post by Jessica Leaming
Ko Jessica Leaming toku ingoa
Ko Kay King toku mama
Ko Mark Leaming toku papa e mate mai
Ko Richard King toku Tungane
Ko Ngapuhi ki Whaingaroa toku Iwi
Ko Ngati Pakahi toku hapu
Ko Mataatua te waka
Ko Emiemi te maunga
Ko Mangaiti toku marae
Ko Tau Te Rangimarie te whare hui
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa
My Name is Jessica. I am white skinned, with blue eyes and brunette hair. I also am Māori. I have a keen interest for whakapapa and as a result have a wide knowledge base of my tupuna, marae and genealogy which I can trace back to my three wakas. I thank my mother for taking me back home to Totara North/Kaeo every holiday’s since I was a baby, so I was able to learn who my extended whanau are and learn about our whanau values and histories. I consider myself grateful for these experiences as I am aware not all Māori are as fortunate.
My colourful whanau
My mother has five other siblings. Out of those siblings my mum is the only one with fair skin and blue eyes, therefore it’s fair to say when my family is put together we are a colourful one and often receive the comment, ‘we didn’t know you were Māori’ as if to say you can only be Māori if you have brown skin. Nadine Millar shares a similar experience stating that she is often asked how much Māori blood in fact she has in her as if this is a determining factor on what makes you a Māori (E-Tangata, 2015).
Growing up I have always felt the need to prove and over compensate for being so fair skinned but the true extent of what it meant to be Māori but contain all European features didn’t become clear to me until I began my degree at university. I can vividly remember the day I was made to feel as though I was not ‘Māori’ enough and did not have the right to wear my pounamu that my father who had passed away earlier in the year gifted to me. I was on the train and a middle-aged Maori woman proceeded to tell me how beautiful my pounamu was, at first, I was delighted and thanked her. She then took it upon herself to ask me if it was real as she reached to touch it, feeling the need to explain to me that was I aware how lucky I was to have a pounamu and was I wearing it for the right reasons and who gave it to me. I remember thinking if I were brown skinned would you have questioned me on if I knew the importance of owning a pounamu and question me on my reasons of wearing one? Or would you assume if I was brown skinned that you wouldn’t need to tell me what it meant to own a pounamu as special as mine? According to Marae (2018) 72,000 people identified as Māori on the last census but could not identify their Iwi. My point here is there are Māori who ‘look’ very Māori but do not know their whakapapa where as I do. Skin colour in not an indication of how Māori you are and how much you know about Te Ao Māori or tikānga Māori. Percentages were used by the government in the 1970’s to determine how Maori an individual is, whether they were an eighth or a quarter was used to determine which roll an individual could vote on. Under the Maori affairs act the blood quantum concept was used in 1953. The issue with this is that is assumes culture and identity are biological traits, where-as for Maori identity is dictated by the upbringing one has had. The use of the blood quantum contributed to undermining one’s sense of self identity (Pickering, 1996).
It seems these ideas of needing to justify how much Māori is in you have carried through the years. Kanoa Llyod has a great response to this in that ‘Māori is Māori’ despite the percentage (The spinoff, 2018). So, what does this mean for me heading into the field of social work? Personally, and professionally I see it as a strength. My knowledge of Te Ao Māori and of my own whakapapa stands me in good steed for knowing exactly who I am and what I am capable of. I can relate to both Māori and European because of having to walk in both worlds all my life. I’ve always felt the need to prove my Māori heritage to people until recently. I know I am Māori, I know where I come from and I know where I belong.
E-Tangata. (2015). So you think you’re Māori?. Retrieved from https://e-tangata.co.nz/news/so-you-think-youre-maori
Marae. (2018). Sunday 6th May. Retrieved from https://www.tvnz.co.nz/shows/marae/episodes/s2018-e7
The Spinoff. (2018). How to tell if you’re Māori. Retrieved from https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/02-03-2018/cheat-sheet-how-to-tell-if-youre-maori/
Moeke-Pickering, T. (1996). Maori identity within whanau: A review of literature. Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato. Retrieved from https://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/464/content.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y