Human beings are social creatures driven by an evolutionary need to belong.

Not only did belonging to a group enhance our social connections and communication, but for our hunter-gatherer forebearers, it also significantly increased our chance of survival. After all, we wouldn’t have made it very far hunting and gathering on our own.

Because of the advantages of belonging to a group, during the process of human evolution, we developed a strong psychological need to belong, complete with painful warning signals when we experience social rejection or are disconnected from our roots and culture.

In today’s modern world, interdependency of the same kind has diminished – but it’s hard to erase millennia of evolution. It still forms a large part of our innate biological needs, particularly for tamariki Māori.

Culture, belonging, and identity are particularly powerful aspects of self in Te Ao Māori. For tamariki Māori, their identity and belonging are embedded in te reo Māori me ōna tikanga – the beliefs, language, values, practices, and ancestral stories.

By strengthening their sense of belonging and identity, we ensure that tamariki Māori understand who they are, where they come from, and their connection to their whānau and whakapapa, enhancing their sense of self and confidence in their abilities.

In a similar way, Pasifika cultures have rituals, customs, languages and ceremonies that increase their cultural identity, supporting children to understand and strengthen their sense of belonging. It has been proven that having these connections are an integral part of succeeding in all areas of life, from better educational outcomes to maintaining secure social connections to creating a sense of hope for the future.

Culture, belonging, and identity are an essential part of any child’s upbringing, but they are especially important for those who have been removed from their original environment and have limited opportunities or resources to help them learn or connect. We must strive to promote environments which teach tamariki te ao Māori and create links to their whanau and whakapapa – their futures depend on it.