Connections in any form – an urban Māori story

I have talked a few times about my journey — connecting back to my whakapapa, whānau and marae.

I am the dreaded urban Māori. We’re used as a weapon by both sides of the argument and I’m about to highlight some things to think about. To start with, let’s talk about the misconceptions I’ve heard while in discussions.

We’re the examples of how colonisation is bad. We’re disconnected from whānau, we don’t connect back to our whenua and we’re also described as money hungry in some discussions I’ve had.

We’re also used by the other side as “converted” Māori who fit into society and are examples of a “good” Māori. We don’t tend to “get mad” about racist things our pākehā friends bring up.

This is where I’m going to have to stop you all. You’ve all misjudged urban Māori. For what has been historic factors we are in urban areas. I can also tell you that no one understands that pain more than urban Māori. We are mourning for times that we’re told about. Emotional trauma that spans generations. We’re angry, alone and we’re not sure why. Some of us are also accompanied with stories of how awful Māori are. We are constantly reminded of the failed statistics we are as a culture, multiple times over. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. I can also tell you that we feel the identity pain even more than many may realise. We put it aside because we’re either not ready to deal with it, our immediate whānau is not ready or we’re forced to.

When we do interact with Māori who live on their whenua or are connected back — there is sometimes an elitism that occurs. “You should connect to your land, go back home”, as if it’s as simple as that. As if it’s as simple as clearly putting aside the emotional and mental baggage that comes with being a disconnected Māori.

When we are ready to return we come with new experiences. We’re thirsty for knowledge, connection and learning. Yet in my experience it’s hard to connect with Kaumātua. If I could spend a weekend at my marae with a kaumātua listening to the stories of our history — I totally would. This is not something offered and it’s not something I can force on others.

When we’re miles away it’s very hard to understand what is happening in our whenua. I come with the privilege that both my marae are an hour maximum drive away. My sister who currently resides in Brisbane is not so lucky. For my whānau I have started to write a blog of my adventures to be able to share with them our connection, our stories, our whakapapa.

Events that happen at marae are usually via emails or word of mouth. It’s very hard to even get onto the mailing lists for these updates let alone actually know what’s happening. We connect to marae through Facebook groups that are graveyards of conversations. Many not touched in years. So when we are away from our whēnua and have been disconnected it can be hard to actually turn up to events at the marae to start to connect back to iwi in person.

In the urban areas we challenge institutions and organisations usually from the inside. We work on them slowly to help them learn what it means to honour the treaty of Waitangi. Our education, across Aotearoa, of anything pre 1845 is awful. We are usually taking on the emotional effort of educating people and then informing them on how they can do better.

This is all on the basis that you “look” Māori. What if you’re determined to be a “white Māori”, the emotional labour that we take on comes in a different form. We have white privilege but forever feeling like we don’t fit on either side of the equation and forever justifying our existence. However, I myself like to make sure we stand up for those that don’t have a voice in situations where our privilege gets us in the door.

I think we also need to think about as a group what engagement and someones connection could be in this digital age. It might not be as easy to set foot on our whēnua, but that doesn’t mean we’re not as dedicated as someone who can. What is the virtual equivalent of washing the dishes or peeling the spuds? How can we fuel the thrist for knowledge, for connection for knowing who your tūpuna are? To know who you are as a person.

I also want to highlight that I’m not for any minute suggesting that someone who hasn’t put the mahi in can come and expect mana and take over. Let’s however make it easier for people to connect back and provide value in new forms.

So before we judge urban Māori maybe have a think about the journey someone is on and how our connections may change in the future. As we come back from the new experiences how can we weave this into the future of our culture, how can we move the waka forward?