"I feel the love they have for the land,” says Māori teacher as indigenous Australian nations dance as one

By Kelvin McDonald

A Māori teacher became the student as her host nation, the people of Yolngu Nation, danced on Milingimbi Island in Australia's Northern Territory as part of a special mass indigenous dance earlier this month. 

At the start of December, Australia's indigenous nations came together for Nation Dance, a single day on which Aboriginals across the nations danced for their old people, homelands, rivers, children, justice, healing and more. 

Among the people of the Yolngu Nation who joined in this special day was a Māori teacher, Melevea Huihui of Ngāti Awa, Tūhoe, Tapuika and Tonga, who has been teaching in the Northern Territory among the indigenous nation for the past year.

Watching them perform their dance, she says she felt the aroha the Yolngu have for their whenua. 

"I feel the love that they have for the land and also for each other. That day actually brought them all together with the rest of the nation. You can feel it, the wairua was so strong at the time," Huihui says. 

"Because they believe in the natural elements like we do as Māori, so the wind came out of nowhere. This big wave of wind came and they saw it as a sign, that it was a good thing, it was a good day."

A whānau member, who knows Huihui loves to teach haka and waiata, sent her a link about the Nation Dance, a mass movement organised by indigenous man Alwyn Doolan, who is well-known for walking hundreds of kilometres to parliament in Canberra to empower his people.

She says she spoke with local kaumātua about the dance kaupapa and they were excited to be involved. Huihui says they wanted to perform their own dance because they are proud of their people and their land and this was a chance for them to celebrate their Yolngu culture.

"In a matter of maybe three days, they just put a kai on for everybody, brought everyone in and we just danced." 

Huihui says a ripple effect went through the community and the Yolngu people knew exactly what dance they wanted to perform. 

"They chose a cyclone dance to do to start rain because it's really hot and that's what they needed up there. And also it's a dance of war and that's what they wanted to start with because it's a wero with the Nation Dance. So the kaupapa sort of gelled altogether."

She says the kaumātua felt the occasion was not only connecting Yolngu with their own people but with the people of the pacific too.

"Because they love Pasifika, haka, they love Māori up there too," she says.

"So I put a performance together, so the girls I taught danced as well. We had a mixture of Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island and Māori in the kanikani that I did to show them where we're from, from the pacific."  

Huihui says she's felt her tūpuna with her while she has been with the Yolngu people.

"My tūpuna are always everywhere and I feel them and they feel it too through the winds. That's why they said every time you're walking through the wind comes and also when you're dancing the wind comes too. That's what some of the people spoke. It's a good sign, it's a good thing, wairua, good wairua."  

In the new year, Huihui will return to Milingimbi to begin training indigenous teachers.