Sam Jackson: On finding a place to stand

Tūrangawaewae – our standing place. A place where we draw strength in connection, community; and live our rites and responsibilities as governed by our whakapapa.

Heading to New York, has drawn me into reflection about our tūrangawaewae as tangata whenua in Aotearoa, as well as my own place to stand – on this unbelievable haerenga.

My thoughts have centered on the problem of trying to find belonging as tangata whenua in a wider society that doesn’t reflect our ways of being, living and knowing. In Aotearoa New Zealand, our institutions, governed by the Crown, were founded on the colonisation and alienation of tangata whenua resources and are maintained by an ongoing coloniality which in some ways renders tangata whenua ways of being and therefore our place to stand – meaningless.

Why do I say this?

Te Ao Māori, the Māori world, is all about connection. For the late Rev. Māori Marsden, tangata whenua being-in-the-world, or our tūrangawaewae, is hinged on ‘the Woven Universe’; a complex network of relationships between ourselves, our communities, our atua (governing deities) and our universe (cosmogonies which lay out our orders of being). Our entire world is governed by whakapapa – which orders our rites and responsibilities to each other and within each layer of our communities. For example, we have a responsibility to protect our oceans and waterways, not because we believe we own them and want capital gain – rather, because they are who we are – our health is intimately connected.

Yet, we live in a New Zealand whose institutions are structured around the ‘merits’ of the individual who is not placed within a wider milieu of responsibility and connection. Perhaps this focus on the individual can go some way to describing our current empathy gap where in New Zealand we can seemingly tolerate situations such as the chasm between rich and poor and the number of homeless people we have because the responsibility of these social ills rests on the individual. The list goes on.  

Therefore, as tangata whenua, we live inherently detached from institutions that by nature are designed for us to have no meaningful place to stand. We are not good at being who we are not, and so in not having an authentic place to stand we see the consequences of tangata whenua ways of being playing out in an over representation in prison populations, poor educational statistics, mortality and morbidity data. We don’t fit the dominant paradigm and as such we are punished.

As a delegation, we are going to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where we as tangata whenua stand on the outside as observers of the issues which weigh heavy in our bones.

But, this is no Sisyphean drama where we are destined to a life of performing the same task for the same futile outcomes. Placing blame in an “us vs them” dichotomy is unhelpful. What is the purpose of a critical lens, if it is not matched with a creative eye and commitment to finding solutions? I draw strength from the meaningful innovation and expressions of rangatiratanga around me.

I draw strength being apart of a cohort of 100 medical students at the Christchurch School of Medicine who thanks to the brilliant teaching of the Māori and Indigenous Health Institute staff can in a nuanced way understand marginalisation data between Māori and non-Māori and go some way into sharpening our clinical swords to treat this inequity.

I draw strength from our Te Toki Voyaging Trust and Haunui whānau – who rather than falling prey to the skepticism of the validity of our voyaging traditions, unapologetically maintain and create them and in doing so inspire a new generation of connected, ocean-going peoples who understand our responsibilities to each other and our environment.

I draw strength from my Te Whare Tū Tāua o Aotearoa whānau who each week throughout the country, teach the work of our ancestors freely because it is a taonga we should be able to access by right of our whakapapa. The lessons and discipline from Māori weaponry are directly translatable to every aspect of our lives.

I draw strength from our Hauteruruku ki Puketeraki waka club who are currently meeting each week to build a new sailing canoe, and as the waka is built by them, they too are built by the waka.

I draw strength being the daughter of a Pākehā shearer and wool handling Māori mother, who raised two children in love, and to love our Māori roots.

I draw strength from the surfing missions that me and my nephew Charlie go on - our own special kind of rangatiratanga.

I draw strength being of Ngāti Whātua, where in two simple words – ‘kia ora’, our current chair Dame Naida Glavish created a watershed moment in New Zealand race relations in 1984. 

I draw strength knowing we are not the first Māori, nor will we be the last to embark on this huge journey to the United Nations.

I draw strength from my tupuna Parore Te Awha who signed He Whakaputanga and later sent a delegation of Northern chiefs to seek redress from the Queen relating to Treaty/Tiriti grievances and to gain the Queen’s endorsement for the establishment of a native parliament in the North. A mission deemed to be ‘failed’, but one that moves me all these generations on.

I draw strength from my whānau who peg me down 100 notches on the daily, so I don’t ever get self-important so-as to forget that I am wherever I am at any given moment because of the many, many people who open doors for us.

But there is still a lot of work to do.  Every day in every way. From parliament to the pā, meeting rooms to the marae ātea, council chambers to the kauta, from the Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous peoples to our own Declaration of Independence. There is mahi to be done in all of these spaces and every space in between. The UN is one forum, it is not the only forum. I go in, with my own place to stand, humbled by the support of my whānau and our communities, open eyes and open heart because of the inherent love I have for our people.

I do believe in order to truly grow as tangata whenua, we must place value on our own ways of constructing the world and relationships within this world. Maintaining an intimate relationship within the woven universe validates our tūrangawaewae giving us a ‘sureness of touch’ of peoples firmly rooted in belonging with unlimited potential for human development. We need more public institutions and processes which match these ways of being and as tangata whenua, we need the strength of standing, to believe in our value in the modern world.

It’s going to be a big journey whānau; and as a home body, I know I will get homesick very quickly! Ha, but I look forward to taking you all with us.

That’s all for now, from this mokopuna of Taitokerau.



All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.




Posted on March 31, 2018 and filed under PFII 2018.