2008 - Ongoing
160 years ago my ancestors were labelled Tangta Hara (Sinful People) as many fought The Crown till their death for the land which was their very existence, their life force, a giver of personal identity and a source of spiritual strength. Land that was our people’s Tūrangawaewae (standing place), our foundation and our place in the world. With no Tūrangawaewae our people were incomplete.
As a child I grew up listening to my fathers kōrero (conversation) of injustice to our people, Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the lingering impact and consequences of land confiscation that are still visible and felt today. The land was stolen by The Crown, laying the basis for the economic, cultural and spiritual impoverishment leaving Māori as an aggrieved, struggling people.
Te Teko project began soon after my father died in 2008. An ongoing project, based around my own whānau (family) who are Tangata Whenua (people of the land), referencing the small, predominantly Māori populated town, of the same name, of which he, my grandmother and four generations before them were born.
I also grew up witnessing the many struggles my father had as a ‘half caste’, a Maori-Pakeha (white man) man torn between two cultures. At times he struggled being in these worlds. Te Teko continues my connection with my father and my ancestors who lived before me as I continue to try and understand the complexities of the world he and they lived in and through our whānau (family), who live there today.
I focus on the enduring presence of whenua (connection to the land), the very ground that gave my father and all our people mana,(self respect) and it’s connection to identity, strength and humanity. The presence of the Rangitāiki river winding through the town with (Mount) Pūtauaki’s looming presence behind provides nourishment to our people's spiritual needs, belonging and identity.
The history of Te Teko could be considered both tragic and wondrous and symbolic of our indigenous culture in Aotearoa New Zealand, and indigenous cultures universally, who continue to struggle with loss and hope from the aftermath of historic land theft.
Through all of this, I am reminded that the land remains and so do the people.