This blog asks Alex Hotere-Barnes (CORE Education Researcher/Evaluator) 7 questions about:
- being Pākehā learning reo and tikanga Māori;
- his experience of working alongside diverse Māori in education; and
- what gets him up in the morning!
1. Your formative education was spent going to kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori, how did that happen?
The late 70s and early 80s was a period of social and cultural change. My parents were politically active at that time. They were both drawn to liberation movements: stopping violence against women; gay, lesbian and bisexual issues; and anti-racism.
Eventually, the opportunity arose for my twin brother and I to attend kōhanga reo. This happened because my dad was, and still is, pretty ‘out there’ politically. Despite his unconventional views (or hopefully, because of them), he was respected by local whānau and hapū. They invited us to be involved in the local kōhanga reo. This opportunity fitted well with his values and philosophy to raise us as bilingual and bicultural citizens.
When, as an adult, I asked my father why he wanted to expose us to Māori education as a Pākehā middle-class family, he said:
“I had an opportunity for you to learn a broader base of ideas as a part of who you are. My upbringing often felt stiflingly narrow and limited because it seemed so monocultural, even when I could learn as an adult to change. I knew I could use my current experience to offer you what I thought would be a much more useful base. I was resolute that the good things within the Māori world along with our privilege as Pākehā would be a whole new combination for you to choose from as you got older…” (Graham Barnes 1)
I realised later, through my own research, that similar ideological and philosophical beliefs underpinned other Pākehā support and involvement in Māori community development initiatives.
I’m often asked by Pākehā “How did they [Māori] treat you?” It’s a weird but understandable question. We were so young and didn’t know any different, so the question of how we were “treated” was really a non-issue. We were treated just like any other children, we were mokopuna of the kōhanga reo. It was actually our father who had to consciously traverse the political terrain of being a middle-class Pākehā working in a strong, and at times conservative, semi-rural Māori community.
It wasn’t until I went to Mount College that I realised, “Jeez, I don’t have any Pākehā mates!” I had to extend my social circle. Going to a ‘Pākehā’ school was both an anxiety-filled and exciting experience for me.
2. What do you remember most about these early years?
I mainly remember the warmth, and sharp tongues (hands!) of the many aunties and kuia around Ngā Peke (Welcome Bay, Tauranga Moana).
When I was five years old, our mother passed away. So, my dad raised us as a solo-father, with the help of wider family. Because dad was often busy in the afternoon and evening working on community projects, kuia would often look after us when kōhanga and kura had finished. We’d hang out with them into the early evening and on weekends. When I look back now, I see how valuable those times were. Just being with the nannies and wider whānau was awesome.
4. If a Pākehā family were thinking about putting their children into kōhanga and/or kura kaupapa Māori, what would your suggestions be to them?
Basically, expect many Pākehā and some Māori to congratulate your efforts; but don’t expect them all to go along for the ride!2
Here are some general principles I’d stick by:
- Ask yourself ‘why?’: Why do I want to send my children into Māori medium? What are my expectations, and are they realistic? What can my family contribute to the Māori medium education movement?
- Check out your options: Visit local kōhanga, puna, kura and rumaki units. What’s the vibe like? Do you like what you see, hear and feel? Ask them what their expectations are, and share yours. Who do you know personally and organisationally that you can talk to about your thoughts, concerns and hopes? These ‘support’ people are important!
- How’s your reo and tikanga Māori?: How might you support your children’s reo and tikanga Māori everyday? Do you have people in your life with whom you and your children can practice and use reo and tikanga Māori with?
- It’s a long-term lifestyle: Think about the long-haul and the transitions your child is likely to make from early years, to primary, secondary and beyond. How will these transitions affect your family acquiring and using reo and tikanga?
- Be OK in your own skin: While I affiliate and connect strongly to my whānau Māori, I’ve never wanted to be ‘Māori’. I think Māori respect that.
I understand that sometimes when walking alongside Māori some things won’t always make sense to me. But I’m slowly learning that this is OK. If I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, that I don’t know everything, and know who I am, it’s no big drama. Different opportunities and challenges come up depending on the context, and the personalities involved! Overall, while it’s been confusing and challenging at times, I’m really thankful we were guinea pigs and I’ve had the experiences I’ve had.
5. How do people react when they realise you’re a fluent te reo Māori speaker?
Just because I’ve been through kōhanga and kura kaupapa that doesn’t mean I’m a confident and fluent speaker! I have a level of fluency, but I’m definitely a second-language learner. As most second language learners know, the learning never stops, and it takes effort and time to maintain and build on what I’ve learnt so far. When I get the opportunity to attend kura reo (5 day immersion reo and tikanga Māori courses), I realise how much I don’t know at all. These kura are pretty humbling.
Most Māori and Pākehā are really supportive and surprised that I have some knowledge. I notice that when I speak reo in public with my wife or with friends, lots of people stare; it’s hard case, and quite fun. I also know that there are some Māori and Pākehā that don’t feel comfortable with me, or Pākehā in general, speaking Māori. This is mostly due to fear that Pākehā may mis-appropriate Māori language, culture and identity. I get that.
As a Pākehā speaker I encourage Pākehā to be aware that learning reo and tikanga Māori isn’t always straightforward, and comes with a set of possibilities and responsibilities. Some Pākehā come in with the best of intentions to learn about reo and tikanga, which is great. But they can easily, and inadvertently, take up space, time, and energy by asking lots and lots of questions and then expect straight forward answers!
Because non-Māori life is the ‘norm’ for so many Pākehā, many of us aren’t always aware of how much cultural and social space we actually take up. In my experience, this unconscious lack of awareness when in Māori spaces, can be annoying for many Māori. This is something that Pākehā need to be aware of, because it can really get in the way of creating mutually-respectful relationships. I’ve found the following principles invaluable when learning reo and tikanga-or stepping into any new learning space:3
- Aroha ki te tangata: A respect for people—allow people to define their own space and meet on their own terms.
- He kanohi kitea: It is important to meet people face to face and to also be a face that is known to and seen within a community.
- Titiro, whakarongo … kōrero: Looking and listening (and then maybe speaking)— develop understanding in order to find a place from which to speak.
- Manaaki ki te tangata: Sharing, hosting, being generous.
- Kia tupato: Be cautious—be politically astute, culturally safe and reflective about insider/outsider status.
- Kaua e takahia te mana o te tangata: Do not trample on the ‘mana’ or dignity of a person
- Kia mahaki: Be humble—do not flaunt your knowledge; find ways of sharing it.
I believe that Pākehā must be able to know when, how and to what purpose we use reo and tikanga Māori in our thinking and work. I’m really interested in working with non-Māori on their pepeha, because this is a really effective way to position yourself, your connections, and your intentions. It’s about being humble.
Given the above, I always acknowledge the people of Tauranga Māori who instilled in me an awareness and appreciation of reo and tikanga.
6. How did you first start doing research into Māori education and learning?
In 2000 I got involved with the Peace Movement. This was the vehicle for a national network of 18-30 year olds interested in Treaty education that had a youth focus. We wanted to promote young people’s voices to raise awareness about the Treaty, decolonisation, racism and peace issues. For me, this was a really important training ground regarding the politics of Pākehā-Māori relationships. We all learnt heaps, mainly through our mistakes, but also by pulling off some amazing events.
In 2006 I completed my Master of Arts at the University of Waikato into Pākehā family experiences of kōhanga reo and bilingual education. Since this time I’ve been involved in a range of Māori research and evaluation roles within the community and not-for-profit sector: mental health promotion and advocacy; environmental planning and practice; and educational wellbeing. Most recently, I worked as a Kairangahau with the kaupapa Māori research team at Te Wāhanga and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Now I work with CORE Education in the Māori medium publishing and research teams.
6. What stuff gets you out of bed in the morning?
Early morning meditative walks and stretches; making a solid breakfast; listening to podcasts; and jamming to my latest playlist!
Workwise, I’m enjoying working with my CORE colleagues to strengthen Māori evaluative and research. In this work I’m reminded of a quote from Moana Jackson: “there is power in our truth, and truth in our power.”4 I really like this sentiment because it affirms those of us who are working to make our learning systems and society socially and culturally just.
I’ve just had an academic article published called “Generating Non-stupid Optimism: Addressing Pākehā Paralysis in Māori Educational Research.”5 This was tricky because it explored the amorphous experiences of Pākehā paralysis within myself, and my research colleagues. While it was hard to write, it was also really exciting, because I wanted to challenge simplistic ideas about biculturalism. I see so much positive possibility in provoking Pākehā educational researchers to think deeply about what dispositions and capabilities are needed to effectively work with our Māori colleagues so we can make our learning systems meaningful and world-class. This paper extends on my previous research into what Pākehā are learning from kaupapa Māori educational research.6
Finally, I’m interested in working with anyone on systemic change: the thinking and doing required to positively transform mono-cultural and monological systems that reproduce poor outcomes for people. The strategic question I’m marinating on is: What will it take to create learning systems that revitalise zones of the human imagination7?
Thanks to Riria Hotere-Barnes, Louise Taylor, David Bailey, Pauline Scanlan, Jane Nichols and Derek Wenmoth for suggestions on my first draft.
1. Barnes, 2006, p. 3.
2. Based on Ministry of Education (2013) statistics, Pākehā enrollment in Māori medium has been falling over the last 15 years. Unsurprisingly, the numbers have never been very big. Less than 10% of the total Māori medium sector (kōhanga, rumaki, kura and wharekura) identify as Pākehā. Numbers are larger in kōhanga reo, and other early years programmes like puna reo, but once you head into kura kaupapa Māori and wharekura, numbers drop drastically to around 1-2%. It’s only in the lower level of immersion (50% or less of reo Māori teaching content), where there are larger numbers of non-Māori.
3. Cram, F., Phillips, H. (2012). Claiming Interstitial Space for Multicultural, Transdisciplinary Research Through Community-up Values. International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies Volume 5, Number 2, 40-41. See http://www.isrn.qut.edu.au/publications/internationaljournal/documents/5-final_cram-and-phillips_ijcis1.pdf
4. Kei Tua o te Pae: Re-searching rangatiratanga, innovating mātauranga. Ōtaki, 30-31 March, 2015.
6. You can check out this work here: http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/what-can-pakeha-learn-engaging-kaupapa-maori-educational-research
7. The idea of ‘revitalising zones of the imagination’ is inspired by the thinking and work of David Graeber. See Graeber, D. (2012). Dead zones of the imagination: On violence, bureaucracy, and interpretive labor. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (2): 105–28. http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/download/hau2.2.007/203
Latest posts by Alex Hotere-Barnes (see all)
- Creating culturally safe organisations: Lessons from health - September 6, 2017
- Developing warrior-scholars, rethinking success - March 9, 2016
- ‘Revitalising zones of the human imagination’ : Māori-Pākehā relations in education - October 1, 2015