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  • Josh Robinson

Disconnected Māori; A simple nullity

Words by Josh Robinson (He/Him) | Ngāti Ranginui 


I didn't know if I was Māori. I didn't grow up knowing my whakapapa, iwi, or hapū, much less knowing how to recite my mihi. My father was adopted at birth. For most of my life, no one knew the source of my whānau’s brown skin. 


Te Ao Māori can feel intimidating to disconnected Māori. As someone who has lived in constant search of themselves, I thought it would be appropriate to write a column that a young version of myself would have sought comfort in. Perhaps someone else out there will, too. 


I first remember questioning my identity as Māori in primary school during a maths test. I opened the front page of the test booklet and stared at the two ovals. One with ‘NZ European’ written beside it, and the other ‘Māori’. Sometimes I shaded both, sometimes I only shaded one. Throughout my childhood, it became apparent these ovals meant more to me than the actual test. 


Similarly, when my sister and I were asked “how Māori” we were, we recoiled with “half a teaspoon”. We laughed, but the internal questioning grew louder. Being called a “half-caste” was something we just became accustomed to. We were mutts. We were not purebred, and it felt as if no matter how hard we tried we would not be let into either club. We weren’t enough of either. 


It was only when my whanau gave their DNA and money to a corporation that we finally found who we were. A sterile, profit-oriented exchange is far from the organic Māori upbringing, but it is to be expected in this Treaty-ravaged Aotearoa. 


I find a twisted solace in now realising that colonialism has had a huge effect on me and my whānau. Needless internal turmoil over my identity, sexuality and mental health can in some way be attributed back to old white men, whether that be in 1840 or 2024. In 1877 Chief Justice James Prendergast referred to The Treaty as “a simple nullity”, but at a stroke of a pen countless generations of Māori were stripped of their future as proud takatāpui, and of their right to customary spiritual avenues to addressing mental health. 


In pre-colonial Aotearoa, my father likely never would have been adopted, and thus we never would have been raised outside of our whakapapa. The customary practice of Whāngai would have protected us from being disconnected from our whenua. 


Indeed, the term “half-caste” is not relevant in Te Ao Māori. No matter “how Māori” you are, you are still Tangata Whenua. Not just by the virtue of what your DNA says, but through the shared experience of what that whenua has seen and experienced over the past 184 years and before. This is what connects us. That is to say there is no such thing as ‘disconnected Māori’. It is but a simple nullity. 


The David Seymours of this whenua would have it that we didn't have this connection. It is only when we finally realise how truly connected we are that we can stamp out the hatred and bigotry that these old white men have imparted on us, whether they came from England on ships, or from our supposed house of representatives. 


As the only Māori on the VUWSA exec, takatāpui no less, it is safe to say my relationship with Te Tiriti has been interesting. To the privileged Pākehā, Te Tiriti can seem like a burning gas giant light years in the past, better to be steered clear of and left untouched. Māori on the other hand, we live close, our retinas burn, but we are not blinded.


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