Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Kia Aha Te Maori Kia Maori Ai? Perspectives towards Maori Identity by Maori Heritage Language Learners

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Kia Aha Te Maori Kia Maori Ai? Perspectives towards Maori Identity by Maori Heritage Language Learners

Article excerpt

Maori have undergone a series of dynamic changes in the reclaiming of space and identity (Smith, 1989). Who we are and who we want to become are both equally important questions for negotiating our identity (Hall, 1990; Robson & Reid, 2001). Maori identities continue to evolve with the change that Maori have experienced, and continue to experience. Since the 1960s, Maori have begun the process of "renegotiating and reclaiming the past" and te reo Maori has been central to this process (Smith, 1989, p. 6). Although research has been conducted on te reo Maori, and identity, very few studies have explored, in detail, how these two processes influence one another in a (post) colonial context. This study will explore how Maori heritage language (HL2) learners perceive Maori identity and how these perceptions may impact on Maori language learning behaviours.

With one in seven people in New Zealand identifying as Maori in 2013 (Statistics NZ, 2013), the way in which Maori view identity is of particular relevance to understanding Aotearoa as a nation. Maori identity has been labeled in numerous ways that were consistent with Western constructs of ethnic identity categorisation across various times. Postcontact, Maori were identifiable as Maori based 'lifestyle'. Subsequently, Maori identity was measured through blood quantum (using a fraction based system) (Pool, 1991). The current government trend of ethnic identification offers two options for measuring Maori ethnic identity. First, Maori are Maori if they have Maori ancestry, and second, if they choose to identify as Maori (Kukutai & Callister, 2009). One of these identity types can be thought of as ascribed (i.e. whakapapa based/having Maori heritage) and the other achieved (i.e reaching a state where one chooses to be Maori) (Marcia, 1966; Phinney, 1989).

Given the historical context of colonisation in New Zealand (as docmented in numerous Waitangi Tribunal reports) exploring Maori identities requires an understanding of the history in which contemporary Maori identities evolve. In the context of reclaiming Maori identity, Pitman (2012, p. 46) indicated:

"Defining who you are [as Maori] is important. We must reclaim the right to define ourselves because it's that constant redefining of us by the coloniser that causes schizophrenia, confusion and separation from each other."

Reclaiming a 'right' to claim a Maori identity has been studied in detail. McIntosh explains that Maori choose to identify as Maori, the individual is engaging in the act of "claims making" (2005).

Following the concepts of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), rather than making self-proclamations of one's preferred identity, others must agree with the identity claim that is laid. Through processes of colonisation, including the labeling and categorisation of Maori, the personal act of claiming a Maori identity can be difficult for those who believe in a set of criteria and perceive themselves to have failed to meet aspects of a set of criteria for in group membership.

Of Maori who claim to be ethnically Maori, 46.5% identified Maori as their sole ethnic group, this percentage fell from 52.8% in 2006 (Statistics New Zealand, 2013). With 45.6% of Maori indicating that they had one other ethnic group other than Maori, these statistics highlight the increasing diversity of Maori identity profiles. Those who are interested in claiming a Maori identity may feel more or less comfortable to make a claim depending on their acquisition of a range of identity markers. Some familiar markers of Maori identity include knowledge of whakapapa, matauranga Maori, te reo Maori, and visible features (including physical racially defining characteristics and in some cases ta moko (1) or the display of taonga (2)) (Durie, 2001; Higgins, 2004; McIntosh, 2005; Penetito, 2011). In addition to the features mentioned above, contribution to the wider group by being 'seen' in Maori contexts, such as marae (kanohi kitea) or maintaining relationships with your turangawaewae ahi ka (keeping the home fires burning). …

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