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Ranginui Walker: On being a Māori

Ranginui Walker, June 15, 2009. Photo/David White/Listener

Why the “one people” myth is a cultural put-down and a denial of Māori identity.

“We are all one people,” said Captain Hobson, at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, to give expression to the birth of a new nation consisting of Māori and Pākehā. No doubt those famous words will be restated on February 6 this year in the annual commemorative rituals at Waitangi.

In recent times, Hobson’s words have been rephrased to “We are all New Zealanders” by politicians and other public figures who make pronouncements about Māori. In essence, this latest variation of the “one people” myth is a cultural put-down and a denial of Māori identity. It expresses our country’s deeply rooted commitment to assimilation as a solution to complex relations in a heterogeneous society.

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The Pākehā majority is so convinced of the inspirational effect of this unilateral myth of oneness that it seldom occurs to them to consult Māori views. Recently, I came into possession of a document circulating among Māori, called “Being a Māori Is”. With acknowledgements to its Tuhoe originators, the following selection is offered to measure against the one-people myth.

“Being a Māori is:

  • Having the greatest grandparents in the world.
  • Respecting your elders because they have earned it.
  • Having 250,000 brothers and sisters.
  • Fouling up the Government and its statistics.
  • Having nowhere for the kids to go, and getting a visit from the police who want to see them.
  • Not laughing at your children when they mispronounce your language.
  • Talking tough.
  • Not giving up the struggle for survival.
  • Waiting patiently for another Ngata, Buck or Te Kooti.
  • To love pāua and mussels and to be told you have to have a Pākehā permit.
  • To know the difference between a Māori, a Māori-Pākehā, a Pākehā-Māori and a Pākeha and to beware of the last two.
  • To never drink alone.
  • To be able to dodge daggers at Pākehā social gatherings.
  • To listen to all-white administrators and Uncle Toms tell you that we are all New Zealanders and not to know what that is.
  • To pray to God before a meeting.
  • Having a Pākehā tell you it is wrong to believe in more than one God and listen to him tell you about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, The Virgin Mary, St Patrick, St Francis, Joseph Smith, etc.
  • To welcome a Pākehā at a marae with the height of Māori poetic art and to receive a cup-of-tea conversation in reply.
  • To miss work because so many of your relations are dying.
  • Fighting for the New Zealand Government to save the country from the evils of communism and fighting the New Zealand Government to save your land.
  • Owning land and not being able to use it.
  • Going to school to eat your lunch.
  • Watching the teacher teach the other kids.
  • Punching a Pākehā in the mouth for saying you are dumb.
  • Getting your Pākehā spouse to go and ask the landlord for the flat.
  • Belonging to a particular tribe that is the best in the country.
  • Believing that your canoe is most certainly better than the Queen Mary.
  • Having your friends and relatives accuse you of being a traitor if you earn more than $7000, wear a tie and drive a new car.
  • Thinking there’s something wrong with your television when it appears to be always hooked up to Great Britain.
  • Watching Tarzan save Africa.
  • Liking Air New Zealand’s tail.
  • Feeding everyone who comes to the door and hunting for your best china for the Pākehā.
  • Buying your son new shoes because he gave his to his cousin.
  • Running yourself broke to service the marae to service the whole world.”

Being Māori is hard, being Māori is sad, being Māori is to laugh, being Māori is to cry, being Māori is forever. 

Ranginui Walker, from Whakatōhea, was an academic and Listener columnist. He died in 2016.

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