The Māori All Blacks are one of New Zealand’s top sports teams and national Māori cricket teams could soon walk out on to the park too.
NZ Cricket hasn’t yet confirmed when this will happen, but this Easter an important step towards that takes place when the first Māori men’s provincial tournament is held in Whangārei.
A women’s competition is slated for later in the year.
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, Central Māori, Northern Māori, and Te Waipounamu South Island face off in a series of Twenty20 matches.
Left-handed top-order batter Will Martin, 26, who is a member of the Auckland team, is keen on the tournament for cricket reasons and cultural ones too.
“For me, it went back to not knowing as much about my heritage as I would have liked and I saw it as an opportunity to test myself and play some awesome cricket, but also a chance to really dive into my culture and my heritage, and try to learn a little bit about that side of my family.”
That has involved exploring his Ngāti Porou roots.
“I’ve learned a little bit about my iwi, about where my Mum comes from and where some of her ancestors have come from, as well as learning a little bit about my pepeha and trying to connect with my whakapapa a little bit more,” Martin said.
“It’s just been an awesome experience to dive into that part of my culture.
“I think, looking back on it, it’s something that I will hold a little bit of regret around – not trying to connect with that part of my family earlier on in my life. But, the way I’m looking at it, I know I’ve got a really unique opportunity to learn about that and try to make that a bigger part of my life.”
The Easter tournament was a step forward for the sport, Martin said.
“Just showing some of those communities and showing Māori that there is something there for you, and seeing some of the best players in the country representing their iwi, I think it will encourage other members of those communities to give it a go and get involved.”
Tāmaki Makaurau men’s coach Michael Tillett has recruited a squad of players aged 17 to 40.
“I like being involved in Māori culture. I’m not Māori myself, but my wife and kids are from Ngāi Takoto so I’m proud to represent them in this.”
Some team members knew plenty about their heritage, while others were learning, he said.
“Being a school teacher, I always think that we need to provide everyone with opportunities. If we look at cricket there have been limited opportunities for Māori.
“You can’t be what you can’t see. If you can provide these opportunities through creating these pathways I think it will benefit Māori people and also benefit, maybe, Māori who aren’t that in touch with their culture.”
Auckland has a good chance of success on the field, if their form in their inaugural season is anything to go by.
“We’ve had a few games against the Cook Islands before their [ICC Pacific] qualifying tournament in Vanuatu and we’ve also had a couple of games against Northern Māori last Labour Weekend,” Tillett said.
“We’re undefeated, so hopefully that continues.”
New Zealand Cricket’s kaupapa Māori diversity and inclusion lead Andrew Tara said he hoped the men’s and women’s tournaments would become annual fixtures.
As well as a strong competition, organisers were placing a strong emphasis on Māori culture. In Whangārei the teams will stay on a marae.
“We’ve got the five teams staying together. We’ve got a performance evening on the Sunday where each of the teams is to perform a couple of items, so that will be a unique culture aspect, whether that might be a haka or waiata.
“I’m looking forward to teams bringing their own flavour to the tournament.”
Plenty of work was happening throughout New Zealand to bring cricket to under-represented communities.
But the big question is, when will a New Zealand Māori team take the field? It hasn’t happened for more than 20 years.
“It certainly is a discussion that we are having. I can’t give too much away, but there are discussions under way about some national Māori teams participating in some Indigenous cricket matches,” Tara said.
“Cricket Australia have just held their national Indigenous championship and they are sending a team over to Vanuatu to play in some fixtures, so there’s certainly some opportunity between New Zealand and Australia to have something in the not to distant future.”
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