Apr 18, 2021


Maori News & Indigenous Views

Are We There Yet? “Hmmm, maybe” by Potaua

9 min read

We are told that death marks the end of the physical journey and begins the transcendence along our spiritual path. It is looked upon as the ultimate destination, a metaphysical spot where we are able to look back over a life lived, an impact made, stories told. It is here that I start my korero on ‘Are we there yet? To those who have left us recently, I dedicate this to you. Moe mai ra e nga whanaunga.

My own journey is no different from thousands of other young people in Aotearoa-New Zealand today – raised in the land of milk and honey, we were told this was the best country in the world and that our children and their children would inherit the blessings left by previous generations. I had no reason to doubt that…until recently…

The 1980’s were a mixed bag. While our whanau moved from the close proximity of hapu and marae life into expanding urban opportunities, most were unprepared and ill-advised on the changing market forces.

Our grandparents had taught our parents the values of hard work, loyalty and perseverance. You could expect to walk into a job straight out of school and could find work for the entirety of ones life. Much of that had been changing since the 1960’s but it wasn’t until the early 80’s when the impacts of those changes would be felt.

So, like many young Maori whanau, our mum and dad moved into the big lights of Rotorua. There, you could pick up work pretty easily. Government housing schemes allowed young families like ours to move into State Advance homes, Dad picked up a job working in a timber mill, mum embraced our home nest, preparing for a good life. It was late one night on TV1 news that we heard a word that would changes the fundamentals of our society and scar many whanau forever: Rogernomics.

Overnight, hundreds more families dropped under the poverty line, many of whom would never recover. Job losses across the state sector opened a gaping wound in many communities. I’m not too sure of the statistics but I do know most of the homes in our neighbourhood were hit hard.

Over a creeping few months, a deep depression set in. Many of our old people had talked about harsh experiences they had endured due to the decisions made in Parliament. The most significant decision was the theft of Te Urewera back in 1886, creating a nation in exile within New Zealand. Then came the wars – World War 1; World War 2; Korea; Vietnam – all decisions that demanded that Maori earn our citizenship through the sacrifice of blood.

What will always leave an impression on me from those days was that even when the chips are low, good people rise up in the community, willing to help. People like Aunty Janet Hurae, John Aorangi, Polly & John Merito, Roger Steele, Jill Chrisp, Joanne Aoki, Brian Potiki, Ruth Nicholls, Mary Dillon, Alice Jones, Koro Ripi and Nanny Mere Irving – our tribal elders in the urban jungle.

We also knew that when things were bad, the Government always had some way to make things a little worse. From tightening benefit eligibilities to the closure of training and work schemes, we all felt a little worse for wear for the poor treatment.

For a trip down memory lane, re-watch that movie ‘Once Were Warriors’. The book was written on our neighbourhood, Fordlands or Fordblock (Pineblock in the book) and the actual movie was a great insight into the rubbish that happened. Actually, the movie was quite tame in comparison and the roller coaster only lasted an hour and a half, while our experiences ravaged us for over a decade.

It is here that we emerge, some 20 years later and able, if not altogether ready, to reflect.

To start I ask then, how is it that we live in the land of milk and honey and people don’t have enough good food to eat? With food prices increasing and wages staying the same, it does feel like we buy less and pay more. Sure the best kai should go to markets off-shore but not all of it, surely. Can’t some be made available here, at a relatively good price? Or even in a locally owned supermarket chain, like KiwiBank?

Ummm, how is it that water which would sustain whole communities are now polluted or blocked to generate electricity, which we have to pay for? Also, although engineers say that re-filtered and recycled waste water is safe to drink, have any of them actually sampled a glass?

And why is it that racist old bastards like Don Brash can blame Maori for receiving special treatment by the State, ignoring 150 years of poor colonial and settler treatment and worse, over-emphasising the ‘rights’ we as Maori do have, which to be honest, is piss all compared to his world of rich white privilege?

One place we have definitely not reached is a country where Maori history is confirmed; rather it is conveniently denied or selectively cited. What has been cool was travelling the world and hearing Indian, South Korean and even young American people inquire with great interest about our country, hobbits and Maori culture.

Like most Maori have found, we are praised abroad and hated at home. Stink that.

One place we are there though is representing the crossroads of the world. While today’s majority are Pakeha – Kiwis of European descent – that will undoubtedly change. As the world moves, so do the people and it won’t be too long before a more homegrown population comes through; either that or India and China conspire to win us by way of hostile take-over. Can’t laugh – it happened to my old people.

Another place we are is in facing up to the fact that the world has changed and will continue to change. Some fight for and against the impacts of global warming; none argue the point when we look at the horrific damage done by the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Japanese Tsunami or the Christchurch earthquakes. There is consensus that our world is forever moving and we need to prepare for the worse.

Today, we speak mostly about the Treaty of Waitangi as an important pillar for New Zealand and have conveniently put the Declaration of Independence to the side. I’m not sure why. In the Treaty, we argue about the language versions – one English, one Maori – and the many interpretations between both. Yet it still remains important and I suspect, will mean even more in the coming years.

The Treaty of Waitangi cannot be separated from the Declaration of Independence, signed five years earlier and probably the key document to the formation of New Zealand as we know it. I have sat with some of the descendents to hear both documents explained and neither of them makes sense to me. In the first document, Maori are acknowledged as sovereign entities and in the next, asked to submit that same sovereignty to the Queen of England. Laughable but as we were soon to see, this was how India, Australia, America and Canada forced its way into existence and enacted worldwide genocide on indigenous people.

One place I would love to see our country is more in tune with our collective past, celebrating the good and learning from the bad. My grandmother used to say this country has always been a kohanga for tamariki, a safe nest to raise families and one way to positively start would be to sing more songs from all nations in their tongue, making them our songs too. It’s happening more and more with the haka. Just check the schools to see the kids learning haka and being comfortable doing so.

My Koro Ginger would always say ‘learning our customs meant speaking our language’ so to those who keep te reo Maori alive, you are held deeply in my heart.

One of the things about being an urban Gen X is our almost blissful unawareness that pop culture and the modern West is purely an English speaking network of ex-colonies, sports exchanges, business relationships and holiday destinations. In that, our main calendar of events is a clash of old New Zealand and the new World. Is it any wonder then that many young Maori can’t speak Maori?

Nearly everywhere I have travelled throughout Aotearoa, I have heard one consistent story – that every man, women and child was punished for being Maori prior to our generation being born. Our parents and grandparents would get hit at school by the teacher for speaking Maori. Maori land was taken, legally and illegally. If there was a point I would really love to see is a genuine apology from New Zealand for being so mean to our old people.

But that doesn’t acknowledge what we have had to experience I suppose. It is tough being a pawn in the game of life. At best, we can expect to move one step forward or one step to the side. What make us nervous is that we are expendable and I think many young Maori today feel that way. This feeling can grow into fear, which brings about that fight or flight complex. We’ve all seen fighting each other is bad and fighting the state can be futile so leave to Australia. I’m not the only one who has whanau that say as soon as they landed in Australia, they could feel the weight lift from their shoulders.

And I’m not the only one who remembers what it was like growing up here in Aotearoa, back in our home towns and living close to whanau. Many of us have now come home to be around whanau and to reconnect with that familiarity. Some are stuck here for sure but others can see that the paepae and the homelands are calling their name and have slowly accepted that honour and responsibility.

Much will come from what happens over the next few months – yes, we do have the responsibility of hosting the Rugby World Cup from September to late October and we are also painfully aware that a General election will follow that. I think what will be interesting is if it is possible to unify, reflect on our past and collect ourselves in time to host the world. If the weekly headlines are anything to go by though, no we will not as we are effectively a nation at war.

The rich get tax breaks, the poor get service cuts. The farmers are polluting the waters, big business is profiting from control of free natural resources. People hate politicians, the Police stay unaccountable behind the thin blue wall (the Police can shoot and kill my cousin Lachan Tumarae and get away with it, yet Tiki Taane gets arrested for singing a song now that’s bullshit). Everywhere is war.

Everyday I see whanau who are homeless, living hand to mouth. Just last week, I sat dumbstruck as the Rotorua District Council sought to dispossess and exterminate local hapu by authorising an intrusive road development. Ah that word again – development. We are always made aware that no one gets in the way of progress, even if you have had continual occupation of those lands for centuries. Well, at least the Mayor and the Councillors get to go home to their nice warm houses.

So, are we there yet?

In some respects, no. New Zealand today faces some of the biggest challenges ever – just look to the rebuild of Christchurch and the great uncertainly there. We try to prepare as best we can but some things just can’t be planned for – colonisation was that for Maori; the Wars were that for my grandparents; Rogernomics was its name for my parents.

At the same time, yes we are there now. I must admit, I took the long way home. When I left, home was a boring struggle of hand me down clothes, don’t do that’s and everyone knew my business. I set out alone, like many of us do, and found friendship in Hamilton, in Opotiki, in Christchurch, in South Korea, in India, in Japan, in Cambodia. But yes, I made it home. With a cherished wife and two children in between. I don’t think I could have planned for that part of the journey – it was a lived path, experienced at speed with a hope to lift the fog and a determination to look for, and find, answers. It has been hard but fun all the way.

Today, I look forward to sitting down and making a plan for the next 10 years with my whanau so that hopefully, this pawn will cross the line and upgrade. You just never know…

Kokiri >>>

Are we there yet contributor?
July 2011

6 thoughts on “Are We There Yet? “Hmmm, maybe” by Potaua

  1. Kia ora Priyanca. My comments were more around the impact of European expansion and British colonisation throughout the World. Aotearoa-New Zealand saw the same people who came through Australia, South East Asia, South Africa, North America and India, causing fundamental shifts in our own growth and development and in some cases, eradicating locally inspired growth. Even today we can see all these great countries struggle with the legacy of colonisation. My comments weren’t that these nations were newly created – more they were forced into adopting new ‘alien’ systems. In the case of India, the colonisers moved out but in our instance, they stayed and have forced Maori to live European/British existences ever since.

  2. Kia Ora, Potaua. I learnt a lot reading your emotive and informative piece and respect your point of view. I would, however, love some clarification around this sentence:

    “Laughable but as we were soon to see, this was how India, Australia, America and Canada forced its way into existence and enacted worldwide genocide on indigenous people.”

    I ask this because I am not sure how India falls into the same category and is supposed to have “nacted worldwide genocide on indigenous people”

    The reason I ask is because India was in existence and to my view, extremely successful as an ancient civilisation long before colonisation. I seek clarification merely to better understand your viewpoint and not as fodder for finger-pointing.

  3. Are we there yet? This ‘there’ place, is it static? Ever moving, changing, shifting. Kinda hard to aim for a place that isn’t fixed or static…Why isn’t it a fixed, static place? a whole bunch of reasons really, coz we can’t as a country agree on what this ‘there’ place is…its different for P?keha, different for M?ori, different for everyone!

    Ae, he pae tawhiti t?ra e wh?ia nei, ae k?ore i te m?rama te kitea i t?nei w?, ae kua mau te waka e te korokoro o Te Parata. Heoi kua mau te aro ki te waahi e kiia nei ko ‘there’.

    T?na, here’s a visualisation excercise…what does ‘there’ look like, feel like, taste like. smell like, sound like to you?

    I heart this series!

  4. Woah,

    That was really close to home Potaua.

    I was born and bred in South Auckland, in the 70’s.

    My Iwi and Hapuu were part of the migration from the Waikato since the 50’s to places like Pukekohe (Gardens) Papakura (Gardens) , Otahuhu/Penrose (Meat and Steel works) and as Muldoon came on to the scene places like Otara, Glen Innes.
    Essentially, because of the Great Depression, but mainly because work around or near our hau kainga was scarce.

    My parents came to AK in the 60’s. This led to many whanau (including my own) disconnecting with their marae, and centralising around whanau homes in the city. The only time I would go back to our marae, would mainly be for Tangi. Because of this, I associated the Marae with saddness only, so the attraction to city “things” kept my mind busy, so to speak.

    My whanau elders (during the 50’s to 70’s) felt the pain of this consequence, but knew they had to move for pure SURVIVAL.
    English was the order of the day, so was having small family units, unlike us whanau collectives with elders who spoke Te Reo only, but my parents did the best they could to circulate around the whanau whanui of the City, during that time, and still do.

    Our reconnection with our marae has been a tumultuous affair. Many whanau who kept the Ahi Kaa burning for us, did not accept our migration, but the healing is happening, and time will tell us the truth on that matter. It’s hard.

    Socio – economic poverty still currently reigns within my “City” whanau. The cycles of violence, poor health and financial hardship are alive and well, and NOT looking positive anytime soon.
    Regular visits to my Aunty and Uncle, who own their own home 10 mins away from my own quite descent property, is a continual reminder of the failings of our political system on our people.

    I know though, that this is also shared with our polynesian brothers who migrated, and intergrated into my whanau whanui in the City. I love them all.

    I saw my first Asian looking “dude” when I was about 8. My first indian “dude” when I was 12. They were novel to us maori and pakeha kids, and acceptance took a long time. I feel sorry for their intergration, they must have felt like second class citizens like us.

    My haven’t times changed.

    Asian communities have thrived, while Maori stats stay true to the bottom.
    There is a level of aspiration that the Asian community thrives in, while OUR people still struggle with the adversity our tuupuna had to endure.

    – Grievances instead of Aspirations – Time for Change.

    It is with HOPE that I look to our political leaders, but the messages are VERY mixed.
    Our people need certainty NOW, not later.
    Our people need aspirations NOW, not later.
    Our people need guidance to better living NOW, not later.

    I can only see one future for my Maori people, and that is to take the LABEL off the spirit of our people.
    Before we were a RACE, we were Mauri.

    I know there are other “views” on the future of our people. I can only align to the core principle of Tikanga, because the aspirations of our tuupuna is enshrined in this principle. It’s time to use it for CHANGE.


    E te Iwi Mana Mauri e

    Nga mihi!!

  5. Ka pai Potaua. I can resonate with so much of what you have written, due to growing up around the same time I guess. Awesome overview of the years gone by. I look forward to reading all the other contributors around “Are we there yet?”.

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