Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Defining Māori

This is another rough draft which still needs a lot of work. The connections are clear in my head, but they haven't made it onto the page yet. It has come out of discussions with several friends about our identity as Māori. I have learnt a lot about myself from listening to Rouge, Zac, Sarsha, Kat, Hana and Pip. I also need to thank Leah Whiu and Moana Jackson for helping me to understand what it was I was trying to say. And Kirsty for listening to me explore these ideas, and for comments on an earlier draft.


I feel conflicted about my identity as Māori, and I know many other people feel similarly about their Māori identity. Why is this? I’m certain it isn’t for the reasons of previous generations, when some Māori had been made to feel so much shame in their heritage that they invented other ancestries, claiming southern European or other origins. So why is it then? Why are so many of us uncertain of our standing as Māori? In this essay, I explain it as an effect of colonisation, and show how it can affect the futures we are able to imagine.

Colonisation invented a story of who Māori are: it made Māori a race, and made up a limited set of characteristics for that race. These stereotypes are not controlled by us (Māori), they limit us, and they serve the purposes of ongoing cultural imperialism. They make us uncomfortable in our own skins and on our own land. They are used to blame us for the problems created by colonisation. It is essential that we develop our own answers to the question of what it means to be Māori.

I should first explain that I have very good reasons to be uncertain about my ethnic identity. I was adopted by my Pākehā family at birth, I am often read as Pākehā, and I didn’t even know for sure that I have Māori whakapapa until I was 33 and managed to track down my birth father. Until recently, my experience of being Māori was never knowing how to answer questions about my ethnicity, and trying not to care what the answer was so I wouldn’t feel disappointed or fake if I was wrong. In a society that is so monoculturally Pākehā, this meant being Pākehā—which means I didn’t have to experience much racist crap, and I will always benefit from white privilege. I feel guilt because this means I’ve had an easy ride. At the same time, it hasn’t been a joy ride. I was asked if I am Māori regularly enough that I knew I wasn’t completely passing as Pākehā. It didn’t matter how many times my parents said they had been guaranteed I was Pākehā, other people seemed unconvinced. It was unsettling to know that I didn’t completely fit the box I was supposed to be in, and yet I couldn’t choose another one.

But my insecurity is far from unique, and my personal history doesn't explain why I still feel conflicted. What are the sources of conflict in my and others’ identity as Māori? Why do I feel almost apologetic when I say I am Māori? It isn’t because I am ashamed of what it means to be Māori; it’s the opposite. I am not Māori enough. Being culturally Pākehā, I feel like an imposter—or as Te Arawa said to Tipene O’Regan, a Pākehā with a whakapapa (cited in O’Regan, p 54). I am too pale, too urban, too schooled in Pākehātanga, too middle-class, too vegan, too kuare, too geeky, and as smart as I think I am, I cannot speak te reo. I can’t sing, I don’t play sport, I don’t eat meat or seafood, I don’t listen to music, I’ve never lived at a pā, or even within my iwi’s rohe, and until three years ago, I hadn’t set foot on the land of my tūpuna Māori.

This list of ways I don't feel authentically Māori shows what I have learnt to believe about what it means to be Māori. It is based on stereotypes, even if the experience of not fitting in is real. For example, the majority of Māori are urban and have little reo (Research New Zealand, p 5), so why do I feel too urban and ignorant of te reo? This is one of the many tragedies of colonisation—the coloniser didn’t just make up stories about Māori, it forces us to live them as our reality, and judges us as inauthentic if we don’t. We don't even get to choose these stereotypes that we are being judged against, but eventually, we end up judging ourselves against them too. We begin to ignore or forget that it is our whakapapa that makes us Māori. If anyone is to define what it means to be Māori, it should be ourselves.

The insult Te Arawa used to try to discredit O’Regan shows that many do not consider whakapapa to be the only criterion for Māori identity. Calling O'Regan a Pākehā with whakapapa, does not just dismiss his whakapapa, it insults all our whakapapa. They were saying that whakapapa is insufficient—you may have whakapapa, but you may not be Māori. They were saying that being Māori depends on something more, it depends on behaviour or culture. I want to look more at this idea that we should behave in some way if we are to be judged truly Māori.

The way that we see ourselves is constructed on more than whakapapa. There is external feedback from people reacting to us, and reading our ethnicities. This depends on their expectations of Māori, which might include behaviour, knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori, skin colour, dress, education, profession, diet, and countless other racial or cultural signifiers. Many of us who feel as if we fail on a crucial signifier, such as skin colour, try to compensate by excelling at another. For example, Hana O’Regan has spoken about how her fluency in te reo Māori has given her security in her identity as Māori (O’Regan, 10/10/2010), which had been challenged by both Māori and Pākehā (O’Regan, pp 20-21). This has been fantastic for Kāi Tahu, but not everyone will respond in such a positive way to discomfort around their identity, and not everyone will get to the place that she has, confident in their identity.

For those of us who have lived mostly in te ao Pākehā, most of the people we interact with will be Pākehā. It makes sense that our idea of what it means to be Māori will be influenced by Pākehā expectations. But after 200 plus years of European contact, even those who live in Māori communities, who have less interaction with Pākehā people, will still likely be influenced by European ideas of who Māori are. European ideas of racial identity, or othering, will also play a huge part.

There is a tradition of Europeans racialising the peoples they encountered as they traveled, traded, and attempted to control the world. The experience of Māori fits into this tradition of Othering and Orientalism. The characteristics Europeans associated with Māori are based on imperialism. We (Māori) have little ability to define how Māori are represented, or even defined.

This has implications for imagining constitutional frameworks for our future. There is a temptation to react against ‘their’ racist depictions of Māori by constructing our own racial identity; countering their negative messages with our positive ones. But, as I hope to show in this essay, race is a crap basis for identity—it is inherently limiting and dehumanising. Whakapapa is a genuine and useful foundation for identity, but we need to explore what that means. After a couple of centuries of colonisation, it may not be immediately obvious how whakapapa differs from race. But it is different, it has very different implications, and it needs to be the starting point for thinking about our future.

Colonisation hasn’t just racialised a Māori identity, it has messed with our ideas about gender. I don’t just mean the way we relate to each other—our understanding of colonisation itself, has been gendered. This has worked its way into our language and metaphors, and potentially our visions for decolonisation. We need to ensure that our visions are in all ways free from patriarchy.


Othering has been used to explain and deconstruct representations and treatment of cultures, genders and sexualities. Johnson and Pihama review the literature about Othering and much of the following is based on their work. Othering is a term that has been given to the situation where a privileged group defines itself as normal, and compares all other groups (the Other) against this normality. Others are described as opposite to the norm. Othering highlights differences between groups, while at the same time ignoring differences within the Othered groups. “Using its own values, experiences and culture as standards, the dominant group measures the Others and finds them lacking” (Johnson and Pihama, p 77). Biases that favour the dominant group are ignored, and any differences in outcomes (such as prison statistics, success at school or economic differences) are explained as coming from the shortcomings of the Other.

Johnson and Pihama summarise the effect of Othering on Māori in New Zealand. First, “difference is applied in ways which are not complimentary or positive for Māori or their interests and aspirations” (Johnson and Pihama, p 80). This includes using stereotypes as explanations to blame Māori for situations that are actually caused by structural racism (for example, Māori do poorly at school because we are lazy, Māori end up in prison because we are violent, etc.). Second, Pākehā cultural norms are legitimised and reinforced in all institutions and aspects of New Zealand. This means that anywhere in New Zealand, Pākehā culture and English language are considered normal—so much so that many Pākehā are unaware that they even have a culture. Whereas in most situations it would be both unexpected, and even unacceptable, to behave according to tikanga Māori, or to use te reo Māori. Third, once the dominant culture has set this up, there is “a double-edged sword of either ignoring or focusing on differences” (Johnson and Pihama, p 81). Ignoring differences leads to assimilation of Māori into Pākehā culture—essentially cultural extinction. Acknowledging the differences highlights that they are associated with deprivation (for example, Māori are over-represented among the poor, imprisoned, etc.), leading to stigma. Either of these end up reinforcing the dominance of Pākehā.

Said has written about Othering in the context of the European invention of Orientalism. The Oriental is a specific type of Other, and the European understanding of Māori in New Zealand is essentially as an Oriental. It may seem odd to consider Māori as Oriental, but Europeans imagined the world divided into two hemispheres, the west (Occident) included only Europe and America; everywhere else from east of the Mediterranean was the east or Orient, from India to Japan to Mongolia to Turkey to Egypt. As Said documents, when Europeans met peoples who were different from themselves, they slotted them into the category of Oriental, and treated them almost as if they were interchangeable. This ‘interchangeableness’ is important in thinking about Māori cultural identity, because it means that stereotypes that had been forced onto the Oriental, have also been applied to Māori.

Said argues that the major component of European culture is its belief in its own superiority compared with non-European cultures (Said, p 7). Centuries and the resources of empires have gone into creating the idea of the Oriental—opposite and subordinate to Europeans:
“One ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies and myths which, were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away… Orientalism … is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient, but a created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been considerable material investment” (Said, p 5)

There are two reasons for this. The first is that Europeans believed that if they studied the Oriental, European management of the Orient would be easier and more profitable. The second is that the circularity of Orientalism reinforced European ideas of who Europeans are. By casting the Oriental as exotic and inferior, Orientalism confirms Europeans as normal and superior. The Oriental is always defined in opposition to Europeans, representing the opposite of how Europeans see themselves: “Orientalism… has less to do with the Orient than it does with ‘our’ [European] world” (Said, p 12). According to this logic:
“The Oriental is irrational, depraved, childlike, ‘different’; thus the European is rational, virtuous, mature, ‘normal’… the Oriental is contained and represented by the dominating frameworks.” (Said, p 40)

As Balfour pointed out, Europeans governed over the Orientals not just out of self-interest, but for the sake of the Orientals (Balfour, cited in Said, p 33). This is the white man’s burden. There is no reflection or examination of the assumptions that require European rule over the Orient—European culture is superior therefore dominant, Other culture is inferior therefore dependent. The reason Orientalists could gather and provide such knowledge about Orientals, Māori or otherwise, is because Orientals are completely knowable—Orientals have an unchanging essence that once known is always known. This is important; this changes a stereotype into a fixed racial characteristic.

Orientalism seems archaic, but Said demonstrates how it continued to affect US policy under Kissinger (Said, pp 46-48), and, in his afterword to the 1995 edition, how it continues to play out (Said, pp 329-354). Closer to home, I want to show how Orientalist thinking continues to affect the representation of Māori in New Zealand, and how this entrenches cultural identities that are not helpful to us.

Māori as an Oriental

Reading Said’s Orientalism, it is impossible not to notice the similarity in both strategies and stereotypes in the treatment of Māori by Europeans. From the very first encounters between Europeans and Māori, Europeans were examining this new people, working out where Māori fit in with races that had already been identified. Where are Māori on the hierarchy of races? Europeans provided not only the gold standard of humanity against which all races could be ranked, but were also the subjective, disinterested judges of the ranking. Whatever the motives of ethnographers like Elsdon Best or S. Percy Smith, their gathering of information about Māori is entirely within the European tradition of the Orientalist. They collected data, became the recognised authorities, so that finally their subject can be understood by those who wish to control Māori without having to meet us. There is no need to ask Māori questions about ourselves when there are Europeans who know us better, and who certainly know what is best for us. Grey, on the other hand, made explicit his reasons for studying Māori:
“I soon perceived that I could neither successfully govern, nor hope to conciliate, a numerous and turbulent people, with whose language, manners, customs, religion, and modes of thought I was quite unacquainted… Clearly, however, I could not, as Governor of the country, permit so close a veil to remain drawn between myself and the aged and influential chiefs, whom it was my duty to attach to British interests and to the British race, whose regard and confidence, as also that of their tribes, it was my desire to secure, and with whom it was necessary that I should hold the most unrestricted intercourse.” (Grey, pp v, viii)
Like his contemporaries in the Orient, Grey was gathering information so that he could better manipulate and control his native subjects.

But this is not the most striking similarity with Orientalism. The strangest similarity is not in the ways Europeans behaved towards Māori and other peoples considered Oriental, but rather the results of their attempts to know the Oriental. There are remarkable similarities between the unchanging essences that are described for Orientals, and those described for Māori. As examples, I compare the descriptions of Oriental women and men with representations of Māori women and men.

Oriental women are literally the stuff of Orientalists’ wet dreams: “[They] express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing” (Said, p 207). Oriental women are described in ways that limit their roles to sexual objects, mothers and domestic servants. Like European women, they are always seen as powerless and inferior to men, but unlike European women, they are always sexually compliant. Isn’t this exactly how Māori women were described by Europeans? The dusky, unblushing, Polynesian maiden is surely an Orientalist invention.

Whereas Oriental men are always uncivilised, irrational, physical, emotional, childlike, violent, incapable of self-government, communal, closely associated with nature, in a word, feminised. Again, this sounds very much like the early representations of Māori men. It may seem strange to talk of Māori men as being represented as feminised, given the dominant current stereotype is often described as hyper-masculine. Hokowhitu touches on this:
“Early representations of Maori men portrayed them as lacking the qualities of the civilised European male. They had woman-like characteristics—they talked a lot, were animated and did women's work, while they lacked a stoic disposition because they were over emotional and whimsical.” (Hokowhitu, p 184)

European men considered all Others (whether Other genders or Other ‘races’) to be non-rational, and therefore associated with the non-human world (Forbes, p 104). Women and Orientals were understood as more primal and closer to nature (i.e., primitive, native, savage) than European men, who were instead cultured.

I want to come back to two points that may seem incompatible. As I have mentioned, Orientalism claims that the Oriental can never change—“The very possibility of development, transformation, human movement—in the deepest sense of the word—is denied the Orient and the Oriental” (Said, p 208). How does this fit with Hokowhitu’s observation that Māori men were originally represented as feminine, whereas now they are represented as hyper-masculine? In fact there is very little difference between the two representations—both rely on the idea that Māori men are physical and emotional rather than intellectual and rational. What has changed much more are the attributes associated with the European ideal man.

At the time that Europeans first started describing Māori, the ideals they brought with them were those of the English gentleman—rationality, authoritarian leadership, dispassionate, cultured, misogynous, and single-minded or stoic. Māori men were described as the opposite of these traits. However, the colonial gentleman is no longer considered the ideal man (Hokowhitu, pp 187-197). Feminism has shifted our understanding of the most useful or adaptive skills to include characters previously associated with femininity, for example, communication, emotion, and nurturing. The masculine ideal has been updated to the ‘new man’, who embraces these qualities; he is liberal and cosmopolitan, and retains masculine privilege. At the same time, the dominant stereotype of Māori men shifts from the joker (personified by Billy T James), to the hyper-masculine (personified by Jake in the film version of Once were warriors).

As Wall describes, the joker is an old stereotype that is replicated across the Orient, and fits with many early European representations of Māori (Wall, p 42). The joker is lazy, talkative, clever but not intelligent, and emasculated. He is clearly the opposite of the ideal colonial gentleman. The violent, hyper-masculine stereotype is also as old as colonisation, driven by fear of the indigenous peoples rising up against colonial rule. He is rural, works in primary industry, talks only with his fists, and beats his wife. I believe he could not become the dominant Māori stereotype while New Zealand still held to myths of its rural roots, and the good kiwi blokes who built this country. While Crumpy and Pinetree Meads were the quintessential New Zealand men, there wasn’t room for a negative Māori version—it was too close to home. The rise of the new man made room for the hyper-masculine stereotype of Māori to rise as his opposite.

Seen this way, the dominant Māori stereotype will always be opposite to the dominant (and therefore European) masculine ideal. If Pākehā ideas of themselves shift, then their representations of Māori, their ‘common sense’ stereotypes of Māori, will shift to be the opposite: “The effect is that native men become a backdrop for the staging of and representation of all that is ‘good’ in white masculinity” (Matahaere-Atariki, p 111). And there will be no acknowledgment that the stereotype has changed—Māori men have always been hyper-masculine. They must have been, because like any Oriental, they cannot change—they have a biologically determined, essential core. Only Europeans can change.

Of course there are several other stereotypes of Māori, but as Hokowhitu states, the roles that are available to Māori are limited (Hokowhitu, p 190). Racist government policies were largely successful in restricting Māori to manual education and employment, and therefore the working-class. This reality reinforces the stereotype of Māori as physical rather than intellectual.

Constitutional Issues

What has any of this got to do with constitutional issues? While I recognise the urgency in imagining how we want relationships between tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti partners to develop, an equally urgent task is acknowledging and dismantling the effects of 200 plus years of misrepresentation and Othering. I am not arguing that this should happen before we sort out our relationships with the newcomers—decolonisation is a long and on-going process—but it is a crucial component of developing our place in the future. We need an understanding of who we are as a foundation for shaping our future.

With all the time, force and experience of imperialism behind it, I think it is impossible to resist internalising at least some of the messages of the coloniser. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it is only the pale skinned, Pākehā schooled, urban Māori like me who are affected. The messages are relentless, and they are backed up with policies that make them seem real. For example, the coloniser didn’t just say that Māori aren’t as smart as Europeans and are only suited to manual labour—the Crown made it so. It demanded that schools train Māori to be farmhands and domestic servants, rather than teaching academic subjects. And when, as a result of this, Māori turn out to be under-represented in professions and over-represented in manual jobs, we all have the evidence to prove that the racist stereotype is true. There are two aspects of this relentless Othering that I consider especially relevant, and that we are in danger of continuing. The first is that Othering has racialised a Māori identity, the second is that it has gendered colonisation.

Racialising Māori

Prior to colonisation, Māori were simply groups of people living on these islands who were related by whakapapa, who shared a worldview founded on whakapapa, and who shared a common language. There was no national or racial identity—people grouped and regrouped as was appropriate or necessary, usually based on whakapapa. Following the arrival of Europeans, the word Māori began to be applied to all tangata whenua, and very quickly a whole range of Oriental stereotypes were piled onto that group. Wall explains how and why Māori were turned into a race by Europeans: “Universalised racial discourse was the key mechanism for dehumanising the Other, to negate the notion of Maori as the victim” (Wall, pp 40-41). Universalised and dehumanised, we were made all the same.

As a race, we were knowable, contained, unchanging; and as a race, we are defined by blood. From this thinking, whakapapa becomes a way, not of relating with each other and our world, but of measuring Māoriness—half-caste, quarter-caste, five-sixteenths. How much is enough to be really Māori? This question has been asked and answered by Europeans as a way of excluding people, both from being European and from being Māori. Any issue involving a Māori group is characterised as a racial issue. Colonisation and decolonisation are cast as racial issues, not justice issues. Statements such as ‘there are no full-blooded Māori left’ are used to argue against redressing the crimes of colonisation.

This has been so relentless that we are doing it to ourselves. Wall describes how Māori have developed our own stereotype of the ‘quintessential Māori’, based on an idea of a romanticised ‘traditional’ past (Wall, p 43). According to this stereotype, we are rural, spiritual and focused on family. She argues that this racialised Māori identity is based on colonial stereotypes, and holds no promise for us. Like those stereotypes, it traps Māori in a fixed identity where we are all the same (or we aren’t really Māori). Because Māori are contributing to its construction, this image has a special power. We cannot so easily blame it on our coloniser, but it is an inevitable consequence of colonisation—it is the search for the real us. But a real understanding of what it is to be Māori is not going to be found in stereotypes, or reconstructions, whether by us or our colonisers.

Pākehā may have invented the doctrine of race, but that doesn’t mean we are immune from it. When we have been racially defined for so long, we may fall into the trap of confusing race with whakapapa. It is helpful to regularly remind ourselves that it is whakapapa and not race that makes us Māori. As Moana Jackson took pains to ensure I understood, whakapapa is not race (Jackson, 13/11/2010). It does not carry racial stereotypes; it does not imply an oppositional relationship with other races.

This has implications for constitutional models. Whereas a racial identity is fixed, a whakapapa identity is not. Since Europeans started taking censuses, requiring Māori to name their hapū and iwi affiliations, they too have become fixed and unchanging. Being based on whakapapa, Māori identities are relational—sometimes we are tangata whenua, sometimes we are manuhiri, sometimes we are even tangata Tiriti. Usually I speak of the iwi that connect me with the South Island, but occasionally it may be more useful for me to stress my relationship with our northern whanaunga, like Ngāti Kahungunu. This makes constitutional models based on fixed identities challenging, and I think deserving of more attention.

Gendering colonisation

As a woman looking at the Othering or Orientalising of Māori through racial stereotypes, one of the most unsettling aspects is how invisible they make Māori women. The coloniser has focused so much on Māori men, that Māori women appear to be irrelevant as anything other than sexual playthings. Mikaere and others have done a great job of highlighting the effects of this on how we (both Māori and Pākehā) understand Māori society, and I’m not going to revisit that work. Instead I want to focus on the effect it has on our understanding of colonisation, and therefore decolonisation.

As I mentioned earlier, the Oriental male was seen as feminine; he was Othered in ways similar to European women—irrational, emotional, close to nature, etc. As Matahaere-Atariki warns, it is dangerous and misleading to see Māori within colonisation as analogous to women within patriarchy (Matahere-Atariki, p 108). It reflects the misogynous idea that colonisation is harder on Māori men. This is misogynous because overlooks the realities of women, but more dangerously, it genders colonisation—colonisation becomes emasculation.

bell hooks explores the language and imagery of racial domination and of emancipation, particularly for black liberation struggle in the US. She argues that black liberation has been sexualised “in ways that support and perpetuate sexism, phallocentrism, and male domination” (hooks, p 60). Racist domination has been equated with the loss of black manhood, so freedom means regaining that manhood:
“The discourse of black resistance has almost always equated freedom with manhood, the economic and material domination of black men with castration, emasculation. Accepting these sexual metaphors forged a bond between oppressed black men and their white male oppressors. They shared the patriarchal belief that revolutionary struggle was really about the erect phallus, the ability of men to establish political dominance that could correspond to sexual dominance.” (hooks, p 58)

It is important to continually examine our language to ensure our understanding of colonisation isn’t influenced by misogyny. Once there, it can easily creep into our futures. The use of gendered metaphors in describing the effects of colonisation is dangerous. For example, rape may seem an appropriate image for the effect of colonisation on this land, but it is unhelpful. It reinforces the idea of the coloniser as male, and by extension, of Māori as female or emasculated. It juxtaposes the active, male coloniser, against the passive, female whenua (to which Māori are linked). This is a coloniser’s fantasy.

We need to ensure that we are not confusing Māori men’s liberation with decolonisation. We have been fortunate in the number and calibre of women protesting for and theorising about decolonisation. Kuia like Eva Rickards and Whina Cooper have become iconic, and there have been and are countless more who have had less media attention. But men quickly become the focus of media when they are near the front—the images of Springbok protest, the Seabed and Foreshore Hīkoi, or the occupation of Pākaitore, for example, focus on the men. Tame Iti’s facial moko has become an emblem of Māori resistance, turning up on t-shirts and stencilled graffiti. It sometimes feels as if masculine images are the symbols of real protest.

The Crown has been quick to recognise male leadership by co-opting Māori men. I am not going to single any out, but there are countless examples of men, and groups of men, who have been rewarded in this way. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of believing men are our only leaders, and succumb to the coloniser’s patriarchy. Women and men must both shape our future. The recent formation of Te Whaainga Wāhine shows that this is an ongoing problem, but more importantly, it shows that mana wahine is still powerful after more than 200 years of attempts to crush it.


Does any of this help me to understand where I fit in? Stereotypes have power, and that power doesn’t disappear just because we know they aren’t real. They lurk in the backs of our minds, and subtly (or not so subtly) influence how we feel in the world and how we understand our world. We cannot ignore them, because they are relentless and omnipresent. We cannot disprove them, because we don’t control them—they serve a purpose, just not ours. And we can’t simply construct a nicer racial stereotype of our own, because it will be just as limiting and essentialising. If I can be honest with myself, about who I am and where I fit into a discussion about the future, then I won’t dispel any of the stereotypes or feelings of insecurity around my identity, but I will take a lot of the power out of those thoughts and feelings.

Whakapapa provides a way forward, not just for me, but for these islands. Whakapapa provides a way of understanding who each of us are, by focusing on the relationships that we are in, and by being honest about where we came from and how those relationships came to be. As we think about our future, as individuals and as peoples in this land, Māori and tauiwi, that’s what we need. Whatever develops, it needs to be based on honesty—honestly looking at power, who has it and how they came to have it, honestly looking at the effects of colonisation, at our privileges and our oppressions. Our whakapapa.

That sounds optimistic, I don’t believe for a moment that we will get there in my lifetime. We are a long way from being able to have honest conversations about our histories. Most New Zealanders know very little about the history of these islands. Most probably prefer not to know. There is so much fear and ignorance of the reality of colonisation that needs to be driven out before most Pākehā New Zealanders can approach honesty. Truthful education about our past is the key to the future.

Jackson, Moana (13/11/2010) Discussion with author, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki

O’Regan, Hana (10/10/2010) Discussion on te reo Kāi Tahu, Tū Roa Kohanga Reo, Ōtaki

Forbes, Jack D (2001) “Nature and Culture: Problematic Concepts for Native Americans”. Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The interbeing of cosmology and community Edited by John A. Grim. Center for the Study of World religions, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge Massachusetts, USA

Grey, George (1995) Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna. Reprint Published by University of Waikato Library, Hamilton

Hokowhitu, Brendan (2003) “Maori masculinity, Post-structuralism, and the Emerging Self” New Zealand Sociology 18 (2)

hooks, bell (1990) Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics. South End Press, Boston, MA, USA

Johnson, Patricia and Leonie Pihama (1995) "What counts as difference and what differences count: gender, race and the politics of difference". Toi Wāhine: the worlds of Māori women Edited by Kathie Irwin & Irihapeti Ramsden, Illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa. Penguin Books, Auckland

Matahaere-Atariki, Donna (1999) “A context for writing masculinities” Masculinities in Aotearoa/New Zealand Edited by Robin Law, Hugh Campbell and John Dolan. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North

O'Regen, Hana (2001) Ko Tahu, Ko Au: Kāi Tahu Tribal Identity. Horomaka Publishing, Christchurch

Said, Edward W. (1995) Orientalism: Western conceptions of the Orient. Penguin Books, London

Wall, Melanie (1997) “Stereotypical constructions of the Maori ‘race’ in the media” New Zealand Geographer 53 (2)

Research New Zealand (2007) 2006 Survey of the health of the Maori language: Final report. Te Puni Kokiri/Ministry of Maori Development, Wellington


  1. Anonymous1:05 pm

    Great article Kim – it seems to help clarify this vague problem I’ve been having reconciling an anti-essentialist approach to Māori identity with Avril Bell’s ethic that Pākehā need to respect Māori difference, as an ultimately unknowable other… Actually, I still don’t have my head totally around the theory and language, but your article gave me a better feel for it anyway.
    Meanwhile, I’m interested in how you define Māori identity solely in terms of whakapapa. When I was sitting in on Peter Adds’ class he defined Māori identity in terms of whakapapa, self-identification and recognition by other Māori. The argument was that none could stand alone (some people have whakapapa, but don’t identify as Māori – while some people might say they’re Māori and even be recognised by a community, but don’t have whakapapa). So, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that definition, given that issues of self-identification and recognition seem to be right at the heart of your essay? I don’t know if this is a helpful question (or even well articulated).

  2. Anonymous3:03 pm

    Thanks kim, this has helped me clarify some stuff for myself


  3. Anonymous8:00 pm

    interesting how much racism rules and controls your life

  4. A very interesting, in depth article that is well written. I too identify as Maori, I have a whakapapa, I am pākehā. I have only known this for certain for the past three years. I live in Australia and have had the pleasure of meeting my whanau recently. I've had an awesome journey trying to understand who I am, where I'm from and where I belong. I'm unsure still as to where I belong. I do feel a very strong connection with places I have travelled and I have a deep spiritualism that keeps me intrigued.
    I find that the Maori culture is more alive than the Aboriginal culture here in Australia. I would suggest that the European influence has kept it that way. I would like to see that change and a preservation of culture be introduced in all levels of education from early childhood education through to university.