• Taking a DNA test is interesting, but it's just part of the overall identity picture. (Native Affairs, Maori Television)
DNA testing might have shown she's "full" Maori, but New Zealand television presenter Oriini Kaipara says it's how you act, not what your DNA profile is, that really matters.
By
Oriini Kaipara, Presented by
Kimberly Gillan

8 May 2018 - 6:30 AM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2019 - 2:03 PM

"I took a DNA test in 2016 while working on a story about Maori identity for Native Affairs on Maori Television in New Zealand. I knew I came from a long line of Maori ancestors but my great-great-great-great grandfather was English so I was curious to see what my DNA test would say.

It's been suggested by opponents of people seeking Maori rights that there are no remaining 'full blood' Maori people left. I joked that, 'As long as there's nothing less than 80 per cent Maori blood, then I'm all good'. But when the test came back, it showed I was 98 per cent Maori and the other two percent was put down to 'noise', with the DNA expert concluding that I'm basically 100 per cent Maori. I was shocked and excited at the same time, although also slightly disappointed because I wanted to know about my Pakeha (English) side.

Taking the test had nothing to do with validating who I am or showcasing being '100 per cent Maori'. Brad Argent from Ancestry.com explained to me that you get half your DNA from your mum and half from your dad, and you inherit a random sample, so my siblings could get a different result. I don't want my sisters or my mum or anybody else in the family feeling put out. I'm the youngest and I know my role – I'm not going to try to be head of the family, hell no!

After my results were broadcast on TV, there was a lot of discussion going on, but I didn't want to get involved too personally or let the comments affect me.

I speak Maori, I immerse myself in my culture and community every day and pass on my knowledge to my four children

I've grown up immersed in my culture and I feel a deep connection to my heritage. I grew up with my grandparents who taught me what they learned from their grandparents and great-grandparents. I speak Maori, I immerse myself in my culture and community every day and pass on my knowledge to my four children. We have to be good to other people and be humble, always.

Taking a DNA test is interesting, but it's just part of the overall identity picture. You still have to go on your own personal journey learning about your ancestors through word of mouth or books or family heirloom stories – that's how, as a culture, we pass on traditions and customs. In fact, doing the test sparked something in me to go and talk to my uncles and aunties to learn some of their personal stories, so they're not just a photo on the wall.

If you are going to do a DNA test, I think writing down your expectations and how you would deal with the 'what ifs' would be a good idea. There are people who feel quite disconnected from their whakapapa [ancestry] and take the test quite seriously because they want to know their history.

But in my opinion, it's not about how much percentage Maori you have, it's how Maori you feel ­– it's how you conduct yourself, whether you go by the traditions of your own people and live by customs you believe. We don't actually require validation to feel or be Maori, because we live it."

Who Do You Think You Are? is produced by Warner Bros. International Television Production Australia for SBS.  

The series airs at 7.30pm Tuesdays on SBS, starting 30 April and at SBS On Demand.

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