Written by Christina Epati Fa'avae, Whanau Practitioner at The Salvation Army
Recently I heard a quote by Brene Brown — a snippet from her book ‘Braving the Wilderness:
“Our worth and belonging are not negotiated with other people, we carry those inside of our hearts; I know who I am, I’m not going to negotiate that with you, I will negotiate a contract with you, negotiate a topic with you, but I’m not going to negotiate who I am with you, because then I may fit in for you, but I no longer belong to myself and that is a betrayal I’m not willing to do anymore.”
It was not long after our third Retreat with Mana Moana — the concept of this retreat was Fenua, Whanua, Fanua, our landing, our arrival to shore and engaging with the indigenous, understanding our positions and how we fit in.
We visited the landmarks Tane Mahuta, Tokareireira (Hone Heke Memorial), Kohewhata Marae, and Piripi Tiriti Whenua (Waitangi Treaty Grounds). As a Pacific descendant, I had previously visited Tane Mahuta almost 15 years ago, however, have never been to the other places we visited. As we walked barefooted to Tane Mahuta, there was a strong sense of peace, it was serene. I immediately felt the connection to the land, to the fenua. If you can imagine as a 44-year-old Samoan woman, born in New Zealand, on this learning journey, so whilst there is this peaceful transition from the busyness of our lives onto the land, there was this turmoil within, my heart and soul. This turmoil led to an irritation — I was disappointed in my education, as a Pacific woman who has been through the education system in New Zealand, I have not heard the depth of the betrayal of the indigenous, even though I am born here, educated here, live here, I am still a visitor, and I must tread carefully.
I work at The Faith Factory also known as The Waitakere Salvation Army Community Services. I have seen the effects and the impact of these stories on the many generations of Maori that come through our doors, the hopelessness.
I couldn’t bear the thought of hearing another story come the last day, I was emotionally spent. Our speaker Moana Jackson identified the importance of knowing our stories, reclaiming identity, making peace with the past, acceptance of the process: reclaiming our way of seeing. He was very soft-spoken, yet his words and his perspective so powerful and empowering. After all 10 points in his talk, I was ready to take on the next challenge, I was affirmed in who I am, where I am at in my own personal journey.
In a sense, we have continuously negotiated who we are with Pakeha and other cultures in order to fit in, to be accepted, to feel a sense of belonging and worth. I know who I am.
The challenge for me is, how can I strengthen my relationship with Tangata Whenua?