Seeking personal and national identity – and how the Treaty of Waitangi helps

Who benefits most from Aotearoa New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi?  It is those of us who are non-Māori, because it is through the Treaty that we have the right to be in this land.  Furthermore, the treaty is an integral part of our collective identity.

Earlier this year I was privileged to speak on a panel at Kiwi Connect‘s New Frontiers Festival  on the topic of “Crafting our National Identity” with my friend Anake Goodall from Ngāi Tahu, Sam Johnson of Student Army fame and Sean Mellon, senior curator of Pacific Cultures at Te Papa.    You can watch this below (my 10 minute talk starts at approximately 6 minutes in with an excruciatingly halting mihi – oh I have so much to learn!)  Or if you prefer to read, an approximation of my talk is below.

Tēnā  koutou katoa ngā huanui o te āo tūroa    
Tū mai Rimutaka ngā pae maunga        
Rere tonu ngā wai o Mangaroa            
Tēnā koe Brian, Mathew, Yoseph, Mark, Anake, Sam koutou ko Sean    
Kia ora tātou katoa                
Ko Kate Frykberg tōku ingoa             
Te tiamana o te roopu Tōpūtanga tuku aroha o Aotearoa
Nō reira tēnā tātou katoa.

(Greetings to all who give to the future
Stand majestic the mountain range of Rimutaka
Flow on the river of Mangaroa
I acknowledge and greet our hosts and my co-speakers
I acknowledge and greet everyone here today)

My name is Kate Frykberg. I am chair of Philanthropy NZ and I am a consultant working with philanthropy and community.  I am privileged today to share my thoughts on crafting our national identity.

Who are we – all of us who walk this land and call it home?   Answering who are we starts, I think, with answering “who am I?”  Where are we going?  Answering this starts with answering and where we have come from.

So I will first share my personal search for identity then relate this to our collective search.  I’ll share my (non-expert) thoughts on our history – particularly our founding document – the Treaty of Waitangi and how this might relates to who we are now and how we go forward.   And I’ll finish with some practical suggestions for what we can each do to help craft our national identity.

Who am I?  My surname Frykberg is a Swedish.  My Swedish grandfather immigrated to South Africa where my Dad was born.  My Mum was born in Namibia then also moved to South Africa.  My parents were teachers and in 1953 when the apartheid government was re-elected for the first time they saw no hope for democracy there and immigrated to Aotearoa NZ.  I was born in Heretaunga (Hastings) and grew up in a strong nuclear family but with little connection to extended family, community or the land.    Religion was no help either.  My Mum is a lapsed Catholic, my Dad was raised in Christian Science which he emphatically rejected, they christened me Anglican but I don’t know why because we never went to church and my husband and children are Jewish.

If I was a dog at the animal shelter, you know what they would call me.

And as a young adult I felt pretty lost.  Where did I belong?

So there I am, aged 23, walking by myself on Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast, recently dumped by my boyfriend, miserable, thinking, who am I? Do I belong here? Am I even allowed here?  And then there was a moment where it was as if a hand came out of the land and stretched towards me and a voice said “You belong here.  This is your land too.  And anything you want to do, you can do.”

I don’t know if that voice came from the land, from some spirit or Atua who dwelt there – or if it was simply my own imagination.  But it was a defining moment for me – it was the gift of belonging and possibility.  It allowed me to deeply love this land – and to strive to be more than I thought I could be.

Yes, but.

Yes but – mystical voices are all very well, but on what intellectual, real world basis can we, those of us who are not Māori, claim to belong here when we have all indirectly benefited from colonisation, conquest and land confiscation?

So, we move from the personal to the collective.  Who the heck are we – us motley collection of people and communities who have settled alongside Māori in this land, and whose cultures now intertwine?    I am no expert.  I don’t yet speak Te Reo – but I am learning.  I don’t know much history – but I am learning.  So all this is just my personal thoughts on identity.

Those of us who are Pākehā (non-Māori) do have a right to be here, because of a treaty signed in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, our founding document.  There’s lots of debate about what was really meant, but to simplify things we can say that it was an agreement to live together as partners in this land, to protect Māori values, culture, language, land and resources and to ensure that we all enjoy full participation and equality of opportunity.

It’s easy to say – oh that was an agreement with the crown – it’s relevant to them – Māori.  And the government has obligations – but it’s not about me.  Well, no.  If our right to be here is because of the Treaty, then we have responsibilities of protection, partnership and participation.

Here’s a simple example.  “Next weekend I am going to Taupo”- and pronouncing the place name as if it was ow – oh with a t and a p inserted.  There’s no Māori place name Towpoh.  There’s no ow and oh sound in the Māori language.   We are going to a place whose pronunciation is more like Toe Paw.   I’ve talked with people who say “yes I know it’s pronounced Taupo but it sounds so try-hard.”  And since when is it a bad thing to try hard?  If we don’t make that very small effort to try to pronounce Māori names correctly, we are, in a small way, reneging on our responsibility under the treaty to provide protection and partnership.   More basically, it is downright disrespectful.

It’s also easy to say – oh we are a multi-cultural nation now.  Bi-culturalism – the relationship between Māori and Pākehā – has been superseded.   Wrong again.   While the term Pākehā originally referred to the British settlers, it is now usually a term that includes Europeans, Pacifica, Americans, Ethiopians, Chinese.   Whatever our own heritage, if we live in this land we need a relationship with the Māori heritage of this land.

So perhaps the model of the national identity which we are crafting looks a bit like a daisy, with Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) in the centre and with all the complex communities of Pākehā as the many overlapping petals.   And national identity is crafted through where each touch, overlap and intertwine.

However we view the model, what makes Aotearoa NZ unique in the world is our Māori heritage and this is central to crafting our national identity.

So let’s get practical.  What can each of us do to build our individual and collective identity in Aotearoa New Zealand?  Here’s some suggestions:

  • Acknowledge the importance of Te Ao Māori
  • Learn to say our place names correctly, as we mentioned before
  • Read and learn about different perspectives of our history.
  • Explore our land and our communities – but go beyond the familiar
  • Visit a marae and learn some basic language and customs
  • Learn something about the many  other cultures in our land
  • Share resources, opportunities and power more fairly so that everyone participates, everyone has a fair go

Personally, I am really interested in building identity by bridging worlds and I am exploring ways of doing this.   So for example, if we want to take a first step towards a better understanding of Te Ao Māori – what is an authentic and mutually helpful way of doing this?  Similarly, if we want to bridge the inequality divide and or understand more about other ethnic communities – how do we best do this?  I’m always interested in conversations in this space.

Final thoughts.  Crafting our national identity is a journey of self and collective discovery. We need to look back to our nation’s past and look forward into our future.   It’s a long, bumpy road and we’ll get it wrong many times.  But the prize is social cohesion, peace, prosperity and the creativity that comes from accessing multiple world views and multiple sources of intelligence.

And wherever we are on this journey, the important thing is that we get started and walk it together.

No reira

Tēnā koutou katoa.


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