31 July 2017

How Discovering Māori Culture Helped Me Explore My Own | Study With New Zealand

Linley Boniface
Last updated: 2 May 2019

For Brook Thompson, coming to New Zealand to learn about Māori culture became an opportunity to explore her own culture.

Brook, who is from the Yurok and Karuk tribes of northern California, says studying on the other side of the world has given her greater confidence in her cultural identity.  

“Being in New Zealand was one of the happiest times in my entire life. It not only helped me grow as a person, but reassured me of who I am,” says Brook. 

Brook spent a semester at the University of Auckland, studying abroad with IFSA-Butler. She is now in the fourth year of studying civil engineering at Portland State University, but in New Zealand she explored a broad range of interests by taking courses in film, physics, sociology and ‘the Māori world’.

She was surprised by how quickly she felt at home in New Zealand, and by the similarities between her culture and Māori culture. They shared similar creation stories, colonisation histories and family values, and even had a similar tradition of face and body tattooing.

As a child, Brook would wear a traditional basket hat while walking to school but would take it off when she arrived, to avoid being seen as different.

“When I came to New Zealand and saw how proud Māori students were to wear Māori jewellery and speak the language, I realised I’d been hiding. I began to feel more willing to put down the shield I’d been protecting myself with in the city,” she says.

Brook now feels comfortable wearing her tribal jewellery, speaking the Yurok language before translating it into English, and having difficult conversations with friends about race and culture.

She has stayed in contact with several Māori friends and with the teacher of her Māori world class, who was a big influence on her. “He talked to us about things like lands rights, water rights and religious freedom, which are issues that indigenous peoples around the world have in common.”

Brook says her experiences in New Zealand have made her more proactive in standing up for the rights of her tribe, and of other indigenous peoples. Her activism has included spending a fortnight at the protest against the oil pipeline being built near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Dakota.

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About the contributors
Linley Boniface

Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student.