Originally published 26 April 2021 by Salient
Eden Roberts, Ngāpuhi (She/Her)
It can be a strange feeling to know you are a part of a culture, but not feel any connection to it. To be asked what your hapū and iwi is, but answering with uncertainty. Knowing you have to introduce yourself with your pepeha, but you have no idea what that even means. Listening to those around you speak te reo, but just nodding and smiling because you don’t understand. These situations make you notice a large gap between you and what is supposed to be your culture. Something that is supposed to be a part of who you are.
Once I recognised that this gap made me feel discomfort and pain, I questioned why I felt like this, I questioned who I was, and I questioned my identity. Growing up and believing you are Pākehā, and then all of a sudden rethinking this and shifting your thoughts surrounding who you are, can be terrifying. That moment for me was silencing. Silencing in a way that struck me to my core. In a way where you can’t hear anything, and only see a new door waiting in front of you to be opened. For me it was simple, I needed to walk through this door in front of me and see what was behind it. Once I took that first step and peered through, it felt like my tūpuna were already there waiting for me with open arms full of aroha and excitement. My tūpuna were beaming with pride.
Claiming a Māori identity is not black and white. For so many Māori, this is something that we may want to reconnect with through healing, learning, understanding, etc. The impacts and lasting effects of internalised racism and intergenerational trauma which comes from colonisation, creates a heaviness that hurts. It takes courage to open yourself up to something that you have no idea about, and start a new journey of understanding who you are. I think this alone deepens what it means to claim a Māori identity. For so many of us, reconnecting is a lifelong trek that brings heavy emotions along with it. Some may not want to go on a journey of reconnecting, and this too is a part of being Māori.
My iwi is Ngāpuhi. Up north is where I belong through kinship and whakapapa, yet I have never even been further than Auckland. It’s hard to feel like you can claim your identity as tangata whenua when you have not experienced the feeling of tūrangawaewae, when you have not seen your maunga, have not swum in your awa, and have not walked between the walls and stood on the ground that your ancestors did. I struggled with this. I struggled with not feeling Māori enough, and the shame that comes with this. How can I say I am Māori, but have not even been welcomed on to my own marae? How can I say I am Māori when I haven’t stood on the land that makes me who I am? How can I be Māori if I don't even know the very basics of what makes me Māori?
Once I started unlearning these thoughts and understanding what it means to be Māori, I began to bridge that gap between who I was, and who I am now. I started telling myself that as a wahine Māori it is my birth right to claim my identity as tangata whenua. People often undermine this when they ask, “yeah but what percentage Māori are you?”, or “oh, so you’re only half Māori?”, and then go on to say, “weird, you don’t even look Māori”. This, to be blunt, is bullshit. We are Māori enough, and no matter what “percentage” is in our make-up, we are tangata whenua. No matter how much or how little we know, we are still tangata whenua. Once I understood this, I felt a sense of coming home, and I understood where I might fit into all of this. I realised that having whakapapa is enough, the rest will follow in its own time. This is a part of the journey.
My journey of reconnecting has not been simple or easy. It has looked like hours spent researching my whakapapa and filling in gaps in my family tree, reaching out to family members and nourishing those relationships, learning te reo, taking Māori studies at university, learning about tikanga, understanding how I can decolonise, building my purpose around upholding tino rangatiratanga, and so much more. Not only did my present life change, but my future shifted. I began to cultivate my spaces in a way that centred around this new identity that I was stepping into. I started to gain confidence and felt as though I had the strength to move forward in a way that reflected who I was becoming, and who I wanted to be.
I found myself being angry at family members for not having any knowledge to pass on to me, because they simply did not know, or care to know. I found myself upset that something which is a part of me felt so foreign and otherworldly to me. I mourned the years that I felt had been lost. Embracing these emotions and using them to push me forward into my journey has been healing for me. I still carry those emotions, but I also now feel a sense of belonging, understanding, pride, happiness, and most importantly, I feel Māori enough.
Here’s a powerful whakataukī that resonates with me and my journey, and might light a spark for other wāhine Māori that are trying to understand their identity. I found this in the book ^Aroha by Dr Hinemoa Elder. “Ruia taitea, kia tū ko taikākā”. This translates to, “strip away the sapwood, the heartwood remains”. I understand this as your Māori identity will always be within you, you just need to find the internal courage to reveal your authentic, indigenous self, and reconnect. Our whakapapa is always behind us, around us, next to us, with us.
Ruia taitea, kia tū ko taikākā. I am displaced. I am learning. I am disconnected. I am Māori enough.