Rower Storm Uru demolished the idea that Māori kids can’t excel at anything, and wants his heritage to be recognised so that stereotype can be banished.
The annual Māori sports awards do just this – acknowledge the whakapapa of elite Māori sportspeople and celebrate that heritage.
Uru, of Ngai Tahu, has a string of international achievements, including three world titles and most recently a bronze in the lightweight men’s double scull event at the London Olympic Games.
But Uru says it was a struggle to pursue his sporting interest as a child, with very little support.
“Because of my last name and because of my whakapapa I was stereotyped and put into the pigeon hole and it was difficult to rise above that.”
Uru says the Māori Sports Awards recognise an athlete’s ancestral links, as well as inspire young Māori.
“I really think it is about celebrating your heritage, and the positives of being around sport. If anything you can get some of the kids out there, and off the couch.”
The annual Trillian Trust Māori Sports Awards are now in their 22nd year and will be held on November 24.
Albie Pryor launched the awards in 1991 with a vision of promoting and encouraging Māori athletes in the pursuit of excellence in their chosen sports.
Nowadays Dick Garratt (Ngai Tuhoe) organises the awards each year.
Garratt thinks as a nation New Zealand has come a long way from the high levels of discrimination in the past, but the sports awards are a true celebration of success within the Māori culture.
“In the past in tennis our Māori players weren’t allowed to play in tournaments run by New Zealand Tennis up until the ‘50s. They could pay affiliation fees but were not welcome to play in tournaments.
“So there has always been a problem . . . and by running a successful occasion where we’re acknowledging success and excellence by our Māori athletes, it still doesn’t get rated in the media anywhere. It’s sad. It’s sad because that thing still sits there,” says Garratt.
“The thing that hurts the most for us is still the lack of understanding or acknowledgement.”
One of New Zealand’s great sports ambassadors agrees.
Dallas Seymour (Ngati Hikairo) had a lengthy career from 1988 to 2002 in the national rugby sevens team and now works at Sport New Zealand as relationship manager.
For Seymour his culture is part of what makes him successful and he wants this acknowledged in the appropriate way.
“I can’t be a good Kiwi if I can’t be Māori. I’ve got to have everything behind me and if you don’t have your own heritage celebrated it does affect you sometimes.
“For me it’s been a huge part of my successes – being able to celebrate who I am.
“All those experiences are what you can bring to the performance and to your own life as well.”
Seymour says the athletes are portrayed in the media as Kiwis, but that’s not their complete heritage.
“Being able to have our Māori athletes put up there as champions and be celebrated as being Māori as well as being Kiwis [is important],” he says.
Seymour says there are a lot of Maori world champions and winners across the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, but from his experiences the media doesn’t seem to care about their heritage – something that is of huge importance within their culture.
“When you do put your heritage forward, as I’ve experienced sometimes, people just don’t listen and they keep writing what people have assumed or have written in the past.
“I guess it’s about acknowledging Māori athletes in a Māori way, and having positive role models celebrated in the media.”
Uru agrees and thinks the media focus on the negative in the Māori culture, but if the positive aspects were acknowledged it would help banish the stereotype.
He hopes he can be seen as a good example, and the Māori Sports Awards and the scholarships given out at them can “provide a vehicle to break the mould, to show that the stereotype doesn’t apply to everyone”.
“I’d like to see it as a way of providing leadership and being seen as someone who has bucked the trend.
“This is showing that you can do it and the pigeon holes aren’t necessarily where you should be put.”