Victoria University alumnus shares experiences gained from UN visit

In April Te Wehi Wright (Ngā Ruahine, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Ngāti Uenukukōpako, me Ngāti Whakaue) was chosen as one of 12 rangatahi (young people) to take part in a delegation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York.

Te Wehi Wright

Te Wehi graduated from Victoria University last December with a conjoint Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Māori Studies and Māori Resource Management, and is a first-language speaker of te reo Māori who attended total immersion schooling until he was 16. Now that he’s back in New Zealand, he reflects on his experiences from the trip.

What made you want to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?

For me, it was the chance to reconnect Māori to their culture, and gift the beauty of our culture to those who weren’t as fortunate as my siblings and I were growing up. I was also excited to hear about and share the stories of other indigenous peoples with our people.

Who did you go with?

I was very fortunate to be part of a group of 12 likeminded rangatahi Māori from all over the country. Some I had crossed paths with throughout the years of political battles that our parents fought together, others came from similar upbringings like Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori Aho Matua (total immersion schooling), others I was aware of through the Māori-focussed initiatives they had run, and others I was meeting for the first time.

We were all drawn together by our common interest – immense love and passion for our culture.

What was a highlight of your trip?

It was definitely seeing and meeting the other rangatahi. Although there were a lot of lessons learnt and experiences had from being in New York, the things we learned from one another and seeing how the strengths of each individual contributed to the overall effectiveness of the group was inspirational, and gave me great confidence in our entire generation of rangatahi.

What was one of the main things you learnt at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?

I learnt that Māori are in a very privileged position on the international scale. We are seen to be very aspirational by a lot of other indigenous peoples.

What I realised most was that for a lot of the other groups, the United Nations Permanent Forum is all they have to gather support for their respective causes – but the UN itself is a very Western framework. So while the UN is already a very slow moving machine, it’s even slower when you take into account the constant clash of values and beliefs. It’s hard enough for an indigenous group to lobby one government, let alone the 123 plus that make up the UN.

I learnt that given our position of privilege, even with the constant tension between Māori and the New Zealand Government, Māori are very lucky not to have to solely rely on a predominantly Western mechanism like the UN to solve all our issues. In saying that, I was mindful of not falling in to a false sense of security thinking that we as Māori have it good, because we don’t. Not yet.

Enough is never enough, and results are relative. What we do as Māori in Āotearoa helps to leverage what other indigenous people ask for in their own countries.

What are your plans now that you’re back in New Zealand and have recently graduated?

Our group He Kuaka Mārangaranga wants to use the momentum generated at the UN to try to mobilise a generation of Māori to advocate for what we believe in, for the betterment of our people. We will be doing it together, not in isolation, using our specialist skills to contribute to a wider goal.

We’ll be doing road shows about the lessons and experiences we gained from the UN, and facilitating national and provincial workshops and conferences to raise awareness for issues that affect Māori today. We also intend to hold a national rangatahi hui where we can all discuss, collaborate on and ignite political, social, economic, environmental and cultural issues.