image Are you Māori enough? Walking on the identity tightrope

Political Roundup: Who gets to decide if Simon Bridges is ‘Māori enough?’ Seeing this headline in the NZ Herald grinded my bones. With the appointment of new National Party Leader Simon Bridges, some have questioned his Māori-ness and just how Māori he is. As someone who doesn’t support National, in this case, I took pity on Simon because who gets to question how Indigenous or Māori someone is – I would say, no one! Both of my parents are Māori, I happily identify as Māori yet there are times where I feel that I’m not Māori enough and what an uncomfortable feeling that can be. It made me wonder, if I feel like this, how does Simon feel about these very public criticisms? What does a Māori actually do anyway… we are all so different (see Greaves, Houkamau & Sibley, 2015 for more). I’m not fluent in te reo Māori and this influences my perceptions of my own Māoriness, the operative word being MY. Yes it is uncomfortable but I live with what I ascribe to myself in terms of MY Māori identity.

Growing up as an Indigenous person entering mainstream institutions is like walking on a tightrope – assimilate too much, you’ll fall and lose your Indigenous identity. Don’t assimilate enough – you’ll fall because of the weight of all the negative stereotypes that society places on you. If you’re resilient enough though, maybe you won’t fall. Becoming educated has helped me develop my resilience but its not easy! I’d be a rich girl if I received a dollar for every negative stereotype that was ascribed to me – ‘Oh can you afford this place’, ‘You’re well-spoken for a Māori’, ‘You don’t have a Māori nose’, ‘Your kids have the same dad?’, ‘Wait, you’re actually a PhD candidate’, ‘Oh I thought you were on the DPB’… And when you explain your research focus to non-Māori – ‘Why are Māori any different?’, ‘Why should they get special treatment?’, ‘Can’t the problem be solved with the same initiatives given to non-Māori?’ Which leads me to the point, should we be questioning someone’s Māori identity? I think not because chances are, they’re having their own internal battle and are battling with others on a daily basis.



Narissa is of Tainui, Ngāti Kahungungu and Ngāti Porou descent. She is a Professional Teaching Fellow in Learning and Instructional Design at the University of Auckland Business School and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK. Her PhD research focuses on the institutional practices, policies and programmes within higher education management and how these support the employability of first-in-family students within the NZ tertiary context.


  1. I have been reading around this debate with interest. I watched a fb post last night that had Maori attacking Bridges, and then each other when they didn’t agree, which I found rather sad.

    But what I do find most concerning is that many Maori have the same identity issues. We struggle to find our place. But I do find it somewhat comforting that I am not alone – sometimes it seems that questioning your ‘Maoriness’ almost makes you ‘more Maori’.

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  2. Yes an interesting conundrum as we try to find our place. The stereotyping by others is bad enough let alone being attacked by other Māori. I haven’t seen some of the social media activity on this yet and choose not to… I’m in a happy bubble at the moment. But maybe I need to. You grow from discomfort right?

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  3. Awesome and timely debate. Like Amber I’ve been following the debate too. One of the comments was not too kind either. Basically I believe that colonisation causes historical trauma, loss of language, identity and resources. Along with urbanisation and living largely a western lifestyle it’s no wonder many Māori do not live as Maori with their reo and tikanga. It’s not our fault. But as you mentioned, we have made it a priority to learn reo and tikanga. It was a conscious choice. And for me it was a process of decolonising my mind. That’s an ongoing process. Thanks for the post.

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  4. For me, identity will be a constant struggle. I have moments where I feel tūturu-Māori-as and I think I’m doing ok. But those moments are fewer than the ones where I feel like I fail to live up to a Māori ideal, which in and of itself is a fallacy. But mostly I welcome the struggle because I don’t ever want to be complacent.

    I’ve not followed this trail because its dumb and inappropriate and I’m trying not to respond to blatantly inflammatory media.No doubt there is a good debate in there, but I’ll take a look at it when I’m ready.

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  5. This is my story. I’m doing my PhD in Australia living in a cultural corridor as Māori Pākehā I question my self all the time and then that sadden me that I disrespect my granny. Through colonisation my whanau assilimated too much now I struggle to get rid of those negative questions I face daily. I am sixty five and when I return home which is two to three tines a years I alway wear my greenstone but not out in view to everyone it’s is hidden under my top because I see That Look from people of judgement. You would think I was old enough to no worry .. but here I am educated mature wahine wondering Am I Māori Enough.

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