Being Māori at Otago University

Being Māori at Otago University

Being a fresh Māori navigating through University, I had a tough time dealing with identity when I arrived at Otago. In first year I was so overwhelmed by whitenon-Māori people I thought I was going to lose my reo, my culture and tikanga. I mean, I was already losing my tan and turning pasty in this freezer of a town – so I was afraid of change in every sense. 

But I was blessed to have found an abundance of Māori support on campus, and had nothing to worry about (except for my tan, R.I.P). I can write assignments and exams in Māori, annoy Aunty Pearl and the Māori Centre staff when I miss whānau, and have a safe haven in the form of Te Roopū Māori. Because of all that and more I can confidently call Otago my kāinga rua. 

So while I am comfortable enough living here, I was having a revelation in classes. Studying made me more critical about the state of Māori across the board – low education, poor health, drug abuse, high prison rates, shit housing, low employment, dying language, treaty settlements, youth suicides, I could go on. I started asking myself questions: what can I do to turn these concrete tables that force my people and culture to suffer? Why is institutional racism a thing? Why do these problems exist in the first place?

So in the small ways we can, many of us young Māori come to University to try and close the gaps, to turn that damn table. Being Indigenous to this land and treated as the Black Other we feel the impacts of colonisation keenly, and no shit it makes me mad as hell. But I can recognise where change is slowly happening, like when people want to incorporate reo Māori on signs and ask you to perform pōwhiri for important guests. But while this is the shiny side of the coin where society is embracing multiculturalism, I am afraid of the other side that calls 0800-Dial-a-Māori when it suits their needs but continues to ignore ours.

It’s frustrating finding a balance between trying to be a strong leader for your people, and a token native to others. So this is my challenge to my Māori peers: remember the words of Tā Apirana Ngata and continue to use the tools of the Pākeha as a means to sustain you, while holding firm to your Māoritanga. For my non-Māori peers, I implore you to open your mind to Māori, our culture, our struggles and our strengths.

Through my ups and downs at University one thing I know for sure is that “nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi,” (“with your food basket and my food basket we will all thrive”).

It’s 2018 and I ain’t no Jacinda but let’s do this. 

This article first appeared in Issue 15, 2018.
Posted 5:33pm Thursday 12th July 2018 by Taylor Terekia.