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Saturday 08 April 2017

He Awa Mutunga Kore - A Takatāpui Journey

Posted in: Our Communities
By Sarah Murphy - 17th March 2017

He Awa Mutunga Kore - A Takatāpui Journey is a documentary from award winning director Kathleen Winter, that tells the story of Wellington Youth Worker Kassie Hartendorp and her journey to find balance in her identity as queer and Māori.

As their current crowdfunding campaign gains public momentum, we chat to both Kathleen and Kassie about the importance of telling the stories of indigenous queer identities.

Kassie Hartendorp and Director Kathleen Winter

As someone who has working in documentary for the past few years and has a background in queer and gender diverse youth support, He Awa Mutunga Kore - A Takatāpui Journey seems like a fitting project for Kathleen.

Having followed Loading Docs for a while, she says when they put a call out for applications with the theme ‘diversity’ “it was kind of a no-brainer”.

“I initially approached Kassie because she’s such a great speaker and we have similar politics, and asked her if she wanted to be in a film ‘about Pride’. She sent me big list of topics and ideas we could focus on, and the one that really stood out was indigenous queer identities - specifically takatāpui identity in this case.

Kassie says she first started questioning her sexuality when she was in her early teens, but didn’t start using the word takatāpui until her mid-20s. “Up until then, I used queer, gay, bisexual and pansexual at different times of my life. Takatāpui is a word that not many people have heard of - including Māori.

“It wasn’t until I started connecting with other takatāpui, that I was introduced to a rich history and whakapapa of takatāpuitanga. For a while, I thought it was only for gay men and it wasn’t until I talked with an older, wiser wahine, that I felt like this word could describe me.”

“In the LGBTIQ community, words and naming can be important. When we name ourselves, we bring ourselves into being.”

While growing up and coming to terms with her identity, Kassie says there was a huge silence both in the media and in the community around takatāpui or anyone who was gay, bisexual or transgender. “Let alone identities beyond that!”

“The one story I remember hearing was a negative one - that a local teacher was a lesbian, and how disgusting it all was,” she says. “I remember not feeling like there was anything wrong with her - but the message sent was that it was wrong, unnatural and gross.”

This stigma, that queer and gender diverse people are still facing today, is one of the reasons why Kassie believes it is important to share her story.

“In the past few weeks, more transwomen around the world have been killed,” she says. “Tangata whenua still fight to restore and reclaim what has been taken and lost. Society has often told us that we as queer indigenous people shouldn’t or don’t exist. That we should make ourselves smaller, hide ourselves or change who we are. We are still here despite everything. This is a story of hope and resistance, and is just one tiny drop in a huge sea. If one person feels stronger in who they are as takatāpui, then this doco has been successful,” she says.

“There is currently an explosion of stories about what it means to be LGBTIQ across the world. But those stories are dominated by those who have the most power, and access to resources. There are lots of reasons why indigenous stories do not get heard often. But when I think about what it means to be queer or transgender - my first thought is that we need to find our own stories from within Aotearoa and the Pacific.

“We have our own rich histories, but many of them have been erased, silenced or ignored.”

“I wanted to take part in this project to honour those who exist in the spaces in between. To those brave enough to carve out their own spaces in a world that never meant for them to exist. To remind those who haven’t found their place to stand - that you will find it.

“Plus I wanted to invite those who have never had to think about what it means to be LGBTIQ and Māori to gain insight into my world.”

It honouring these identities, it is also important to honour the languages spoken in Aotearoa through the use of both te reo Māori and English in the documentary. “It’s important that we have the freedom to use both languages in the film in a way that is natural and true to the story,” says Kathleen.

“In colonised Aotearoa, uplifting the use of te reo Māori - a language that was almost completely stamped out - is really important. It’s also important to us that we’re not trying to fill a quota or using language in a tokenistic way. We want this story to be accessible to everyone, and for the languages to be used together as they often are in real life.”

She says sharing stories like Kassie’s is important in acknowledging the impact colonisation has had on the people of this land. “Our media landscape is still very white, and straight, and even when we understand that queer and trans stories need to be shared - we still tend to only hear certain types of stories. It is important to remember that New Zealand is colonised Aotearoa, and that we have a long, long way to go before we truly recognise the knowledges and voices that have been lost and silenced as a result of that violent process. Sharing individual stories is one small step. No one can speak for all Māori or all takatāpui experience - just like no one can speak for all Pākehā or gay experience - and they shouldn’t have to. Hopefully this film will inspire others to share stories, so that it can exist as one small voice among many, and contribute to a broader understanding and acceptance of takatāpuitanga.”

Much of He Awa Mutunga Kore - A Takatāpui Journey will be filmed at this year’s Wellington Pride Festival a time in which Kassie says it is important to remember those who came before for us, paving the way for the rights we have now.

“Pride events have a radical history that fought for many of the rights that we have gained today. I am grateful for those who made this possible, and particularly the transwomen who have often been on the frontlines of struggle. There is a time and place for glamour and celebration - as long as that does not get used to brush over why these events started, and dismiss the inequalities that still exist for many in our communities.”

Globally, Kassie says “The reality is that many groups of people in the world have suffered because of colonisation and capitalism. Entire cultures have been wiped out, languages lost and communities destroyed. While different countries have their own experience of colonisation, there are lots of themes that are similar. And it impacts everything. Of course it is hard to show up or represent when some communities are pouring their energy into different battles or struggling just to get by. Indigenous people don’t have the luxury of fighting one issue, so maybe we don’t have time for your LGBTIQ event or conference. On top of this, everything around us spreads the message that white, Western and non-indigenous lives are more important. Some days, we are the only ones reminding each other that we deserve to be here.

“Even I have access to resources and move in the world in a way that many other takatāpui or indigenous people cannot. We have to be very aware of the voices that are still not being heard.”

To support He Awa Mutunga Kore - A Takatāpui Journey, head to the Boosted website to donate. The team currently have a crowdfunding target of $7000 which will give them the time and resources to cut together a second, short ‘campanion’ video about Tiwhanawhana - a takataapui roopu in Wellington.

Glossary of terms:

Takatāpui: Traditionally used to mean 'intimate friend of the same gender.' Is now used by some as an umbrella term to describe Māori who identify as sexuality or gender diverse. Whakapapa: Genealogy Tangata whenua: People of the land. From tangata, 'people' and whenua ‘land'. A common term to describe Māori or indigenous people of Aotearoa/NZ. Takatāpuitanga: Takatāpui culture Roopu: Group or organisation.
Sarah Murphy - 17th March 2017

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