Chance meeting leads to Maori family reunion 8-07

by Stan Bindell
Phoenix, Arizona (NFIC)

Learning about her Maori side and being accepted by her Maori family in New Zealand was the answer to a lifelong dream for Linda White Wolf. White Wolf, host of Arizona Native News on the Pat McMahon Show on KAZ-TV, never knew about her Maori heritage until she happened to come in contact with a Maori cousin.

White Wolf, who is a member of the Chickasaw Tribe from Oklahoma, also serves on the board of Native American Connections, a non-profit organization that looks after mental health, housing and cultural/education needs.

Manny Down, a Maori, was leading a Maori group to Phoenix for an alternative health care conference so White Wolf contacted him. It wasn’t until their second e-mail that they learned that they were related. From there, everything fell into place for White Wolf to go to New Zealand to meet with her Maori family and they welcomed her with open arms.

“There is a difference between Maori and American Indian. With Maoris, all that matters is where you come from and who your ancestors are. You don’t have to show any blood quantum,” she said. “All you have to prove is that you have family.”

White Wolf, who has dual citizenship from America and New Zealand, said Maoris could not understand the concept of blood quantum where somebody could be removed from a tribe by a vote because they did not have enough blood quantum. She was interviewed by one radio talk show in New Zealand for more than two hours about the subject.

Down’s meeting in America was a good one as Native Americans welcomed the Maoris. They had a chance to go horseback riding on the Ft. McDowell-Yavapai Reservation where that tribe’s president, Raphael Bear, was along for the ride. White Wolf laughs, recalling that it was lucky that Ft. McDowell has large horses since many of the Maoris go about 270 pounds.

White Wolf, who was born and raised in San Diego, was able to trace her genealogy back to find that Cliff Moore was her grandfather. The Moores and MacDonalds were the leaders of one of the seven Maori tribes, the Rangitane. When she learned that the Maoris were having a 150 year reunion that was when White Wolf decided it was the appropriate time to go.

“I knew that was the time to come and claim who I am,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. We all need a sense of being and belonging, knowing who we are in the big picture. It’s understanding it’s about we and not about I.”

White Wolf said she was like the lost relative who was coming home to her iwi (tribe). She said to make her feel at home they put a photo of her mom on the wall. White Wolf said she was scared about the possibility of rejection and the anticipation of meeting close family members that had never been part of her life. But during her three-and-a-half week stay in New Zealand, there were several honor ceremonies held for her.

“I did not want to leave, but I had to come back for my responsibilities at work and my animals,” she said. White Wolf has three horses, two dogs and an ocelot.

“People came from all over the world for the gathering, but I came from the farthest away,” she said about the 19 hour flight.

Since there is no blood quantum to be considered a Maori, there were many people there who looked anglo. White Wolf said all Maoris were accepted whether they looked Anglo or Native.

“This completed me. I knew my Native American side, but not my Maori side,” she said.

While in New Zealand, White Wolf stayed and traveled throughout the country with Down’s family. One of the key stops was in Johnsonville, a suburb of Wellington. It is there where she visited the family gravesites as well as the house where her mother was born.

“It was the biggest house on the hill and it was in a Victorian style,” she said. But it was also in this house where her grandmother and mother were taken away from her grandfather because they were Maori. “Nelli’s parents were racists and they could do that back then,” she said.

They were taken away by the Irish/Scottish side of the family, but White Wolf doesn’t harbor any resentment since her son-in-law is full-blooded Irish and her soon to be born grandson will be born in Ireland and named Killian McCarthy. “I love the Irish people. They are also a tribal people,” she said.

White Wolf also had a chance to visit marae, the homestead of the Maori. “This was a life changing event because now I know where I want to be,” she said.

All seven Maori tribes have been asked by the crown and government to submit claims of their violations. Each of the Maori tribes are doing this. One tribe has done this and White Wolf’s tribe is next. She said the process will take two to five years, but will result in each tribe receiving a lot of land and money to restore their lifestyles. She said this is when she will go to live there.

“I love it there. On my Native American side, I’m an orphan because all my relatives are gone,” she said. “To have an enormous family is overwhelming. It’s the first sense of family I’ve had my entire life. My dad was gone and my mom died early.”

White Wolf said the Maoris came from Hawaii and canoed 12,000 miles to New Zealand. One of the sports in New Zealand is competitive Hawaiian outrigger canoeing, a pastime that White Wolf has come to love as she competes on the Arizona team. They practice four times a week either at Tempe Town Lake or Saguaro Lake.

While in New Zealand, White Wolf learned about Maori music and arts. She said the older music has a Hawaiian sound to it, but the newer music has everything from rhythm and blues to rock.

She noted that New Zealand has fern forests and water everywhere. There are only about three million people in the country – and as many sheep. “But they don’t do mutton,” she said.

White Wolf said people need to find out who they are and be who they are. “This was inspiring to me, but I hope it can be inspiring to others – to make a journey well into my life. It shows your never too old. This was way cool,” she said.