I am an immigrant. I came to New Zealand in the mid-sixties as a toddler with my parents, a young couple then in their early 20’s who arrived with £20 in their pocket and a huge dream for a new life. After 50 years they acknowledge it was the best move they ever made!
This meant I started my schooling here at the beginning of the 1970s, and while at primary school I learned to make a poi* and to play tī rakau, the Māori stick game, (I can still sing the song!) I learned very little, if anything about Māori history or culture and have remembered even less.
*poi – a light ball on a string of varying length which is swung or twirled rhythmically to a sung accompaniment.
As an adult, and since beginning my career in education almost two decades ago, I have muddled my way through situations that required some understanding of Māori tikanga, feeling uncomfortable and somewhat out of my depth while also feeling it had no bearing on me or my heritage.
However, that is no longer true, and the catalyst for this change was the Mātauranga Māori within New Zealand Libraries workshop I attended just over two years ago. It was delivered by Anahera Morehu and her team through Te Rōpū Whakahau at the Murihiku marae in Invercargill and it was awesome. I certainly came away from that day with more knowledge about tikanga, te reo & kaupapa Māori, but it was the epiphany about my relationship to these that was transformative. If you get the opportunity to attend one of these workshops, please please please do it! It is because of this very positive experience I began my journey towards understanding Māori ‘s connection with their whakapapa & their place in the world.
As a result of attending this workshop and listening to Victor Manawatu speak to our staff about local Māori history last year, I approached Leon Dunn, one of our wonderful staff members at Southland Boys’ High School about helping me to write my mihi*. I came to realise that a large part of my reluctance to use Te Reo Māori was my insecurity regarding pronunciation and not wanting to offend Māori by speaking their language incorrectly. Big thanks to Leon for helping me to face my fears and do it anyway!
*a Maori greeting, formal welcome speech, or expression of thanks
Then the rubber met the road when I was recently provided with the opportunity to use my mihi in public for the first time. I had been invited to present to the senior students at Aurora College about successful learning and felt it was not only appropriate but necessary for me to begin with my mihi. I admit to being more nervous about delivering a 30-second mihi than an hour-long presentation on information literacy skills!
Being courageous paid off when the Year 13 group applauded my mihi efforts! I was stunned and delighted, and when I shared with them that this was the first time I had been brave enough to do this in public they further encouraged me with a “well done, Miss! That was awesome!”
I now treasure a whole new appreciation gained about the power of mihi, mixed with the strong sense of pride and belonging it can bring, putting your own story together, sharing your lineage, your family roots in this way.
My regret is not embracing my fears earlier as it would have been very special to have been able to introduce myself in my country of birth using my adopted country’s native language when I presented at the LILAC Conference in Glasgow in 2012. I will not miss another opportunity like that again!