Maori Delegation Visit

Everyone tries to figure out their poses for a group photo.

 

by Skyler Isaac

 

One the morning of Wednesday, August 1st, 2018, leaders and elders from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Ta’an Kwach’an Council met with a delegation representing the Maori people, an indigenous tribe from New Zealand.

Kwanlin Dun members present included Chief Doris Bill, William Carlick, Judy Gingell, Hazel Bunbury, Jessie Dawson, Sean Smith and several members of the Youth Advisory Committee. The Maori Delegation consisted of Pipiana Rowe, Tamahau Rowe, Tomairangi Mareikura and Jamie Tuuta.

The Maori were here to speak with KDFN about New Zealand’s Whanganui River and Taranaki Mountain, which have been granted legal personhood. This is of particular interest to Kwanlin Dun, as they may wish to pursue obtaining a similar legal status in regards to their own land and rivers.

What personhood basically means is that legally, the mountain and river own themselves. In addition to this, the Maori, as the mountain’s legal guardians, are able to advocate to protect the river and mountain from land and urban development. “To the Indigenous people of this region,” says Mareikura, “we believe that we are of the mountain and of the river. Maori believe that these natural entities are ancestors, they are people. We’ve always viewed them in this way. What this legal status has allowed is for us to guide those who don’t necessarily share that worldview as to how to engage with that natural entity.”

“We’re purely what you’d call caretakers,” states Pipiana Rowe.

One thing that Tomairangi Mareikura took from the gathering was that the journey of government settlement has been a learning curve for both KDFN and the Maori. She also hopes that the two cultures can learn from one another, offering a piece of advice. “Settlement negotiations don’t have to be restrictive. There’s always an opportunity to enhance relationships and get more from [your government].”

Kwanlin Dun members present included Chief Doris Bill, William Carlick, Judy Gingell, Hazel Bunbury, Jessie Dawson, Sean Smith and several members of the Youth Advisory Committee. The Maori Delegation consisted of Pipiana Rowe, Tamahau Rowe, Tomairangi Mareikura and Jamie Tuuta.

The meeting concluded with Sean Smith and a group of young children performing traditional song and dance for the guests. The visitors then stood up and sang two songs before Tamahau and Jamie performed a haka, a traditional Maori war dance.

Tamahau and Jamie perform a haka. The stomping of their feet and the power of their voices literally shakes the room. 


The reason why these New Zealanders found themselves in Whitehorse is because back in April they played host to groups of Yukon First Nations who visited their country. The visiting First Nations were kind enough to extend an invitation back to the Yukon. The Maori were eager to take up the offer. Especially Pipiana and Tamahau Rowe, both of whom make their livings as teachers. As such, they have a particular interest in First Nation educational programs and initiatives that connect people with traditional, cultural practices.

One major aspect of the August meeting was both cultures realizing just how similar their pasts really are. Jamie Tuuta explained what occurred when large amounts of settlers began to infringe on the Maori’s land. “Settlers thought they were coming to the promised land, wondering what these Natives were doing here. There was tension. We had war. We had land loss and disease.” Symptoms of colonization with which the Yukon First Nations can definitely relate.

And who are we, if not the caretakers of our own traditional land and territories?

“And what we found today,” says Tomairangi, “Is there are so many similarities [between us]. Even from the moment when we first drove into the community, it felt and looked like we were going home. And then relating to the people on this sort of esoterical, spiritual level…there are so many similarities. There’s a kinship. A spiritual kinship, I guess you would say. Again, it comes from having shared experiences, be they good or bad. Through colonization, reclamation of identity, language culture, and land.”

Though our shared experiences may have been hard on both of our respective peoples, it is fair to say that both of our cultures are coming into fruition. Both the First Nations and the Maori have claimed parcels of land for their own, and both peoples are beginning to receive more and more respect from their governments.

Sean Smith and his group of youth.

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