Ka Hao Te Rakatahi
Ko Te Aho Matua te tāhuhu o tōku whare. Ko te reo me ōna tikanga te poutokomanawa. E taku iwi Māori, whītiki tāua!

Nā Laken Wairau

I te taha o tōku māmā,
Ko Rangiuru te maunga.
Ko Kaituna te awa.
Ko Te Arawa te waka.
Ko Tāpuika te iwi.
Ko Ngāti Marukukere te hapū.
Ko Tia te marae.
I te taha o tōku pāpā,
Ko Mōkairoa, ko Maukatere ngā maunga.
Ko Whangawehi, ko Rakahuri ngā awa.
Ko Kurahaupō, ko Takitimu ngā waka.
Ko Rongomaiwahine, ko Ngāi Tahu ngā iwi.
Ko Ngāi Tū, ko Ngāi Tūāhuriri ngā hapū.
Ko Tuahuru, ko Tuahiwi ngā marae.

Today I was asked for my opinion on the Bob Jones trial. If you don’t know about it, cool. But allow me to explain it to you. Long story short, author and businessman Bob Jones sued film-maker Renae Maihi for defamation after she presented a petition to Parliament. A petition with over 90,000 signatures, calling for him to be stripped of his knighthood in response to a column he wrote for the National Business Review in 2018 that suggested Waitangi Day should be renamed “Māori Gratitude Day”. I don’t know about you, but nothing could stop the fire that I felt the moment the words “Māori Gratitude Day” started ringing in my ears.

Some people might ask why, but I have realised that if they’re not going to make space for us to chat about what matters, then I have to find a way to make it fit into what is already being said.

So, if you’re going to ask me about my thoughts on stealing robes from hotels, then you better get ready to answer my questions about stealing our land. Oh whoops, too far. Does my perspective make you feel uncomfortable? Or if you’re going to chat to me about Māori obesity rates in Aotearoa and then tell me that money doesn’t play a single part in influencing our food choices – please don’t even get me started. Tell me, how do you explain the impact of inequalities between student A and student B on the outcomes of their education to a majority who have never spoken to people outside of their own? I’m out there asking, “What about the students, about Māori, about Pasifika. What about our future, hello?” When you hear responses like, “NCEA works for 80 per cent of students, so why change it?”, I have to fight the urge to scream, “WELL WHAT ABOUT THE 20 PER CENT? How does this system benefit them?”

I’m starting out, in my very first column, feeling reasonably defeated. It feels like for every step forward, society forces us three steps back; and it’s tiring. I’m sorry this isn’t all happy and exciting, but sometimes advocacy and fighting for representation is ugly and unsuccessful, and that’s the tea right now. On some occasions this has been difficult for me. I would ask to leave the room for a toilet break, knowing damn well I didn’t need to go to the toilet. But I’d go in anyway, walk into the cubicle, slam the seat down, sit on it, and just cry. Because when people make you feel like your narrative doesn’t exist, it seriously makes you question what you stand for and whether you’re fighting a battle that society has already decided that you’ve lost.

I am constantly reminded that all of us have a part to play, and when you have to speak up and hold space for the things that matter, get up and just do the damn thing. I’ve actually begun to enjoy challenging these perspectives and opinions. And you know what, one of the coolest things about being a child of Rangi and Papa is that even though our voices might be outnumbered or overpowered at times, our strength comes from knowing that our tūpuna are standing with us everywhere we go. I am not here – we are here, and we are never alone.

So, I say this to you Mr Jones, who told the nation that Māori are a genetically inferior race. Is it not an issue that the very people who are given the opportunity to create better policies for better lives only come from certain walks of life? Meaning that they couldn’t possibly, even if they wanted to, truly ensure that all voices and perspectives are being considered when they’re trying to create these better policies. So, tell me again, sir, I missed the part about how being completely underrepresented isn’t an issue? I note this to the man whose skin is so thin he lodged legal action against mana wahine, Renae Maihi, and then, in cowardice, walked away when the case looked doomed for him. Doomed because as poet Linda Tuhiwai-Smith said “… you don’t mess with the Māori woman who stands in front of you”, and in your case Mr Jones, not in front of you, as she walks to the stand “with the mana and power of thousands of years in her blood and bones”. Who are you to tell us that full-blooded Māori are non-existent?

Just because we do not look like you does not mean you get the right to forget your manners and demand things from us. Māori Gratitude Day, really? We’re human too, if you didn’t notice. And yes, I can hear you “taking the mickey”, rolling your eyes at us with confusion – but the brutal reality is that you have a special way of making us feel so unwelcome when the truth is, my people walked these streets and called this place home well before your pockets drove them out. I am proud of Renae for the manner in which she carried herself and her people throughout such unnecessary, and quite frankly, targeted circumstances. I feel hopeful that we have people fighting for our voices in these spaces, tackling the work that there is left to do so that our future generations can enter into a world that will be equal for all in education, employment, opportunities – just everything. Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei.

Laken Wairau (Ngāi Tahu) was born and bred in Ōtautahi, a child of Rangi and Papa, of Te Aho Matua, of the many tūpuna that come before her. She is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Te Reo Māori and Indigenous Studies.