Steve Elers has a message for Waitangi Day:
. . .I suppose, based on my whakapapa, physical appearance and self-identity, that puts me in the Māori house. But what about Māori who have more Pākehā ancestry than Māori whakapapa?
For example, my wife is a Pākehā and we have two young daughters, Anahera and Māia.
Given my own whakapapa includes Europeans, who were born in Germany and England and migrated here, then technically I suppose our daughters have more European ancestry than Māori whakapapa when it is all added up.
So, does that mean Anahera and Māia are in the Pākehā house? If having a Māori ancestor means one is first and foremost Māori, why is that so and according to who? Perhaps one gets to choose, or is it based on how one feels on the day? . .
These are questions that some would say someone like me, whose whakapapa as far back as we can trace includes only Scots, can not answer.
Speaking of houses, an in-house publication by the Department of Māori Affairs, now Te Puni Kōkiri – Ministry of Māori Development, states “all Māori have some degree of non-Māori ancestry”.
I don’t know if that publication was correct, but regardless, as Ranginui Walker eloquently stated in his Listener column back in 2004: “The lizards of our colonial past are being laid to rest in the bedrooms of the nation.” That certainly seems so, more and more, as most young Māori I meet are of the lighter shades of brown and many are white.
Someone with a dark complexion like myself was my fourth-great-grandfather Wiremu Tamihana (1805-1866), chief of Ngāti Hauā of the Tainui confederation. Yes, I know everyone has 64 fourth-great-grandparents, but let’s not ruin a good story and let’s not downplay my chiefly heritage.
Tamihana was known as the “kingmaker” because of his role in establishing the Māori King movement. The photograph accompanying was taken by Elizabeth Pulman (1836-1900), who was New Zealand’s first female professional photographer.
My daughters, Anahera and Māia, are direct descendants of both Wiremu Tamihana, through my mother’s whakapapa, and Pulman, through my wife’s father’s ancestry. As far as I know, my daughters are the only descendants of both.
When they’re older, Anahera and Māia can look at that image knowing they are descendants of the Māori chief in it and the English-born photographer who took it. However, I hope they will recognise the multifaceted aspects of their whakapapa and understand they are first and foremost themselves – individuals who have the freedom to determine their own paths in life without being constrained by historical events that occurred before they were born.
What happened before we were born cannot be changed; what we do with what we have and who we are now, usually can.
We can learn from the past but it should not define us.
Our whakapapa might influence and shape us, but should not be used as an excuse for taking no responsibility for our choices and actions, nor to stop us shaping our own futures.
That’s right, none of us was there when the treaty was signed, nor were we there when some of our ancestors stole land from some of our other ancestors, and I’m talking about my Māori ancestors – don’t get me started on the Pākehā ones. Complicated isn’t it?
It is complicated but Elers has a simple answer:
And, no, I’m not proposing “we are one people”, aka Hobson’s Pledge. How about “we are individuals”? . .
As individuals we belong to families, groups and communities; we have common needs, rights and responsibilities and we have our common humanity.
Today some will be celebrating the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, some won’t; some will be working, some will be playing; some will be looking back, some will be looking forward.
Given the contradictions in the Treaty with its Maori and English versions and the translations of both that show differences between the two, and that regardless of our whakapapa, we are individual New Zealanders, that’s okay.