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To Ngāti Maniapoto

When people hear that I’m part Māori and that I’m studying engineering and achieving As, the first thing they think is, “Shit it must be nice having no student loan!” I then continue that it is. However, before assumptions are made, I normally have to clarify that out of the five Māori scholarships I’ve applied for, I was awarded exactly zero of them. The scholarships I’ve had were in fact achieved entirely for academic excellence, and I further ensured this by listing my ethnicity as simply ‘Homo Sapiens’.

Interestingly, a few weeks back I found out about a $250 scholarship that was being offered by my tribe for completing a grant form and I thought, “Yes! Here’s my chance to get involved in this apparent free money all Māoris should be getting.” Except, there was a catch. Written in bold words at the top of the page was a question: “What is one thing you are proud of about your tribe?” The following shows the honest answer I gave and why I didn’t receive $250.

I’m not proud of our tribe. I believe our tribe is failing to shape a unique future identity and culture. There has been no challenge presented to the way things have been done in the past. Currently there is a great focus on preserving our past ideologies, traditions, language and culture but no approach to collectively creating a unique future identity.

I’ve been known in my circle to think long term. Most people plan 5-10 years ahead; I like to consider 100. When I look 100 years ahead, I have a serious concern for Maniapoto. This concern is that in a 100 years time if we fail to innovate and adapt to the world, we will still just be another Māori tribe fighting to preserve a dying language and culture, and blaming past atrocities as the reason why we fail to stand out as real contributors to humanity.

Our tribe is not focused on having a real contribution to society as a whole; we don’t care about world issues, and we don’t appear to care about anything apart from our own selfish viewpoints of wanting society to accept us as amazing and better than all other ethnicities.

We label ourselves with terms like ‘holistic’, ‘in touch with nature’ and ‘learning socially’ in an attempt to avoid the real world, real work and real learning. Unfortunately for us, reality shows that you can’t just want to be admired, you actually have to do stuff or produce things that people actually need. We don’t have a greater humanitarian aim. We focus largely on our past traditions and culture and in doing so I believe we have in fact forgotten who our ancestors really were.

The Māori people sailed the South Pacific sea, navigating using celestial bodies, sea creatures and hints taken from careful observations. The vessels were large enough to house enough people and food so that it was possible to start a new country. This was no small task. These people were driven to create a new future, to learn the greatest techniques and skills available and to innovate wherever possible. These people were by all means the technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators of their day. The way in which they optimised the use of stone, wood and animal products is proof of this. We no longer demonstrate this same level of innovation. We adopt modern technology but we’re not creating modern technologies, at least not to the same degree as our ancestors did. These ancestors created sea vessels, tools, farming techniques, food storage techniques and other technologies for solving essential human needs and they did so using only their collective minds, careful observations and repeated experiments. Our tribe rarely exhibits this scientific way of looking at the world and in some cases even shrugs it off as a Western viewpoint.

My great grandmother, Dame Rangimārie Hetet, showed through her weaving designs that our people used very acute mathematical abilities and resourcefulness in the production of textiles. She resurrected the dying tradition by giving a modern insight into our ancestors’ abilities. For our ancestors, the flax clothing were products that our people needed. It had great value. I think the emphasis should be put on the word ‘had’, though.

We adopt modern technology but we’re not creating modern technologies, at least not to the same degree as our ancestors did.

It’s very important that we continue this ancient mindset of creating things people need, but not to confuse this with the ancient products themselves. We must celebrate and cherish the mindset that allowed flax clothing to be invented – the mindset of solving a need – but take great caution not to celebrate the flax clothing itself. It’s important to be practical, realistic and objective. Today with advanced materials like Gore-Tex it’s easy to see that the world doesn’t need flax clothing anymore. However, what it still needs, as it always has, is human ingenuity and the ability to solve humanity's problems and needs.

I can’t say with certainty but I can speculate that the Māori language we speak today is not the language which those who first arrived here spoke. Languages are always evolving and changing; just read any Shakespeare play and you’ll realise even a written language changes. This is why I find it interesting that we are fighting to preserve the Māori language. We’re spending so much money and time on it when it has little to no practical use. Language is only a means of transferring information between people, and it's very pretentious to think of it as anything more. If we were really embracing our ancestors’ ways of thinking, adapting and innovating, then instead of teaching Māori we would be teaching whatever language allowed one to communicate with as many things as possible. For today’s environment that would be Java, Python, C, C#, PHP (these allow one to communicate to one billion active computers) and English (which is spoken by 20 percent of the world’s population, not to mention those computer languages are written in English). These languages get results and solve real human needs, so shouldn’t we be embracing them and focusing our funding, time and effort here?

We must ask ourselves: are we preserving and passing on our ancestors thought processes (the will to innovate and solve problems)? Or only our ancestors products: flax clothing, culture and language?

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