“This way of life” – a Karena viewpoint

My niece had said there was an interesting documentary on ABC1 on Sunday night “This way of life” about the Karena family, living around Hastings. So I watched it, as any Karena from Hastings would be a relative of mine.

I’ve seen this style of story or documentary before; white boy raised by natives, gone bush living an idyllic life in paradisical surroundings, overcoming challenging struggles and in conflict with the evil (insert the bad guy’s name here).  It’s a common storyline, that sells well.

This isn’t a fictional story though, it’s dealing with real people.  But there is always an element of fiction I think in documentaries.  I notice they weave bits and pieces of what they film, picking and choosing what they do and don’t want,  to tell a story the director wants to tell.

Throughout this story the picture is painted of a malevolent stepfather, you know this mostly from what the wife and husband say. Peter and Colleen say things like; ‘he stole Peter’s home’, probably stole ‘his wild horses’, ‘does dodgy deals’, ‘acts out of anger a lot’ and things of that nature. It’s implied the father did abuse to Peter as a child, it’s even implied that the Father burnt the family home down.  Towards the end of the movie you get to meet ‘the evil stepfather’ as the director takes her cameras to film Wero Karena and his wife Patsy overseeing the removal of the burnt out wreckage of their family home.

It was telling that this was the day, the director chose. It would be a highly emotionally charged day.  That home, my family’s home was only a shack really, but there’s been more than 7 generations of Karena literally who have been born and died in that home. (Great things have come out of that place, discussions for the full immersion school that Tame Karena championed, where Maori learnt in Maori and disproved the Government’s belief that Maori had to learn the system in English, by achieving higher scores than Maori children learning in white schools. The raising of one of the first Kohanga Reo – the language nest, Maori kindergarten for pre-schoolers. The restorative justice program the community ran to take prisoners out of gaol and instead have them live and work in the community. The meetings with some of the greats of New Zealand, Sylvia Ashton-Warner and her husband, government ministers of various sorts.. and then you have all those ties to family who have passed on and the memories of recent generations.)

It’s there that Patsy and Wero raised her kids, his kids in other words all their kids. Along with children from abused homes they fostered, as Patsy’s a social worker. And Wero having been adopted himself always opens the doors to children without a home. This wasn’t just a house.

This is the day they chose to impose their cameras? Did the audience I wonder notice Patsy, Peter’s mother walking head down in grief?  I doubt it.  Nor did they care about stomping on either’s pain. And you wonder why Wero gave them an angry reception? The camera’s first shows Wero stopping them from trespassing on his land, and they then re-position the cameras to look up at Wero, only his body, you don’t see his face, so he appears to loom over you ominously. The Director proceeds to accuse him of setting our family home on fire.  Personally I would of slapped her. That was a foul accusation to make and it was made to fit the story she wanted to spin.

As I was watching, I was asking myself, what do you mean “Peter’s house”?? How does Peter, precede his own older brothers let alone the Karena sons and daughters of Wero? How does his Step-Father and Mother’s home suddenly becomes his? When it’s obvious if Wero is selling the home, the home couldn’t of belonged to him in the first place? What gives Peter a sense of entitlement to a legacy that’s not his own? If my memory is correct I don’t think they even paid rent, as Wero and Patsy temporarily vacated the place to give them a home till they could get on their feet.

I found it particularly invasive that they took cameras into our family home and showed the pictures of my ancestors and relatives. Neither Peter or Colleen have a drop of Karena blood in them, so what gave them the right? They would of known how upsetting it would of been to the family, to literally have the eyes of thousands of strangers invade our family privacy.

There were other things I found upsetting, not really for me, but as I imagined how Wero and Patsy would react. As I watched how Peter related to his kids, it struck me, he was modelling the same upbringing he got. The philosophy he espouses, the affection he shows wife and children, he’s modelling the loving parenting that he received. Wero and Patsy are inseparable, they’re a partnership.  How then could he disparage them?  And it was shocking to the rest of the family and the community that knows them all. Wero said to me once, he was talking about his adopted father; Tame, “you owe your parents, they raised you the best they could, you owe them to raise your own children better than they raised you”.

As I’ve read the feedback on twitter, Facebook , YouTube and on the radio calling a loving, good man a psycho, a monster, a malevolent evil man. There is some wrong, for the Directors; Sumner Burstyn and Thomas Burstyn to do a character assassination of a man, through careful editing, a one-eyed, one-sided viewpoint in order to make a more engaging story.
It’s been greatly divisive for the family, it’s distasteful and it’s very wrong.