Samantha Te Wake Padden is an artist, poet, health worker and all round incredible human being who shared her story with us this month. The way in which she is navigating her own personal trauma while playing an active role in supporting other wāhine Māori and non-binary Māori to do the same, is in itself poetic. Sam started up Āhuru.space , a place that is embedded in mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) to help work through sexual trauma. This wāhine (woman) is just getting started and we are just thrilled to delve into her haerenga (journey).
My father is adopted, as far as we know he is Māori Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Awa from his whāngai (foster) dad and European (Yugoslavian/ Croatian). People have assumed my dad is Thai as well or he looks Thai. I've been mistaken for being Thai and Chinese before to the point that an old women was speaking Chinese to me. My mother is Māori Te Rarawa, German, First Nations and English. One of my aunties has done one of those DNA tests where we actually found out heaps about our ancestry, like First Nations, Tonga and some English ancestry too. I suppose if I wanted to know my blood lines I could do a DNA test. I’ve thought about it sometimes but when I heard about my aunties I had so many more questions.
Little Samantha was all about climbing trees. I grew up next to a little park in Te Atatū north which had these two real beautiful oak trees. I used to spend so much time in there. I would play around in the garden mixing up random things calling them potions and I was all about animals. Always loved animals and the environment. I used to jump back and forth with what I wanted to be growing up. I wanted a job like the Men In Black. I wanted to be a nurse or a vet, then I wanted to be a witch. The main factors that shaped me was definitely being a woman of colour. Wāhine Māori (Māori women) and growing up in West Auckland has also shaped me. I was raised in a melting pot which I feel really blessed about because as a little one I was around other children who were from different parts of the world but we were real similar at the same time. Although it wasn’t all sweet stuff, there was definitely racism around and I experienced some. Intersectional discrimination is so common but the kōrero (conversation) around it isn’t there and it needs to be.
Lots of things I've been through and things that my whānau (family) have been through have shaped me as well. Experiencing trauma and blessings inter-generationally, as well as my own things that I have experienced in my life. The main people who have shaped me has been everyone I’ve crossed paths with to be honest. But number one is always whānau (family) and friends ❤️
I got really interested in nursing when I was growing up, my mum was studying nursing, and she would be doing all these assignments at home and I'd go with her to lectures and draw. But I've never liked maths so that wouldn't work.
I also think when you are younger and in particular a person of colour, you get that feeling. Like this doesn't seem right or feel right? But you are not sure how to connect it to anything. I think that can naturally lead you into mahi (work) of wanting to understand why nothing seems to make sense, and the more you learn the more questions you have.
The mahi I do today consists of awhi (where I can) with wāhine (women). I'm in the process of registering as a social worker so in the next few months I will be stepping into a kaimahi (social work) role and graduating. I've always been a bit of an underdog and passionate for social justice without knowing it. Who I am and my values just seem to align with my mahi (work), so I'm pretty lucky that the work I do, I love.
Words definitely have power. I remember hearing something Erykah Badu said, that words are like spells, your spelling. When you write it, get it out, it's not stuck in your mind.
When I was younger I struggled to speak so writing became what I wanted to say but couldn't communicate verbally. Writing has helped my haerenga (journey) immensely. I can process my thoughts, my past, my feelings and write about whatever with no limitations.
I think I have come to realise that I'm not alone with things I’ve experienced, and none of us are. At times I've felt very lonely. I used to keep all my writing to myself and isolate. When I wasn't expressing myself I would often get depressed. I can't remember why I decided to share my poetry on social media, but I remembered thinking when I was much younger like 14, if I've been through these things then I have no idea what other people have gone through. I assume every person I meet has gone through some degree of trauma, and when I started posting my writing people started reaching out to me, it was quite overwhelming at times because I'm quite introverted but I think the sense and knowing I wasn't alone was really grounding.
Words can and have definitely been misinterpreted and used in a detrimental way, I've seen it many times across social media. I think it really comes down to peoples' understanding or interpretation of poetry, imagery or other forms of expression. Ideally it would be nice to get people to understand where we are coming from, but that’s not always a reality. I guess the power of words is kept with the writer or speaker, what are your intentions and what are you doing and if you're impacting people positively then people who use it in detrimental ways don't matter. I think your influence is what matters, you'll always come across people who lack understanding, empathy or awareness. So I guess it's about knowing boundaries and maybe what that looks like for yourself.
The saying 'the personal is political' is what drove that process. There are larger social structures influenced by the patriarchy, colonialism and religion that hold this dominance particularly over people of colour/ women of colour and I just got really sick of it. So many wāhine (women) I know have been affected by the abuse of someone. Part of this writing was to challenge justification, victim blaming and societal norms. Like how normal it is that when wāhine (women) feel unsafe that we have keys between our finger tips, watching over our shoulder or we’ve been told scream fire and not rape.
I wrote it as a way to affirm and acknowledge that moments of empowerment can coincide with powerlessness, sometimes that balance is more one side than the other. My body, my skin is an affirmation, your tinana (body) is yours.
I wanted a thought provoking art piece to accompany it and often there's slut shamming, questioning what you wear, how you acted etc. Those beliefs need to be challenged because peoples' sovereignty over their tinana (body) is theirs. The white handprints symbolise the print that colonialism has, and often we internalise certain colonial/ western narratives that perpetuate and reinforce these social norms. As an indigenous wāhine (women) or person going to a crown entity for support, for example the police, is a whole other challenge within itself.
A massive part of Āhuru.space is just existing as we are and where we're at. Instead of viewing a traumatic event as an individual it's a collective experience - although our experiences may differ a collective response is what's missing and collective support because speaking on these experiences seems so taboo. We don't go into depth of the trauma, it's more a hauora (wellbeing) platform for where we focus on what heals us, so we all learn from each other and kōrero (talk) on where we want to be going in our lives or what ever.
I've been learning as I've been going. It feels natural, its just in who you are. I've had a lot of decolonising in the process, a lot since I started studying. Figuring out a balance of our mātauranga (knowledge) that heals us but also within that space having kōrero (conversation) on colonisation and the continual violence we experience. What's really beautiful about getting a rōpu (group) of us together as well is where someone might fall short, another person might stand in. I view the learning of te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) as a long journey and I’m always learning and a lot of the wāhine who attended and will attend in the future will know more than me and that's what's really special about it too, because I can organise this space but there are wāhine who have knowledge in certain areas or can offer a better understanding, different perspective. I'm definitely not an expert.
Part of this mahi also deeply recognises the violation of our whenua (land), and the effect that this has on us. Because we are from the land and this can be a controversial whakaaro (thoughts) but just like bodies have been abused so has the whenua, there is constant breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
A few years ago I had an idea for some sort of space and communal support, I had heard of the concept āhurutanga (comfort) through uni (which is weird in itself that I was learning our culture while paying a hefty student loan) but I thought that is what's missing, these spaces don't feel warm, comfortable or culturally safe. So I printed off pictures that matched my vision and stuck it on a board. Did quite a bit of research and let it sit for like 3 years - at the time I was studying so I didn't put much energy into it. Occasionally I would brainstorm or write up thoughts I had. It wasn't till I got into my last uni placement, that I was hearing certain things/ learning things and all I thought was: nah, this kaupapa (idea) needs to happen. I wasn't 100% sure what it was, it’s just evolved in its own way and took off pretty quickly.
I feel in the rōpu of Āhuru, we all have different experiences, professions and skills that we offer. To me it's like we're all rangatira (Māori leaders) and we’re guiding each other if heavy kōrero (conversation) comes up.
In terms of challenges and creating and holding this space, I think allowing the first day to take place, realising it’s going to be whatever it’s going to be and just allowing it instead of working up expectations or anxiety. Also being aware of our own boundaries, you know so often as wāhine (women)our boundaries are crossed and there is almost a societal grooming where some wāhine (women)just put up with it, therefore we sometimes aren’t aware of our own boundaries. So having an awareness around sharing things and what that might bring up physiologically or how it feels might say a lot about what my boundaries are and recognising that.
They are very close to my heart and they are also close to a lot of other peoples hearts too. Sometimes I don't feel in the right space to respond because I'm on my haerenga (journey) too, so I take breaks and respond when I feel more grounded. When I do engage it's a mixture of things: people sharing a little bit of their haerenga (journey), their struggles, wondering about services and some people keen to jump on the kaupapa (subject matter) and help out where they can.
Not in the last few years, when I used to drink or take drugs. I’m coming up four years sober now. I used to tell everyone everything and days later feel vulnerable and exposed. I haven't always felt secure or sure in my identity at all. It's taken years, only until recently and that's massively on continuous effects of colonisation and working through those complexities. The same with feeling sure in myself, I had to do a lot of work on myself to grow my confidence and feel sure of myself.
Initially, I kind of enjoyed the first lockdown, I really like my own space so I was like yuuuusss. At first I used the time to get a bit creative, I started making tino rangatiratanga (self determined) whakakai (earrings) out of clay and selling them, I started posting some poetry and riding around my neighbourhood on those electric scooters picking kawakawa, rosemary and random flowers. There was also definitely days were I was like fu*k all of this shit and just have back to back movie marathons watching Lord of the Rings or whatever for the 500th time.
As the years went by the rahui's (restrictions) all effected me differently. Some days I would be in a really good space accepting of the situation, going for walks, doing yoga, baking, sometimes working, then other days just over it. I’ve definitely had times, like sometimes a couple days where I’ve feel like absolute shit because nothing was certain and there was all this anxiety and fear around and it’s so hard not to absorb it or take a moment to realise you're actually all good. And then I actually got COVID, Omicron, and I've never experienced anything like it before. My understanding is it affects people differently. For me there was a build up of being really lethargic and like I had a mild cold then I was hit with two days of feeling fu*king terrible. I was crying because I was so uncomfortable and in pain my whole body was sore, hot and cold, kept feeling like I was going to vomit, in and out of sleep.
Oh imposter syndrome, I felt so hard when I was a student. Feeling like who am I to be on this end of the mahi? Or I'd think I'm not Māori enough, not fit enough, not this enough or that enough. I'm really practicing interrupting those thoughts, not boasting myself but telling myself I am worthy, I am enough.
Having some form of routine works for me. Honestly just real simple stuff, I like waking up early, getting my day going even on my days off that might mean I sit and sip a cup of tea and doing things I sometimes feel like I don’t want to do, but need to be done, like house stuff. That takes one thing off my shoulders, which for me is a form of self care. Having a skin care routine. Sometimes I need to step back, like take time off and away, because 2/3 days off of mahi can hardly feel like a break, make sure I put my phone down- because that can be the biggest energy zapper. Go outside, drink water, read, play with animals, all the good stuff!
In terms of what has helped me face the difficult times, higher power, tupuna(ancestors), atua (God), whānau (family), friends. Meditation, art, writing/ anything creative. I'm a real creative tutu (rebel). Animals, being in the ngahere (bush) or by the moana (sea). Patience.
When I think about the process of decolonisation I always remind myself it isn't linear. A lot of thoughts, feelings and experiences coexist together and it's never just our own, it's our whānau and other tangata Māori. Being gentle and easy on yourself seems hard, because when I first learnt about colonisation in Aotearoa, I would get so angry, I'd get home from uni with this absolute weight of powerlessness that many of us experience and it's really frustrating figuring out what to do with that anger.
It is so much easier said than done when you hear "let it go", and the thing is it reoccurs, it doesn’t disappear. It is a continuous practice that I have to engage in, and figure out if I can do anything about it or if I can tautoko (support) somehow.
When I have this kōrero (conversation) with other people I just be in the space and acknowledge this is where their at in their haerenga (journey). In saying that I’m also picky about who I would engage in a decolonisation kōrero (conversation) with.
You don’t owe anyone anything. Some people literally just want to piss you off and I have experienced that and you don’t need to waste your energy on that.
Some people are better equipped to engage in a challenging kōrero like that with someone who actually isn’t open. The people who do mahi (work)in decolonising have many different strengths.
Mmmm... I don’t know if this is appropriate, but this was the first thing that came to mind and I thought it was hilarious. I won’t name the organisation just incase but I was having kōrero (conversation) with this lovely wāhine (woman) and it was right around Polynesian Panther anniversary time, we had a little joke and said "Deport the Crown, the longest over stayers".
That's real hard! It would depend on my mood. Probably Killing in the name of by Rage against the machine, Triumph Wu tang, Window seat Erykah Badu or All along the watch tower Jimi Hendrix.
I would call it UTU - because its important for maintaining or restoring balance. Several different experiences could have called for different reactions based on what utu means. Revenge, retaliation, respond.
I really value my down time. I’ll go out and get myself a feed and enjoy it on my own, go to the movies, the ngahere (bush), moana (sea)or an art gallery, hang out with my close mates. Meditate, burn incense and listen to music. Hang out with Tama and Ngeru my kitty cats.
Living her best life, doing her Masters and doing mahi (work), living in her tiny home on some lush as whenua near the moana, have a couple of animals and just about to drive her truck down the drive way with a surf board tied to the top.