The Funambulist Correspondents 18 /// ‘PROUD TO BE MĀORI’: The Climate in Aotearoa that Perpetually Necessitates This Assertion


Dear reader, this text is published in the spirit of open-access as part of our new project entitled The Funambulist Correspondents. Every week for a bit over a year, we will publish a text written by one of our 28 commissioned correspondents in as many places of the world. The project is made possible through generous support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts

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This April, a multimedia campaign advocating for the educational, economic, and spiritual advancement of the Māori was launched nationally in Aotearoa. Calling for the Māori to be proud of their identity, whakapapa (lineage and ancestral ties), and tikanga (protocol and cultural outlook), the campaign also acknowledged the challenges faced by being urban Māori. 

The charitable trust Te Whānau o Waipareira released posters and a popular television/online campaign, featuring the Māori Party politician Rawiri Waititi singing ‘Proud to Be Māori’ among a showcase of other Māori faces. Waititi had defiantly sung this song inside parliament months before, and both of these renditions can be viewed online. Among other highlights in his short reign so far, Waititi recently made international headlines (including a piece in The New York Times) for refusing to wear a tie in parliament. He won the dispute which brought to the fore the outdated discriminatory dress-code policies that stopped Māori (and other multicultural representatives) from expressing themselves in their own formal attire.   

Waipareira Coco Rawiri Waititi
Rawiri Waititi / Image Courtesy: Waipareira Trust

Although Māori representation is found within other political parties, it is interesting that the Māori Party itself had lost all representation in parliament for three years following the 2017 election. This was until Rawiri Waititi won the tense race for the Māori electorate of Waiariki in 2020, taking it back for his party from Labour’s Tamati Coffey and securing his Māori Party co-leadership alongside Debbie Ngarewa-Packer in parliament.

What may make this campaign unique to the outsider looking in, perhaps, is the need for this simple message being necessary in 2021. Many would assume that pride in the Māori identity is a given, especially when tourists experience Aotearoa and performed New Zealand nationhood for the first time, and see Māori supposedly pushed front and centre by Pākeha (white settler colonial New Zealand). However, the political landscape for the Māori is starkly different from any international perception. 

In his essay, ‘New Zealand’s Perverse Ethnic Wealth Gap,’ Pete McKenzie writes, “In 2015, Stats NZ found that the median Pākehā had $114,000 in wealth – compared to $12,000 for the median Pasifika, $23,000 for the median Māori and $32,000 for the median Asian. While there’s an immense gap between Pākehā and all other ethnic groups, the wealth gap between the median Pākehā and Māori – $91,000 – is particularly notable. By 2018, the wealth of the median Pākehā had grown by $24,000 to $138,000. The wealth of other ethnic groups did not increase by a similar amount: just $14,000 for the median Asian, $3,000 for the median Pasifika, and $6,000 for the median Māori. These shifts caused the wealth gap between the median Pākehā and Māori to grow by almost 17 percent to $109,000.” Historic land confiscation plays an inextricable and irreversible role in this fiscal disenfranchisement for Māori, which can be seen in this image.

Strategic displacement of Māori from the Māori-owned land became a systemic estrangement from Māori agriculture, our language, family systems, and political systems, thereby pushing our people into urban cities for employment and survival. By 2013, 84% of Māori lived in urban areas, with a quarter living in the region of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. Consequently, it is estimated that 1 in 6 Māori cannot trace their bloodline and do not know where they come from. 

There were and there continue to be further strategies to break us away from our identity, e.g., the Native Schools Act 1867 saw the Māori language (often violently) banned in schools throughout the 19th and 20th century alongside The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, which was enforced to stop the Māori from using “traditional Māori healing practices which had a supernatural or spiritual element.” These tragedies have culminated in our people presently comprising 52.8% of the prison population in New Zealand, despite making up less than 15% of the national population. Of the total women’s prison population in Aotearoa, 62% are Māori, making us the most incarcerated group of indigenous women in the world.

This is obviously a mere snapshot, but I feel the simple assertion that we are ‘proud’ in this climate is a radical act after an onslaught of media and legislative conditioning that still happens today. There is still a public outcry when Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) is used during news broadcasts. Land confiscations are not a static or historic affair, this can be seen with the highly publicized and contentious dispute of Ihumātao in South Auckland which had a huge impact on young urban Māori having their voice heard. Considering our young population (over 53% of the Māori population is under 25), the participation of our young people in these issues will be the key to our advancement. It is important to me as a Māori person that I demystify for readers outside of Aotearoa the daily antagonism of the crown that affects us. It is a narrative I seldom see acknowledged on the international stage which makes our self-determination and reclamation of our truth (even in minor ways) all the more crucial.  

Within a landscape of systemic racism and oppression, Awerangi Tamihere from Waipareira Trust explains that they created the campaign with the intent to empower. 

“The continuous fight for equality that the Māori have had to endure reflects the mamae (pain) that has been impacting generations. The purpose of this campaign is to embody the narratives of our own values, allowing our community to unite, because together, we are stronger.”

Awerangi Tamihere, Waipareira Trust