Blog: Kaputī with Penny Keet

Feb 23, 2021 | latest

Tena koutou katoa

Ko Penny Keet ahau 
No Opotiki Taku whanau 
Ko Gaynor Papuni Taku Mama 
Ko Henare Raputa Papuni, Raimona Papuni me Celia Hale oku tupuna 
Ko Makeo te Maunga 
Ko Waiawa te Awa 
Ko Ngati Rua te hapu 

Way back before my mother was born, my grandfather, Henare, had an argument with his Mum – Celia. He had a motorbike and jumped on it and went as far as one tank of petrol would take him, which was Palmerston North and there he stayed and raised his family. Growing up I spent many a holiday with my uncles – Jack and Fred – and their whanau in Opotiki, and when I went to uni I decided to learn te reo and before he died I remember having some very basic conversations with my grandfather – which I look back on now and realise were much more meaningful than I thought they were at the time. 

I initially began my career in the NZ government at the Dept of Maori Affairs, working with Te Kohanga Reo and Maatua Whanau and I spent some time as the first research assistant for the Maori Land Court – at the time we were working on the Bastion Point situation. So now you get how old I am. I then was seconded to be Peter Tapsell’s Private Secretary for a year and he was one of the best bosses I ever had. I then moved into education – I taught te reo and Maori Studies in high schools many years ago when Te Kohanga was in it’s infancy, so now most of the students coming into high schools have language way beyond my level. I wanted to travel and now find myself in South Africa – hoping to finally return home this year after almost 30 years away. 

Settlement? Whew. Here goes… 

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. 
This whakatauki heads up my resume and embodies my belief about the world. Even though I have been living out of NZ since 1992 – Seoul, Jakarta, Taipei, Beijing, Milan, Dar es Salaam, Lusaka and now Johannesburg – I can honestly say that I am proud to be a Kiwi and that the pull to return home has never been stronger. 

NZ leads the world in aspects of fairness and equity and is head and shoulders above other countries in putting it’s people first. Sure it has not always been right, but the Treaty of Waitangi – however it was intended – has given NZ Maori an advantage that pretty much no other ethnic minority in the world has. We have a signed piece of paper showing the intent of colonisation and a government that today recognizes that intent has not been met. How lucky are we that today we can get together from all corners of the world to discuss this kaupapa. 

I’m fortunate. I have had a great education, I have a great job and I have been able to give my daughters a great education. I have traveled the world and experienced so much in my life. But now, all I want, personally, is to come home, have a house near Opotiki where I spent so much of my youth, close to the beach and near my children. However, at present CoVid restrictions are not permitting that, so I wait my turn and hope for an MIQ voucher at the right time. So for now, I remain an “alien” in a strange land – labeled an outsider and acutely aware of NZ’s special place in the world. Although in some countries I am officially an “alien” (in Taiwan I even had an “Alien Residence Card” I had to carry with me) whenever someone finds out I am from NZ their reaction is one of immediate admiration. I don’t think this is totally due to CoVid-19, nor to the fact that our Prime Minister is seen as a courageous and strong leader who puts people first. It is not due to the fact that our All Blacks are internationally recognized stars – both on and off the field, and nor is it due to the fact that we were the first country in the world to appoint a Race Relations Conciliator or that we successfully protested against apartheid in my adopted country so many years ago, when people in other countries stood by and watched. It’s a combination of all these things. And we have a rather misguided and misunderstood Treaty to guide the way. 

The simple fact that the NZ government is addressing settlement – albeit 150 years or so too late – is yet another feat for our amazing country. For settlement to work for us as a people – not just a whanau, hapu or iwi, we need to work together with the people of our nation to ensure that settlement is as inclusive as possible. We need to consider how we can reach as many of our people as possible and support them to live happy, healthy and safe lives. As an educator, I cannot go past ensuring education for all – as an iwi, we need to continue to support education at all levels – be it academic, vocational or otherwise. It’s key. 

Lastly, we need to be positive about settlement. Years of racism and institutionalization can leave a bitter taste. How can we ensure that we get this right? That we don’t dwell on past injustices and use what we have learned to move forward. The world sees NZ as a leader in this area and we need to show them that we can move forward with positivity and respect for one another in a country – a world – that will always be multicultural and conflict ridden – we’re never going to agree on everything, but the process of being heard and having a say should be valued. I want my daughters to learn more about their whanau, to get to know Opotiki, but most of all to be proud of who they are and their heritage, and to be able to say they are Whakatohea with huge pride and respect. 

Like Marcelle Pio – I want to come home. Reverse the process of urbanization and make Opotiki Whakatohea central! As someone who is about to be homeless and jobless – and maybe stuck in a country that I can’t get out of – my question is more what can I do for settlement, as opposed to what settlement can do for me?


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