When I agreed to attend this Symposium last weekend I had no previous knowledge of the organisers, E Tū Whānau, who else was going and what exactly I was going to get out of the whole event. Nevertheless, trusting in our organisation’s leader and mentor Tinmama ( I have to say she’s pretty up there on the trust scale), I made the trip down with Maha and Amina, representing The Youth Collective. What was to unfold was a wholesome exchange of culture, passions, and visions by rangatahi of New Zealand.
When it comes to my own personal efforts towards community engagement, my focus has largely been on resettlement/refugee, ethnic and migrant organisations. Understandably, The groups that E Tū Whānau gathered in Rotorua were majority Māori, as their main focus is advocating and working on issues surrounding Māori families. What really made this event special not just for me, but for everyone who attended was the conscious choice to open up the Symposium to non Māori organisations from across New Zealand.
The Symposium started off with us being welcomed in a powhiri (we unfortunately missed it). After dinner we were further welcomed with the history and mythologies of Māori settlement, their fight to reclaim what was rightfully theirs in the 70s/80s and how their rangatahi today were enjoying the fruits of their elders labour. It was made clear that in many ways we, as migrants and former refugees, were the guests of this gathering and this land.
Later in the evening, we were invited into a circle to play a few games in an effort to ease the awkward tension of being in an unfamiliar place with equally unfamiliar faces. With this easing of tensions came the shifting of energies and the overarching dialogue of the symposium. We had all come from our different home lands and now cities in New Zealand, but within that short amount of time we had learned that we all shared so many of the same values.
Friday and Saturday came and went. We spent much of the time listening to speeches, as well as completing workshops in our delegated groups, and then presenting our answers to everyone else. The ideas, actions and visions that everyone brainstormed, although in different groups, showed just how in tune we all were. The general theme was to envision what we, as rangatahi from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, wanted New Zealand to look like in 15 years, while also reflecting on and incorporating the values of E Tū Whānau.
Our visions included practical and deliberate interaction and action. We acknowledged the diversity in the room and the importance of inclusiveness as we imagined a future that included all of us respecting individuals rights and their cultural backgrounds. We all agreed that we wanted more of these gatherings for youth. It was really great to hear people’s appreciation and respect of tangata whenua. We want compulsory Te Reo Māori in schools, but in a way that provides historical and cultural context for all learners because standardized teaching isn’t going to cut it. We also took on the responsibility of creating change, knowing that it starts from within. One thing we knew we all could do after the Symposium was take all we had learnt and shared with each other back to our own communities.
Aside from all the brainstorming and visionary thinking, one of my personal highlights of the trip was the opportunity to learn and relearn about tangata whenua. When I think about my education about Māori people, history and culture, I distinctly remember my extremely frazzled and unorganised history teacher in year 13 who did a below average teaching of the causes and consequences of the Treaty of Waitangi. The little info that I can recall learning cannot compare to what I was exposed to during this trip.
Ngaa Rauuira, who gave us a beautiful summary of Māori settlement on Thursday night, also took a few of us on a tour of the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Te Puia on Friday afternoon. He has to be one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever been in the presence of. Ngaa was a walking library of Maori history, language, culture and mythology, present and passionate in way that wasn’t just regurgitating facts and figures. Ngaa is definitely someone I would’ve appreciated back in year 13. If the weather hadn’t been so against us, I’m sure we would’ve gotten even more amazing teachings from him.
Although I didn’t really know what I was signing up for, I’m glad I did go along with everyone else that attended this Rangatahi Symposium. If you’re currently sitting on the fence about attending an event or unsure of taking a leap into the unknown in terms of your current situation, then I encourage you to take this as your sign to say yes. You never know what may come of it.
For more photos, you can visit The Youth Collective on Facebook!