Ralph | Kaitī, Gisborne

“I’m a foundation trustee of Tauawhi. I’ve been here for 10 years, and the name Tauawhi was one that was given to our process by my cousin. We knew what we wanted to do, but we didn’t know what to call it.

So, I went and saw my cousin to ask her why we were having such difficulty, and she said go away, come back in three days and I’ll, I’ll sort it out. She was a Ngāti Porou linguist. So she was an expert on te reo that applies to Ngāti Porou. When I went back, she had a big smile on her face, and she put her arms out and gave me a big hug and said, Tauawhi. I said, Tauawhi? Yes. Tauawhi means to embrace. So, that’s the kaupapa here. I thought I’d share that with you.

Every Wednesday morning and afternoon I do that. I’m a pakeke, an elder for Te Pae Oranga which is the iwi panel for Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou. This is a restorative justice process where the Police send people to us, rather than sending them to court. So, every Wednesday I’m meeting a lot of people who are different to me, but because of my background, I can relate to many of them, because the thing we share in common is that I’m very Māori, but I look like this, because my father wore a kilt. My mother wore a piupiu. My father came from Glasgow, and what I’m continually finding from particularly the rangatahi, young people, is their difficulty with being Māori. They don’t know who the hell they are, and they cannot see any value in being Māori. I’ve been retired for 15 years, I used to be an advisor in education, and my retirement is about addressing this particular issue. Cultural awareness, particularly for rangatahi. The other thing that I’d like to share with you, is the fact that if this is my life, my birth, my death, I’m 80 years old, that’s all I’ve got left, so I can’t muck around. I’ve got to give back and do things of value. 

My mother was born in Tikitiki. That’s up the East Coast. My father was a Scottish immigrant. They separated after five years. I was brought up by my Scottish grandparents. I didn’t hear that I was Māori until I was 16. I didn’t hear the name Taiapa till I was 16. My life has been a journey into my cultural background that I was denied because my Scottish whānau did not want to acknowledge the fact that I’m Māori, and they thought they could get away with it, because of the way I look. I married very early. I was 19 when I got married. I have three beautiful daughters. I trained in teaching at Wellington. I taught in Hastings, Tolaga Bay, Dannevirke, and then I became an advisor in health and physical education. I suppose my major focus as an advisor was to try and develop movement programs, because I was an advisor in physical education, that were more culturally appropriate for Māori, and also allowed non-Māori to experience the beauty of our culture. I developed a program called Te Ao Kori, which is basically the language of movement. As a result of that, I was invited to participate as the Kaitiaki for Māori for the new physical education curriculum, and I continued with that until my retirement. My advisory job took me from Gisborne to the top of the East Coast, around the Cape, Whakatōhea, Whānau-ā-Apanui to Ōpōtiki, up to Lake Waikaremoana, down to Māhia, Wairoa, Mohaka River, and back here. So, the area I work in was predominantly Māori and I have a burning desire to make things better, because of the confusion I had as a young person. I did not have a very successful school career, not because I’m dumb, but because what I was getting was inappropriate for where I was at. I sat School Cert three times, which most people would say makes you a failure, and yet here I am sitting on a national panel, writing a curriculum for New Zealand. So, it just shows you the range of that experience and sadly my wife passed away 25 years ago. We had a business for her, which was a florist shop, and I developed a house into a restaurant for my daughter. So, I’m very much part of this community and a whole range of stuff, but Tauawhi, I wouldn’t miss a Wednesday night. It’s just so important for me to be here to support the bros. 

I have two daughters who are Buddhists, and I tautoko that community. I have been very involved all my life in Māori arts and it’s another passion of mine to ensure that this town, Gisborne, Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa  reflects the ethnicity of the town, in terms of its public artworks. So I try and promote a balance in terms of who we are in Gisborne. I am involved in a project at present. Do you know what a stupa is? It’s a Buddhist monument. The Buddhist community here have been advised by quite high up, just under the Dalai Lama that Tairāwhiti is one of the most auspicious places in the world, and there is a program trying to establish a stupa, which is a monument, here because the sun rising here first in the world is deemed to be very auspicious for Buddhists. So, when I came to Gisborne, Gisborne was 50 per cent Pākehā, 50 per cent Māori, and I became very aware  of the racism that exists in this town, right from the time I arrived here. I can remember looking for a house, and the real estate agent who was supposed to be showing me everything in my price range, took us around town and then after about three weeks I said, hey are you sure you’re showing me everything in my price range? And he says, what do you mean? I said, well I haven’t seen anything over there, and I haven’t seen anything up there, what’s the story? And he says, well you wouldn’t want to live in the kūmara patch, would you? And, I suddenly realised that this population was being manipulated by real estate agents who are inflating property values over here, and creating ghettos over here and it was all racially-based. Now, today every dairy in Gisborne are owned by Indian peoples, who work hella hard, and there are other Asian groups predominantly in the food industry. It’s a very different town to the one I came to. So, do I appreciate this diversity? Hey, mā te wā. What is, is what is. If you don’t appreciate it, you don’t appreciate it. You’ve just got to appreciate it, and could I suggest to not look at that as a deficit, but to look at it as an advantage. I’m a glass half full person.”

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