His name is Sir Apirana Ngata

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata

Below is the speech given by one of our Roncallli students at the 2017 Bishop Lyons Competition following our Young Marist Neighbours Programme to Ruatoria.  

Do you know who is on the 5 dollar note? Not a terribly hard question, as a child I often held Sir Edmund Hillary in my hand to buy gum. A great man - he climbed Mt Everest, broadcasting New Zealand to the world stage. He broke barriers.

How about the 20 then? Of course, God save the Queen! She has governed the Commonwealth for 65 years. An inspiring lady, to have lived with such burden and pressure for so long with such great poise.

So after these amazing people, I wonder who has also been put into immortal honor. To be among Sir Edmund Hillary and the Queen, who is on the $50 dollar note? I hadn’t known, and those I have asked since haven’t either.

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata. He was born on the 3rd of July 1874.

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata. He was the first Maori to obtain a degree at a New Zealand university.

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata. He spent his life in and out of government fighting for Maori welfare; from health to land to schooling. He worked tirelessly to preserve Māori culture and language from assimilation.

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata. He helped form the Maori battalion in World War 1 who fought for our safety today.

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata, and he is buried in a simple grave atop a hill at Waiomatatini outside Ruatoria. At the base of the hill is the marae he belonged to; the wharenui is large and splendid, the walls entirely covered in carvings and weavings. To look at just one is to imagine the hours upon hours it took at the hands of a master to create, the amount of effort and time put into the whole building is so immense that you can’t imagine it. The wharenui is a place of peace and rest; the walls whisper tales of pride and triumph of ancestors past. The roof above you is a strong back, to shelter you from any harm. Those invited in are to treat it like home. The air is still and stale, can feel the dust settle in the back of your throat. Reeds and a single crushed plastic poppy litter the ground. The last time someone was here was ANZAC day last year, the year before. Now the ancestors woven into the walls have only the birds making their way into the roof visiting them. The wharenui’s back is breaking. You see, what happened was that the government sold off the forestry industry to make the books look good, and all the people lost their jobs and had to move away. Now today there is no longer any life there.

And I ask myself why? Why should there be documentaries and museums dedicated to Sir Edmund Hillary and galas every year for the Queen, but a Maori hero who has been lifted to the same honor be left forgotten? Why should we value them over him? The soul is the same; the difference is found in the colour of their skin. That difference can cover our eyes until we are blind. Ignorance is only blissful for you.

Every day there are things that we are losing. We say that we are clean and green, that we are bicultural, boast our 100% kiwi owned and operated, pride ourselves with our uniqueness. This is what we believe to be our identity, but we are not noticing as it disappears. Our farms and forests have been sold to overseas investors, we can no longer work in them. Our rivers are being choked with filth and disease, we can no longer swim in them. Centuries old sacred rock art is being marred by slashes of spray paint, they can no longer tell us their stories. There is not a single school that still teaches carving, skills are no longer being passed down. Te reo is dying, and the honored Maori hero who fought for all of this is forgotten, his home deserted. And what are we doing about it? Not much. This is our cultural identity as New Zealanders that is steadily falling apart.  

This downwards spiral is not going to stop if we do nothing and pretend that it’s not there. If this continues I wonder what will be left for our children growing up. Tinirau of Whanganui said “Toi tu te kupu, toi tu te mana, toi tu te whanau.” which means that without language, without mana, and without land, the essence of being Maori does not exist, but is just a skeleton of what it should be. Will we let our culture die and become a skeleton? What if the future New Zealand is a place of gluggy brown rivers, where half the land is not ours, mountains of landfills that you could confuse with the southern alps, the only remnants of Maori culture stuffed behind streaky glass in a museum. What if every marae is abandoned? Our decisions today not only affect us but for those decades away. It is our duty to preserve the New Zealand we love for those who will come after us.

We can’t stand by and let this happen, and now is the time for our generation to raise our voices and spread awareness. Soon this country will be in our hands and although we will be handed a problem that we didn’t create it is our place to solve it. There are wounds in this earth and it is our hands that will heal it. The flame of Te Reo is spluttering, and it is up to us to feed it. There are many heroes, Maori and Pakeha alike that have been forgotten. It is up to our hearts to remember them.

His name is Sir Apirana Ngata. You can see him on the $50 note.