I was 4 years old when the 79-day occupation of Pākaitore began in Whanganui. My memories of the time are slim, but this major event has had a lasting impact on the city and has shaped the way I view the Whanganui community today.
The important stand by local Māori took place in 1995 and it was not about just one issue, but rather a cumulation of injustices our people had endured at the hands of the Crown for generations.
We had been stripped from decision-making over our beloved awa, and essentially the entire city. Enough was enough.
The occupation garnered the attention of major news organisations and Whanganui made headlines as Māori set up tents at Pākaitore and gathered there en masse for more than two months.
At times, tensions flared, with some police looking for any opportunity to shut them down and other community members becoming angry that Māori were sticking up for themselves.
Over the years, I have spoken to all sorts of different people about that time. My dad said the topic of Pākaitore was banned at home because it caused too much tension among my family, who are both Māori and Pākeha.
Others remember being refused services in town for supporting the stand at Pākaitore. Someone even shot a gun at protesters from across the river.
In any case, it was a hugely polarising issue in Whanganui and sometimes I wonder whether we have ever really moved past it as a community.
Tomorrow marks the 26th anniversary of the occupation, which means droves of people will be heading there for the Pākaitore Whanganuitanga Celebrations. We will spend time together, pay tribute to those who have passed away, and really celebrate what it means to be Whanganui Māori.
It is a wonderful day where we chill out and enjoy the weather and watch on as tamariki from kura kaupapa and kōhanga reo do cute parades and put on kapa haka performances for the crowd. There are music acts in the afternoon, a space to talk, share and remember our history, and a whole lot of delicious kai stalls along the riverside.
The day is truly beautiful, and I take my kids most years, but I am always conscious of the fact that hardly anyone who is not Māori turns up to celebrate with us.
However, this is not just a Pākaitore thing. How many of you are aware that the Raukotahi Waka Ama Marae Challenge is on today at the banks of Kōwhai Park?
How many of you will take your kids down to cheer on the hundreds of whānau Māori who will be out on the water in waka racing for their marae?
How many of you felt compelled to show support at Punakewhitu last week when hapū saw that their ancestral maunga had been defaced?
As a woman who has been raised in Whanganui by a Māori mother and a Pākehā father, I look around and am able to see the disconnect between our two peoples. In many ways, Pākehā and Māori members of our community are living their lives in silos.
I have Pākehā friends from here who have never been up the River Road, let alone stepped foot on one of the many marae we have in our region, or learnt a thing about our Whanganuitanga.
I have Māori friends who steer clear of the main avenue because they do not want to be there. The city itself is still presented as such a colonial, monocultural place. I do not see my culture reflected anywhere in town, yet I can trace back 20 generations of my people living here.
This tension is obvious when you look at the uproar and divide over including the letter "H" in the name Whanganui. The correct spelling is with an H, but some of you are hell-bent on spelling it wrong. Preposterous!
Even this week, Horizons Regional Council admitted it failed to ensure that local hapū were consulted about the earthworks at Punakewhitu. It boggles my mind to think that anyone would carry out major earthworks like this without talking to the very people who have lived there at the foot of the maunga for hundreds of years.
These are my observations and while I do not have all the answers, I am comforted by small signs of progress here and there like the announcement this week by the rugby union that it would now include the H in its spelling of Whanganui.
The move is long overdue but a good sign nonetheless, and I implore other local businesses who still have the wrong spelling to think hard about why.
It has been 26 years since my kaumātua, uncles, aunties and cousins occupied Pākaitore. It was such a strong act of mana motuhake, yet we still find ourselves in positions where our history is erased, and we are left out of the local conversation. It is our painful reality, but we are resilient.
We will be there tomorrow at Pākaitore to celebrate being from this place and being Māori. Will you celebrate our Māoritanga too?