Introducing the new member of the The Project Team: Rod Baxter

Kia ora koutou! This is my first blog and it seems appropriate to begin with an introduction. As a Pākehā supervisor, I have needed to learn the art of of pepeha and mihimihi. Last year I learned something new and it caused a form of paralysis. Let me try to explain.

When I’ve heard tauiwi recite pepeha and crack jokes such as “ko Qantas te waka”, I’ve felt deeply uncomfortable and never found it funny. Evidently many tangata whenua also struggle with this and can find some Pākehā expressions of pepeha offensive. Check out this Twitter discussion:

I’ve also struggled to articulate my relationship to maunga and awa because I certainly don’t feel a possessive connection nor an ancestral link, even though there are specific mountains and rivers I have personally and deeply connected with since my childhood.

Shortly after this online debate, an alternative template was suggested and surfaced on Facebook. I’ve since started playing with it:

Ko Kaukau te maunga te rū nei taku ngākau.

Kaukau is the mountain that speaks to my heart.

I have spent most of my life living at the base of Kaukau. I have vivid memories of climbing the maunga with my mum, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. I still spend time regularly reflecting up Kaukau and even proposed to my fiancé at the summit last year!

Ko Korimako te awa e mahea nei aku māharahara.

Korimako is the river that alleviates my worries.

I can see the Korimako stream from my balcony. When we choose to avoid the cardio workout Kaukau offers(!), we walk down the Ngaio Gorge alongside Korimako as it connects with Kaiwharawhara. The undulating trail weaves in and out of trees and tūī, pīwaiwaka, kererū and kākā often sing to us as we stroll.

Nō Ngaio ahau.

I’m from Ngaio.

I say this to locate myself in the present. I keep this bit simple. A longer explanation acknowledges that Ngaio is a newer name for this suburb, post-colonisation. There are other traditional indigenous names for the places I live. An even longer explanation of where I’m from reveals my ancestors who had wild adventures from Cornwall and Croatia. These stories are so exciting I reckon I should make blockbuster movies and then I’ll get rich.

E mihi ana ki ngā tohu o nehe, o Te Whanganui-a-Tara e noho nei au.

I recognise the ancestral and spiritual landmarks of Wellington, where I live.

Ko Ngāti Pākehā te iwi

This bit is important because sometimes someone might think I’m Māori if I’m not explicit. I am proud to be Pākehā, identify with Tangata Tiriti and am thankful for the gift of identity that Māori have given me through these kupu.

Ko Rod Baxter ahau.

I’m continuing to seek feedback on this revised pepeha from the collection of wise people I’m blessed to have in my life, including kaumatua, taiohi I’ve worked with and fellow Pākehā who are further along the road than me. I’ve just finished reading Joan Metge’s book Tuamaka: The challenge of difference in Aotearoa New Zealand, and she challenges us to clarify the “fine line between appreciation and appropriation” (2010, p53). When I first bought a property, I felt uneasy about the idea of ‘owning’ the land and felt it needed to be the other way around. Kaumatua James Makowharemahihi blessed the house, along with 18 of my friends and family, and several kaupapa emerged in the karakia within the identity of Te Whare Manaaki. During this process, I realised the inherent layers of relationship: through pepeha, through Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and through the supervision that happens here.

So there you go: a very long introduction. In the spirit of relationship, I welcome your feedback…

Mauri ora!


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