Empowering young Māori and Pasifika to find their place in the world.

A gathering to inspire young indigenous voices.

Turangawaewae is the Māori concept of finding a place of belonging. Without knowledge of culture and history, many indigenous youth feel disconnected.

At Aroha ki to Tangata Marae, rangatahi had the opportunity to speak with Maya Soetoro-Ng.

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Indonesian-American Maya grew up in Hawaii and is the half-sister of Barak Obama. Maya advocates for peace and the empowerment of youth through the Obama Foundation and the East-West Centre.

“There is a strong feeling of isolation that is in operation globally and without understanding one’s place and one’s history, it’s hard to feel a sense of purpose and community and connection” says Maya.

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Maya believes it is important to recognise what indigenous cultures have lost through colonisation.

“In any community where you have a fracture, where you have mistrust, where you have inequity, a loss of language, culture and land, you do have to recognise that there is trauma.”

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Maya and her colleagues at the East West Centre in Hawaii advocate for conflict transformation and building peace through collaboration.

“We transform conflicts with the presence of cooperation and collaboration, shared understanding, careful listening, environmental justice and human rights.”

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17-year-old Lewis Johnston is from Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga and Ngāti Rongomaiwahine descent.

Lewis says that Māori and Pasifika students aren’t getting enough opportunity to voice their opinions so they don’t feel as significant as they could do.

“We had some intellectuals in here today and the kōrero was really important. I think Māori, Māoridom and Maoritanga has a lot to offer to the world but because of colonisation and what’s happened in our history, a lot of that has gone unrecognised.”

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Lewis speaks passionately about education and why Māori and Pasifika students need to feel accepted for speaking their language.

“Sometimes we put people down for not being able to speak English and I think we should recognise they can’t speak English but they can speak another language. We need to support our Māori and Pacific rangatahi because they’ve got a lot to offer. It’s important for our future.”

Kara Puketapu is the leader (rangatira) for Aroha ki to Tangata Marae. Nearly four decades ago Kara had the idea to develop Kōhanga Reo – early childhood centres for Māori children.

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The Kōhanga Reo movement is credited as the most significant and effective initiative undertaken to secure Māori language and traditions.

Knowing about your history and whakapapa is key to finding a sense of belonging and purpose says Lewis.  “The more you know about your whakapapa there’s a lot to take from it. There’s a lot that it provides and there’s a lot of sense of belonging that can help you develop as a person.”

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Lewis and the other rangatahi were encouraged to voice their opinions about sustainability, education and their hopes for the future.

“I think they gave us hope that they could make use of existing opportunities to lead their communities to greater health and wellness” says Maya.

Every rangatahi needs to be heard.

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