Whale Rider is about a 12-year-old New Zealand Maori who would be hereditary chief - if she weren't a girl. This film is based on the book by Witi Ihimaera. The story raises issues that fans of indigenous culture like myself can't ignore.
I'm a researcher of anthropology. I've written about native people in Canadian Ethnic Studies, Monday Magazine, The Dalhousie Review, Eclectica Literary Journal, Outdoor Canada and my new book. I teach at a university with many native students. Still, I've never suggested that indigenous culture must be preserved at all costs. This movie addresses why.
How far do we go to sustain tradition when it is oppressive to women, perpetuating of undemocratic leadership from hereditary social castes, and committed to focusing education on near-extinct languages or folkways when youth lack basic skills for access to the global economy?
Individual and group rights both call out for respect. These are ethical concerns that indigenous leaders (who often profit financially from speaking for the group) and government officials (who usually profit politically from endorsing the system) shouldn't wash their hands of. I recommend this film to all travelers with an appreciation for native culture but also human rights. Ladies who find the movie awakens a primal longing to "ride the whale" are urged to contact me immediately.