Tamil Federation launches a meaningful engagement with Maori

Long Read
From overnight stay at the Marae to dialogues, it was the first of its kind

Women delegates and families at the Maori-Tamil Sangamam in Rotorua on July 2, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, June 6, 2022

More than 250 men, women and children of the Tamil fraternity assembled at the Ngati Ngararanui of Waiteti Marae in Ngongotaha in Rotorua over the last weekend (July 1 to 3, 2022) creating the first-of-its-kind engagement with the Maori, the original inhabitants of this Aotearoa New Zealand.

The three-day event in Rotorua was organised by the Wellington-based Aotearoa New Zealand Federation of Tamil Sangams (ANTS) Inc under the title, ‘Sangamam’ (Confluence).

The participants were of Indian, Fiji Indian, Singaporean, Malaysian, South African and Sri Lankan origin, in addition to other countries.

While men and women participated in the proceedings, separate arrangements were made for children to be kept engaged in sports and other activities.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Iwi and Communities) and Chairman of Ngati Ngararanui of Waiteti Marae Trustees speaking at the Powhiri on July 1, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

Building a multicultural society

The Programme at the Marae was held under the patronage of Deputy Commissioner of Police (Iwi and Communities) Wallace Haumaha, who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ngati Ngararanui of Waiteti Marae in Rotorua, safeguarding the founding and guiding principles of his ancestors and the local community. It was supervised by Superintendent of Police National Partnerships Manager (Ethnic) Rakesh Naidoo and organised for ANTS by Peniel Prabhakaran, appointed earlier this year to lead the project to establish an interminable link between Iwi Maori and Tamil Samudayam (Society).

Panel Discussions held on July 2, 2022, included the experience of Rawiri Bhana, a New Zealander born to a Maori mother and an Indian Gujarati father as told to panellist Dhaxna Sothieson, a Senior Lawyer at Auckland Community Centre.

The theme of the panel discussion was ‘A Multicultural Society in Bicultural Aotearoa.’

Wallace Haumaha, Meng Foon, Ravindran Annamalai and Matt Sword at the Waiteti Marae on July 2, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

Harassment and humiliation

Mr Bhana recounted his childhood experience of harassment, marginalisation and discrimination as a part Maori and part Indian.

“We were forbidden to even speak Maori among our friends at school, while I was constantly abused and ridiculed for my Maoridom and mixed race. Although the situation has somewhat improved, there is still prejudiced against Maori by the Pakeha community. I see programmes such as these as significant to improve our relations with communities,” he said.

Other panel discussions covered subjects such as ‘Building Bridges,’ ‘My Language, My Awakening,’ and ‘The Future We Want.’

In his speech at the Marae and at the cultural programme that preceded dinner, Mr Haumaha said that the Maori-Tamil Conference augured well with the Matariki Celebrations, ushering in the Maori New Year, which saw the first public holiday this year on June 24, 2022.

Detective Superintendent Tim Anderson, Inspector Philip Taikato and Superintendent Rakesh Naidoo at the Waiteti Marae on July 2, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

The cultural programme displayed immense talent inherent in our Maori and Tamil communities. The performances included music and dance by the children of the Western Heights Primary School, ‘Arthanareeswarar’ performed bu Athulya Mohan and Pratheek Shaji in Bharata Natyam style, a medley of folk dances by Shailaja Ravi Kumar and Tamil film songs and dances by the artistes from Khottey Sikkey Dance Group of Auckland.

Youngster Ashtaen Harcourt drew wide applause for his speech

Meeting of Maori and Tamil Culture

“This Hui (Meeting) is a celebration of two cultures, namely Maori and Tamil. Our Ngararanui whanau and local Police are very humbled to host our Tamil whanau from across the country. I hope that the experience, including the learnings was an enjoyable and comforting experience on the Marae. I am impressed with the overall agenda, including the panel discussions, in particular, the one which had the participation of Rawiri Bhana, who is the son of a Maori mother and an Indian father, and his insights into Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Te Tiriti), focused on the evolution in the Crown-Maori relationship and understanding of how best to reflect Te Tiriti in terms of broader ethnic relationships, collaboration, respect through the important principles of good Governance, Partnerships, and Protection,” he said.

Mr Haumaha hoped that the weekend’s engagement with his Marae would become a fundamental part of the process of developing enduring collective partnerships to address the many issues facing us as a nation during these challenging times.

Pratheek Shaji and Athulya Mohan presented ‘Arthanareeswarar,’ symbolising man-woman equality in
Bharata Natyam format (Picture Supplied)

“These challenges were inherent in the Panel discussion on “The Future We Want.” This is a journey to a more inclusive, connected and Treaty-Centred Aotearoa,” he said.

Mr Haumaha said that the Maori-Tamil weekend has set the template on how to coordinate the local and regional appeal of engaging with Maori to reflect better the respect for each other in both policy and practice, and the need to support our communities to be safe and feel safe, by unleashing the collective cultural and creative potential of the two communities,” he said.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, Ngati Ngararanui of Waiteti Marae Trustees and Maori leaders of Rotorua were among the speakers at the Powhiri, and other formal events held at the Marae over the two days.

A Dream Project

ANTS President Ravindran (Raveen) Annamalai said that the Maori-Tamil Weekend has been a dream project for the two-year-old Organisation and that the leadership of the Maori, and the New Zealand Police has been inspirational.

“It is essential that all migrants to New Zealand understand, appreciate and assimilate the Maori culture and traditions and engage with the Maori people constructively and meaningfully. With this Programme, we bring a special partnership with our Maori people. All of us should endeavour to understand the Treaty of Waitangi, the ensuing colonisation and how it impacted Maori and our role in building relationships,” he said.

Women and children at the Waiteti Marae on July 3, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

Mr Annamalai said that ANTS will play an influential role as an important stakeholder in participating, contributing and monitoring legislation-related issues and other measures.

“We are a growing community engaged in developing and implementing our projects that are central to the wellbeing of our community. These projects will serve as a testimony to New Zealand’s legacy as a culturally pluralistic and socially cohesive society. Long-standing and assimilated members of the Tamil community, working with migrants and newcomers of Tamil ethnic background will bespeak our Mission and Vision,” he said.

About Peniel Prabhakaran

As reported in our January 15, 2022, issue, ANTS appointed Peniel Prabhakaran to lead the project to strengthen the relationship between the Maori and Tamil communities.

We had quoted her as saying that just as many in the Tamil Diaspora have been fighting for their rights in various countries, Maori are insisting that their rights be heard and recognised.

Dr Damo Dharan (left) being honoured for his Covid-19 Vaccination and Health Project in Tamil (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

“Everyone should visit a Marae at least once and appreciate the richness of Maori culture and the passion of the people to preserve their language,” she said.

Mr Annamalai said, “The vision is to inform and engage her community to learn more of the history, Tikanga Maori and Te Reo Maori. And for Maori to meet, hear, and get to know the diverse Tamilian living in Aotearoa. But ultimately this work aims for a model of bridging the gap between the indigenous and migrant communities directly.”

Migrating to New Zealand in 2015, Peniel quickly assimilated the Maori culture and appreciated its values and traditions and related them to her Tamilian background.

“I missed home with all its cultural and social nuances and decided that I should not only deepen my connections back home but also relate them to the New Land. Working across cultural and other barriers, I am determined to ensure that no one is disconnected, discounted or discouraged from their identity, culture and language. Everyone should realise and be given the right to their unique values, and we must celebrate their ethnic, social, religious and geographical diversity,” she said.

Peniel Prabhakaran receives an Award for leading the Maori-Tamil Sangamam Project (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

Peniel is a Co-Creator and Contributing Author to a new Tamil publication titled, ‘Kelir Books,’ which aims to reach out to all Tamil-speaking people. Committed to serving the ensuing generation of leaders, she is keen to promote the Tamil language, ethical values and ethical leadership through children’s literature.

Peniel lives in Rotorua with her husband David and has been learning Te Reo Maori and effect an even more meaningful relationship with Tamil-speaking people. She also works as a Community Engagement Advisor at McLeods Booksellers in Rotorua and supported the Kupu Board at the Maori Writers Festival.

Key Partners

The Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, New Zealand Police, Te Reo Maori Language Commission, Rotorua Municipal Council and Nga Ngaru National Maori Authority were the Key Partners of the Maori-Tamil Sangamam, while Indian Newslink and Wana Ventures were Partners.

New Team at Annual General Meeting

At the Annual General Meeting held on Sunday, July 3, 2022, Federation Members adopted the Reports of the President and General Secretary and the Financial Statement and Books of Account presented by the Treasurer after seeking clarifications.

Mr Annamalai said that the following projects were at hand and the possibilities of implementing them with the consent of the competent authorities were being considered. They include (1) Declaring April as the ‘Tamil Month’ throughout New Zealand (2) Launch of a Maori-Tamil Coin (3) Translating the Treaty of Waitangi into Tamil (4) Introduction of Tamil Curriculum to teach Tamil at least for one hour a week in Schools (5) Translation of 101 Maori Quotes in Tamil (6) Maori-Tamil cultural and commercial partnership and (7) Extending a helping hand to Tamil people in times of need.

Matt Sword with Committee Members Vai Ravindran, Ravindran Annamalai, Venkat Raman (Patron), Malini Yugendran, Srinivasan Jaganathan (Standing from left) Godwin Charles, Barani Bhaskar Sampath, Jawahar Murugesan on July 3, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam)

Thereafter, the following were reappointed to their respective posts without contest.

They are Ravindran Annamalai from Wellington Mutamizh Sangam, (President), Vai Ravindran (Vice-President) and Srinivasan Jagannathan (Treasurer). Following a straight contest for the post of Secretary between Malini Yugendran and Carthika Luxman, the former was elected. The Executive Committee Members include Godwin Charles (Canterbury Indian Tamil Association), Barani Bhaskar Sampath (Taranaki Tamil Association) and Jawahar Murugesan (Dunedin Tamil Society).

Ray Annamalai, former President of Muthtamil Sangam of Auckland is an Advisor, while this Reporter is the Patron. The annual elections were supervised by Christchurch-based Legal Consultant and Maori Leader Matt Sword.

Tamil National Conference

Ravindran Annamalai said that ANTS is organising the First Tamil Conference in Auckland on November 5, 2022.

“We seek the support of all Tamil Associations and Societies in making this Conference a success. We are seeking the presence of prominent leaders from Tamil Nadu, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries and film celebrities. We will provide details to all member associations as works progress,” he said.

Executive Committee Members with ANTS Members on July 3, 2022 (Photo by Vasudevan Karmegam

About ANTS

ANTS is a national organisation, comprising seven Full Members, including the Wellington Mutamizh Sangam, Auckland Tamil Association, Canterbury Indian Tamil Association, Tamil Sangam Waikato, Dunedin Tamil Society, Tamil Association of New Zealand and Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam Wellington. It has four Associate Members, which are Tauranga Tamil Association, Blenheim Tamil Association, Taranaki Tamil Association, and Rotorua Tamil Association.

“Our vision is to encourage member organisations and other like-minded entities to work together on key projects, share experiences and other valuable information with other communities and become global citizens,” Mr Ravindran Annamalai said.

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