Raised by a village, ready for the mahi

I ahau i titiro ana ki tōku ara, ki aku kaupapa kua whai ai i roto i tōku oranga, kāore e kore ka kite e au i ngā ringa hora kua awhina i ahau. I roto i tēnei hunga, ka kite ahau i aku kaiako, i aku hoa. Ka kite ahau i ōku mātua, me ōku whanaunga. He mihi nui rawa atu tēnei ki a rātou. Ehara aku mahi i te mahi takatahi, ēngari mā mātou katoa i taka i tēnei ara.

When I look at the journey I have taken, and the purposes I have chosen to follow in my life, I can without a doubt see all the generous people who have helped me. In this group, I see my teachers and my friends. I can see my parents, and my family. This is an acknowledgement of them. The work I have done is not work I did alone, but we all have walked this path together.

I was raised by a village of all kinds of people. My mum (an English teacher) taught me to be hungry for books and words. We had very limited internet, and no neighbours, so she gave me book after book to occupy my time. My dad was a kaumātua. In him I was surrounded by the old ways, and heard our reo as it used to be spoken. He taught me about obligation, and that we must always give what we can to help whānau. My aunties and uncles taught me how to feed people. No guest and no friend should leave the table still hungry. My grandmother taught me to be loud. I owe allegiance to no one but myself. My grandfather taught me humour, the gentle kind.

When I understand myself, I understand that I was not formed by myself. I am a reflection of those who have reflected with me. This is also a way for me to understand the privileges I have been given as a young Māori woman in this world.

When I grew up, I was aware I was in the nicest house in the valley. I took my egg and ham sandwiches to school and swapped them for a bag of chips and a lolly drink. My light skin meant that I was taken more seriously than my browner whanaunga. I understand now as a university student, that I occupy a space that is still difficult for many to access. I always assumed I would go to university because I grew up with my parents degrees on the wall. Every time I take my degree for granted, there is another person who thinks of university as a mythical land.

Recently I was asked about what it was that young Māori in New Zealand actually need. There is broad access to education and scholarships. The treaty is a working document to try and protect our rights. We are in fact in a better situation (relatively speaking) than most indigenous people in the world. We all have access to water, and we aren't living in a land currently being ravaged by war. What more could we need?

I can see the ways that this country fails tangata whenua. My father was punished as child when he spoke his first language - Te Reo Māori. I understand that when a language is not spoken in two generations it will be lost in the third. I understand through my whānau and friends the loss of identity that can occur when a Māori child is grafted into a Pākehā family. As a child of Māori and Pākehā parents I know how my lighter skin convinces people that I am not as Māori. That I must not know where I am from and I probably cant kōrero Māori. I have seen how our government fails Māori mental health. How this country is amongst the worst in the ‘developed’ world when it comes to suicide. How Māori are incarcerated at a rate that is disproportionate to our population. That a degree from Victoria University carries weight, but a degree from a whare wānanga does not. That Māori are asked to perform culturally for their organisations, with no sensitivity or actual interest in tikanga. In 1893 New Zealand women got the vote, but in 2018 we are actually debating whether Māori wards in local council is a good idea.

If you look at me, you might think that all the problems of Māori have indeed been solved. I am educated, I am employed. I am able bodied and I have the money to get through each day. I speak my language (relatively well now) and these days I only experience very minor crises of identity. I know who I am. I have often been used by others as an example of a ‘success story’ – proof of a mythical ‘even playing field’ in Aotearoa. There are some who believe that if I can make it to university, it must mean that other Māori are simply unmotivated. They aren’t taking advantage of opportunity.

Not only is this incredibly incorrect, but it is a dangerous argument to make. Aotearoa is not an even playing field for all citizens, despite our image of ourselves as a nation of make-do pioneers. To assume that we are is to become passive and fail to keep ourselves to account.

So often we give a platform to our ‘success stories’. Glittering examples of our nations efforts to successfully become bi-cultural. We are pulled onto your platforms and then we go back to our everyday lives. Often this is as deep as interaction goes. You listen to us speak and then pat yourself on the back for giving us the stage. There is heaps of mahi to be done. But the mahi should not only include me. It should include twelve year olds, gang members, kaumātua. It should include takatāpui, stay at home mothers, checkout assistants, and people who work on the marae. It should people who make you uncomfortable to interact with. People you never see in the political events of Wellington.

I hold myself to account every day. I hold myself to account for what I can do for my people, and how I can create a platform for those who need it. Obligation is not a feeling felt by all, but certainly I think many of us as tangata whenua feel an obligation towards those who shaped our lives.

Make sure koutou mā, that you do not become settled in how things are. In December I will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts. It is a degree I dedicate not to myself, but to my whanau, my teachers, and especially to my parents. I think of the communities that raised me. Communities that were often portrayed in a negative light by the media. When I speak, I speak from these places.

Kahu Kutia was raised in Waimana, a small community comprised mostly of descendants of Ngāi Tūhoe. Kahu and her brother were raised here by a Māori father and Pākehā mother. Kahu is currently studying at Victoria University, as well as working as a freelance writer and media creator. In 2017 she completed an internship with UNANZ, which concluded with the presentation of a collaborative essay Ki Roto i te Ngāhere: Reducing Inequalities for Rangatahi Māori. This was the same year that she guest edited the annual student publication Te Ao Mārama. Kahu is passionate about amplifying the voices of rangatahi and watching every single cooking video on youTube. You can follow her on Instagram @kahukutia, or Twitter @KahuKutia.

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