A DNA test showed I'm 100% Māori. Many thought there were none of us left | Oriini Kaipara (2023)

“Mum! You didn’t tell me you’re 100% Māori!” My daughter Te Aomihia stormed my room this morning brimming with pride, “I just read it on the internet!”

Yes. I kept the results quiet – even from my four children, two of whom are teenagers with social media circles that surpass my own. I stayed mum on what I was told would be “a huge deal”. I never thought of my results in that way, I still don’t.

Outside work, I told only two people about my results; my mum and stepdad Gary. When I said, “I’m 100% Māori” it seemed he was a little disappointed I wasn’t anything else. That made me chuckle. Mum’s response was typical of her, “Oh yeah. Well, your nan was full-blooded. So, yeah that sounds about right.”

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There are a couple of reasons why I took the test last year. I was working on a story about Māori identity for Native Affairs – a current affairs series on Māori Television. I was given a test kit, and wanted to show viewers how easy the test was. While waiting for my results I thought I’d have some non-Māori blood and that’s what I was really curious about. I have one male English ancestor in both my mother’s and father’s genealogy.

I only hoped I’d be at least 80% Māori. Some laughed and thought I was being over confident.

When it was time to reveal the results I was a little nervous. As a follow-up story, I set myself up by arranging studio crew to record “the reveal” in front of an audience filled with my colleagues. The pressure was on. The results could have gone either way. So, you can only imagine my relief and surprise when I was told, “You’re 98% Māori.” (The remaining 2% was likely to be “noise” rather than an accurate result).

The way Brad Argent from Ancestry explained how DNA works was what fascinated me the most.

“You get half of your DNA from your mum and half from your dad. Right? But it’s randomised, it’s mostly a random sample. If they were both just half Polynesian and half Māori they could have given you all their Māori half. It doesn’t really say anything about your parents and it doesn’t say anything about your siblings. So, it can’t rule out anything for anyone else. It can just give you a view on the unique you that you are.”

The interest in my story is startling. Cyclone Cook is threatening an already-ravaged eastern Bay of Plenty region – my home town. Hundreds if not thousands are cut off, isolated and homeless. Aotearoa is on severe weather watch. Yet, there’s so much attention on the Native Affairs presenter being a full-blooded Māori. It was the most read article on Stuff.co.nz and the NZ Herald website. I still have a few more media interviews to get through before my day ends. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.

Being Māori is so much more than blood quantum. In New Zealand, many believed there are no full-blood Māori left. It’s often been used by critics of Māori who seek equal rights and sovereignty. My results, at least, show there is one full-blooded Māori contrary to that belief. I believe there are more full-blooded Māori, they just haven’t done a DNA test. As Māori, we rely on passing down our ancestry or whakapapa from one generation to the next. This is how we identify ourselves.

My results haven’t changed me. Not one bit. While I’m delightfully surprised with the result, I really don’t view myself as being more Māori than anyone else. The fact my sisters and my parents have a different genetic code does not make them any less than me.

For me, being Māori is a way of life. I was born and bred in a Māori world where reo (language) and tikanga (traditions) were embedded in us. I received Māori-language medium education. I’m a proud Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa woman.

Oriini Kaipara is the Native Affairs presenter for Māori Television

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