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Last updated: 25 July, 2019

Māori connections inspire Native American student to find her voice

A Native American student who won a prestigious scholarship to study in New Zealand has used her experiences to become a community leader.

A Native American student who won a prestigious scholarship to study in New Zealand has returned home determined to use her experiences to become a leader in her community. 

Hailey Suina, of the Cochiti Pueblo Indian Reservation, had always dreamed of travelling to New Zealand and immersing herself in Māori culture.

In her tribal creation story, all Indigenous people are connected to one another. Hailey wanted to explore the cultural connections between the Indigenous Māori people and the Indigenous people of North America.

Hailey’s dream came true when she was chosen out of thousands of applicants to win a $15,000 Education New Zealand and Go Overseas scholarship to spend a semester studying at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

“I’ve spent my whole life wanting to go to New Zealand,” says Hailey, 23, a creative writing major at the Institute of Indian American Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hailey developed an extraordinary relationship with a Māori iwi (tribe) through AUT senior lecturer Jason King, who taught her Māori leadership course. Hailey lived with Jason and his family for several weeks and he took her to visit his tribal homelands, which are a four-hour drive from Auckland. 

“Jason said to me, ‘You’ve learned about Māori leadership in the classroom. Now I want you to see it in real life,’” says Hailey. 

She spent several days learning how decisions are made on a marae (community gathering place). Hailey fitted in so well that Jason’s iwi elected her onto their marae committee, which is responsible for maintaining the marae’s charter and ethos. 

Hailey was amazed by the similarities between the Cochiti Pueblo and Māori peoples, which include a collectivist rather than an individualistic culture, a sense of guardianship for nature, and strong ties with ancestors. 

Jason said it didn’t take him long to realise that he wanted to introduce Hailey to his family and take her to his marae. 

He wanted to familiarise Hailey with important Māori concepts such as 'manaaki' (physically, intellectually and emotionally caring for another person), 'aroha' (acknowledging a person's essence, or life force), ‘tikanga’ (acknowledging cultural identity and protocols) and ‘kaitiakitanga’ (guardianship of the environment).

Jason says he and Hailey have had many discussions about how she could contribute to the world. He was sure she would go on to become an exceptional young leader and would maintain her ties with New Zealand. 

“Hailey has set down roots in New Zealand now. She will always be a part of my family.”

Hailey did well in her studies, with her academic work ranked in the top five percent of the classes she was enrolled in with Jason. She enjoyed the New Zealand style of learning, which she says involved more group work than she was used to. 

She also loved living in Auckland, which she found friendly, safe and welcoming. 

Jason and Hailey have talked about the possibility of Hailey returning to New Zealand to study for a PhD exploring the benefits of education exchanges between Māori students and indigenous students in the US. 

Whatever she decides to do in the future, Hailey says studying in New Zealand has been a life-changing experience.

“I always knew I wanted to better myself as a young Indigenous person so I could make a difference, but I wasn’t sure how,” she says. 

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