'Too Māori to be Pākeha, too Pākeha to be Māori' - Bridges

By Will Trafford

Former National leader Simon Bridges has detailed his struggle understanding his place in Te Ao Māori.

In a new tell-all book, National Identity, the MP chronicles his time at the top of the party, before being ousted by fellow MPs.

Bridges was ultimately replaced by controversial leader Judith Collins, who led the party to a historic defeat last year.

The book canvasses everything from family and food but his more controversial views are reserved for race, class, masculinity and religion.

Bridges grew up in Te Atatū in West Auckland “as a white kid with brown skin. Not a Māori, not really.” He says. His father was a strict, emotionally distant pastor.

His hesitance to embrace whakapapa came as far back as his grandmother on his father’s side, Naku Joseph of Ngāti Maniapoto,

He says she made it clear to her children “that the Māori world wasn’t for them.”

As a student Bridges moved to England where he studied at Ivy League college Oxford. He says he "bloody loves" it in the UK.

His great-great grandfather was a London Jew, who immigrated to Aotearoa and Australia, ultimately becoming a banker and MP in Australia.

Bridges says he doesn’t regret somewhat retracing his Pākehā roots or ‘immersing himself in Pākehā culture’.

He writes that by the time he was elected MP for Tauranga in 2008 he hadn’t figured out what it meant to be “one-eighth Māori”.

The then-new MP says he felt journalists and colleagues honed in on something he wasn’t that comfortable with himself. He says they’d "effectively" call him an Uncle Tom.

“I began to feel I was too Māori to be Pākehā and too Pākehā to be Māori. Not a proper one at least ... If you can’t speak te reo you ain’t a real Māori. And real Māori are Labour,” he says.

The 2021 Bridges, freed from what readers might perceive as conformity, or 'national identity  (required to be the leader of a party like National) seems to have come to terms with owning his Māori identity.

Bridges says he’s ‘just as Māori’ as Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who he now sits next to in Parliament.

He encourages a connection with Te Ao Māori and whakapapa, but he doesn't think anyone should be considered a lesser Māori, if they're not there yet.

“Just as all Scots don’t wear kilts, we can’t put Māori over there as the ones with te reo, moko and marae.” he says.