"As Maori...

by tosca on Saturday, January 21, 2012

...be an advocate for Maori"
~ Te Roopu Whakahau hui-a-tau korero, January 2012

Waipapa Marae, University of Auckland, Saturday 21 January 2012 Tena koutou. I've spent the last three and a half days at Auckland University's Waipapa Marae with some 70+ Maori who work in libraries and/or information management. Once a year we come together, from all around New Zealand, to discuss, debate and challenge each others' ideas and initiatives. Mostly, I try to avoid our hui-a-tau as much as possible because I'm not much of a one for communal living. It's intense, you're on top of each other for 3-4 days with nowhere to just disappear and collect yourself, and it's a huge overload on my social skills. Give me a keyboard and I'll rattle on until your eyes bleed. Put me in the hot seat and ask me to talk about myself in front of the group and I go into meltdown. I'll wait till no one's looking and then sneak out the door. Also, it's extremely hard to be my usual non-committal self when people start to expect things of me. This year, though, this year was different. This year it was great for a number of reasons, although I'm going to list a few that have meaning for me.

Reasons to attend the hui-a-tau:

  • Strengthen and reaffirm our identity - a lot of our members are isolated from other Maori (I'd like to point out that I'm not, but I understand how incredibly important this is for so many of us) and sometimes, no matter how great the intent of various organisations and employers, we truly need that contact with each other. For a lot of us, it's the equivalent of a cultural check-in because sometimes (not always) we walk a fine line in trying to be true to our cultural ethics and values, and in trying to be true to our employers. Life being what it is, quite often they clash or they cause us to question, 'Is this tika?' or 'Does this sit right?' and even 'Does this FEEL right?' and, every now and then, 'Why do I feel so conflicted about this issue/project/etc. and what power do I have to change that?' Cultural compromise is a real concern.
  • Whakawhanaungatanga - networking. Except with Maori there's another layer. We're not just making links to make links, or with an eye to knowing how we can utilise a particular person's skills. It's more about making an honest-to-goshness connection that is about family, or tupuna that we may have in common and, in some way, it is about being claimed by an iwi or a rohe and finding some sense of turangawaewae
  • Shared history - there's this huge sense of freedom in being able to get together and talk about topics that would elicit strange looks in a world that is predominantly non-Maori, where words like 'ahua' and 'wairua' and 'ihi' and 'tapu' and 'mauri' don't need to be explained, and where we are aware of the concept and whakaaro behind the words, and not just their surface English equivalent
  • To inspire and to be inspired - for the first time ever I really felt that we were having digital discussions the likes of which we'd never had before and, as a result, I have had the most amazingly animated korero (some quite provocative, too) about Maori in digital spaces and I have a head full of ideas that I want to take back to work and find some way of using there
  • To ask questions and to be questioned - all sorts of questions about all sorts of things. Out of all of the questions I was asked, though, the one that caught me by surprise was, "Do people actually read blogs?" In my complacency, I had assumed that anyone who wasn't anti-internet read at least one blog. So instead I tempered my instinctive OMG YES! response to: Yes. People do. But if you're going to do it, do it well, and talk about it everywhere you go and with everyone you meet. If it's worth the time and effort to write to, then it needs to be promoted and talked about. The idea that the kumara never speaks of how sweet it is does not apply here
  • Removing barriers - I read a book about Maori leadership (A fire in your belly: Māori leaders speak by Paul Diamond) that one of our members had written and I was able to tell him how much I appreciated his style, the people he interviewed, how he made me view people (and my ideas of what constitutes a Maori leader) differently and, even better, enjoyed how he was able to (on the spot, I might add) add meaning to that by telling me a little bit behind the reason for the interview I liked the most
  • Having your ideas challenged - Someone said to me, 'Reading blogs is a generational thing' and it stopped me in my tracks. I was flummoxed for a few seconds. Then my tongue caught up with my brain and I offered my ten cents worth: I disagree. Blogs are a people thing. Blogs are an interest thing. Blogs are an awareness thing. My gran is 78 (I think?) and she reads my blog. Very possibly because I'm her mokopuna and, out of the eight of us, I'm the most visible and loudmouthed and findable both online and offline. But she reads it. My mum reads blogs. My dad read my blog while I was wandering around New Orleans/Memphis (admittedly he's never read it since, but he plans to when I'm away again next month). My colleagues read blogs. My nephew reads blogs. Depending on the subject, style and content of your blog, people will read it. There's no accounting for taste. (Facetious comment). What is a blog but another website? Ok, so more like an editorial, but you get what I mean. The comment did give me food for thought, though.
  • Korero - People share the most amazing life stories on a marae. Something about eating/sleeping in such close confines makes you relax around each other. One of my colleagues shared how, when she was six years old, she went to a native school. I had never had anybody tell me that before. She also spoke of a trip to Scotland to visit whanau and how, on leaving, she couldn't stop crying because she was grieving. She'd experienced such a sense of belonging, of turangawaewae that it felt like she was leaving home all over again. I spent more than a few moments rapidly blinking away tears. Stories like this, our experiences of being Maori, need to be captured. In three parts, even, and I'd love to see this as a research project (an oral one, perhaps, much like Whaea Taina's one): our individual experiences of growing up Maori (because this is, surely, a huge part of our journey towards working in libraries/information management), what led us to libraries/information management, and lastly, what Te Roopu Whakahau means to us (our place in it, our hopes and expectations of ourselves, of each other and of the group now, in 5 years, in 10 years)
    I could go on and on and, odinarily I would, but not today because I'm kinda sleepy. Instead I'm going to list a few things I'm going to take away from this hui-a-tau:
  • your services can be held anywhere (courtesy of Tania, Terrisa, Aurelia, Haneta and Carol - who know this, because they're living it in Christchurch, and whose lives have changed beyond anything I could ever comprehend and I deeply appreciate the stories they shared with us)
  • in the wake of a national disaster your outreach needs to change and adapt accordingly because...
  • it is still possible to be committed to keeping your same levels of service, just in new ways (courtesy of Tania, Terrisa, Aurelia, Haneta and Carol)
  • have fewer face to face meetings - try chat, or Skype. It's free and cost-effective (courtesy of @ranginui who had the room in stitches and asking questions I'd never heard any of them ask before. FTW! Unfortunately I had to duck out of the room and missed a lot of this korero but OH! I'm looking forward to any ideas or korero that Chris has/will have)
  • Lolcats in your presentation makes Maori almost fall off their chairs laughing (truly, madly, deeply)
  • find Maori in libraries/information management with digital interests. We are few and far between. Or are we? Have we just not discovered each other yet? Do we need to promote Te Roopu Whakahau further? Wider? More pro-actively? In new ways? Bring them in, give them a reason to join, foster their interests. Naku te rourou... (courtesy of presentation by @ranginui, and discussion with @ranginui, @Pikiora and @librarykris)
  • find your story (courtesy of @MrMikeMcRoberts who, by the way, smells nice and is most charming and a very funny speaker and I could not thank him enough in a month of Sundays for agreeing to speak to our very rowdy bunch)
  • have a strategy (courtesy of @MrMikeMcRoberts
  • have a backup plan (courtesy of @MrMikeMcRoberts
  • that being Maori can open some amazing doors (courtesy of @MrMikeMcRoberts
  • to ask myself, during each presentation: "What moment from this presentation resonated with you?" And use it to capture one idea to use at work (courtesy of @librarykris who said it out loud on Thursday morning and @sallyheroes who has been telling me this for years and I've never listened *sigh*)

  • Where to from here? The world, whanau, the world. On a smaller scale, I'll start with incorporating the above both personally and professionally. On a somewhat wider scale, I'd like to suggest that the group look at having a digital strategy, because the time for biscuit is upon us!

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