The challenge of being a rakatahi future-maker

February 15, 2023

The challenge of being a rakatahi future-maker

Nā Sam Wixon

I was born and raised in Hawke’s Bay, outside our takiwā, but always with a sense of connection to Kāi Tahu, particularly Te Rau Aroha in Bluff. 

In 2009, I was fortunate to get down to our whānau mutton-birding island, Poutama, with my parents, siblings and poua. This was a really important moment in my life. Since then, I’ve always found myself interested in my Kāi Tahutaka, be it expressed through my art and design work or in a political or entrepreneurial sense. 

Creativity, innovation and governance are areas I’ve always been passionate about. From being enriched in STEM as part of the first Te Pōkai Ao rōpū in 2016, strategising as part of the working party for Rautaki Rakatahi 2018-19, innovating in my Young Enterprise Scheme business, developing a polystyrene alternative inspired by pōhā, to my roles as youth trustee on the Young Enterprise Trust Board and youth rep on the Hastings District Council District Development subcommittee. 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the many opportunities that have shaped my development. However, being a young Māori in Pākehā dominated spaces is difficult. Having a voice is super important, but it can be hard to speak up and push for meaningful change for young people and Māori when the power in the room lies with others. 

Based on my experience, I think it is really important we support our rakatahi to be great decision-makers and governors in our ways of thinking, with our values, because we have a voice that needs to be heard. 

The current generation of rakatahi,  who make up over 25 per cent of the tribe, are the first post-settlement generation. Most of us don’t have a living memory of our iwi without the Settlement. The world we have grown up in is a rapidly changing one, with the development of the digital world, and a global pandemic. Our lives have been driven by, as Tā Tipene O’Regan would say, “dynamic adaptation and rapid adoption, constantly surrounded by new technologies and turbulent change.” This was evident at a recent wānaka rakatahi I attended at Koukourarata where there was a real mindset focus on how we can thrive as an iwi, rather than a focus on survival. 

These are very desirable attributes to have within those shaping the future, especially in combination with the strong leadership that saw us reach our Settlement, and the leadership that built the strong position we are currently in. In 2019, Rautaki Rakatahi, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu rakatahi strategy, was produced. This was shaped by a rakatahi working group and one of the key pou identified was rakatahi representation in decision-making. 

As rakatahi, we consider it essential to have our right to act and speak on matters pertaining not only to rakatahi but also to the wider iwi and hapū affairs to be acknowledged. We seek a place where we can learn, a place where we can grow, and a place where we can contribute to our collective future (Rautaki Rakatahi strategy). This strategy was to be enacted from 2020-2025, and while we are now over halfway into this time frame, it feels like there has been little to no change and movement. This same sentiment was echoed at our recent rakatahi wānaka with the feeling that there is a disconnect between ourselves and older generations, and hence, with decisions being made by generations who don’t quite get us, we feel our iwi systems are not really serving our needs. 

Rakatahi are interested in leadership, with many already embarking on a journey into governance. Currently, like the national shift towards Māori being in decision-making positions, there is a shift towards having youth in decision-making positions, or at least around the table. With most of these being within Pākehā institutions or companies, rakatahi are being either trained into Pākehā ways of leadership or, like the hoaka to the pounamu, are being devoured in their efforts to create meaningful change in racist systems. 

As someone who has had the privilege of sitting on council subcommittees as a youth representative, a student trustee on my school board, and currently coming to the end of my term as the youth trustee on the Young Enterprise Scheme Board, I have had my leadership skills developed by great leaders and thinkers. However, as a rakatahi Māori, advocating for Māori futures in spaces that are dominated by Pākehā is difficult. 

I have experienced feelings of strain when I question if it’s worth all the effort and, since arriving at Tokona te Raki, I have been decolonising some of the ways I learnt to make decisions. In that sense, it is clear there is a need to foster our future iwi leaders in our ways of working. It is time to invest in producing sharp tools to carve a better future for our whānau, hapū and iwi. We all deserve to have a seat at the table to ensure decisions made about our future are reflective of all of us. 

We need to sort out “Mō tātou” before we can do “mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei.”