Maiki Sherman: Holding the powerful to account

by Dale Husband
Sun 11 Dec 2016
11 min read

Maiki Sherman is one of a relatively new breed of Māori journalists. The new generation has been coming into the media by way of kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori.

And, with a growing (but still limited) interest from the mainstream media in recruiting bilingual Māori journos, the available jobs aren't just in iwi radio and at MTS (the Māori Television Service).

In this interview with Dale, Maiki traces her brisk path from kōhanga to TV3's Newshub — without even mentioning the Massey University award she won a few months ago as the Māori Journalist of the Year. 

Meanwhile, she and her partner, Anaru MacDougall, are waiting for the arrival of a sibling for their six-year-old daughter, Hemaima-te-wai, and four-year-old son, Kahikatea.

 

Maiki. Tēnā koe. As you may know, I often start these interviews with a question about names, because their origins can be interesting — as I suspect yours are. So let’s start with your first name.

Maiki is the name of the hill in Russell where Hone Heke chopped down the British flagpole four times. It’s often referred to as Flagstaff Hill but Māori know it as Maiki Hill. And I feel it’s a privilege for me to carry that ingoa, because I have strong whakapapa into Ngāpuhi through both my mother and my father. Hone Heke chopping down that flagpole is a significant part of our history.

Then there’s my surname. Sherman. Or Sherminator as Scotty Morrison began calling me when I started working with him on Te Karere. But Sherman goes back to our whakapapa in America and comes through my father’s great-grandfather, Prince Edward Sherman, who came to New Zealand on a whaling ship. So that’s where that ingoa comes from.

And your northern Māori connections?

My mother’s father was Dick (Richard) Kake from Pehiaweri marae in Whangarei. My mother’s mother was Mihipaea Maioha-Tait from Waimate North, Tauwhara marae. My father’s mother was Te Miringa Sherman. On her father’s side, she was from Te Rawhiti marae in the Bay of Islands. And on her mother’s side, Rea Kora, she was from Opotiki.

But I also have links into Te Arawa and Ngāi Tūhoe through my kuia Mihipaea and her second husband, Te Kotahitanga Tait, from Tūhoe-Te Arawa. That’s how our whānau ended up in Rotorua, and that’s where I grew up and did all of my schooling.

It’s important that we and our tamariki Māori learn our whakapapa lines. But, of course, that sometimes throws at us a history that not everyone is comfortable with. And, when we look at the hara and the raru that’s existed between northern peoples and others on the coast and down through Waikato, many of us are reminded of the tensions of yesteryear. And here you are sharing the bloodlines of both rohe. Was that an issue for you as you were growing up?

Well, it was a unique situation to have a strong Ngāpuhi whakapapa and be growing up within Te Arawa. Especially when, each year, our kura (Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata) would spend a week over at Mokoia Island, which was the setting for one of the most brutal wars between Ngāpuhi and Te Arawa.

And, every time that history on that sacred island was recounted, my classmates were aware that I was from Ngāpuhi and here we were talking about how Ngāpuhi came down and almost wiped out Te Arawa. So it was awkward for me at times, and I felt quite defensive when I was listening to all of this kōrero and criticism of my iwi coming down, and war breaking out at Mokoia.

But, now that I’m older, I can look back at it and feel very blessed. Blessed to be from Ngāpuhi whakapapa. But also very blessed to have grown up with the lovely people of Te Arawa and to be instilled with their histories, their tikanga and their kōrero which we learned at kura. I actually know more waiata from Te Arawa than I do from my own people. Which is a bit sad because you can feel disconnected from your own marae and your hapū.

Those are things, though, that we all have to deal with when we grow up outside of our own takiwā. So, I think back to all of our Māori who were forced from their hau kāinga into the cities for jobs and better prospects for their whānau. And you can reflect on the impact that must’ve had on our people. The loss of our culture and our language. I can see how that could’ve happened. It’s really quite saddening. But, luckily for us, we got that sort of enrichment through the kura.

When we look at that kōhanga and kura which have been such a big part of your life, we need to acknowledge your mum and your dad who wanted that for their tamariki. Perhaps we should be paying tribute to their commitment to seeing that their children didn’t lose out on the reo.

Absolutely. My mother is Te Otaota Eve (Kake) and my father is Allan Sherman. I’m so proud of my parents now that I’m an adult and a parent myself. I can see the sacrifices they made to give me and my brother and my sisters the opportunity to have our reo and our tikanga Māori instilled within us.

They didn’t have that opportunity, even though they grew up around the marae and the language. The aspirations back then were different and the language wasn’t a priority. For a number of years, my parents and our whānau were living in Ōtara on Bairds Road. And when I was one year old, I was at Kōkiri Te Rahuitanga Kōhanga Reo in Ōtara.

But then my parents decided to move our whānau down to Rotorua to look after my kuia and koro. It was my koro Tahi who went out to Ruamata and put a tono for my older sister to attend the kura. And my brother and I went to Te Koutu Kōhanga Reo. That really started off our journey as a whānau in te reo Māori. My mother and father would go to Te Ataarangi classes. And they’d also have a dear koroua of ours, John Foster, a linguist, coming to our house once a week to help them with their reo.

John is still very much a loved member of our whānau because he took that time to help my parents and our whānau too. He’s a Pākehā who’d come to New Zealand on a ship and began learning te reo Māori once he arrived.

Overall, it was a huge commitment from my parents. Not just learning te reo Māori as adults but also deciding to send their children to kura kaupapa Māori. A total immersion Māori school wasn’t as common as it is today. And the kura that we attended, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata was still in a small whare next to the marae out at Uenuku Kōpako.

It started with only a handful of children, and my mother has told me that members of her whānau questioned whether sending us to kura was the right thing to do. At that time, there was a stigma around Māori culture, and doubts about the benefits. But, thankfully, my parents persevered and they sent us anyway.

You’ve touched on Ruamata, which has had a wonderful influence through the years. So there may be some people you want to acknowledge for making such a success of that little kura.

We were fortunate in having a lot of strong role models in our kura. Te Hiko o Te Rangi Hohepa, Kerenga Tait, Ani White, and Eru Potaka Dewes. Koro Eru was a strong advocate for Māori rights and he’d often teach us in class. Take us for history studies. And I can recall us going down to the Tarawera river to protest against Fletchers who were said to be polluting the river. I can still recite the words to songs we had written and sang about that. It was life lessons like those — and standing up for our tikanga and our rights as Māori that gave us such a strong foundation at the kura.

Then there was our principal, Cathy Dewes, a remarkable woman in every respect. The way she carries herself. The way she speaks with authority, but also with kindness and warmth. The way she thinks about different issues. I really can’t fault her. She’s just amazing, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to be with her. But she wasn’t the only one. All of our teachers, in their own way, had that passion and fire and commitment to see that, as tamariki Māori, we could stand strong in this world and reclaim our culture, our history, our traditions.

When you moved into your late teens, you opted for journalism — which hasn’t been a popular career for Māori. How did that unfold for you?

What inspired me into a career in journalism was that I was part of a generation reclaiming our culture as Māori people. And part of that reclamation is taking ownership of it. Putting a voice to it. Speaking our truths. Speaking our history. And that goes hand in hand with journalism. Getting the true stories out there.

So it was a natural progression for me to go into journalism. Putting the questions to those responsible for decision-making in this country. Challenging them about recognising Māori rights and on why we need Māori voices in all the decision-making processes. And so, later in my journalism career, that has led me into parliament as a political reporter because that is the ultimate decision-making table. And that’s where you can hold to account those at that table when it comes to Māori rights and interests.

It was a matter of timing too because when I was in high school we had the birth of Māori Television. Finally, we were on screen and our voices were being heard and our stories were being told. No longer were we relegated to a 15-minute slot with Te Karere. Instead, we had an entire channel that was our own. That was very exciting.

And I’d watch Julian Wilcox and Ngarimu Daniels present the Māori news and think: “Gosh, that’s something that I want to do.” And others like Tini Molyneux and Hinerangi Goodman. It was pretty much the only career path that I was interested in at that time.

So I enrolled in the AUT journalism course — and I was all ready to go when, just before the course started, my mother discovered that there were scholarships for the journalism course at Waiariki Polytech here in Rotorua. And when I met the tutor, Annabel Schuler, I decided to stick with Waiariki.

We’ve had a lot of strong Māori journalists graduate from the course. And we had part-time tutors like Maramena Roderick and Wena Harawira. So it became a no-brainer for me. That’s where I did my training. Waiariki Polytech. Diploma in Journalism. And that was the start of my media career.

No doubt through your career so far — and especially when you’ve been covering parliament — you’ve had some challenges as a Māori journalist and even more so as a reo Māori journalist.

When I started reporting in parliament, I was with Māori Television, and so all of my reports were in te reo Māori. The struggle then was to find MPs who could speak te reo Māori. Also I’d often be covering specific Māori stories that other Press Gallery reporters wouldn’t be doing. So I was often on my own waka — and that could be difficult.

I can recall, for instance, when the prime minister announced a referendum on changing the flag, and he’d outlined his preference for a silver fern on a black flag. I asked him if he thought there should be a Māori aspect to a new flag for Aotearoa New Zealand. I was the only one driving that line of questioning. He answered: “No.” And I said: “Not even as the Treaty partner? Or as the indigenous people of this country?” His response was: “No. I don’t think so.”

They were quite difficult questions to put to him, especially when I was the only one taking that line. So it can be a lonely job when, in effect, you’re on your own and you’re dealing with some of the most powerful people in the country. It can be tough. But it’s also rewarding, knowing that you’ve been the voice for te iwi Māori in those situations — and that you’ve done what you could to help advance the discussion for our people.

Now that I’m working in the mainstream media, there are different challenges as a Māori journalist because of the need to navigate the expectations of your people and the expectations of your producers. And they can be quite different. So it can be a balancing act.

From the outside, Maiki, it’s been obvious for generations that there hasn’t been enough Māori expertise in our mainstream newsrooms. Now that you’re on the inside, working at Newshub, is that how you see it too?

Yes. There isn’t enough expertise in te ao Māori in our newsrooms. There’s only a handful of experienced Māori journalists in senior positions. And that needs to change. But the challenge is also growing the talent pool of Māori journalists to fill those roles.That’s one part of the equation. The other part is the willingness and the desire of non-Māori already in those leadership positions to see the benefit of having that Māori expertise in our newsrooms helping direct the content that is shaping the perceptions of our nation. It’s really important that we have both of those perspectives and both of those voices coming through to the public.

That lack of understanding of things Māori within the mainstream media — and also the intergenerational ignorance throughout New Zealand — can be put down, probably to a large extent, to the neglect of New Zealand history and of te reo Māori in our mainstream schools. Would you like to see our education system doing better in that regard?

I think that New Zealand’s own history, including the New Zealand Wars, should be an integral part of the curriculum. And it’s encouraging that we’re now seeing moves to recognise those wars with a national commemoration day. That should help enlighten each new generation about the struggles that we’ve had on New Zealand soil — and about the pain that Māori people have suffered through colonisation. That would go a long way in helping people to understand our viewpoints and why we’re still struggling to recover from that colonisation.

I’m not so sure about making te reo Māori compulsory. But I’ve no doubt that there should be a conscious effort, led by the Ministry of Education, to see that Māori culture, in a meaningful and robust way, becomes an integral part of daily teaching

We see a lot of that in early childhood education. All around the country, you’ll hear them singing waiata Māori, doing karakia Māori, and really promoting the Māori culture to all children. And there’s often a really positive response from the kids and their parents about learning Māori. But, for some reason, as our children go through the schooling system, that commitment dies off.

It’s still there in primary and somewhat in intermediate. I’ve seen non-Māori kura hold kapa haka days where tamariki of all cultures and ethnicities are on stage. And they’re loving it. Their parents are loving it too. And all that activity promotes a sense of unity in our country.

But, at high school, it almost becomes obsolete, probably because it becomes an option and is no longer part of the daily fabric of the school. And then, once they leave school, the connection that non-Māori children have to Māori culture can be lost completely. Which is a sad loss.

Finally, I wonder how you see the role that the Māori media plays in helping shape or direct our overall Māori development?

It has a huge role. One part of that is telling our positive stories and showcasing what we’re doing well. There are lots of stories like that. Unfortunately, they’re often not sexy enough to make the news programmes. Which is a shame. We should be telling more of our success stories whether they’re about business or academic or sporting achievement. Or whatever.

Unfortunately those stories can get lost in the newsrooms where the mentality is that “if it bleeds, it leads”. That’s a very non-Māori way of looking at what makes news important.

But that’s been the framework for all these years and we, as Māori media, still haven’t had enough discussion about what Māori news is — and how it differs from Pākehā mainstream news. And, if we want our stories to help in the development of our people and to show our tamariki more of the wonderful things our people are doing, then we need to find more and better platforms for putting our stories out there.
 


© e-tangata, 2016

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