Having seen Hana O’Regan last year at the LIANZA Conference, I was expecting a passionate presentation from her at the Diversity Forum. I wasn’t disappointed.
Ms O’Regan is currently the Dean of Te Puna Wānaka, Faculty of Māori and Pasifika Kaiārahi, at CPIT. Since 2003 she has also been a member of The Māori Language Commission – Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori – a cause which is very close to her heart.
Her talk was based on her personal experiences growing up in Aotearoa, and the way in which the themes of belonging and identity shaped her childhood and her world view. I particularly related to her description of feeling “defined by fractions”. This culminated in a traumatic experience when she was 6 years old and lost her hand (which was luckily re-attached through microsurgery). As if the injury wasn’t distressing enough on its own, Hana was also beset by the fear of losing her “Māori” blood, which, as she was often reminded by society, was just a fraction of her make-up. Could that fraction be bleeding out of her and her “Māoriness” be lost?
Her identity at school was similarly questioned. At primary school she was called “nigger”; whereas at Māori boarding school she was a “honkie” because of her light complexion.
We might like to think that events such as these are well in the past; however prejudice still persists. Ms O’Regan described a recent encounter she had in a supermarket, when an elderly pākehā woman, hearing her speak to her children in te reo, snapped at her to “just shut the hell up”.
So how should we deal with these ongoing challenges? These are Ms O’Regan’s suggestions:
- Remember the journeys taken by our ancestors – we do have a place where we belong and history says who we are; and
- Remember that we are defined not by fractions but by the identity we want.
If you want to read more on these topics, try:
- Resources by, or including contributions by, Hana O’Regan
- The Te Reo page on our website – and while you are there you might like to have a go at the quiz
- The New Zealand Peoples pages in Te Ara
- Walking the space between: identity and Māori/Pākehā by Melinda Webber
- Being Māori-Chinese : mixed identities = He Māori-he Hainamana he tuakiri aha? = Mao li yi hua ren by Manying Ip