WhenI first saw the poster for this trip I was excited because I thought this trip would be a cool place to study abroad. I knew I was going to learn about New Zealand but I had no clue that the things I learned would apply so much to my life back home. Throughout this trip I have thought a lot about who I am. We have spent this first part of the trip learning a lot about the Maori people of New Zealand and their way of life. A big part of Maori culture is giving thanks to the nature around them and acknowledging the people and things that came before them. This really struck a chord with me, as I am part of the Cowlitz Nation and a lot of things that the Maori people value are what my tribe also values. For those who might not know, the Cowlitz Nation is a federally recognized tribe in Washington and I noticed many parallels with Maori and Cowlitz cultural values.
The past couple years I haven’t been that involved in my tribe. I used to do traditional dancing but after changing schools and getting more involved in sports, I stopped dancing. Since I was a kid I’ve tried to figure out where I belong because I am mostly white. I’ve had plenty of people question my Cowlitz heritage. It doesn’t even matter if I show them my tribal ID to them there is no way I could be native. In their minds a Native American is someone who lives in a tepee, wears a deer skin dress, and has a feather behind their head. I’ve never had another Native American question my heritage. Sometimes I feel hesitant to talk about my heritage because while I am native I don’t face the same problems that other Native Americans experience.
Our first night at the kokiri, Tiaki told us something that really touched me. He was talking about our heritage and he said that it wasn’t what was on the outside but what was in our hearts that counted. This meant a lot to me because Tiaki is white but he is still Maori. He knows so much about his culture and he is so involved it made me realize that I wanted to be the same way. The week at the kokiri made me think a lot about my childhood, especially time I spent with my family on my tribe’s land and the time I use to do traditional dancing. I started realize how much I missed it.
The values of the Maori were familiar to me in many ways. Respect for their elders, respect for the land, and the struggle against colonialism. The past week made me realize how much I didn’t know about my culture and how much I wanted to know. A fire has been built within me and I can’t wait to learn and discover more about my culture and my heritage. This past week has also shown me that I can use the privilege and opportunities I have to help my tribe and all native people. While I have to acknowledge my privilege and realize that part of my ancestry is responsible for hurting indigenous people, I can help my fellow Native Americans. I can educate. I can be an advocate. I can make a difference.