Unpacking the biggest lie ever told: The conversion of cultural disorientation into action

A GUEST BLOG from ANNIE JOASS (feedback welcome :))

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko Longman Hill te maunga
Ko River Deveron te awa
Ko Monowai te waka
Ko Joass te hapu
Ko McDuff te iwi
Ko Shirley Bradley tōku whaea
Ko Barry Bradley tōku matua
Ko Paora Crawford-Moyle tōku hoa rangatira
Ko Annie Joass tōku ingoa

Nō reira tēnā kouto, tēnā tatou katoa

My name is Annie Joass, the Joass’s are a subtribe of the McDuff clan from the area of Banff / Mc Duff. These twin fishing villages are in North Aberdeen Scotland, separated by the River Deveron. My castle is Duff House. My ancestors arrived in Aotearoa NZ in 1893 aboard the Monowai via New South Wales. They settled in the harbour side village of Onerahi, Whangarei and lived and worked as fishermen, miners, grave diggers,  whatever work they could find to  make to a living. They married tangata whenua and other immigrants and had huge families. My great grandmother ran a ‘respectable’ boarding house in Whangarei working long, hard days in addition to raising many children and my grandfather worked on Limestone Island. My great Uncle made his living off Terenga paraoa, fishing with handmade nets and selling his catch to locals. I’m proud of my heritage, my whānau are mostly gentle, humble, flawed yet loving human beings.

I grew up in the lower socio economic suburb of Whangarei called Tikipunga. The majority of my neighbours and friends were Māori. I experienced these whānau as kind, generous and hard working. In contrast growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father, my home was often chaotic and unsafe. I found refuge in the homes of my neighbours and friends, always fed and safe. When my Mum left my father and was struggling to put food on the table one of these whanau took me on holiday to Tamaki makaurau with them and bought me a new pair of shoes to wear to school.

My father was unfortunately very much a product of his generation and not a terribly nice person to be honest. He was racist.  Our neighbours and friends were classified as either “good Māoris” or “bad Māoris”. Our own relatives of course were “good ones”. His criteria for the good ones were that they lived like us (the irony is not lost on me). The bad ones were those who didn’t, those still connected to culture and practicing tikanga. Even though this didn’t match my experience of my neighbours and friends, being a child I was unable to deflect the influence of my fathers thinking. I still absorbed it.

I doubt that any Pākehā child growing up in the 70’s in Aotearoa didn’t. Portrayals of “bad Māori’s” were all over the media, depicted as trouble makers, activists and criminals, images of Bastion Point on the news every night, cameras focused only on Maori anger, never the peaceful protestor, the academics, the lawyers, or the non-Māori supporters. The “good ones” of course were the Morrison’s, Buddy Walters, Billy T James and Kiri Te Kanawa. They entertained us and didn’t rock the boat.

I have had to be brutally honest about what I was raised with, both the good and the bad because it’s not until we understand where our racism begins can we start to unpick it, and it’s a slow often painful process not unlike grief. When we first start to look at it, all we can do is acknowledge it is real and that needs dealing with. This in itself is not enough but it’s the starting point. I liken it to cutting out a cancer, we first have to diagnose it and understand it’s pathology before we can begin treatment.

The beginning of my unravelling was as a student of Social Work some 22 years ago. Looking back now I realise how crippled by denial and fear I was then, very resistant to acknowledging my white privilege. I honestly believed that because I loved Māori and was related to Māori that I was not racist and whilst I was never overtly racist to anyone I grossly under-estimated the depth and tenacity of my conditioning.

I was afraid of it because I knew it would reflect back to me thoughts and behaviour I would be ashamed of and more importantly have to change. It felt too hard, did it mean I had to be ashamed of the very skin I lived in? Did it mean I would have to personally pay somehow for the sins of my people? Mostly though I just didn’t want to see this aspect of myself or my family whom I knew to be a kind, loving people, mostly. But as challenging and painful as it was, I know now that this is the most important work I have ever done. It is personal, spiritual, political, healing and it never stops.

I recall as a student, that many of my Pākehā and tau iwi cohort also struggled with this and ultimately most were unwilling to do anything but skim the service, write what they had to just to pass (not unlike what most social workers still do when applying for registration with the Social Work Registration Board, write a couple of case studies proving yourself to be culturally competent, assessed by mostly non-Māori assessors)

I know this to be so of my fellow Pākehā students because it was overtly expressed when Māori were not present. Advising each other to “just write about whanaungatanga, aroha, manaakitanga…”, questioning why attendance at the noho was compulsory, supporting each other to “just get through it”. To challenge this rhetoric as a Pākehā was perceived as being a traitor to my own “side”. I did anyway which led to losing some friends and being labelled as a “wannabe”.

These people and many more are still working with Māori without ever having done the real work to ensure their entrenched conscious and unconscious bias is not doing harm. Let’s be clear about this, if Tau Iwi or Pākehā practitioners enter the field without doing this work, we will do harm. All of the Māori models, karakia, kia ora’s and waiata in the world won’t prevent it. In the same way a woman instantly recognises a man who has entrenched gender bias no matter how hidden, people of colour recognise racism. This causes harm.

The second part of my unravelling was to wake up to and acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of white privilege. This was a hard one for me because I wore my own hardship like a badge. I thought that a childhood of poverty, chaos and abuse gave me a get out of jail free card somehow. As if I understood all oppression through my own experience of the classism, addiction and mental illness my own family had experienced.

My education around this however began when my Ngāpuhi partner at the time was following me home in her car one evening. We came to a check-point, my car was unwarranted and yet the constable was lovely to me, I was smiled at, spoken to nicely, told to get the warrant as soon as possible and waved on. My partner was not treated in the same way. She was asked to step out of her legal car, breathalysed, her license and ownership of the vehicle checked, and her car was illegally searched.

I recognised in that moment what white privilege really was. I saw that my partner was treated badly by the authorities and I wasn’t only because I was white. And as is the way of the universe I was then subsequently shown this time and time again, when we went to the hospital, restaurants, service stations, the list is endless. I could and still do rock up to any service station and the pump will instantly flow, not so for my partner who always had to go in and pre-pay. She would say to me, I’m used to it, it’s not your fault, and you’re not personally doing it. I was never comforted by this because even if I wasn’t personally “doing it”, I was personally the beneficiary of it. To do nothing was perpetuating it, silently consenting to its presence is supporting it.

This was 20 years ago but I still see it every day. Every day I am afforded privilege because I am white. I have the privilege of walking through a world where all of the signs, documents and forms are in my language, the news is read in my language, the rugby is commentated in my language… it’s only when you go to another country where your culture is not dominant and your language is not spoken do you realise what it is to not have some of that privilege.

This is not a foreign land to Māori, this is Māori land, stolen and confiscated land, and yet I still have the privilege of living here with everything set up for me, to support the world view of my people, for the benefit of my people.

Once I became more awake to the extent of my own privilege as a Pākehā I became more committed to trying to do something about it. I realised that it allows me to be heard by other Pākehā and Tau iwi. And while that’s cool, it’s also a little bit scary because it means finding the kaha to challenge people you love, things you love, institutions you work for and that is hard. Sometimes you want to just sit back down and take a break but you can’t because until racism is no longer an issue in this country, on this planet, you cannot sit back down. So you find yourself on a fairly fast moving trajectory to losing some friends, feeling and dealing with people’s anger and fear, being ridiculed and isolated in some situations, but my question is this, what is the alternative?

Racism hurt us all. It hurts first and foremost its victims (let’s never diminish the pain it causes for the recipients). But it also hurts us, it degrades our humanity, it detaches us from our own integrity and deprives us of experiences and learning that would enrich us greatly. It hurts our self-esteem, we have all felt the feeling of ‘yuck’ when we’ve said something we didn’t mean or didn’t even believe but for some reason we said it anyway. The ‘yuck’ is because we know we’ve not been true to ourselves or the situation. Sometimes it’s laughing along with a joke that’s racist or homophobic or misogynist, we know we should have said something. The ‘yuck’ descends and reinforces that it’s too hard to take people on. But here’s the thing, it will not go away until you make a conscious choice. None of us was born racist, we were taught to be, it is not inherently us, our wairua is not racist. But it’s scary to take it on. It is.

Once you see racism and all of the entities that support it for what they are though, which is the biggest lie ever told to ensure one group of people retains power and control over another; it’s my belief that you are morally obligated to take it on. Especially if you claim to have something to offer Māori as a practitioner. You have nothing to offer if you don’t see this as your responsibility too. You have nothing to offer Maori if you have not done this work.

Over the years I’ve been trying to do this I’ve learnt that one of the best ways to counter-act ignorance and fear is the confidence of knowledge. Through reading and research on the real history of Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu, I felt increasingly able to not just challenge my own but I could back it up with sound research. If you can back up you’re whakaaro with verifiable facts then this is half the battle won, we Pākehā love facts, “Where’s your evidence?” It’s not enough to just know in the Pākehā world view, verifiable facts is what we want.

The biggest lie ever told has been manured for decades by a lack of accurate information, by the whitewashing of our history. Our shared history which we are all entitled to. I constantly hear from my own students as young as 17 and 18, recent school leavers in fact “why wasn’t I taught this stuff in school?” “Why was I taught such a skewed, factually incorrect version of our history?” and it makes these students angry. It’s like finding out that your favourite Aunt is a member of the KKK. The lie has hurt them too.
That Māori are vulnerable, sick, unable to care for their own and need our help is also part of this biggest lie ever told. Māori know and feel the impact of trans-generational trauma because whakapapa is a living entity, even for those who don’t know it, even for us “white” folk. We carry the history of our own ancestors with us in our very DNA. Many Pākehā are from Irish and Scottish ancestry, we will be carrying the trans-generational trauma of the potato famine which killed over a million people, the highland clearances which drove Scottish highlanders off their ancestral lands forever. There are numerous studies looking at the health and wellbeing of the Irish which show similar outcomes to all other colonized indigenous populations.

Māori know what Māori need; Māori know how to heal themselves, what will turn the “negative stats” around. In order to do this though non Māori must be willing to stand aside, share power, resources and decision making, all the things guaranteed to Māori under Te Tiriti O Waitangi incidentally. This is a difficult thing for us non Māori to get our heads around, it really is. No matter how hard we try there is still a yes, but…

Here’s how the “yes buts” work. When we ‘give’ Māori organisations funding, we audit those organisations at 8 times the rate of non-Māori. The success or failure of those organisations is measured by non-Māori definitions of success. Tiriti negotiations are defined by non-Māori rules of engagement (timeframes, who they are prepared to negotiate with and who they aren’t).

At best we “allow” space for Māori to practice tikanga within Pākehā institutions (thank you to Donna Flower for teaching me this). Why don’t Pākehā create space, why don’t we advocate, challenge, move and shake along with our Māori colleagues? Because of the biggest lie ever told, that our culture, Pākehā culture is the norm and Māori culture must be tolerated as a by-product of living here.

In Pākehā institutions tikanga is tolerated at best. We all know that most hospital staff still see the presence of large whanāu groups visiting hospital patients as a nuisance. The hospitals haven’t created space for whānau to express and practise culture and if an attempt has been made, it is generally one room. Tolerated.

I once worked in an institution where women were provided with terminations of pregnancy. For many of our Māori clients this process was less traumatic if they had access to karakia and being able to view or take the products of conception home. Nurses were generally not fond of these “hold ups” and I remember being asked not to tell women this was available unless they asked. Barely tolerated.

What might it look like if we turned that rhetoric around? I mean really turned it around. Where Pākehā find the humility to learn from Māori a different way of doing and being in the world? Where the indigenous culture of Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu is valued, celebrated and practiced daily. I often reflect on the gift I was given when my ancestors came to this land and by some divine act I have lived in a country where I have access to this beautiful, ancient culture, unique to this land. Māori values of uninterrupted connectedness to our ancestors, to the land, to each other and the inherent value and mana of all living things, have all contributed to my own healing and in turn the healing of others around me. This is the richness that comes with letting go of the biggest lie ever told.
My challenge to Pākehā and Tau iwi then is this. Take all the time necessary to reflect on how much of the biggest lie ever told you’ve really bought into. What were you told growing up, how was it reinforced? How much has the media influenced your perception of Māori? Be as honest with yourself as you can, and be prepared to feel the feels, embarrassment, shame, and fear. It won’t kill you to feel these things. In the same way that secrets and lies within a family impacts every member of that family’s health and wellbeing so this lie impacts the health and wellbeing of all of our communities and our country.
Research your own cultural heritage, understand why and how your people came here, get to know yourself through your people. Unless you can see and feel the value in this you will never understand whakapapa and if you don’t understand whakapapa you have already missed one of the fundamentals elements of being able to work with Māori. You will find stories you wish you hadn’t, but I promise you will also find some hero’s and a pride that goes much deeper than being “white”.

The term “white” incidentally was a fairly recent development in the history of race identity. It stemmed from the need to differentiate Europeans as the “superior” race with the rise of European colonialism and slavery. So being proud of being “white” is being proud of a history of exclusion and oppression. Black pride, Māori pride, Aboriginal pride is being proud of a history of survival. Let’s be proud of being Scottish, Danish, Croatian etc. and leave the “white pride” in the history books where it belongs.

Accept the genocidal behaviour of our ancestors, it just was. Denial of this does harm. Through researching my own family history and culture, the good and bad, I feel more rooted in time and place, connected to my past and present. It has helped me to overcome the diminished sense of self created by my own historical trauma of lost ancestral connections, lost spiritual beliefs and practises, loss of my own ancestral lands. All the things that kept us whole, the same things that keep indigenous cultures all around the world alive despite our efforts to eradicate them.

Acknowledge the privilege you have. Acknowledge the privilege you have.
Listen, read and learn about the experiences and aspirations of Māori, to the many voices of Māori. Winston Peters doesn’t speak for all Māori, neither does Hone Harawira or Te Uroroa Flavell. We need to educate ourselves about the issues facing Māori today as well as the true history of this nation. What we should not be doing is expecting Māori to teach us. Look first perhaps to the area you live in, what is the true history of that area? What happened to the traditional owners of the area? There are endless resources out there.
Finally immerse yourself in the beauty of the indigenous culture of this land and your own culture. As I have had opportunities to engage with Māori culture, spirituality and world view I can promise you I am a richer person for it. My own world view expands and yet my own culture has in no way been diminished by this. I’m proud of my cultural heritage which is also shared with many Māori and I am proud to be situated in this time and place where I too belong and so do you. But with this belonging comes the obligation of self-awareness, de-colonizing ourselves first and finding the courage to expose the biggest lie ever told.

Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui

No reira tēnā kouto, tēnā tatou katoa

Contact Annie Joass: annie.joass@northlanddhb.org.nz





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See me at https://www.paoramoyle.com

29 thoughts on “Unpacking the biggest lie ever told: The conversion of cultural disorientation into action”

  1. Words cannot express enough this writing of yours Annie. It made me cry at your honestly , could I describe it as brutal, somehow where I sit No! As a Maori woman who has received multiple versions if racisim in my own country in my own whenua in my own workplace in my own home, I applaud you for your bravery, for your tenacity to have traveled your journey and come out enlightened and vocal. Your a rear gem Annie Joass and Aotearoa tauiwi are about to get truly educated!
    Tika te korero!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tena Koe Annie

    Nga mihi mo te kōrero o te whakapono. The resonance of truth, and wholeness of reality hums through your words of fidelity to our deep, diverse, yet also shared roots of hurt and of healing.

    He tino taonga tenei – please keep doing this work and sharing it wherever and whenever you can.



    1. Kia Ora Waireti, thank you very much, this acknowledgement means a great deal coming from you. If you’re ever in Whangarei please be in touch.


  3. it was like reading my own story, being pakeha in the land of the long white cloud has been a journey for me to learn about the land and its people, I am a teacher and have walked a similar life to you, i am learning to speak Te reo, i love to sing waiata and karakia, i am learning about my students and their whakapapa, i am on a journey very different from my own whanau, thank you for your story, and your honesty.


    1. Kia ora Shelley, thank you for your feedback. I’m so glad it resonated with you and my hope is that many more Pakeha and Tau iwi will access it too.

      Mauri ora



  4. Kia ora, nga mihi nga kupu Annie. This has been my experience also as I seek my identity as a 6th generation New Zealander of Scottish extraction. It is a honour to glimpse and appreciate te ao Maori through my work and friendships. My life too is richly enhanced through each precious experience. I feel it is incumbent on me to be part of the solution, to question, to challenge, to learn, to understand. Thank you for your whakaaro. Nga mihi


  5. Cheres Annie and Paora, Just a deep felt thank you for the time, patience, insight and guidance you both provide to us newcomers to this land. e kore whai ahau i te kupu. it was a gift to see paora again and to meet you at the Otago Summer Session and to hear you read your story. This morning I “bumped into” Glenn Colquhoun’s State of the Nation – which is his story. A karanga to bring us into the room that we all share. (http://archive.indymedia.org.nz/article/73053/state-nation-2007-pakeha-speeches-4) Thank you again, Kerren


  6. Kia ora, thanks for sharing your herstory with us Annie. I must say all this talk of ” white” is confusing to me.
    But then I am a LOST ONE.
    Adopted/sold in Oz in 53 during the closed/secretive era
    On reconnection I learn my great grandmother has the tattood chin I associate with Maori.
    Back when those markings meant something
    Then I delve deeper, and discover the Patupaiarehe
    The people of the land
    And they are white people
    Like my DNA tells me, I am
    I must discover my connections to Aotearoa
    And try and discover why the government is keeping the truth from us all
    Just like being adopted
    Where my truth was hidden and
    I knew I was a part of an obscene social experiment.
    I’ve just got to find the strength to answer that question five on my oz passport application … What is your mother’s maiden name ?
    And once again I have to deny my courageous, vulnerable mother Coral
    To get my passport to come and find my roots
    The roots they stole at my birth


    1. Kia ora Christin, thank you for your thoughts and sharing. I too was adopted 3 weeks after my birth so I understand some of the complexities of that. I think the term “white” is a crock, no people identified as “white” prior to the rise of imperialism and colonisation. I use the term “white priviledge” only as a term that people are more likely to understand but I definitely don’t identify as white. I am a proud Scotswoman also with Irish and Danish whakapapa.


    2. I believe the 1955 Adoption Act here in Aotearoa left many Maori children in the same boat as you left without knowing their whakapapa, knowledge of tikanga, te reo, whenua. That no matter how loved some adoptive parents were a government has a lot to answer for, consequences that can go through generations – that without this acknowledgement in Aotearoa government, or through contemporary treaty claims – time races on and soon this generation will have passed on. To all those who who were on this waka – same as me- Kia kaha

      Liked by 1 person

  7. nga mihi o te waa e te tuahine, e Annie,

    thank you for sharing your thoughts & experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed your personal perspectives throughout your writings.

    “I’ve learnt that one of the best ways to counter-act ignorance and fear is the confidence of knowledge”

    there are many excellent examples you have highlighted throughout, but the one above puts my mind at ease. Maoridom is based upon this simple philosophy “knowledge”, thank you.

    I share this quote with you “ka mau te wehi” e Annie
    (the positive overwhelming feeling you absorb, from another persons mana).

    Naku noa nei
    Witana Kamariera


  8. Reblogged this on k p m © and commented:
    Pakeha perspective: Eloquently and thought-provokingly written.


    “Māori know what Māori need; Māori know how to heal themselves, what will turn the “negative stats” around. In order to do this though non Māori must be willing to stand aside, share power, resources and decision making, all the things guaranteed to Māori under Te Tiriti O Waitangi incidentally. This is a difficult thing for us non Māori to get our heads around, it really is. No matter how hard we try there is still a yes, but…

    Here’s how the “yes buts” work. When we ‘give’ Māori organisations funding, we audit those organisations at 8 times the rate of non-Māori. The success or failure of those organisations is measured by non-Māori definitions of success. Tiriti negotiations are defined by non-Māori rules of engagement (timeframes, who they are prepared to negotiate with and who they aren’t).”


  9. Tena koe Annie, I just wanted to thank you for sharing this insight. For too long now I have thought it was all in my head, but you have nailed it. I always knew that there was something. Growing up I found myself flipping between being proud of being Maaori to being ashamed to be Maaori. I have lived more than 40 years feeling like this but not really knowing that I felt that way – hard to explain really. Still I am now able to just be Maaori, for all that means. I no longer try to be what others think I should be or behave. I am no longer apologetic or quiet. I know with some of the people I work with they have this sense of being better, for all the reasons you listed, but my voice will not change their beliefs so I will wait….. maybe one day they will come to accept me, my culture, my heritage, but I will no longer chase them or placate them just to ease their conscience. I will speak my language, sing my songs, tell my stories because that is who I am. I have lived too long trying to be the “good Maaori” and failing at it because it was not me. I am much more successful at just being me.
    Thank you once again


  10. Awsome korero Anne. I remember you telling us a little bit about this story in class. Love it. You are a true inspiration. 😊


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