangārei
Ko Ngāti Pūkenga te iwi
My tribe is Ngāti Pūkenga
Ko Pakikaikutu te hapū
My subtribe is Pakikaikutu
Ko Pakikaikutu te marae
My meeting ground is Pakikaikutu
No Whangārei ahau
I am from Whangārei

Ko Dylan toku ingoa
My name is Dylan

Dylan Courtney (Ngāti Pūkenga, Pakikaikutu) grew up aware that he was Māori, but never really claimed his Māoritanga, his Māori heritage.

He began exploring his Māoritanga when he took up Kapa Haka in year 6 primary school and then through waiata (song). He realised how much he loved it.

“I loved everything about the culture, and it all made sense because I was Māori, so it started a lot of conversations from year 6 on. It’s interesting at the age I am now, I’m trying to find out as much as I can,” he tells me.

Dylan’s journey started at Northcote High School. After leaving intermediate, he says NHS really helped him find his Māori identity and allowed him to build the foundations that he needed for his culture to grow.

“I was always surrounded by the culture. It started there and then I began with Te Reo Māori, learning the language more. Of course, I still can’t speak it fluently now because to be honest, it’s a hard language to learn.” But he says that those beginnings, and the transition into Māori leadership roles within high school at years 12 and 13 allowed him to really get a grasp on his culture.

“I think that’s where that reconnecting changed and kept getting better and better to the point of where it is now, where I can proudly go up to someone and say: ‘I’m Māori and I can prove it.’ That started in high school. It has been building up and up and up until now.”

Dylan says he has never been worried about the colour of his skin. If anything, it made him more motivated to pursue his culture as a ‘white Māori’.

The idea of not looking ‘Māori enough’ comes from racial essentialism, which is the idea that your racial identity is tied to your features or characteristics, like your hair or your skin. Racial essentialism has links all the way back to colonisation and identifies the way Māori culture has been demonized for centuries.

The demonization of Māori, and the need to assimilate into the Pākehā way of life to fit in, led to an irreparable loss of culture that Māori are still trying to gain back today. That oftentimes manifests in how older generations come to interact with their culture, too.

Dylan mentions that his grandmother has enjoyed seeing her grandchildren learn about their Māori heritage because it means she can too. “Because [my cousins] have started to reconnect more, it’s started more conversations with my grandma,” he says. “I can see the joy on her face everytime we talk about it cause she knows that us finding our Māoridom will keep it going. I don’t think, until we started learning about it, my grandma knew how to do that because she’d grown up in such a colonised world. So now that we found our Māori culture, you can see the joy on her face. It’s cool.”

“For many, the loss of culture that comes from not knowing one’s whakapapa can feel a lot like, well, loss. I’ve had people explain it to me as missing a lung, or having a hole in your chest,” I say. Dylan agrees. “I’ll be honest, now that I look back on it, it felt like I had something missing my whole life up until that point,” he says.

Dylan in his graduation regalia and hieke, March 2021

From that time on, Dylan has mainly been learning about his whakapapa and especially, finding out more about his family. A Te Reo class he took at university helped him to keep practising his culture, but he says that finding out where his family is from has been most important. Since finding that tie to his culture, he will never let go. “At the end of the day I’ll always be Māori and I’m so blessed to have that.”

As for my own personal journey, that still has a long way to go. I look to people like Dylan for inspiration, that no matter how much I may think I don’t belong, I do. I recently registered with my iwi and became an official member of my tribe. It was an important step for me, the acceptance into my iwi, and it’s given me courage to carry on.

Dylan echoed this sentiment, saying: “To any culture we talk to: Pākehā, Asian, or European – I don’t care what your skin colour looks like. And if you’re a Māori, you’re Māori, you know? Kia ora.”

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