Throughout my life, I have always ticked Māori as my ethnicity. I knew that meant I was a statistic, I knew that meant I was stereotyped, I knew that meant I was different, but I never really knew what being Māori meant to me. For years I could name my iwi affiliations, but not know my hapū or the history of tūpuna and lineage. For years I knew how to count to 10 in te reo, how to recite the colours in reo, but I never really understood the meaning and importance of knowing te reo.
Society depicts Māori as brown people who were destined for a life of crime, a community of uneducated and violent people. I am pale-skinned, I love learning and I am a kind-hearted person. How could I be Māori if I did not fulfil those expectations set by the media, by the systems that uphold these expectations?
I grew up never truly fitting in Māori spaces. Never understanding the history of my ancestors and the effect of colonisation on our people. I grew up not knowing many Māori role models. Of those I did know, they looked indigenous, they spoke fluent te reo, they frequently visited their marae, they knew the stories of their tūpuna, they knew their whakapapa, they immersed themselves in Māori culture every day of their lives. I look up to these role models as they have mana, a lot of mana. I see them as people who understood their role in life, knew exactly who they were then and who they are now.
These people I saw as role models influenced what I thought Māori people thought it meant to be Māori. I thought I could only be a real Māori if I was brown, if I was fluent in te reo, if I visited my Marae, if I knew the stories of my tūpuna. It’s almost as if my expectations of what it means to be Māori, I unconsciously made unattainable, knowing that I could still exist as a statistic and still lead a decent life.
I knew I could lead a decent life because I had been surviving in Pākehā spaces for so long already. I knew I looked like them and spoke like them, but I always knew I was different. I found safety in knowing that I could pass as Pākehā, that people would not judge me against the Māori stereotypes, that in these spaces I was just human.
This safety didn’t last long because I saw myself as a liar, as inferior as I continued to hold my tongue when people around me expressed their racist views on Māori. I recognised that this safety was a façade… But as I grow older, continuing to question my values and my own identity, I can see that my culture is a big part of who I am, who I am meant to be. Of those years of yearning to have a superpower, to be different – I already was. I had never recognised that being Māori was my superpower. That being Māori, is magic.
Today, being Māori means being magic, having a superpower that not everyone will have the luxury of experiencing. To me, means having the blood of my ancestors flowing through my veins. It’s okay that I am not fluent in te reo, because I know that if I choose to, I can learn. Like all parts of Māori culture, understanding is what grounds me in my mana. It is my current journey of discovering my whakapapa that strengthens my relationship between myself and Māoritanga, my whānau, my tūpuna. Being Māori means knowing that I am, and with that knowledge, I feel empowered to do great things.