OKMULGEE, Okla. – The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Festival is a special event that attracts visitors from near and far. Now it has attracted visitors from as far as New Zealand. During the weekend of the festival, Whakaata Māori television executive producer Moehau Hodges-Tai and his uncle, Bosun Pako made the over 7,000 mile journey for the cultural celebration.
Hodges-Tai and Pako are Māori, the Indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand). The Māori culture is vibrant, unique and plays an integral part of life in their country. Today there are over 100 Māori iwi, or tribes across the island nation.
While the modern Māori actively practice their language and culture today, like many other Indigenous cultures around the world they have experienced history involving colonization. This is a story that is all too familiar with Mvskoke people and other Native American cultures across the United States. In spite of these issues, Māori people continue to thrive by telling their stories.
One way that the Indigenous people tell their story is through the Whakaata Māori, a government-sanctioned media organization that provides cultural news and programming to its viewers. The channel was formally called Māori television, and originally launched on March 28, 2004. According to the organization’s website, their mission is to “promote, revitalise and normalise the Māori language by taking a digital-first, audience-led approach in the delivery of educational, entertaining, and engaging programming.”
The organization features free-to-air content, which is available to viewers on a variety of different platforms including television, online streaming, and social media.
According to Hodges-Tai, the name Whakaata translates to reflection, thus the name of the organization means the reflection of Māori. Just like Indigenous news organizations in the United States like Indian Country Today, Whakaata Māori provides information for their people and strives to reflect their culture and language in the most authentic way possible.
Hodges-Tai serves as an executive producer for Whakaata Māori. Over the past couple years he has provided coverage on Native American cultures in the United States. During this time he developed a contact with the Ambassador of Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Jonodev Chaudhuri.
“I’ve summoned him many times to come on our programs back in New Zealand just to talk about different issues happening over here that are relevant to us back home.” Hodges-Tai said.
This year, Hodges-Tai was finally able to meet Chaudhuri in person. Hodges-Tai and Pako made the long journey to the Mvskoke Reservation during one of its most culturally active times, the main weekend of festival.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity for us from our home, New Zealand which is almost on the other side of the world.” Hodges-Tai said. “To come here and see the Indigenous people of this country come together to celebrate in such a positive event.”
Hodges-Tai’s iwi are Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Wai. He grew up speaking his native language, te reo Māori before he learned English. According to Hdoges-Tai, this was unusual because it was something that had not happened in over 140 years. Just like Indigenous cultures in North America, Māori seek to revitalize their language as well.
Māori and Polynesean culture have also recently broken through mainstream American media the past couple years. Filmmakers like Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi have led the charge in telling their own stories in film and television. Waititi served as the executive producer on the FX original series “Reservation Dogs” with Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo.
“It’s easy enough to watch a documentary or a tv show like Reservation Dogs where you get a hint of the culture,” Hodges-Tai said. “But it’s a special thing to physically come here, spending our time, to take in as much as we can and learn.”
Whakaata Māori will air their program on Mvskoke culture sometime within the near future.