Simon Bridges says he feels more connected to his whakapapa than ever before, and as he bows out of Parliament after 14 years in the game, is defending the idea that he can be both Māori and a conservative.
By Samantha Worthington and Te Okiwa McLean
Bridges, who was National Party leader until early 2020, had his last day in Parliament on Wednesday.
During his valedictory speech, the Ngāti Maniapoto iwi descendant acknowledged that New Zealand still had a "way to go" when it came to race, but defended his conservatism as a Māori, and continuous opposition to Māori-focused policies.
"The reason I have been and continue to oppose policies like Māori wards, health authorities and the like is because while I deeply understand our country has quite a way to go on race, personally I don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of it.
"I don’t want special help because I am not a victim. I am good enough in any room, whether this big one, our Cabinet, or commercial boardrooms in the future and so are all Māori."
He sat down with Te Karere’s Te Okiwa McLean on Wednesday to reflect on his time in politics, and as the party’s first Māori leader.
“Today I feel more than I ever have, secure in my whakapapa, my roots and myself as a Māori New Zealander,” Bridges said.
“And I’m proud to be a Māori New Zealander and that’s important to me.”
Prior to his career in politics, Bridges said he wasn’t always as connected to his Māori identity.
"I lived a life, probably really up until becoming a leader of the National Party, not really thinking about my Māori-ness, if we can use that word.
"And it was a shock to me in a way becoming leader where Pākehā New Zealanders saw me as too Māori, not Māori enough, Māori saw me as too Māori, not Māori enough - and that led me to think those things through."
He said it was an important experience to have, highlighting that Māori "come in all shapes and sizes and political persuasions".
Though he felt more confident in himself as Māori, Bridges said he has a lot more to learn.
"That’s not to make bold claims that I’d now be amazing on the paepae or you know, my reo is perfectly fluent, it’s far from it - I can understand it enough but I wish it was better - or that my knowledge of te ao Māori is strong."
He hopes his legacy as being the first Māori to lead the National Party inspires young would-be Māori politicians to join any party.
"There is a place for them here and it doesn’t just have to be the red team, right, it is broader than that.”
For more on this story, watch Te Karere live on TVNZ1 at 4pm or OnDemand.