Kōrero me te whakarongo (talk and listen)

That space for intercultural dialogue is totally gold

We talked to creative, refugee advocate, and HOST International kaimahi Sarah Macdonald recently about her latest feedback to Community Research. Sarah watched our latest webinar on Te Tiriti in Practice.

We explored what it is to be Pākehā, and how tauiwi communities, like former refugees, have a natural connection to tikanga and karakia.  And the need to open the conversation about how Te Tiriti can play out for all of us: tangata whenua, pākehā, and tauiwi.

Ko wai koe? Who are you?

I’m a Pākehā New Zealander. I whakapapa back to Scotland and the British Isles, and there is some Scandinavian in here too. The Viking comes through strong in a lot of the women in my family! I was raised in Singapore and Hong Kong and come from a long line of colonials spread around the globe. My great grandfather was born in Bangalore and someone on my Mum’s side was born in what is now Bangladesh.

There are also stories of people in Burma (now Myanmar) and relatives spread throughout the United States. I was sent to boarding school in Christchurch, so I call myself a ‘third-culture kid’ because I was raised outside of New Zealand and never really connected to being a ‘typical’ New Zealander. 

I left New Zealand as soon as possible once I finished boarding school. My husband is Spanish, and we have three kids. I’ve been back in New Zealand for ten years. Before that I worked and lived in Thailand, Spain, Greece and Australia, always working in development or education – sometimes in bars, picking fruit or swinging fire pois! Since being home this time, I went to AUT and studied international studies and conflict resolution, Mastering in human rights while I had my babies. My work and life overseas led me to an understanding of what happens to people when they are displaced: The rise of human resilience and creativity always seems to shine through. I worked on the Myanmar border with refugees and got to understand migrant rights while living in Spain. So, all this has naturally led me into the diversity and inclusion space, especially the rights of refugees and migrants.

How has your background led you to your Pākehāness?

I initially saw it through a guilt-filled lens, like many pākehā do. But as I’ve grown, and being with a Spanish husband, having friends from different walks of life, and spending a lot of time overseas I see being pākehā from a different lens now. I see things through a lens of intercultural connection: This idea that we can be separate yet together sits fine with me – that saying ‘unity in diversity’ comes to mind. I can connect to Aotearoa, while I raise my bilingual and bi-cultural children, knowing that they will also connect but in their way, that will no doubt be different to mine.

I know colonial well: I was raised by and inside the colonial global context and mindset. My internal conversation regarding what the makeup of society should look like and narratives that go with that has been there for generations. I have had to actively confront many of those narratives and continue to keep them in check daily. What is interesting to me is that we whakapapa back to the Highlanders who were stripped of their language and their cultural narrative by the English, and yet many of them ended up fighting for the Crown during the civil war in North America. As members of the human race, we often lose our memory when we are in survival mode. And I’ve realised through working with refugee whānau that when people are in survival mode, there may be a loss or distortion of your historical memory. It’s almost a necessity so you don’t have to think about the trauma. I reflect a lot about that.

You gave some feedback recently after watching our webinar, Te Tiriti in Practice: “That we as pākehā need to create space for indigenous knowledge, do our own work, be courageous and be patient.” Can you expand on that?

“Doing our own work” refers to being pākehā, and where our traumas lie. We can’t speak to Māori intergenerational trauma unless we do that in our own world. Otherwise, how can you speak to tangata whenua who are being forced to do their own work through just living in a system that doesn’t work for them?

It’s not about comparing, but knowing you’ve also got it. And everyone arrives on these shores with it, so as a human race, we’ve all got trauma.  You have to own your personal work to know where you stand and know where your ancestors stood.

We need to be courageous at work, too. I use Te Ao Māori concepts that I’ve gathered in the past 10 years to conceptualise the work I’m doing. I’ve shed the whakamā (shame) around all of this. I have a growing understanding, from an authentic space, and I’m wide open to criticism and ready to take it. And I’ve taken it a lot through working in many different cultural contexts. It’s okay – I’m open to change and listening, and knowing when to shut my mouth. It can’t be tokenistic. In the refugee and migrant space, I don’t do my pepeha or say a karakia in te reo Maori as I have not done that work yet, but I open the space for others to do that in the way that is appropriate. 

And when we talk about the refugee and migrant space, my role as pākehā is to help welcome refugee whānau to our land. We are obliged to do this – not only under the international treaties we as a country have signed – but also because everyone deserves a place to stand.

I think refugee and migrant communities can honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi better than some pākehā! Those communities do connect with concepts within Te Ao Māori. Any time I’ve taken migrant or refugee whānau into Māori spaces, it’s an automatic connection – connection to the wairua of the space, the people, and of karakia. There’s a natural honouring of the space, and that grounds what is happening.  And they take the time to have the conversations.  I grew up in Hong Kong and within the Hong Kong and Chinese cultural context it’s all about relationship building. That’s the number one thing. My experience of a Middle Eastern context is the same: You have to have heaps of cups of tea before you get to the crux of the matter. I’ve eaten, eaten, eaten so much in those spaces. I think it happens everywhere, except in many Anglo spaces, we always want to get straight to the point! There’s a lot for us to learn from other cultures – especially those people in positions of power.

What do you think the challenge or opportunity for pākehā is?

To create space for tauiwi and tangata whenua to come together. There’s no real welcoming process yet – there’s a lot of work to do in the refugee sector and it needs to come from the top down. Pākehā need to set up environments to help magic happen, and then stand back. And marae is a great place for this, especially when you have a community marae where intercultural dialogue can happen in different ways. I am part of a project that does this at Piritahi Marae, using music and a conduit for intercultural connection.  That space for intercultural dialogue is totally gold.

Have you had any other thoughts since watching the webinar?

The webinar seemed to be from the lens of someone sitting in a government space. It’s such a different world from the community space, where I sit. I don’t really hear some of the things I heard in the webinar in this space. I thought it was awful for those wāhine to be pushing things uphill so much. They have to be so tough and start from being in fight mode. I can imagine there must be heaps of burn out. What happens to those incredible wāhine?  As pākehā, we need to take on some of the fight. That’s also where the courageous stuff is. We as pākehā need to learn to speak to those in positions of power about this stuff, and not only people in power, but people in our own whānau. It’s hard to talk to that relative you love about their racist behaviour!

I’ve spoken to my work colleagues about the webinar too. We reflected that how Te Ao Māori can be such a healing tool with war trauma, and for people who can’t go home. It’s full of concepts about people connecting people to their land, and this land. I’ve seen healing in this way work with rainbow whānau. I’d love to see more conversations about this. And about indigeneity from a global lens. One of my good friends is Rohingyan from Myanmar and she works in the conflict resolution and human rights space. We have spoken at length about Te Ao Māori and how an understanding of the concepts can give her a language to speak to her people about their context, especially to young Rohingyans in Aotearoa as well as globally, to connect them to their own whakapapa. 

My experience of walking alongside refugee whānau has shown me that we have a gift here in Aotearoa. We have an indigenous lens, that when articulated authentically goes a long way to supporting people to find their own sense of belonging.

I wouldn’t like to comment too much on what I think refugee whānau could offer tangata whenua, however I’m absolutely sure that when given the opportunity for a kōrero, they will find many things in common. I think many kaupapa align.

What would you say to people who think Te Tiriti is just for Māori?

That it’s a taonga, a road map, for how we can live together. I’ve heard it referred to as the first immigration document of New Zealand. I like that – the first document that articulates how we need to behave in order to look after each other and the earth. We have a gift in that very complicated, nuanced, and contested document. But at least it’s a document, and it’s legally binding. No other countries have this as their anchor. 

Is there anything in particular you’d like to see Community Research do, or offer?

Amplifying tauiwi voices within research. And amplifying tauiwi experiences in connection to tangata whenua. It happens, but in the refugee space it’s quite often the louder, better connected pākehā who pops up – all with the best intentions, and always something to offer – but Aotearoa is a small pond. So, it’s even more important to make room for everyone. I do wonder sometimes when I see people putting pākehā and tangata whenua relationship models and retrofitting them onto migrant/refugee and pākehā relationship models. The same lens that pākehā need to operate from with tangata whenua does not always have the same fit in the refugee and migrant space. It’s way more nuanced as we are talking about many different cultural contexts and many different historical relationships, and many different stories of migration.

I’m sure someone much smarter than me might be able to shed some light on the kōrero of multicultural context versus the bicultural contexts. And how do we or when do we start talking about this in Aotearoa? However, I do see that an overall decolonisation model of relationship building i.e pākehā putting energy into making space – or offering up space- and amplifying voices, gifting networks and generally moving over and not whinging about it, is 100% appropriate.

In my heart I feel like we need to open the doors to create three-way conversations: tangata whenua, tauiwi and pākehā. But we have to be mindful as to what that looks like.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

We need to know who we are and know that we are in this together. Te Tiriti can play out for all of us, but we need to have those conversations. I have seen great connections between some migrant communities, and tangata whenua, very powerful, often incredibly creative. I think those relationships are models on how to get conversation happening. At a workshop once, this doctor from Trinidad said, “I’d just like to ask one thing – and she was looking straight at me – when are you and Māori going to let us into the conversation?” My reaction to that is, let’s make space, because we sure could do with the help!!!

Community Research


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