Kerikeri High School’s Tara Jackson and Abundant Life’s Kalani Walters-Hewson joined the Te Ikaroa football side for the inaugural Trans-Tasman Clash of Cultures series in Auckland.
Taking on the Australian First Nations Mariya, the Aotearoa side were dominant in their 5-0 win but the event represented more than a victory on the scoreboard.
Jackson, who plays striker, said it gave her and her teammates the opportunity to represent their culture.
“Having the ability to participate in the programme and also play for the team was really empowering as it meant I was able to showcase myself and my culture through football,” she said.
“The whole experience was really honouring as it gave me the ability to express my pride in the Maori culture and our country whilst playing another.
“I think that our performance on the field was something to be really proud of because within a week we all came together and played like a well seasoned team.
“Our communication on the field was really strong and everyone knew what was happening and what they needed to do.”
The Clash of Cultures not only gave the players a taste of playing at a representative level, it offered a chance to take a deeper look at another walk of life.
Jackson said the weekend was a great bonding experience for both sides, particularly learning the haka.
“I think this really helped to unify our team because it meant that we had to work together and we had to help each other if we wanted the best possible result,” she said.
“During the camp we would all come together in a big circle and practise over and over again, ironing out every little detail making sure that we all knew what to do.
“We set a performance goal and a culture goal, and by setting these two goals it meant that we collectively had something to work for and it meant that we had to work together if we wanted to achieve them.
“After the game on Saturday we had a prizegiving which both teams attended. While we were there both cultures came together and taught one another their cultural performances.
“That was a major highlight aside from the game because we got to learn more about each other’s cultures.”
The men’s side had to hold back the Mariya’s men’s side in a hotly-contested 3-2 victory to give New Zealand the 2-0 win on the day.
Both the Aotearoa men’s and women’s side kicked off their games with haka they had developed during their training camps earlier in the week.
The Mariya sides responded with a corroboree – a traditional dreamtime dance led by the rhythmic tapping of clapping sticks adorned with ancient cave drawings.
Jackson hopes to take what she learnt in camp back to Kerikeri for her last season of school football.
“I learnt to be proud of who I am and where I come from. I also learnt that being Maori connects you to so many other individuals. It showed me that whether you realise it or not you’re probably connected in some way to the person beside you,” she said.
“This year is my last year at school and so I’m aiming to have a really strong year within school football. I am also helping out with the whole of football programme with our local club.”
Story courtesy of the Northern Advocate and can also be viewed here
Photos courtesy of JLS Photographs