A new seven-part video series explores what it means to be Pākehā, 250 years after Captain Cook's arrival in New Zealand.

Don't let Pākehā paralysis make you too scared to try te reo and tikanga Māori - but do think about why you're doing it.

That's the message from te reo Māori advocate Alex Hotere-Barnes in episode 4 of the NZ On Air-funded documentary series Land of the Long White Cloud.

Hotere-Barnes shares his unique perspective as a Pākehā New Zealander who grew up in a primarily Māori environment.


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Old school photos show him as the only white face in an otherwise all-Māori class. He remembers feeling awkward for a while and complaining to his father.

His dad assured the young Alex he'd be grateful for the opportunity one day - and he was right.

Alex Hotere-Barnes, a Pakeha who was raised in a Maori environment, is seen here (front, centre) in an old school photo
Alex Hotere-Barnes, a Pakeha who was raised in a Maori environment, is seen here (front, centre) in an old school photo

Hotere-Barnes says Pākehā don't have to become experts in te reo and tikanga Māori but "do need to understand that there are people and stories here that have been here a lot longer than you have and there's a wealth there".

The Government has set a target to have one million New Zealanders able to have a basic conversation in te reo Māori by 2040 but Hotere-Barnes warns that if Pākehā don't ask themselves why they are doing it, there is a risk of it losing meaning.

For instance, he says, there's no point in starting any formal occasion with a karakia (prayer) for the sake of it. You have to understand why such tikanga (customs) are important.

Hotere-Barnes attended kohanga reo and kura kaupapa as a child and had a bilingual education at high school. He is now a researcher and advocate working with Ngā Pōtiki hapū in Tauranga and the local school to help facilitate healthy relationships with the local whānau and community.

Hotere-Barnes says that he has witnessed first hand his privilege as a Pākehā man in New Zealand: "When I go out to dinner with Māori friends, I'm treated first," he says.


He wants there to be more understanding between Māori and Pākehā. That Pākehā sometimes hold back from using te reo Māori or tikanga practices out of fear of getting it wrong is understandable, he says, and he believes that sometimes that's warranted. But he wants Pākehā to learn from that fear and seek to move past it.

Alex Hotere-Barnes says Pākehā should not be scared to try te reo.
Alex Hotere-Barnes says Pākehā should not be scared to try te reo.

There has been a huge increase in the number of te reo speakers over the past few years from 149,000 in the 2013 census to more than 185,000 in 2018. However, it could be difficult for the Government to reach its target with the nationwide shortage of te reo teachers and not enough teachers in training to keep up with the demand.

Director Kathleen Winter says she found Hotere-Barnes' story a particularly engaging one.

"He has an incredibly unique perspective on bicultural relationships in Aotearoa. 'Pākehā Paralysis' is something I struggle with. Feelings like fear and paralysis can stop us from engaging with te ao Māori and we have to name and overcome them."

Hotere-Barnes believes racism is also a factor, evidenced by the fact that "you can grow up here in Tauranga and have nothing to do with anything Māori and until that changes, we live in a racist society".

There is also the fact that compulsory te reo in schools continues to be a topic of national debate. A 2017 survey by Vote Compass for TVNZ found that 47 per cent of New Zealanders did not support compulsory te reo in schools.


In 2016, MP Willie Jackson wrote that "the strangest point about this compulsion debate is how come it's okay for all Kiwi kids to compulsorily learn English at school but Māori is seen as one step too far? It's always been my view that the language can only survive if our kids, Māori and Pākehā, grow up speaking te reo together."

Watch all the episodes at nzherald.co.nz/captaincook