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Please consider taking some time to read this.
I am Maori. I may not look like your typical Maori but I still identify as a person of Maori ethnicity. I can admit that I cannot speak te reo as well as I would like to. I can admit that I do not know my whakapapa off by heart. But I am Maori, and I feel there is a problem in our great nation that needs to be addressed and I’m scared to talk about it, but here we go.
All of my life I have become accustomed to the term "plastic". I became familiar with this term and its meaning in primary school. Yes, you heard me correctly, in primary school. The place where children are taught the cognitive skills that they will use their whole life. I can’t remember a time where I haven’t been "the Maori kid". I’ve always carried this tag around with me because I’ve always been the first person people think about when hearing the word "Maori".
Since the later years of primary school I have always been asked the question "how Maori are you?". And all my life I’ve wondered why people are so intrigued about how Maori I am or what "percentage" Maori I am. Serious question, do I look like a pie chart? Should it matter how Maori I am? Is there a requirement as to how Maori I have to be, to identify as Maori?
It is a serious issue that this is happening in our schools in today’s society. I could go on for hours talking about the countless lazy attempts made by teachers and students to try to pronounce Maori words correctly, or the racist accents put on by my peers to imitate that of a stereotypical Maori person. These acts only make me feel undervalued, underappreciated, and disrespected. It makes me feel as if my entire culture and heritage is not worth putting in a small effort to pronounce that one Maori word with a few too many vowels in it.
New Zealand is a racist country no matter how hard we try to deny it or slide it under the rug. I would hate to have to raise my Maori child in this society. "Maori privilege" is a myth. The only privilege I can think of is coming home to a mean boil-up. I respect those who have put in an effort to help this problem, but it seems as if it is an issue that cannot be solved. The Maori population in New Zealand is reaching 800,000. This is only my experience, I would love for everyone to be exposed to the experiences of the 799,999 other Maori people. Because to be honest, I don’t have it nearly as hard as other Maori people do.
I am 16 years old. I shouldn’t be having to publicly speak about this. But if I’m the only one that feels this is a necessary discussion that needs to be had, then so be it. Because I love being Maori. We are beautiful, we are powerful, and we deserve to be respected. Be proud of who you are, where you come from, and what’s in your blood. Don’t forget the sacrifices of those who came before you. Don’t forget about the people who paved the way for us to dream bigger and to be whoever we want. You were born with permission to be amazing and to be whoever you want. You are worthy and don’t ever feel the need to justify who you are to someone who doesn’t understand.
Ko au ko koe, ko koe ko au. Naku te rourou, ngau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.
If you took the time to read this, thank you.
- Hadley Tamati is a Wanaka student.