Coming Home: Reclaiming My Māori Identity

Vague, Cushla Jayne
Stewart, Georgina
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Master of Education
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Auckland University of Technology

Māori identity is complex and relational. It has been shaped by historical events and societal perceptions of what it means to identity as Māori. Through the colonisation process, based on assimilation of Māori, those of Māori ancestry were forced to abandon their Māori identity in order to be accepted in Pākehā society. These forces have had a significant impact on generations of Māori people, who have experienced confusion, guilt and uncertainty when they discover their Māori ancestry, and want to explore and learn about their Māori identity.

Using the principles of Kaupapa Māori research, together with narrative and autoethnographic research methods, I have explored these forces through my personal story, my family history, and the stories of others. Original narratives have offered a way to articulate how a person like me, who is Māori by whakapapa only, can fulfil professional obligations as a teacher whilst reclaiming Māori identity.

The journey towards identifying as Māori has always required a process of adaptation. Māori ethnicity is often assessed by physical characteristics, someone’s name, and/or by the cultural knowledge a person holds. But these are not accurate characteristics of Māori identity, and exclude a significant portion of those who are Māori by ancestry. Negative depictions of Māori have been widely portrayed in social discourse and through the media. These negative images have deeply influenced the psyche of both Māori and Pākehā. These negative stereotypes of Māori inherently deprive a person of their birth right to identify as Māori, and to reclaim that identity, which has been lost as a result of denial by past generations, or the personal choice to abandon one’s Māori ancestry.

The education system is currently making efforts to overcome the negative impact of those past racist practices for today’s generations of Māori children. In this milieu, the work of reclaiming and learning about one’s Māori identity is of particular relevance and importance for a teacher.

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