Time mightn’t heal like they say it does, but it certainly takes some of the sting out of it.
It’s taken me more than a year to put pen to paper and let the whakaaro unfold without the knots and blockages.
2023 was a little quiet on the Aho front, wheels still spinning but more on autopilot than in gear. My mind and ngākau were occupied with our whānau, our tamariki, the choices we make and those that are made for us and beyond our control.
I spent much of last year walking to and fro, to and fro to our local kura in what may have appeared peaceful, but the energy I carried simmered and seethed.
With gritted teeth I’d recall our personal, social and political values about living in our local community, breaking bread with those whose opinions and worldviews we may not share and the immense growth and value that can come from such exchanges. Manu singing around me, fresh air, blue skies, pēpi in pram and tamariki at my side. But inside, the turmoil, disappointment, sense of personal failure and the letting down of our tamariki gnawed at me.
To take a step back for a little context- 8 years ago I began this Pakihi with a vision of raising our tamariki confident, grounded, emboldened and tau in their whakapapa Māori. Wrapped in threads that would affirm them. I resumed my reo journey, pēpi in tow and in capsules under tables to noho and night classes. My aspiration, to raise them with te reo amongst their first languages (my hoa tane speaks Hindi with our babes, and between us English). And so those dreams came to pass, our mātaamua a delightfully trilingual, multi-cultural curious and mauritiau soul, her siblings in tow.
I aspired to solidify her kura experience in a bilingual environment, a context that would continue to affirm to her the many ways of being in the world with living proof outside our kāinga. A new kura with a reorua focus was established just as she was set to start school within reasonable commute, so we (I on behalf of our whānau and my own aspirations) threw all our eggs in that basket and leapt. However if you read my previous post (cultural window dressing) you’ll see that the commitment wasn’t one we felt comfortable continuing.
Our rohe is fiercely zoned for schooling and our choices became, attend your local school or commit the entire whanau to a few hours of school commuting each day.
And so, our local it was to be, not to mention, excluding cultural competencies, on paper, it’s a great school with a very engaged and supportive community around it.
It was within the first week that our ever observant kōtiro stated matter of factly, “Māmā, at this kura, I’m not Māori or Indian. At this kura, they teach us to be Pākēhā, so I’ll keep being Māori and Indian at home, or at the marae, or when we go back to India now…”.
The complete clarity and comprehension of the reality of it pierced my heart in a way I couldn’t have imagined. The dreams I had, seemingly dead in the water and the potency of cultural assimilation plain to see. The tradeoff played out in my head for months, and the incantation, ‘it’ll get better with time’ as I walked her there and back each day to ‘conform to be pākeha’ felt like acid in my stomach. Learn to assimilate. Conform to the normative invisible western ‘normal’.
‘We’ll treat it like an international school’ I joked, a way to learn how to navigate the currents of cultural capital whilst maintaining our whānau culture within our kāinga. But what became immediately apparent is that her social proof of cultural identity outside the home all but evaporated. Her fledgling reo confidence faltered and resistance appeared where it hadn’t before. Social proof would purport that conformity is king.
We found ourselves navigating an institution that had, it seemed, not been engaged as Tiriti Partners before, and as first time parents navigating the mechanics of the School institution it has been a learning curve for us too.
It was mere weeks before we found ourselves trying to navigate access to Kapa Haka for our devastated daughter (Māmā, how come I’m Māori and I’m not allowed to join because I’m too young, but it’s the only Māori thing at this kura?”), then Kapa Haka in lunch hours, ‘Whānau Group’ run without any Whānau engagement or Māori engagement, Volatile encounters with leadership when querying tiriti partnership and principles. The list goes on, but I’m sure you're not really surprised.
The 1500m either way, 4 times a day, I would walk, and weep, and rage, and despair, and look around at the settler colony of Te Waipounamu, New Zealand the British Colonial Project and it’s runaway successes. The erasure of mana whenua from the narrative of this land we dwell on. The blindness of such a majority to our history and relationships and privilege and power.
Then take a deep breath and recite to myself all the reasons we choose to be local, to immerse ourselves in a different social demographic culture to the one we’d be more comfortable in, and all the pros there are to be found. When that piercing heart ache subsides, the many practical and pragmatic reasons we moved find room to resurface.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. For starters, it’s a bonus 6km of hikoi everyday. Fresh air and mental clarity and a stepcount probably healthier than it's ever been. We now live and play in our local, play dates and mates are a scoot away. The community is becoming increasingly multiethnic (it was a low base and as my hoatane jokes, sometimes you’ve got to be the change ), We’re rallying whānau Māori and they’re keen and hungry. The Kaiako, by and large, are open to learn and grow and upskill and that is awesome, haumi are key for realising the dream! My character and resolve are ever expanding (‘this is character building’, another mantra of the walk :) ). And I came to terms with the fact that I could spend my energy in fight and frustration mode with an unwilling and immovable force, or I could sow time and energy and seeds in fertile ground, where shared visions and values buoy and motivate.
The incredible gift of Aho for me has been the connections, the relationships, real life friendships and kinship of likeminded souls. A shared kaupapa of passionate wāhine and Mama and haumi and Māori. In this season of upheaval and recalibrating, it has been a balm to find kind, compassionate and commiserative ears while navigating an inner sense of fraudulence in the path that feels so divergent from our natural vision. Like I’ve let myself and others down (irrational, but honest).
I’m grateful to say that from where I write in 2024, the sting has subsided, the rage and the sense of failure appears more like the silvery shadows of a scar. Energy resumed for lifegiving projects.
So about those paintings…
It goes without saying 8 years into this Pakihi and 20 or so years into my own cultural reclamation journey, that I’m a fierce believer that our environment matters. That the spaces we inhabit everyday rub off on us, that we absorb the visual language of our environment, in wairua, in energy, intuitively.
As I’ve wrestled internally, the months and seasons have merged and evolved, and so has the resolve to be the change. To hold open the door. To have the awkward conversations I’d rather have left to someone else. To be amongst our local community while remaining authentic to our whānau values
I’ve had a vision for a long time for a contemporary, vibrant and playful take on those Kōwhaiwhai Classroom Borders. You know the ones, red, black and white for a little cultural flavour.
I wanted bright, bold, painterly, organic, intuitive. But also empowering, subversive and an offering for our tamariki who find their eyes wandering.
An opportunity to create for our kōtiro’s class arose and I jumped. An invitation to initiate a painting practice that has lain dormant for an eternity, and an opportunity to create an offering for her and her hoamahi to see themselves in their spaces.
With thanks to her kaiako whose vision aligns, Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri a muri ake nei.
May the freed-up mind space of 2024 hopefully be filled with creative endeavors instead!