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Māori have the solutions to Aotearoa’s ‘dark past’

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By Jody O’Callaghan of Stuff

When South African members of Parliament turned to stare at John Rangihau sitting in their gallery during the apartheid era, he was torn between fear and the urge to pūkana.

Proceedings stopped until a note was passed to the speaker informing them the Tūhoe leader was a visiting welfare officer from New Zealand’s Department of Māori Affairs, and he had diplomatic immunity.

On the same trip he met Desmond Tutu, went to support fellow diplomatic immunity-holder Samoan All Black Bryan Williams play the Springboks, and was invited to sit next to a judge to observe how their youth justice system worked. It was “almost unbelievable” for 1970, his daughter Kararaina Rangihau says.

Now she is using film – “an extension of our oral traditions” – to carry on her father’s storytelling legacy and share his vision for all to retain their cultural identity in Aotearoa.

“It’s my duty, that’s why I don’t consider myself a documentary maker, more of a Tūhoe storyteller.

“The future is not an empty space. Storytellers have a duty of care to bring our oral history to life, and make them relevant to today because those stories inform our future.”

Rangihau feels passionate about her father’s life works and feels there is still so much more to uncover.

Travelling the world and learning from countries further down the colonisation path, he led a committee that delivered the most damning report of institutional racism Aotearoa had ever seen, Pūao Te Ata Tū.

Kararaina Rangihau.

Kararaina Rangihau, youngest daughter of John Rangihau, is carrying on her father’s legacy and vision for Aotearoa through storytelling and the medium of film.
Photo: Supplied / Loading Docs

The significant 1988 report identified three forms of racism in the social welfare system – personal, cultural and institutional – which was described as the “most insidious and destructive”.

Her dad overcame poverty through education, with Tūhoe whānau fundraising to send him to Wesley College.

Over his 40-year career as a civil servant and through his indigenous language revitalisation and colonisation research around the world, he would come home to share his escapades with Te Urewera kaumātua.

They would laugh, cry, and give him counsel.

Kararaina Rangihau grew up in the “cocoon” of a socially independent whānau, grounded in her identity as a tribal person connected to the land, and “unapologetically Māori”.

It was what inspired her studies, when the academic world and the intellect of Māoritanga and Tūhoetanga “opened me up to a different world”.

She was passionate about her Tūhoe identity, and cultural identity as a means of self-independence – mana motuhake.

She worked in Canada with First Nations people on reservations, and other education institutions around the world who had embraced the use of her father’s Pūao Te Ata Tū mahi.

John Rangihau.

John Rangihau led a committee that delivered the most damning report of institutional racism New Zealand had ever seen.
Photo: Supplied / Loading Docs

Just like Pukekohe, growing up there were “No Māori allowed” in Tuai, Waikaremoana after 5pm or they could be arrested, she said. So her father, then visiting an apartheid government – with knees shaking – was “why I found his life so interesting”.

His mahi highlighted Aotearoa’s undeniable “dark past”, but it also showed that Māori have the solutions, like returning to the constitution of whānau, independent of state welfare and with a strong sense of belonging.

Urbanisation three generations ago sent Māori to the cities not speaking English. Their children stood with one foot in each language, while the third generation had lost te reo Māori but could not succeed in English and often “populated jails”.

But Kararaina Rangihau has strong hopes for the future, thanks to the vision of strong Māori leaders like her father to revitalise the language and culture decades ago.

“Our grandchildren can be native speakers, thriving in a Pākehā world without compromising their tikanga, history, their knowledge or their love of their people.”

Her dad would say, “Me upoko pakaru, to stay resolute, not all storms are sent here to destroy us.

“We don’t get this far from being in despair. We get this far from resilience.”

He Ōhākī is part of the Loading Docs 2022 collection. More Loading Docs titles are available to watch on Play Stuff and www.loadingdocs.net

*This story originally appeared on Stuff

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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