Tag Archives: Maori

Bay of Plenty

11 September, 2017

After a quick stop in Auckland for the night, our group set out for the Bay of Plenty via bus early this afternoon. Our destination was the Hairini Marae, located about four hours southeast of Auckland, in Tauranga. During the long and windy bus ride, I had ample time to reflect on our journey to this point and take in the stunning landscape rolling past the windows. I realized that most our time in Aotearoa (New Zealand) is already behind us; we will be spending three nights at the marae and one more night in Auckland before the conclusion of the program. I thought about how my understanding of the issues of sovereignty, environment, and representation have evolved with each new day, along with my understanding of Maori identity and culture. I reflected about the ways I can incorporate some of the knowledge I have acquired once I return to Seattle and resume my studies of psychology and education. I talked, laughed, and slept.

The tail end of a rainbow seen during our travels from Auckland to Tauranga.

At some point during all of this, a rainbow became visible in the distance. After admiring it briefly, Racquel and I joked about finding the “pot of gold” at the end so that we could get rich. Although the exchange was not meant to be serious, I found myself reflecting on how the rainbow and the joke relate to Maori identity. When visiting with MP Meka Whaitiri at Parliament in Wellington, she informed us that out of the entirety of New Zealand that belonged to Maori before white settlers came here, only about 5 percent of the land was still under Maori control. Knowing this fact and seeing how various Iwi (tribes) interact with their land and spaces, I began to think that Hairini Marae was a “pot of gold” of sorts. Because the Maori have a deep connection with the land, and because so much of that land no longer belongs to them, places like the marae have become isolated treasures. Instead of finding gold and becoming financially rich, Maori find cultural gold and enrich their identity through connection with land. When we arrived at Hairini Marae, I knew that our class had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The Ranginui whare on Hairini Marae, where we will spend the next three nights.


Māori Representation in WWI

September 9, 2017

A larger-than-life display of a kiwi soldier fighting in the Gallipoli battle during WWI.

Our first free day in Wellington consisted of rest and time exploring the city! The day before, we visited the famous Te Papa museum and got a special back of the house tour of their “Mana Whenua” exhibit, which loosely translates to “authority of the land.” The Mana Whenua exhibit was one of many in the expansive museum, so we decided to come back the next day and explore the rest, especially since it’s free! One place we hadn’t checked out was the Gallipoli exhibition. Gallipoli was a battle during World War I where New Zealand helped other Allied forces invade the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Sadly, the campaign ended with over 2,500 casualties on the New Zealand side. Despite the tragedy, the Gallipoli battle was very important as not only one of New Zealand’s first major steps in cultivating a sense of national identity, but also as the first battle where Māori and pākehā, or foreign settlers, fought together. In the exhibit, there was a large section detailing Māori involvement in the battle through The Māori Contingent, an all Māori battalion, which landed in Gallipoli in July of 1915. The display described how important Māori involvement was in the battle, earning them the respect and admiration of British and pākehā troops. But it also stated that many have overlooked their involvement historically. Seeing this reminded me of the fact that many modern treaty settlement claims being assessed by the Waitangi Tribunal are related to the health issues of Māori veterans involved in World War I and the Vietnam War. For context, the Waitangi Tribunal is a group of people tasked with hearing Māori claims of Treaty of Waitangi violations by European settlers. Part of the treaty claimed that Māori would gain the same rights and liberties as British citizens. However, after coming home from war many Māori soldiers were not given the same treatment as the pākehā veterans. Today, the grievances of Māori veterans, especially relating to PTSD, are finally being heard and settlements are being advocated for by the Waitangi Tribunal. Learning about the Tribunals current efforts and seeing the Māori Contingent soldiers receive recognition in the Gallipoli exhibit has made me hopeful that Māori veterans will be rightfully compensated for their service in the near the future.


Parliament and Politics

September 8, 2017

Today Meka Whaitiri, a member in the Labour Party, warmly greeted us and gave us a tour of the Parliament. She met us in the Māori Affairs Committee Room, which is located in the main Parliament building. The room served a similar function as a Marae, and the interior was similar to a Marae as well; instead of poupou (carvings on wood panels inside the meeting house of a Marae that usually have connections to ancestral lineage), there were portraits of previous Māori politicians. We were greeted in a fashion similar to a pōwhiri (a welcome protocol): exchanging a speech and a song, followed by the hongi. I found the resemblance to a Marae protocol to be significant in regards to not only paying respect to Māori ancestors and culture, but also to empowering Māori people who are involved in politics and represent their iwi (tribe).

The Parliament buildings (the Beehive on the left, and the main building on the right)

During the tour, we were taken to the court room where new laws are passed. The room had the names of countries that New Zealand had fought in war with. Following the tour, we had morning tea with Meka and discussed more about the Parliament. It stood out to me when Meka told us that there are some Māori members of parliament (MPs) who acknowledge their Māori whakapapa (genealogy) only when it is convenient or beneficial. In doing this, the genuine motive to represent Māori interests becomes illegitimate as well as the intention to represent the whakapapa that these MPs now conveniently claim to relate to. I found it disheartening that considering how proportionally little Māori there are in parliament, these Māori MP choose to represent certain sides or issues and turn to their whakapapa almost as a last resort. With whakapapa being a significantly large part of Māori culture, relating to their genealogy when convenient seems to undermine the roots of the culture and heritage they claim to have.

We had visited The Waitangi Tribunal two days before visitign the Parliament. The Waitangi Tribunal (a government entity) looks into past and present breaches from the Crown to the Treaty of Waitangi. The members at the Waitangi Tribunal are mostly all of Māori descent. After putting in immense time and effort of looking into claims, the Tribunal produces a written report that underlines Crown breaches and highlights recommendations regarding the claims. Despite that these reports are only recommendations and are not binding results, the members are extremely dedicated to the work they are doing. They were doing work that, although would not give affected Māori peoples any compensation for the hardship caused by breaches to the Treaty, they believed would make a difference. In comparison to the certain Māori MPs that only use their Māori genealogy to benefit themselves in politics, these Māori members at the Tribunal strongly held onto their whakapapa and used that as motivation.

These visits made me reflect on how Māori sovereignty in politics can become distorted due to how power is allocated to different political and government entities. The interests of MPs often do not benefit the whole, and can lead to malpractice. On the other hand, the system of politics sheds little light onto the Māori peoples (or groups like the Waitangi Tribunal), and this creates an environment where genuine interests are not prioritized.

— Eunice

Mysteries of Matiu Island

Tuesday, September 5th,

Today our class found ourselves on the glorious island of Matiu, or as some call it Somes island as well. Being owned by the Maori but operated by the Department of Conservation I was curious to see how these ideas came together on the island. While the previous day the rest of the group and myself went off exploring the island and interacting with its environment, today we got to see the Maori portion, or lack thereof in Matiu Island’s case and how it intersects with the environment.

A view of the island’s edges.

After our class session and some down time on the island, we got to meet with one of the rangers who provided our group with a lot more information on the Kaitiaki Plan and the Maori representation on the island, which other than the carved gate we saw at the wharf of the island was simply non-existent. From the ranger, we learned of the reason for this: despite the lower down rangers wanting to get the local Iwi’s (tribes) who owned the island involved more heavily, their efforts got consistently bogged down by the bureaucracy. The rapid turnover that takes place on the trust board that deals with Matiu Island makes things incredibly slow to move forward on the island. Furthermore, there is a lot of other Taonga (treasures) that this trust board has to deal with which take up time as well, and without proper resources to be able to address these areas, Matiu Island then lacks the proper cultural representation. Sadly this is many times a fact in democracies and with the bureaucracy, the wheels turn at a snail’s pace, and it is quite frustrating to deal with.

The carved gate to Matiu Island.

In a bit brighter spot from the lack of the Maori representation on the island, the environmental preservation and conservation programs seem to be doing quite well. The island’s had recent successes with several endangered species, including the Tuatara, a lizard native to only New Zealand, and the Kakariki, another endangered parakeet as well. Coming from what was once a barren island that was a quarantine station for Wellington and the surrounding area, now it is a verdant green island that is predator free and well protected. Though, as an environmentalist, the tree situation here was amusing and irritating; most trees aren’t from the area, or even New Zealand. I understand why this is though, back when the trees were planted, they put whatever they could get on the island, and are working on changing it now.

All in all, I was really interested in being able to explore and experience Matiu/Somes Island. I think that the island was a good look at how the Maori and Environment intersect, and the various issues relating to these themes. Also, I’m interested to see further into the government’s perspective in Wellington after getting a glimpse of it on the island. The trip out was a wonderful experience and I look forward to what Wellington will bring us in our knowledge.

–Nathan Vallejos

Leaving the Bay, Arriving in Auckland

A view of the Downtown of Auckland

Sunday, August 27th,

Today we found ourselves leaving the beautiful and inspirational Bay of Islands. Being a four hour bus ride from Paihia (where we stayed) to Auckland gave me time to reflect on the vast amount of knowledge that I already learned about the Maori in the Bay of Islands.

While reflecting on the bus watching the terrain shift between rolling grasslands and mountainous pine forests, I started to  think more upon something that we got to learn only a little bit about about while we visited the Bay of Islands: the environment, particularly resource management. On the bus, I definitely noticed that vast portions of the region were grazing fields for various animals, with sheep being the most prevalent. As we learned from the various Maori marae and people we visited over the past few days, these grazing fields are not an original part of the environment. These lands were once forested abodes populated by various species like the great tree, whose sheer size allowed for the Maori to build massive canoes used to travel and go to war with other Iwi (clans). These forests, especially the large trees don’t exist anymore, and I find it disheartening to see the level of environmental destruction that has taken place in New Zealand. It may not seem like it, as these lands are a beautiful shade of green and sheep frolic around but the forests, and thus the biodiversity has left the area as well.

Upon arriving in Auckland, the extensive urbanization of the region was quite evident. It reminds me a lot of how towns and cities in the United States are built versus those in Europe: out instead of up. Despite there being over a million people in Auckland, you won’t find many large skyscrapers in the city, even in downtown. The city is built outwards, taking up a lot of space. Similar to Seattle, the city lacks large scale infrastructure for transportation other than cars, and with large scale traffic this turns into unhealthy pollution.

Notice the lack of tall buildings in Auckland

It’s hard to look at these lands and think about how much they have changed, especially for the Maori people. The forests  that used to cover their lands aren’t there anymore, and that doesn’t let the Maori carve new meeting houses, build canoes and create tools and other items of cultural significance to them. But as we’ve seen in the Bay of Islands, the Maori continue to fight on, and I plan to join them to protect our environment for future generations to enjoy.

–Nathan Vallejos

Te Ara Wairua (The Spirits Pathway)

August 26, 2017

The group awoke to the gentle knocking of Rihari, our Māori guide, upon the inner wall of the carved house’s facade. As the eyelids peeled open, the sounding of sleeping bag zippers bounced off the walls where framed photographs of ancestors oversaw our slumber. As is customary within the Marae, Rihari lead us in prayer spoken in his native tongue of Te Reo. Though I could not understand the spoken words, I felt the weight of its meaning like gravity turned upside down within me. The energy brought me briskly to my feet, and I exited the house to bask in the glow of the new rising sun.

Sunrise at Roma Marae.

One of my main priorities of engagement for this program is to interact as often as possible with our Māori hosts, and I was pleased to be met with openness and enthusiasm by Rihari as we discussed matters of farmland conservation, youth engagement, and his 25 year career serving in the military alongside US troops in Vietnam and elsewhere. We spoke for close to twenty minutes, before he ushered us in for our communal breakfast.

Now, these meals are not simply people running through city streets with paper cups and egg mcmuffins as Americans have normalized within the rat race of capitalism; the vibe was that of ceremony and community. Our hosts included the Queen of the tribe, and they had been preparing for what I can only assume as long as an entire UW class period to fill our bellies with subsistence and WONDERFUL taste. And can you guess who was first to Eat? Of course, us. The guests are expected to serve themselves first from a 30 foot table brimming with something for everyone until their wrists give way beneath the weight upon the plates. After we’ve seated, the Queen, Rihari, and others members of the tribe follow, organizing their plates with humble portions.

I greatly value these meals. It is in those times when I bond with my UW classmates. Three days ago we were nearly strangers. Today, I could tell of their own tribal affiliations, genealogical makeup, and top five favorite movies of all-time. Following the meal, Rihari lead us once again in prayer, where we responded with a Māori song we have committed to memory in the interest of cultural immersion.

After packing up our gear and putting away the bedding provided to us, I once again had the privilege of sharing conversation with a Māori host – this time with Haami who is the chairman of the tribe consisting of 30,000+ members. All I had to do was ask him to tell a bit of his life’s story, and his response was a thoughtful oral history of where he began, where he’s been, and where he currently finds himself. I am choosing to keep that gift for myself.

Following a visit to their art center, Te Whare Whiri Toi, and a dizzying bus ride through the Northland countryside, we found ourselves atop what is considered to be the most spiritually significant place for Māori. This place is Te Rerenga Wairua, or Cape Reinga.

This northernmost point of the island is where Māori peoples spirits leave the material world to descend into the underworld (reinga) by sliding down a root into the sea below. The spirits then travel underwater to the Three Kings Islands where they climb out onto Ohaua, the highest point of the islands and bid their last farewell before returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki-A-Nui. Haami shared an anecdote where those who came to say their final farewells to the deceased had observed footprints in the sand where the dead walk. The path that they travel is distinct, even mapped out precisely by chief orators.

Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) is the beginning of the spirit’s pathway, leading to the ancestral home of Hawaiki.

Through an ecological lens, this landscape fascinates me. The soil, formed from underlying serpentine rock, has toxic levels of saline elements. It lacks others like calcium and phosphorus, which help plants grow. So the Cape is a strange heartland of dwarf plants, many found only there. This is also a meeting point for the Tasman Sea (to the west) and the Pacific Ocean. The result of their meeting is a unique swirling of currents, or the creation of life, between the male sea Te Moana Tāpokopoko a Tāwhaki and the female sea Te Tai of Whitirela – the beginning of it all.

The rest of the day was spent connecting with more amazing folks. Professor Chris Teuton and I spoke of our backgrounds, interests, literature, and how to improve memorizing ability with the “memory palace”. Dani, Racquel, Nathan, and I discussed racial and gender injustices. A group of us played a game. Some of us took advantage of the trampoline overlooking the bay, imagining what it is to fly. I hadn’t finally laid down to rest until 1:30am after extensive talks with Eunice, Dani, David, and Matt about our lives, dreams, and how or heritage influences our world views. And here I sit in our rental house, listening to the laughter of blooming friendship, the howling of the wind, and a very full dishwashing machine.

–Steve Guardi