Three years ago, at Tapu Te Ranga, I went to my first ever Te Hā Kaituhi Māori. Before then, I had never heard of Te Hā. On the last day there was a feedback session and I remember very clearly someone putting their hand up and asking whether young people were allowed to attend the hui, and if so, why weren’t there any? There was no satisfactory answer, that I recall, other than an agreement that next time someone should invite them.
When I joined the board of Te Hā last year I remembered that take. I think I was invited to the board because I’ve been writing in this “new-ish” genre of contemporary Māori non-fiction and perhaps it was thought that I could bring a different perspective. For awhile after I first joined I just listened. I wasn’t sure what I had to contribute. But being on a board has a way of making you visible. People started asking me the same questions I was asking myself: what is Te Hā? Why do we exist and what is our purpose?
Whakapapa, you see. It’s the first thing people always want to know.
A few weeks later, I sent an email to Patricia Grace. Yes, *the* Patricia Grace, who only two years before I’d seen walking into The Warehouse and had avoided out of share reverence. I emailed her to introduce myself and asked if she’d be available to come and talk to our local Te Hā committee. She replied the same day. “What time and where?”
That hui was really important and those of us that were there were lucky to hear the kōrero she shared. We took notes and you can read them here. But there was one person at the hui who wasn’t happy. This person made a point of raising a take, right at the end of the kōrero, when everyone was still glowing. This person told us that we were lacking direction and didn’t have a clear strategy or purpose. They also challenged us – looking at me – on the fact that there were no young people among us.
“Kei hea ngā rangatahi?” they said, pointing their finger at me. “What’s the point of this kaupapa if there are no rangatahi here?”
Although I didn’t show it, I felt angry. I was annoyed at being held accountable for something I had only just stepped into. I also felt frustrated that this person had arrived late and only raised problems without offering to fix them. They also missed the richness of Patricia’s kōrero which explained very clearly the purpose and strategy of Te Hā. A purpose that hasn’t changed in forty years! Te Hā exists to identify, support and promote Māori writers – pretty uncomplicated, really.
The thing about a wero though, is that when you accept it you sometimes end up being grateful for it. Look at this photo of the rangatahi! They OWNED the stage at the open mic on Saturday night.
Of course, no-one can ever get everything right and on the final day of the hui there was a feedback session. This time I was on the receiving end of it. It was interesting because I know that the presence of rangatahi signals a new era, but the process of working on this hui has taught me more than ever before that we can’t go forwards without taking the past with us. We don’t discard and move on. We rejuvenate, we reimagine, but we don’t turn our backs. That’s why the past is in front of us, nē?
More on that in the next post…….
****Two important caveats****
We called them “scholarships” but let’s be honest – it was a free ticket valued at $120. Some students who came from out of town received a small transport grant, and each got a free book courtesy of Vic Books, but we know that for every student that came there will have been dozens more who wanted to be there but didn’t have the means. Not to mention all those students that didn’t even hear about the opportunity because it wasn’t widely advertised.
Can we do better next time? I think we should.
On top of that, there was an enormous amount of work that went into the programme itself. There’s no way we could have brought the students without the logistical support of Toi Māori. This is mostly behind the scenes mahi – everything from flights to health and safety to follow up emails – so important and very time consuming. Just inviting rangatahi is not enough – we have to go and bring them (sometimes, quite literally). Credit for this (and so much other detailed work) goes to Dana Leaming, Pehia Nik and Edgardo Regala Tabios. They worked full time on the Te Hā hui for weeks and then gave up their weekend too.
And then there’s Te Kahu Rolleston, a dude you can be sure will never be around when you attempt to make a public acknowledgement of him – e hoa, you can’t avoid a FB post. I’d say this in Māori but I’ll fuck it up so I’ll just say it in English – at the Pōwhiri, you opened a pathway for the rangatahi to step into with a whaikōrero that made me think back to that original wero. Something like, if young people aren’t part of your kaupapa, what’s the point of your kaupapa? And you thumbed over your shoulder to show that the students were sitting right there behind you.
Neira te mihi ki a koe – some people just point out the problems. Others show up to do the mahi.