‘For me, the heart of culture, the heart of where do we get our values, how do we make meaning about ourselves, our lives, our communities? How do we build a way of being together that really validates, acknowledges, endorses and celebrates difference? And it’s all in languages, in music, in song, in how we are as people. So, yes, it has been really who a whole part of my life is, because I’ve been an activist, I’ve done a lot of work in social and public policy, I’ve been passionate about community development, building communities and I am totally obsessed with cultural identities and the wonderful things that make up our culture.’ Sandi Morrison
What an absolute delight to interview my dear Mother-in-Law, Sandi Morrison, where we get to delve into the meaning behind our identity, our culture and our indigenous heritage. We discuss the meaning of life and how our values and cultural ties really should matter to every single one of us. We talk about honouring the many different cultures we are now a part of and how we can use our past to appreciate our presence and to evaluate our future.
We dive into topics like the quality of life, building communities, identity, language, culture and what makes meaning? Sandi believes we are at a time in our lives and social history where we really must make this giant leap into a whole new space, a whole new world view. A way of embracing diversity and what it means to be post-Colonial in the most positive sense.
Sandi believes it is imperative we understand our differences. But it is exciting with possibilities for new different pathways that will transcend some of the very negative aspects of the corporate hard line-economy first approach of our culture that has meant we have significant issues. But there are ways forward to solve them.
Sandi understands how human beings are quite resistant to change which comes from an ingrained fear we might lose something or that we may have to embrace something we don’t agree with. But if we can just let the barriers down and be open to explore new ways of being then this is what makes life exciting.
The ability to affect change and raise issues to moderate and mitigate comes from our values. Values are at the heart of esoteric teachings and religions even though they get bound by many man-made structures. And whilst challenging, we only have to look at the USA and see what is happening with democracy to understand the need for awareness and change.
We are in incredibly challenging times and even our own democratic system is quite fragile. But what is so important is that when we do connect together in terms of what matters and have conversations about the values and what we are going to do about the environment or bigger issues and what it means to have a healthy balanced democratic system. We will need to find ways to actually navigate and negotiate the kinds of new worlds we need to build in the 21s Century. And be open to indigeneity and be prepared to explore the ways in which nature, the environment, the seas, the stars, the sun are integrated as a part of their world’s views.
We discuss the impact empathy and compassion has on nations including Jacinta Ardern’s leadership and approach to crisis and tragedy. Her instincts when confronted with anything major, is that she allows herself to feel, and be connected to those affected. It is from that place, good leaders can role model and look for solutions.
If we can be human first, that is where unity lies. We will, we must, we can find ways and platforms and values to unite about what really matters which is what this time has to be about. If everyone participates, we will find solutions.
It is about assessing what matters, what counts and what deserves our priority. It is assessing what are the values that are important to us, in our society, the kinds of things that we want to drive in our systems? We need to find ways to have conversations about discourse, it’s not about arguing but exploring what makes meaning and what matters. What values do we want to underpin society with and what ways we will look after our people?
We need public platforms that are not constantly critical or blaming but open to exploring what matters to us all.
What is key is if we can ask powerful questions to help make a fundamental difference to bringing about positive change. Sandi appreciates how NZ does drive change due to its size. But she also thinks there are other fundamental differences. The Treaty of Waitangi has significant difference (regardless of the controversy) as the intention was all about having a positive relationship to recognise indigenous people of the land.
A combination of what happens in NZ does actually produce innovation, new ideas, world class issues and does drive change.
We talk about the significant time in history when in 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the indigenous people of Australia and how that was so important and positive. To own our past and what has happened, even though we may not be able to restore we can ensure the very best of what is good in life for each other is in place now. It is about committing to this.
In Maori, they say we need to walk backwards into the future. Look back, see the past, learn from the past and know the past and with that you then walk into the future. This is a most positive way to create change and release fear. We need leadership and visionary statements to show that there are ways of being that is better than in the past.
Sandi believes the way to embrace our indigenous culture and history is by having a vision for our community and our country. You want to be able to do something effective that is local, within your family and your community. It is things like events, rituals and things that are happening to allow us all to be together and hear the stories that allow more compassion and understanding.
As an example, there has been a recent opportunity in NZ where the government announced a public holiday called Matariki.
This is all about the Pleiades star clusters where 17,000 years ago there was drawings discovered in caves in France. So, it is not a new phenomenon. It has merely been highlighted to be understood to represent a time in life, in seasons, in NZ, the solstice, the shortest day which is the beginning of that process. It is not entirely new, but it is being presented in a new way to think about.
Matariki is a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar which marks the start of the Māori New Year. Signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in our night sky, this is a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.
Traditionally, Matariki was a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It was also a time to reflect, to be thankful to the gods for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with family and friends.
The stars of Matariki and their genders as recorded by Te Kōkau are identified with particular traits and areas of influence, also reflected in their positions in the star cluster:
The Nine Stars Of Matariki
Māori Latin Gender Provenance
Female Well-being and health
Male Food that comes from above
Female Food that grows in the soil
Male The winds
Female Growth and prosperity
Female Fresh water
Male The ocean
Female The deceased
Mata means eyes and ariki means God, so it is about seeing through the eyes of God. Matariki is the star that signifies reflection, hope, our connection to the environment, and the gathering of people. Matariki is also connected to the health and wellbeing of people.
Sandi’s final message is to recognise how truly blessed to live in this time with what is now possible for us, for our children and grandchildren. It is about really opening our hearts and knowing that really the way in which nature, in itself, is the most profound teacher. If we do embrace that then we will find new ways of being and new solutions. It is simplest and most profound ways Nature has all the meanings of whatever form of God you aspire to, it isn’t about religions structures it is not contained and confined by fixed man-made beliefs. It is the living, breathing heart and soul of who we are.
Her final quote, her grace is: Ko au te whenua, te whenua ko au… which translated means:
I am the land. The land is me.
About Sandi Morrison:
Sandi Morrison has worked in NZ for many years to help develop partnerships, projects and services to support economic, social and cultural development in Auckland and across Aotearoa. She has been actively involved in a range of innovative initiatives supporting entrepreneurs in the arts and cultural sector including governance roles on the Council and Arts Board of Creative New Zealand (Toi Aotearoa), and as a founding trustee of both Arts Regional Trust (ART) (Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi), and The Big Idea (Te Aria Nui) Charitable Trust.
Links to follow:
This is the meaning of my life
Cultural ties do matter
We endeavour to challenge ourselves
It is healthy to walk backwards for a post-colonial view on life
Make a commitment to honour our different cultures
Indigenous culture is a big issue in the Westernised world
The heart of culture is the heart of where we get our values
I don’t understand racism
Let the barriers down and be open to explore new ways of being
Values are at the heart of esoteric teachings and religions
Be open to indigeneity
Allow yourself to feel, and be connected to those affected
It is from this place, good leaders can role model and look for solutions
If we can be human first, that is where unity lies
We need public platforms that are not constantly critical or blaming but open to exploring what matters to us all
We need to walk backwards into the future
Nature is in itself is the most profound teacher
It is the living, breathing heart and soul of who we are
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