Two weeks ago my family and I became New Zealand citizens. We came here 10 years ago this coming January from the UK. Why did we choose New Zealand over any other country? Partly because Nigel lived here 40 years ago when his parents emigrated from Scotland when he was 2 years old. He went to primary school here and his brother was born here. Although they went back to Scotland when he was 8 years old, by that time his Aunties had come out and so we have some relatives here and a strong connection with the place. Partly because it is an English speaking country so the boys and Nigel wouldn’t have to cope with learning a new language (our other option had been France). Partly because we are adventurers!
We came for a holiday in 2005 with our boys and we were struck by the beauty of the landscape, the open spaces, the lack of traffic on the roads…. Careful not to be swayed by the rose tinted glasses of being on holiday, we tried to look beyond the veneer as we travelled and considered whether NZ was a place we could live in. As a traveller and a linguist, I am fascinated by language, culture, customs and people and how they interrelate. I was fascinated by the fact that Aotearoa is a bicultural country with three official languages. Although I was struck early on by the lack of visibility of Te Reo; apart from a few signs at the airport saying Haere mai, Kia ora, Haere ra, images of the All Blacks performing the haka, Māori patterns and carved pou, there is little beyond that to indicate that the Māori language is living and breathing in all facets of the country .
Over the last ten years, I have learned a lot. I have made every effort to find out more about Māori tikanga (customs), and learn Te Reo Māori. It is hard. Not like any other language I have learned. Mainly because so many of the words have multiple meanings depending on the context. It is heavily nuanced and spiritual. I think to learn it you really need to be immersed in the language and the people. I am surprised as I learn about the pronunciation of the words, how badly the general populace articulates place names such as Taupō, and how they refuse to accept the Māori names of places they have long known in English such as Taranaki (Mount Egmont). Places whose names were changed when Europeans came to Aotearoa and settled here. This is because they have been mispronounced for so long that people believe that the way they were brought up pronouncing them is the correct way. However, there is a growing awareness of the language and how words should be pronounced and I hear that on the radio, on TV and amongst my friends and colleagues. I also know that many resist!
As an educator, I am encouraged to recognise diversity and respect the bi-cultural nature of Aotearoa. For the last two years, I have been lucky enough to work for a company that values the language and the tikanga, celebrates what everyone brings to the table and promotes cultural responsiveness. I am learning more language, developing a greater understanding of tikanga (though I have so much to learn) and I am learning more about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and how it represents a partnership between Māori and Tou Iwi (other people). A responsibility to recognise the values that all cultures bring to the rich tapestry of Aotearoa. The articles are:
Honourable Governance: the right of the British to govern
Māori Retaining Agency, Voice, Choice
the right of hapū to retain sovereignty
Equity: the guarantee that Māori would have the same rights as others
A4. Tikanga, Ahurea, Whakapono
Cultural & Spiritual Freedom: Māori customs shall be protected (the spoken promise)
By Archives New Zealand from New Zealand (Printed Sheet, Te Tiriti o Waitangi) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
So, back to our citizenship ceremony. This was our official welcome to the country we have chosen to call home. We dressed in our best clothes – I got the boys “Robertson” ties to reflect their Scottish heritage (we thought about kilts but it was just too expensive!), took the day off work and school, planned a celebration (at the behest of friends – any excuse to party) and turned up at the Pavilion in Hamilton Gardens.
It was pleasant enough – 132 people representing 22 different nations, all seeking to become NZ citizens. We recited our affirmation of allegiance together and then one by one, family by family, received our certificates from the mayor and a Kowhai sapling to plant.
What was missing then? Any indication that we were becoming citizens of a bicultural country. Oh, apart from a bit of tokenism.
Neither the MC, nor the Mayor, nor the Member of Parliament who spoke to welcome us after we received our certificates of citizenship made any attempt to use any Reo Māori. The Kaumatua seemed to have been ‘wheeled’ in to fulfil the niceties of the occasion but it was shallow and meaningless. How can officials of our bicultural country, a country which has at its basis a partnership, hold an important ceremony in which they fail to even use the most basic words of one of its official languages? Our Member of Parliament even made reference to the diversity of the country and how all cultures were welcomed and recognised. He even urged those 22 different nationalities to hold on to their customs and languages, to keep our identities, hold on to our whakapapa (though he didn’t use that language). He went as far as stressing that our language is an essential part of who we are. Yet he didn’t use Te Reo Māori, he didn’t even make reference to the Māori name of Hamilton, Kirikiriroa, as he welcomed us.
I left feeling a little empty and quite angry. Maybe I expected too much. From the land where the Haka is performed with such pride and gusto at every international rugby match, a visible and very physical representation of Māori-ness to the world. I have grown used to Pōwhiri, to waiata, to karakia. To the warmth and richness of celebrations and welcomes in schools I have been a part of and that I have visited. I have been privileged to have been welcomed on to Marae as I have travelled the country, to have been welcomed into communities with warmth and friendship. Our citizenship ceremony lacked that warmth, that true welcome, it lacked a bi-cultural depth. It felt like it was a ceremony that goes through the motions – well oiled, smoothly executed. But it didn’t really seem like it was all about he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. It was Hamilton’s opportunity to show how important it perceives Te Tiriti to be as a guiding document and a way of living in partnership. To exemplify what partnership is to 132 people who have chosen to live in a bicultural, multicultural country. I don’t feel that it did that.
However, we do feel that we belong…we have been welcomed by friends. colleagues and whānau ever since we arrived here 10 years ago, so maybe we should put the ‘official’ welcome in context. This whakatauki talks of Turangawaewae, of belonging.
E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea
I will never be lost for I am a seed sown in the heavens