Rediscovering roots: Christina Leef on weaving our stories

He uri tēnei ō Te Rarawa

Ko Panguru tōku māunga

Ko Hokianga tōku moana

Ko Waihou tōku awa

Ko Nuku Tawhiti tōku waka

Ko Waipuna tōku marae


He uri anō tenei o kuki Airani

Nō te moutere ō Aitutaki. Ko Tao Tu Te papa kainga


Ko Christina Leef ahau


Christina currently works for Māori Women’s Development Inc. She spends time visiting low decile schools and connecting with Year 12 and 13 students through an entrepreneurial bootcamp.


An interest in Māori entrepreneurship started for Christina at the Auckland high school she attended. She realised she could be a ‘business person’ and later studied Māori business at university.


She is from a generation who identify as Māori and did not grow up in a fully immersive Māori household. Now as an adult, she has been learning te reo Māori, and retracing her steps down the family history, to bring her Māori culture back to the forefront.


Cultural exploration is the anchor and the compass leading Christina to where she should go.

It doesn’t suck to be Māori


Mid-2015 she left her job and started attending conferences and networking like a boss. Later that year she assisted her cousin to organise an event for the New Zealand Māori Council called Te Tatau Pounamu which focused on Māori representation now and in the future.


A week later, she came across a post-it note from the event. On it was written “it sucks to be Māori”.


She began to over-analyse the post-it note.


“‘What! Do you mean now? Do you mean today? Was it provoked by one of the people’s kōrero? Is it something you felt forever? How long have you felt this way? What does it mean?


I started crying. I thought, why do they think that? It’s great!”


Someone made an offhand remark –  it sucks to be Māori – and it came to mean so much to Christina.


When she thought of the post-it note again, the intergenerational trauma and cultural disconnect experienced by her peers and whānau sprang to mind.


“it’s tattooed to my heart now, I’ve got an unextinguishable fire burning within me, to have that sticker and be like ‘it does not suck! Sometimes it’s hard, but it doesn’t suck! We are a beautiful people.”


Defining her purpose


An indigenous revolution.


Cultural disconnect and intergenerational trauma were experienced by her father’s generation and his parents before him. Her grandparents were originally from Northland, but after her Grandfather returned from World War II with PTSD, he and Christina’s Grandmother were sent to Auckland. This was where the army was based and this was the place he was required to find work. Her grandparents were removed from their home in Northland and sent to Auckland. It was a completely new city where they had to be white.


And so her Dad grew up in Auckland and attended a school where they had their culture beaten out.


They weren’t allowed to culturally identify as Māori, and her Dad was not taught to speak Te Reo Māori growing up. As a consequence he could not teach it to Christina and her siblings. Even though she learned a bit at school, she didn’t have a connection to the language and the culture like her grandparents did.


It wasn’t only a language disconnection, but a geographical disorientation. Growing up, Christina could not name where she was from, or what her iwi was.


Suddenly her purpose was to make sure that everyone was culturally connected.


She wanted people to come together and uplift their own indigenous whanau, and she knew it was a worldwide issue felt by many indigenous people, not an isolated experience felt only by Māori.


Christina joined the Flourishing Fellowship in 2015

I asked her if Lifehack affected her life.

Definitely, she replied.


The Flourishing Fellowship made her more open, more vulnerable, and made her realise she didn’t need to be afraid.


Before the Flourishing Fellowship, she often used her cultural difference to distance herself from other people her age. She would be guarded and reserved with new people and rationalised deep down that no-one understood her life experiences. She distanced herself because she was scared of being hurt.


I think to myself, how can you bring so many magical people into one space?!  It’s like a secret formula. Mr Krabs has got to bottle that s*** up, it’s so great.”


It surprised her to be welcomed by the Flourishing Fellowship community with open arms. At the first hui she allowed herself to tell people her life story and she continued to tell it ever since the hui finished.


Cultural exploration was the turning point


“The turning point for me was definitely through cultural exploration. Ko wai au? Who am I?”


For Christmas she visited her family in Northland and took a curiosity to learn her culture and her own history. She sat with her Papa and spent six hours learning her family history. And realised she was just beginning to scratch the surface.


“The weight of it and i felt my culture and tipuna and again, it’s just like, I’ve got an invisible korowai that I wear, after putting it on – I’ve got my anchor, my compass and my korowai.”


2016 is going to include Lifehack too


Christina plans to work with Lifehack, Youthline and Sovereign to help increase the number of Youthline volunteers in South Auckland. She’ll be providing information about the different cultures in South Auckland so Youthline can extend their reach and make Youthline accessible to a wider range of Auckland youth.

She calls the cultural awareness work for Lifehack the projects anchor and compass. To make sure they are headed in the right direction, they will look towards the people.

“I can’t describe Lifehack adequately, but I had this image of throwing glitter up in the air, and there are all these magical beautiful sparkly things that they do, and it just goes up and it falls. It falls on so many people and affects so many people’s lives- glitter.”

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