For generations, Māori emphasised the health benefits of possessing and sustaining a strong cultural identity. Knowing who your people are, where they come from and participating in cultural activities are well evident in promoting a sense of belonging, self-worth and social support.
We realise for some whānau, access and involvement to what is rightfully our own mātauranga about whakapapa and origins has been constrained owing to past histories of policies and practices that have alienated us from our whenua, te reo, whakapapa and whānau.
At the same time, we often witness Māori overcoming those challenges by seeking out opportunities for learning and engaging with the knowledge of their whakapapa, and cultural background which in turn has raised their personal and whānau significance to being Māori!
Stories shared amongst Māori we’ve worked beside often show their transformation, following their whakapapa search, or visiting their Marae or being connected to their whānau. For some this sense of being has also been found in methods like wānanga, waiata, kapa haka, art, pūrākau, tā moko, sport and ceremony.
In any case, it has resulted in the enhanced self-esteem of a person and their whānau. It has also often improved their resilience to adversity. We believe a person’s cultural identity can serve as a protective mechanism against health challenges and is important in finding the solutions to address emotional or social stressors.
By being engaged with one’s culture does inform ones cultural identity, and participation in cultural activities certainly help to develop and strengthen a sense of connection to a cultural group.
For Māori, being connected to whānau, hapu, Iwi and community are part of a continuum to foster and ensure we have a positive cultural identity. By participating in our cultural engagements and activities, we are automatically connected to our past, present and future through our cultural principles, customs, life meanings and obligations. It is often in these places there are positive health outcomes including holistic healing, empowerment, learning, connectedness, renewal and strength.