Reina | Pukekawa, Waikato

“I think when I think of some of the challenges that I’ve faced in my life, one that’s been interesting and has definitely been a journey that I’ve been on in is in terms of my cultural identity.

Growing up as a young person, my family was very much what you could call Kiwi. My parents never really lived any part of our culture that identified as both Māori and Indian. I think that was a large measure, because most of my grandparents, they were all Māori, and they were a part of the generation of young people who were beaten essentially, at school, for living their culture. If they spoke te reo Māori at school, if they did any of these things, they were the ones that suffered and were punished because of it and that then resulted in my parents not having the opportunity to learn and grow in, in that culture, as well. So, essentially I was raised just Kiwi, without much connection to my Māori culture, and my Indian grandfather, he came to New Zealand as a young boy, and he just then assimilated into the Kiwi New Zealand culture. In terms of me growing up through school, a lot of my schools were essentially non-Maori, and it wasn’t a huge focus, for my parents, for us to move into that. Coming into an adult, and going out into the world on my own, the ways that Māori was trying to reach for revival, and trying to come through, these things that were part of my whakapapa and my genealogy became more and more important to me. I was exposed to more of the subtle racism, here in New Zealand, that occurs in the way that people see and view Māori, and the stereotypes. That was always an interesting experience to reflect on, but as I’ve grown and as I’ve experienced more and seen more particularly in our political global climate at the moment, it’s become more and more apparent to me how important it is for us all to connect back to those roots. Connect back to our ancestors, for me to connect to my tūpuna, and to continue the legacy of their own culture, because it’s so beautiful. So, it’s a continuing journey for me, and I’m grateful for the conversations that I get to have with a lot of colleagues. I have colleagues who don’t identify as Māori or who sometimes don’t even consider New Zealand to be bi-cultural, because they’re too afraid to use te reo Māori words, and so to be an advocate and example of that is really important, and it’s a really powerful part of my life now.

I grew up in a beautiful, idyllic country place called Pukekawa. It’s not really a town. It’s more just a place where you could drive through and blink and miss it, but it’s a beautiful landscape. It’s market garden land, so often a lot of people across the North Island will have eaten some of the kai that comes from the land where I live, and my parents have lived there for the last 40 years. I went to the local primary school, and the local high school that’s there, and had quite a privileged and blessed childhood as a young person, because my father worked really hard to look after his family, and my mother stayed at home to nurture and care for us all. So, really grateful for that experience. 

Currently in my life, I’m actually going through quite an interesting challenge in terms of where I work and what I do. I am a Kaiāwhina, and I help to support students in their study, and help them more with the emotional side of things, in terms of where they’re studying and what they’re doing, and providing help for them there. This year, in particular, it’s been quite a challenge for lots of reasons. Covid being one of them, but it’s been a challenge because of the leadership that they’ve seen in that space, and it hasn’t been the most supportive. So I’m there to help support them and help them navigate through those difficulties with this particular leadership at this time in their study, and for me, it’s really helped to highlight what I appreciate and what I value in leadership. Some of those things include vulnerability, authenticity, being genuine and caring and having compassion for those that are under your stewardship at the time, and unfortunately I haven’t seen a lot of that demonstrated. That’s meant that it’s been quite difficult to communicate honestly with this particular leader and it’s caused a lot of trauma for our students. A lot of my colleagues have left this space in the time, as well, and it’s been disruptive to study. I’ve seen colleagues that have been very hurt by the process, too but at the same time, I still really love and appreciate the work that I do to help support students and help keep them motivated to remain in their studies. I see how resilient they are, how much they’ve come through, and they’re still willing to live their dreams and push forward through these hard times. Again, Covid was something that none of us had expected, and it was really difficult for a lot of our students who have young children at home, who had to manage so many things whilst being at home during that time, and they’ve come through, and that’s been one of the really powerful examples to me. It’s one of the things that gives me hope that there is a future of amazing people who are wanting to do wonderful things for their community and they will, in turn be great leaders. So, I’m grateful for that experience, and I’m grateful for the things that I’ve learned through it all.”

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