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Being Mäori-Päkehä

Being Mäori-Päkehä

Tuesday 8th July 2008

Attention: Education/Mäori Issues Reporters

A new book from NZCER Press delves into the experience of being a New Zealander of Mäori-Päkehä descent.

Walking the Space Between is written by Melinda Webber (Te Arawa/Ngapuhi/Päkehä), who is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland.

Ms Webber examines how she has come to state her ethnic identity as Mäori, despite having strong Scottish heritage on both sides. The book contains detailed interviews with six others about the complex nature of straddling two distinctly New Zealand ethnic groups—Mäori and Päkehä, each with their own prescriptive criteria for inclusion. Their stories reveal how some people of mixed Mäori descent sit on the margins of both groups, forever negotiating the right to be included. Ideas – often unspoken – about who is considered a ‘real Mäori’ in the Mäori world, and the ‘right kind of Mäori’ in the Päkehä world, play a prominent role in shaping their sense of in-between-ness.

Ms Webber says that feeling is often exacerbated at school, where Mäori students are expected to tick certain boxes, such as being good at sport and speaking te reo. For her and those she interviewed, it was not until they were older and in tertiary education that they realised they could work out their own identity and that it could be fluid rather than fixed.

“The older I get, the more I’m sure about my right to decide what being Mäori means for me and my family and my child, and to enact that, regardless of how different it is to what other Mäori do,” she says. “Identity is shifting, our culture is shifting.”

Ms Webber says there’s a need for a more robust debate in New Zealand about ethnic identity, particularly when more and more people have transnational or mixed-heritage backgrounds. As a teacher educator, she would like to see trainee teachers being taught to better understand what they bring to the classroom, through an examination of their own identities.

“If you are going to teach a diverse range of students, then as a first step you have to understand yourself and the lens through which you see the world.”



The New Zealand Council for Educational Research is New Zealand's only independent, educational research organisation. Established in 1934 through grants from the Carnegie Corporation, it became a statutory body in 1945 and now operates under its own Act of Parliament. Its key focus is to provide educators, students, parents, policy makers and the public with innovative and independent research, analysis, and advice. NZCER is not formally attached to any government department, university, or other educational organisation.

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