Enough will never be enough if we continue to solely understand this country through the singular lens of Pākehā beliefs, writes Anna Connell as she looks back on Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori

I happened to hear Julia Whaipooti on The Panel the other day. They were about to launch into a discussion of Abby Hartley’s death and whether the Government should have done more to help bring her home from Bali. Julia spoke in Te Reo, and mine isn’t good enough to fully understand what she said, but she explained that she wanted to acknowledge Abby’s death and her family before they got into politicising the issue. I was really struck by this. The language was beautiful – melodic and lyrical, respectful and reverent – but it wasn’t just that. It was that it was done in the first place that really got to me and I wondered whether a Pākehā commentator would ever have done the same.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori has now ended, the week in which we celebrate Te Reo Māori and now apparently also opportunistically hitch anti-Māori bandwagons to.

Despite studiously avoiding detractors of the resurgence of Te Reo Māori last week, some of them filtered through. After hearing Julia I realised that for me, as a Pākehā with a pretty kaka grasp of the language, that it’s not just about the words and that perhaps, if detractors were being honest with themselves, it’s not just about the words for them either but a wider rejection of something prompted by fear, misunderstanding, and hegemony.

I may never be able to converse, read or write Te Reo fluently but this doesn’t preclude me from understanding the value of looking at the world through a different lens. For me, the language is a conduit to Te Ao Māori, a world view and a way of doing things. When I hear critics of the language complaining about it ‘being forced down our throats’ I don’t hear just a criticism of the language but of Te Ao Māori; I hear a rejection of a culture, a way of doing things, a paradigm, a people.

I took a paper in my first year at Otago University. It was probably what they now call, Māori Studies 102. I got an A+ for it. I can’t recall but it’s entirely possible there were no Māori in my class. It was 1998. In Dunedin. At the time I was also having my tiny mind blown by the idea that Jesus wasn’t a dead white saviour man in the sky, but a dark skinned historical figure who did exist but probably wasn’t the literal son of God. I was learning about politics and history and world views and paradigms and I contextualised my Māori Studies paper in that way. I intellectualised it and wrote impassioned and probably quite horrible essays on Marae justice in my law exams.

Some of the critics happily accept different world views and paradigms when it comes to economics but can’t accept it when it applies to the foundation of this country.

Despite the naiveté apparent in understanding Te Ao Māori that way, I am grateful for that grounding. At a bare minimum, it was another paradigm to acknowledge and understand in the same way I understood political paradigms. It gave me the curiosity to be able to see that there is more than one way to do things. That is what I find perplexing about the criticism and rejection of both Te Reo and Te Ao Māori. Some of the critics happily accept different world views and paradigms when it comes to economics but can’t accept it when it applies to the foundation of this country.

I’ve spent time this week doing some recommended reading of Te Mana Whatu Ahuru’ – the King Country claims. There is a section on that report that neatly outlines Te Ao Māori for the less than familiar.

As a precursor to the rest of the 1500 page report, it works well to swiftly cement Te Ao Māori – tapu, mana, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, utu, tuku, and tikanga – as central to the treaty claim process and the grievances claimants have. Tapu, mana, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, utu, tuku, and tikanga are all words I understand and perhaps stick with me better because they represent values and beliefs that form part of the Māori world view. They are more than words, they are ways of doing things and perhaps it’s time we embraced it as much as we did the language last week.

When Pākehā complain about Māori still having their hand out on claims and ask when enough will be enough, I don’t think we’re thinking about it the right way. I think many Pākehā think about it as more money – cash to settle the claims. Instead we should be asking what enough looks like. What have we missed out on by fixating on the compensation and land ownership and not on everything else we’ve ignored and rejected? Enough will never be enough if we continue to try and solely understand this country and its challenges and opportunities, each other and our environment through the singular lens of Pākehā beliefs, systems and values. Enough will never be enough if we keep on only trying to do things our way.

Kelvin Davis talks about recalling Northland priest Charlie Shortland words about the Treaty of Waitangi being like a bridge between the Māori bank of a river and the Pākehā bank.

“How often have Pākehā crossed the bridge in the other direction and come on to our side of the river and lived amongst us and learned our language. What they are scared of is what they don’t know and they need to get to know us and have these conversations and find we are really good people but we just want a say in the way Aotearoa will move not just into the 21st century but the 22nd century as well,”

In November I marry a man who is Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara. I will take part of his name, ‘the Māori part’, and he will add mine to his. It will be a hellish combination for some – liberal overload and a crime against feminism. But to me, it’s more than a surname, a word – it’s the middle of a bridge and it’s a gift.

Me taipari whakarewa waka ngā whakairo.

Let us elevate our thoughts like a canoe upon a full tide.

– Nā Wharehuia Milroy

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