I guess if you don’t know what you’re missing it’s hard to look for it. I never realized I’d been searching for my identity. I suspect it’s what many of us spend much of our lives doing without being fully aware. Deep down a few things always felt somewhat short-changed in my life and having a clear sense of identity is now obvious to me as being one of those things.
I probably should have cottoned on to this when at the age of 14 having had my first trip away (to Auckland) I proudly returned home with a T-shirt which loudly declared “Pommy Bastards”. My English mother (coming to New Zealand when she was 17) was duly unimpressed.
Suffice to say I didn’t know who I was, though I clearly didn’t want to be English!
More correctly I have always wanted to be simply a “New Zealander”.
Defining what qualified me as a New Zealander has always been difficult for me, despite my great Grandfather arriving in 1870. I could see a clear ‘right’ for those of Māori descent, but for everyone else, I have always felt the waters to be somewhat murky, and at times definitely muddied.
Fast forward some 40 odd years from the T-shirt and returning to New Zealand I find that in public engagements and education forums Te Reo has been fully embraced and incorporated as a way of life; it’s the way we do thing around here. Though embracing this is not universal, for me it was like a light being switched on.
What began perhaps 11 years ago when working at Te Papa and then a year later in running a Directors (Governance) course for the Te Arawa Lakes trust, and loving every minute of both those experiences, I was now able to see a path to my New Zealand identity – Te Reo.
Not simply Te Reo as a language, but to understand the culture and to embrace the more spiritual connections Māori have with the land, water, flora and fauna. I now had a vehicle to strengthen my connections with the past and to reach out in a way I had never previously explored.
I’ll update the journey as I progress but meantime ponder these questions:
Is it critical to a mixed society’s social and emotional success and security that the majority of the population understand the history and customs of that lands ‘first peoples’?
How critical is it for our own identity for us to connect with or retain the language and customs of our resident country as it was initially settled, while not foregoing that we are likely to also wish to connect with and explore that of our forebears?
My short answers are: Yes. Absolutely.