Te Waka McLeod: Maori envoy to CCC19

By conference convener, Stephanie Mines.

Te Waka2Te Waka McLeod smiles from her heart, her eyes clear and her face placid and joyful as she tells me that she has found her passion in life. It is mending the fragmented families of her beloved Maori people. Working as a leader at the Parenting Place in Auckland, she has remade this organization into one that is inclusive. Families are key to building creative communities, which is precisely what we must catalyze if we are to thrive in a climate changing world.

Te Waka’s evolution details the inescapable connection between climate change activism and the cultural impacts of colonialism on indigenous people. Her brilliant life is a testimony to how that which was and is devastating is transmuted into practical hope infused with pure faith. From picking up rubbish on the beach, composting at home and at work, minimizing waste and educating youth leaders about the Maori value of guardianship of the land, Te Waka embodies Climate Change and Consciousness.

Te Waka’s origins are in the Taranaki district of the North Island of New Zealand where her mother modeled Kaupapa Maori, the Maori worldview.  When Te Waka speaks of her mother, who died young, her radiance increases. It is clear that her mother’s love for her children, her land and her people lives on and is amplified through her daughter.

Te Waka knows what it means for a family to be shattered. Her father, who also died too young, was, unlike Te Waka’s mother, cut off from his roots of belonging through the multiple ways in which colonialism crippled his dignity. He became a different kind of leader; he was one who led the black power gang movement in New Zealand. This movement was fueled by the colonial attempt to dissolve ethnic uniqueness. It provided an outlet for rage and deep grief.  It is from piecing together the shards of her shattered lineage for herself and through supporting her siblings that Te Waka’s faith in reconstruction and collective regeneration was born.

Te Waka sees the threat of climate change in the context of what has happened to the Maori. Now through the channels of peace, love and devotion to Kaupapa Maori she participates actively and spiritually in rebuilding her community. Te Waka’s embodied optimism is born from her experience and how she transmits this reclamation to children, youth, parents and families in her work at the Parenting Place. Te Waka tells me that her mother was a weaver. “Every day when I came home I found her weaving,” she says. Te Waka is also a ‘weaver.’ She weaves individuals into units of love; she weaves love back into the story of each family that has forgotten its lineage. Te Waka is a weaver of communities. She is living in the spirit of Te Rongopai, the vision of restored relationships.

Attending Climate Change and Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth will be a rite of passage for Te Waka but it will not be her first. When she decided to claim her Moko Kauae (sacred female chin tattoo), she imprinted on her face her mana, the life journey of her heart. Through this chin tattoo Te Waka let the moko that lived within her be seen by the world. Here is a beautiful short video of Te Waka receiving her moko.

Te Waka is a mighty weaver, and like her mother, also a healer. She is weaving and healing, for herself and many others, her cultural identity, her personal identity, and her global identity. And, like her father, she is a bold and daring leader environmental activist, unafraid of taking risks. This is the deepest expression of her love for her Maori identity and the Maori kinship with Papatuanuku, Mother Earth.

There is much more to this story; likely too much for a blog, but I cannot complete without mentioning that Te Waka, in attending Climate Change and Consciousness, is also weaving her Maori lineage with her Scottish lineage. She is, after all, Te Waka McLeod. Her father’s clan is from Skye so when Te Waka comes to Scotland her feet will walk for the first time on the land where members of her father’s line originated. The nature spirits will surely rejoice when their daughter comes home.

NOTE: We have funding to bring two Maori youth to CCC19, but are seeking more. If you’re inspired to support them to come please contact us.


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