Ko Pūtauaki te māunga

Ko Whakatāne te awa

Ko Mātaatua te waka

Ko Ngāti Awa te iwi


Ko Ngāti Pukeko te hapū

Nō Whakatāne ahau

Ko Sonya Bateson tōku ingoa.

For many of you, those words wouldn't have made much sense.

This is a basic pepeha, which outlines who I am and where I'm from.

Knowledge of my whakapapa (descent) is important to my sense of identity and belonging.

I know I am returning home when I drive through Matatā and see Pūtauaki in the distance, known as Mt Edgecumbe in English, and approach the Whakatāne River, the awa at which my ancestors spent so much of their lives.

Whakatāne is my tūrangawaewae: It's where I'm from and where my family has lived for generations.

I have a strong sense of belonging and connection to my hometown, something I believe comes from deep within me, from the small part that is Māori.

Despite this, I hesitated over sharing my pepeha with the world because I am, for all intents and purposes, Pākehā.

My looks are Pākehā and, while I feel a strong connection to parts of Māori culture, I live a very Pākehā life and only occasionally brush up against other aspects of the culture when I interact with my Māori relatives.

Frankly, talking about my connection to the culture this way makes me uncomfortable - it makes me feel like an imposter, like those white people who are criticised for wearing indigenous American headdresses, appropriating something they don't fully understand or appreciate.

I'm wary of being held up as an example of one of those "one-eighth Māoris" so lambasted by a certain section of society, and the negative reflection this could have on a people that already face so much stigma in their homeland.

Learning my pepeha at school was a big deal - it gave me a real appreciation for my tie to Māori culture and helped me understand my sense of belonging.

Te reo should never be dismissed as unimportant.

It means so much to so many people, even those like myself who are still grappling with the complexities of identity.

We as a country are richer for it.