The summer of 2019 is the first in four years that I have actively and consciously taken time off writing my PhD thesis. Over that span the ‘time off’ I took was probably wrapped in procrastination. Three rangatahi; one teenager and two youngsters of my family flew back as “unaccompanied minors” from Australia after moving there two years ago with their young parents wanting new opportunities. It has been a thrill to reintroduce them to their old South Auckland ‘stomping grounds’, although when they left they were hardly allowed out of sight to stomp. We also took them to their tribal lands and reacquainted them with their pepeha (tribal motto) that ties them to our significant landmarks, tribal connections and identity. At every opportunity we have tried to reinforce a semblance of their Māori language, culture and identity because with their parents the focus is more on their Tongan and Samoan heritage. Alongside cultural identity we have spent time promoting the benefits of tertiary education. It is not really an easy sell but we keep ‘harping’ on about when they go to university like it is a given. I am their great-aunt and only one of two aunts from their large whānau that have been to university. I do not know if they will get there, but at least having someone in their close vicinity working towards a doctorate, puts the possibility for tertiary education right in front of them and might bridge the gap between a possible and an obvious choice. Those choices were not there for me when I left school. I did not know a single person who went to university, nor had I heard anybody talk about going. In fact the Guidance Counsellor at my High School recommended against university preferring I take up hairdressing instead.
How does a possibility of tertiary education turn into a family or personal value, I often wonder to myself. The difference tertiary education and the associated income can make, changes family’s lives. We want that for our mokopuna (grandchildren). I know most people in Aotearoa New Zealand only want the best for their children, and for us Indigenous people we hope for the same. But the desire does not just stop with our own children and grandchildren. The reach goes on and on through the generations. The way I see it, if they have a stable income because they are educated, there is less chance that they will sell their ancestral land (there is very little left but at least they do have a few blades of grass) nestled near their tribal maunga (mountain), moana (sea) and marae (meeting place) when they are left in charge. It means they will always have an identity that ties them to the land, a turangawaewae (a standing place), a home in Aotearoa, the only place where they are tangata whenua (people of the land). Too many of our Indigenous people are disconnected from their roots, and left to wonder aimlessly not knowing their identity and rich histories of survival through the colonisation processes.
My mother is the children’s great-grandmother. She only has one grandchild and that is an oddity in Māori families. Luckily my neice has blessed our family with five beautiful and smart children. It means we have six chances to pass the legacy of our whakapapa (geneology) and ties to the land on. I trust that amongst these three girls there will be at least one that feels their Māori DNA and it compels them take a sustainability approach to our turangawaewae. It is a big ask really! As children they no longer live here. Are they likely to return from Australia? Amongst other family members that moved to Australia they do eventually come home, but it is some time later and quite often it becomes very hard to do so because their children find partners and have children there. They have also returned to tribal areas where they were brought up. Our mokopuna were urban, brought up in South Auckland so without a parent or grandparent back here it seems difficult and unlikely. Can a tertiary education change any of that for us? I don’t think so, but the income and training can make the ride easier and presents them with numerous more opportunities. It certainly puts more options on the table for them to choose from, other than find a job!
The youngsters have gone off to their Samoan family for a couple of days and I trust they too will be influencing them with Samoan values. Before they left I asked the teenager to come in and read this blog. She liked it but had no ideas on how I could conclude except to go back to the introduction paragraph (is she bright or what?). So here it is! I trust this summer ‘break’ of sorts will be enough to keep me going through the next couple of summers (I hopefully only need one more) which will probably see me in the thick of finishing off my first full draft of the thesis. To achieve this lofty goal means about 600 new words on a page, 6 days a week for the next year. A big ask for a part time doctoral scholar who works three days of that week to earn a living to keep this privileged position of writing a doctorate going. Especially when some days the ‘Procrastination Monster’ encourages me to lie around and have a Netflix-fest of non-stop drama. I have seven chapters of approximately 10,000 words to write and three to craft into an (up to) 100,000 word final piece of organised work, that contributes to new knowledge in my field. I asked the girls to elimate the words ‘try’ and ‘hope’ from their vocabulary and replace them with ‘I will’ and ‘I trust’ to frame their mindset for positivity and action. I have used both elimated words in this blog and cannot seem to replace them because life goes on, situations change and sometimes that means upheavals. So, I desperately hope our whānau continue to grow, stay safe and remain healthy. I trust that the bits of time off I have had to spend time with them helps them further develop their cultural identity, value education, and follow role models they can be proud of and emulate. We are proud of these young ladies and ever so pleased they have listened, learned and grown with us. Now if we could all address our ‘Procrastination Monsters’ we might achieve our goals within the timeframes we’ve set. I’ll finish by saying I ‘hope’ and ‘trust’ next summer will be last one I spend on becoming a Doctor of Philosphy.
Picture: ‘Karirikura te moana’ – Ninety Mile Beach, Ahipara, Far North.