Does NZ have a problem with anti-Māori racism?

April 2017

Does NZ have a problem with anti-Māori racism? This question was asked at the time that New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd has said he will not seek re-election after receiving abuse for campaigning for greater Māori representation in Taranaki. How sad.

What do I think? Yes we definitely have a problem. A complex problem that doesn’t have any easy answers. Like Andrew Judd although to a lesser extent I have experienced quite a bit of racist comments when I have spoken to people about my learning Te Reo. The most common comment I get is “why would you want to learn Te Reo? Some from people genuinely interested in what motivates me – but many with a kind of derogatory tone.

My experience in NZ is that racist attitudes are common, not only towards Māori but to Pacific peoples, Asians, Muslims, people with disabilities to name few. People are scared of the unknown, scared of difference. Anything not like me is somehow wrong. The majority of people will band together in their own groups where they feel safe. Is it a tribal thing that groups are formed of your “own people” and then the aim is to convert, have power over or even go to war with the other tribe? The fear that somehow they (the other tribes) will jeopardize your way of living, take something from you, kill you..

The answer is definitely to have conversations. But people need to be ready for that and we in NZ are not quite ready. Māori are still fighting for their identity, for their rights to their language, their land. Many are still angry from the wounds of colonization. This wounding and anger can be intimidating for Pākehā/Tauiwi and can result in some of the negative attitudes. People who have chosen not to look more deeply into the devastating consequences of colonization can have the  popular in NZ attitude ” just get over it!”  UNHELPFUL.  Anyone with any serious problem will know that someone telling them to “just get over it” will only make them feel misunderstood and more defensive.

So, my answer has been to learn Te reo Māori and to experience tikanga in an immersion setting. I believe it is the only way to really have that conversation. I acknowledge that Māori have had to learn the ways of Pākehā and to make the relationship more equal and to deepen my understanding I chose to do this learning. What I was not expecting was that what I received back was infinitely more than what I put in. I have learnt so much (see some of my earlier posts) , not only about Te Ao Māori but about myself and my attitudes and I have also delved deeper into trying to work out my own complicated whakapapa and who I am….  not there yet.


Would people in France ask someone why they are learning French?

I have been learning te reo Mäori now for three years. I am of Jewish-German descent and grew up in Australia.  I left at age 19 and my wanderings took me to Israel and then here to Aotearoa.

I have a tendency to throw myself headlong into whatever I do – it has been no exception with learning te reo Maori. At work, socially and just about everywhere I go I am outspoken about what I am doing. My close people think it’s great that I am doing this and I am grateful for their support. Then there are the many random people that I talk to at work, neighbours and others I meet during day to day interactions. A few find it hard to cover up their racist views and some possibly think I am just plain crazy. ( I do live in a very white, right, middle class area.) The majority of people though will say something like “that’s nice” (not really interested) and others ask “but why?”, “what for?” and most will ask “what are you going to do with it?”  My responses vary from short and sweet “Why not” to longer discussions if people want to know more.

I have been thinking about why so many people that I meet find it so curious and need to question me (or anyone) as to why I am learning an official language, the first language of our country. Ko te reo rangatira. Would people in France ask someone why they are learning French? We are in the Pacific and Mäori is a pacific language. It belongs here and the more I learn the more it feels so right for this place.  As I have said before a culture cannot be really known until the language is known. Te ao Mäori has so much to offer. Apart from the reo being beautiful, poetic, spiritual and in tune with nature, the tikanga also has a deep and inherent wisdom. My hope is for it to be just a normal thing for all people to learn and speak Mäori.

Here’s to a truly bi-cultural country! People who are bi-lingual do better, kids learn better. You can see things from different perspectives and be more compassionate towards differences. Make te reo Mäori compulsory in schools!!

Oy vey: I’m sounding like a politician.

Ka pai: Kua whakaputa ahau i täku whakaaro e pä ana ki tënei kaupapa.


Living between two worlds

So what’s happening with my learning Te Reo Māori?

I guess I’m having a bit of a break. The level 4 class that I did in Manukau came to an end. Now I go on Tuesday evenings to the level 3 class to consolidate, practice and help where I can.

I’ve had a rough ride these last couple of months. My mental health has not been good. Few reasons I can think of – Its winter, went to visit my mother – always triggers emotions.  Brother Chuck was there and his partner Stella which was great. However, I feel a great divide between me and my family. I am uncompromisingly anti-occupation – be it in Aotearoa or Palestine. In the eyes of my family and friends in Israel this makes me anti-Israel and therefore on the side of the enemy.  I have felt a growing anger about the occupation for some years now, since I decided to read and educate myself on what exactly happened with the formation of the state of Israel.  Anyway maybe I’ll talk more about that sometime else but suffice to say that the current war in Israel/Palestine has effected me greatly.

I have been feeling somewhat disconnected from te ao Māori as well – Aotearoa/New Zealand seems quite schizophrenic to me – there are really 2 worlds here: a Pākehā world and a Māori world.  Most of the time now I feel like I don’t belong in either. Somehow, the learning of te reo Māori is still important to me – I am wanting to continue and have begun enrolment into Te Wānanga Aotearoa. I guess with my pain around what’s happening in Israel/Palestine the learning of te reo is a way I can express my political viewpoint.  The issue of the two worlds is such that I am learning te reo Māori and tikanga Māori in an immersion method – and can totally see that the language is inseparable from the culture.

Ko te Reo te tikanga, ko te tikanga te Reo.  Is that a whakatauki? or did I just make that up?

What this means is that te reo Māori is an alive language embedded within a rich, spiritual culture and I love it, I feel comfortable with it.  But I don’t really have where to go with it – I go back to te ao Pākehā- to work etc and although I do my bits in Māori – colleagues are getting used to me greeting, speaking and singing bits of Māori through the work day. And occasionally I have been able to have some conversations with customers and friends in Māori.

Oy vey: I don’t know which world I belong to.

Ka pai: I can bridge two worlds and see things from both perspectives.


Still hanging in there with my “Te Reo journey”

I just found this saved in my documents from almost a year ago.

September 2013

What a journey!

So Im still studying Te Reo Maori although it doesn’t feel right to say that I am “studying”.
It is really more that I am experiencing Tikanga Maori through immersion learning of  Te Reo Maori.  I feel extremely privileged, lucky to have found the group I am learning with. Loving, giving people.

A sentence I often hear from my esteemed Kaiako” its only you who stops yourself ” Its so true, I question myself all the time, what are my motives? Well I guess everyone has motives for different things they do.

I’ve spoken before about my motives of wanting to belong, of learning a language to help my health issues, and my motives (political) of supporting the continuance of the first language of Aotearoa.

As I go on though I’ve had other thoughts, like it doesn’t matter what my motive is, I’m loving it, I’m getting something from it so I’m doing it.  I have spent a large part of my life trying to do what I think other people want from me in order to be accepted, be recognised, be appreciated..  Guess what?? It hasn’t worked. I’m doing this because I want to – that feels good. But I can feel the old dynamics surfacing – still wanting some sort of recognition.  Only I can give this to myself. I know it well but one thing to know it and another to not be dragged back when the going gets tough.

And as I go on I have felt its been a bit like a love affair – I get excited /and nervous before going to class, I feel quite elated when Im “IN” the immersion. Kei roto i te reo.  Then I go down in mood afterwards as I wait till next class.

Oy vey: I have a pathetic track record for relationships.

Ka pai: This is different, hang in there. Kia kaha!


A different learning model: going at your own speed


I’m half way through my third year of learning te reo Mäori. So, this year a couple us are doing the level 3 class again as tuakana (older siblings) as kind of  helpers. We help by sitting with the new students and also by modelling the “ture” rules, the code of behaviour.  This includes things like making sure everyone can go at their own speed regardless of their level of te reo.  I must talk about this rule a little.  It has been amazing experiencing a different model of learning to what we all know from school.  In formal education there is a class of students and all are expected to reach a certain level of curriculum by a certain stage. In our classes it dosn’t work like that. In reality everyone is different, coming in at a different level and with a different learning style and at different speeds. It is unrealistic to expect that people will be able to get to the same place at the same time. The way I see it, it is a vertical structure rather than horizontal. Students start at there own point and travel along at their own speed. In reality this calls for much patience in class – to respect others who are in a different place to you. A common behaviour that we don’t encourage is helping someone else by telling them the answer. Unless they ask for help. A student must have the space to do it in their own time. We work in groups and mostly the groups are arranged by having people of similar levels in them. 

For me personally this is a continuing learning curve. Two main reason. Firstly, my default position has always been that I am not good enough, can’t get it right etc, so I can get very stressed and flustered if I feel like I SHOULD be doing something better etc. The pressure I put on myself is exactly that: pressure that I put on myself. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m ok as I am and I can go at my own speed and not like anyone else. Sounds easy enough but changing a lifelong tendency to feel like I have to please others, especially teachers, is hard going.  Secondly, I do admit to having a tendency to jump in and “help” when I know something and someone else doesn’t. We like to think of this as being “just trying to help” but in fact it can be just the opposite. I don’t like seeing the discomfort and struggle in the other person and automatically try to relieve it. I remember how frustrated I felt in my first year – I even went home in tears sometimes!! I’m thankful to have this awareness of myself doing it as I am learning lots about myself as well as this reo ataahua. 

Ngä mihi nui ki wënei akoranga.

About Waiata

Waiata is a hugely important part of te ao Mäori. There are many different types of waiata such as hïmene – hymns, waiata a ringa which are the waiata with hand movements and moteatea – chant like songs that tell a story usually from the past. Mäori being an oral language much of the culture is embedded in the variety of different songs. There are also love songs, war songs, songs especially for tangi – funerals.

Waiata is one of the highlights for me of learning  te reo and tikanga Mäori. I have always loved music, I played instruments including violin, recorder and guitar but singing is my favourite. There are hundreds probably thousands of waiata they are written all the time for a myriad of different occasions and different kaupapa. In our classes we sing many waiata pertaining to the taonga, the importance of the language te reo Mäori. The tikanga is embedded within these songs. I find them moving and I learn from them.

Something I say over and over is that you cannot really know a culture without knowing the language – not deeply and in context.

It is an incredible feeling to sing in a group of people who are all passionate about what they are singing. I have been moved to tears on a few such occasions. I remember at the hui whanui singing with some 300 other people – there is nothing like it. For me I feel that within the song are all the emotions of joy, sadness, the history and the future dreams. Te reo Mäori is such a physical and expressive language and the people also – and it comes out in the singing. Words in English at this point cannot fully express what I am trying to say, and my Mäori is not good enough yet either…

Oct 2013: Hui Whanui

Oct 13

Its that time of year when all of the whänau Ataarangi get together for the annual hui whänui.  What an amazing thing: hundreds of people converging for the kaupapa of speaking te reo Mäori.  Te Ataatarangi is a pan tribal organisation, as far as I can see the number one goal is to preserve the language.  Every year the hui is hosted in a different rohe or area which will mean that the tikanga, customs of the residing iwi will underpin the hui.

2012 was my first hui. I was terrified. I had plenty enough anxiety just getting along to class each week and this was on another scale altogether. No speaking English for 3 days!!  The hui was in Te Kuiti, the pöwhiri was epic! we sat for hours listening to the whaikörero. We had been taught the basics structure of a pöwhiri so I had some familiarity but really I understood next to nothing. Some of our group were frustrated with the length, I definitely was not comfortable but I was happy to let it wash over me. I had come for this experience and I was going to go with the flow and take in as much as I could. As one of a small minority of Päkehä, I felt a bit conspicuous at first but very soon that disappeared and I became a part of the whänau.

Again, I think of the metaphor of getting in the waka and arriving in another country, only its the same country Aotearoa and its run by Mäori and the dominant language is Mäori. The feeling is very hard to describe in words. For me I guess I think it must be how new immigrants feel arriving at a new county that speaks another language to their own. But te reo Mäori belongs in this country. We are in the Pacific, English is not the language of the pacific – it was brought here: ergo colonisation. The thing is about te reo Mäori is that it is a language that connects with nature, connects with a spirituality and connects people. It is a connecting language. I love it, it make sense to me. Why? I have not fully worked it out yet which is fine. This is a journey for me and I am learning many things about te ao Mäori and about myself.

Back to the hui, it all seems a blur now, but my memory of it is one of overwhelm, but also a deep feeling of privilege to be able to be part of it.

The 2013 hui was held at Whakatu/Nelson. Having just that little more reo and understanding really made a difference. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but still felt quite emotional at times especially when we sang waiata and karakia. I think I’ll do a separate blog on waiata.

tihei mauri ora

July 2013: Toku Pepeha

July 2013


Nö Tiamani öku tüpuna

Ko Hïperu töku iwi

I te taha o töku päpä ko Grumach töku Hapu

I te taha o töku mämä ko Landshut töku Hapu

Ko Strathnaver ko Galilleo öku waka

Nä ënei waka öku whanaunga i hari mai i te Holocaust ki te wähi wetewete

Näianei ko Aotearoa töku kainga

Kei Orewa e noho ana

Ko Pukeora te maunga

Ko Te Weiti te awa

Ko Okura te moana

Ko Te Herenga Waka o Orewa te marae


I love the tikanga of the pepeha.  For Mäori the listener can picture where the speaker is from.  It has been a struggle for me to work out how I can communicate my complex story of where I come from in Mäori.  Its hard enough to do in English!!!  We have learnt ours in class and apart from practising in the class setting there have been a couple of other occasions where I have spoken my pepeha.  On one occasion I was blown away when someone answered me and it turned out that his wife had a similar background to me, meaning that he had a little more understanding of who I am.  I also love the respect and ritual that this and the the whole Powhiri process engenders.

Ka kite ano



April 2013: Politics

April 2013

When I told my son I was finally following my dream of learning te reo Māori he was very supportive. BUT he said I should try not to be affected by politics. oy vey!  or yeah right!   Anyway, there’s no denying that there is a heap of politics around the Māori/Pākehā divide. Where am I with it?  To be honest the more I am immersed in the Māori world the more knowledge I gain about te ao Māori and therefore I am able to see things from a Māori viewpoint as well as Pākehā.  I strongly believe that I have to be able to know BOTH sides to even comment.  So many people are opinionated but they only see things from their own side.  That there has been – and still is – a major unjust occupation of Māori land/language/customs I am in no doubt.

I see some of the lasting evidence of this occupation in my te reo class.  At the start of the year I was aware of the Māori students in my class. Although the class is inclusive of anyone who wants to learn, it is most important for Māori to connect with their reo and their roots.  Herein lies the politics. Her are tangata whenua coming along to this course and learning something that should have been their birthright!  Many of their parents and grandparents were forbidden and/or punished when they spoke Māori.  Many well intentioned parents wanted their children not to speak Maori as they felt is was best for them to learn the language of the dominant culture.  Heart wrenching and also beautiful to see tangata whenua going through grieving and reclaiming their culture with pride.  I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of this and to do my little part of being an ambassador for promoting this beautiful language.


October 2012: The journey is more important than the destination

October 2012

Every now and then I have these “moments of clarity” or some feeling of inspiration that learning te reo Maori IS the absolute right thing for me to be doing.. I’m never entirely clear why I am doing it but it FEELS right and I WANT to do it and I am LOVING it. That should be enough reason I reckon. I’m intrigued by the many comments I get from people who I tell. Some are great and say “good on you” and “Wow, that’s amazing and I would love to do that too” But then there are others who are incredulous “Why would you want to do that?” and “What are you going to do with it”  This got me thinking about how we are so often in our society driven by what are we going to get out of something, what gain, what for etc. Its less common and seems less acceptable to just be doing something because you want to or having some calling to it like I have to this.

The journey is more important than the destination.  This is definitely true for me but obviously not for everyone. I am a journey person, I am not particularly ambitious. In fact I’m not really ambitious at all.  I have some ideas and dreams but mainly I guess I live in the moment. Although that is not to say that I am contented and at peace with myself and the world – far from it. I spend much of my time worrying about this and that.  Maybe more ambition would give me a focus but it does not seem to be who I am. I am working on trying to be who I am and be OK with that.  Today I will be proud that I am doing something I want to do and not for something or someone. Doing things because of my perception of what is expected of me has not got me anywhere so time to try something different.