I wish my friends knew that there is a struggle all Māori share silently: the struggle to express our culture in a way that doesn’t bring back the hellfire of colonisation all over again.
I wish my friends knew that Māori don’t get special treatment.
Please pause on this one. Ngāi Māori, like a lot of indigenous cultures, have had our land, language, and culture all stripped ruthlessly close to the bone. You may say, “yeah yeah, stop playing the victim card, I know all this.” The truth is, you don’t. If you’re not Māori you may know the words, but you haven’t walked every step of your existence with this reality hanging over your identity. For Māori this is our life, our pain, and the culmination of all our suffering summed up within a sentence. Yet we choose to rise up and rebuild our culture and identity, one step at a time. Not all of us do and it goes back to that sense of irreparable distance between us and our culture that many Māori feel, which, plain and simply, colonisation created. Has to be said. Moving forward, it takes time for an injured sense of cultural identity to heal. Leaders of Ngāi Māori stood up back then, creating a safe harbour for our people to start this healing process one person at a time. As modern Māori, we take up this responsibility too, building on our ancestors’ paradigm and empowering others to begin healing. However this isn’t the easiest thing to do when people keep saying “your language and culture are useless,” “your language is dead,” or, the best one, “your language is on the verge of extinction.” All of which people have told me, to my face, unashamedly. And I am certainly not the only one. Ask any one of your Māori friends and I guarantee they’ve have a similar experience. It’s a never-ending battle to be Māori and not stifle it, but it’s so worth it. For those who don’t or are yet to reach out to Te Reo or Ahurea, e hoa that’s okay, kai a koe te tikanga. How you do that is up to you. We’re all on this journey together as one body with many parts, each with our own confidences and insecurities. This is my first attempt at creating peace between two vastly different parts of who I am, so I feel you!
This is a touchy one because, for a lot of people, that is legitimately what it seems like and I get where you’re coming from. If you say this to me I won’t cringe or argue with you. I understand the line of thinking that led you to that assessment. So let me translate what may appear as special treatment into analogies that illustrate a perspective more accurate. Think about the credit card you still have handy but are trying to pay off and ditch because #realtalk it’s doing you no good. When you buy something that money isn’t just gone, it’s money you have to get back twice. Once to break even after spending it, twice to get you back to the same balance you had before you spent it, and that’s not even counting interest! However you chose to spend it and that’s the natural consequence of your decision. Think of the friend / boyfriend / girlfriend / parent / authority figure / sibling that didn’t just break your trust, but completely obliterated it by doing something so awful you try every day not think about it. Something hardly anyone, if anyone, knows. Their actions caused you a world of pain. Years later, when they’re saying “c’mon that was sooo long ago, get over it” or “why are you making such a big deal out of this? Move on with your life,” you’re still a million miles away from forgiveness. They hurt you. They don’t get off so easy. What transpired between our two cultures, between Māori and Pākehā, in many ways is like this—a relationship that went terribly, terribly wrong on a grand scale, with many multitudes making up either side of the relationship. It’s a given that working through this won’t be as simple as finding a ‘2 + 2 = 4’ solution. Relationships are messy, often without clarity, and it takes time to process and forgive. However instead of having two people working through the pain, we have thousands from both cultures having to deal with the original hurt on top of the repercussions it generated. Can you understand where I’m coming from? Actions have consequences. The perceived special treatment of Māori is a consequence of the original pain and an absolutely vital step to helping Māori heal and move forward. This does give rise to the question: when is enough, enough? But think, when was enough, enough to forgive the person that placed an unbearable measure of pain on your shoulders? Did it happen overnight or over a series of years? Because that’s the answer. Years. Slowly but surely we’re getting there though, so take heart! We’ve come a long way since colonisation.