One of the more common questions I get asked by teachers and leaders in English-medium schools is, “How should we respond when questioned about why we are having a Māori whānau hui or a Māori celebration?” The question I assume, arises out of concern for the ‘Māori-only’ part and not for the hui or celebration part. Equally I have heard this question asked in relation to cultural sports teams, Māori seats on boards or councils, in fact pretty much anything related to Māori being Māori in traditionally non-Māori spaces and places. There’s no doubt that this is a question worthy of a well considered and confident response, so this post will share some possible responses. I encourage anyone who is grappling with this to take these into consideration and then formulate your own response – a response appropriate for your community, your whānau and tamariki, and that aligns to the vision and values of your school.
Before I share these responses though, I can’t help but pose my own questions. Like, why might Māori wanting to have their own hui or celebration be perceived as some kind of preferential treatment? Would the same be considered of say a group of people who shared the same religious beliefs or sexual orientation? What is really beneath a question like this? How do societal norms and cultural bias influence a person’s beliefs and motivation to ask this question? Lastly, why is a group of people, simply wanting to live as who they are, perceived to be a threat to others? Is it just that anything outside of the ‘norm’ and dominant culture is a threat?
By contrast, a ‘Pākehā-only hui’ is probably not going to be received well in today’s climate. However, what about when there are hui that happen to have no Māori in attendance? Does its relevance get questioned? Does it get called off until Māori can attend? No. It’s more likely that very few people even notice and that it continues as ‘normal’. Why? Because the dominant culture of Aotearoa is Pākehā so hui without Māori representation happen on a regular basis. Hui where, I might add, often decisions get made that will impact and influence Māori. Perhaps a more positive way to spend our time would be to begin to question those hui more often so that we ensure we are being fair and equitable to everyone. So maybe the first response to the question “Why do Māori get their own whānau hui or celebration?” needs to be “Why do you feel Māori shouldn’t have them?” Let’s explore some more reasons why it’s important for schools to empower Māori to have their own hui and celebrations.
Many Māori whānau live away from their ancestral homes – their tūrangawaewae. It can be difficult to be away from whānau, and it can be even more difficult to live as Māori in communities of very few Māori people. Schools have an opportunity to create spaces for Māori to connect with each other and to support each other in Māori ways. I was at a Māori whānau hui once where someone spoke about growing up and not being proud of their Māori heritage, but then meeting other whānau through whānau hui had a positive impact on their own cultural confidence. I’ve heard of other whānau hui where new initiatives have been established such as whānau Te Reo Māori classes for the wider school community. Some of my closest friends I met at a school whānau hui. Schools have a powerful opportunity to provide a platform for connecting Māori with each other, where they can share their aspirations, fears, knowledge, tikanga and Te Reo with each other for the betterment of all. Why wouldn’t schools want to create such amazing opportunities?
In essence, Māori achieving success as Māori means Māori students being successful in ways that are unique and important to being Māori. It’s about our tamariki being empowered to be who they are, by learning in, through, and about their language culture and identity. If Māori students are empowered to have such success, it deserves to be celebrated and acknowledged in a Māori way. These tamariki are Māori and in many cases they have succeeded as Māori inside the ‘white spaces’ and in a system that is not always conducive to or reflective of who they are. Māori students deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated in a Māori way because it’s their right – to be Māori, act as Māori, achieve as Māori and succeed as Māori.
“New Zealand’s education system has been largely silent on the topic of whiteness and the Eurocentric nature of our schooling policy and practice. However, when I talk to senior Māori and Pasifika ‘warrior-scholars” in Te Whānau o Tupuranga and Clover Park Middle School about “white spaces” they have encountered in their schooling experience they can identify them all too easily. “White spaces,” they explain, are anything you accept as “normal” for Māori – when it’s really not, any situation that prevents, or works against you “being Māori” or who you are, and that requires you to “be” someone else and leave your beliefs behind. White spaces are spaces that allow you to require less of yourself and that reinforce stereotypes and negative ideas about Māori. Most telling of all was the comment from a Māori student that goes straight to the root of the problem, “White spaces are everywhere,” she said, “even in your head.” (Milne, 2013)
It’s our right as Māori
Article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is Rangatiratanga. In essence, article 2 is an agreement between the Crown and Māori as Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa, that Māori would be empowered to be and live as Māori. Furthermore, Māori would have the power to act and the power to make decisions for themselves as a people – Māori will have self determination. To assert one’s rangatiratanga; is the act of being Māori in all that it encompasses, and to have decisions made by Māori for Māori and in the best interest of Māori. “It is about Māori acting with authority and independence over our own affairs. Tino rangatiratanga is a practice: living according to our tikanga, and striving wherever possible to ensure that the homes, land, and resources guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations.” (Hitchcock, 2018).
Māori whānau hui in schools, or Māori celebrations such as a graduation perhaps, is a right afforded to Māori under the partnership agreement, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Let’s be explicit here, it’s a right, not a privilege. As teachers and leaders in state-funded schools are representative of the Crown, they are obligated to uphold the assertions from the Crown to Māori and their responsibilities under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. For school leaders or teachers to decide not to create these opportunities or even worse, disallow Māori this right, they would quite simply be in breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Māori whānau hui allow our Māori whānau an opportunity to contribute to the decisions that impact the education of their tamariki. It’s so important that our whānau are empowered to assert their rangatiratanga in our school communities.
“Māori are tangata whenua, one of the Treaty partners, though some people still want to dispute that. That partnership gives Māori mana whenua rights and responsibilities. We are not just another member of our multi-cultural society. For Māori, this is our homeland, the only place we can speak our language — an official language — since 1986. The only place we can live our cultural beliefs, to just be Māori. Other cultures can return to their homeland to speak their language, to live within their culture.” (Wano, 2016).
Māori have their own tikanga – ways of doing things, customs and values. Tikanga plays a vital part in the act of rangatiratanga – being and living as Māori. For our Māori whānau to come together for a hui, to discuss an important kaupapa (topic) such as education for their tamariki, it is vital that these hui are grounded in tikanga Māori. This would mean that the meeting or celebration follows similar processes to those our ancestors would have engaged in during wānanga (debate, discussion). A hui steeped in tikanga Māori and Te Reo Māori may not be inclusive to non-Māori and nor should it be, it’s intended to empower Māori to be Māori.
Many Māori parents and whānau attend many school-related meetings, celebrations and events that are not steeped in tikanga and Te Reo Māori, and so creating opportunities for this to occur for Māori is vital to ensuring that our whānau and tamariki feel connected to our schools. It’s important that Māori see themselves reflected in the way things are done in our schools, and that being Māori is considered an asset and something that is worthy of celebrating.
Māori whānau have their own educational aspirations for their tamariki that are unique to being Māori. These aspirations deserve the mana of their very own forum. These hui could also have school leaders and teachers present as invited and supportive guests, who are there to listen and to learn – not to lead or make decisions on behalf of Māori. In his blog post 4 March 2017, Challenge of Biculturalism Lies With Pākehā, Maurie Abraham, principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School talks about, his experiences as a Pākehā in Te Ao Māori where, “At no stage was I asked or required to relinquish any important aspects of my Pākehā world. I truly hope I operated in a way that did not ask or require the same of the Māori I was working with.”
Adding some colour
Māori celebrations, Māori hui and in fact any enactment of tikanga Māori and kawa (protocols) in schools is an huge improvement on mono-cultural ways of doing and being. Put simply, want to add some colour to your school practices? Then add some bicultural colour and watch your tamariki bloom! Article 3 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is Ōritetanga / Equity. The enactment of Ōritetanga in schools, should look like the equitable representation of things Māori and things Pākehā, our bicultural heritage. In other words, 50-50 representation of things Māori and Pākehā in our physical environments, our learning programmes, our language, our resources – in everything. We are certainly not there yet, and to be honest we may not get to 50-50 in my lifetime, but I would like to think that we are always working towards improving equitable outcomes for Māori in schools. Perhaps creating opportunities for Māori whānau hui and Māori celebrations or events during the school year is one way schools can truly value and celebrate our unique bicultural heritage.
I hope there are some words of wisdom in this post for many of you who may have been on the fence about Māori hui or celebrations. Māori students walk in their mostly non-Māori schools every single day. Any opportunity schools have for ensuring the language, culture and identity of Māori is protected and revitalised, is one they should take. This is for the betterment of all of us in Aotearoa. Our bicultural history and beautiful indigenous culture is what makes Aotearoa the very best place in the world. Let’s ensure we are putting forth into the future the very best tamariki the world has ever seen!
He tina ki runga, he tāmore ki raro
‘Contentment above, firmly rooted below.’ Those with a good family foundation and proper grounding in their own culture and heritage will find satisfaction and contentment in life.
Tō reo ki te raki, tō mana ki te whenua – uLearn18 keynote by Hana O’Regan
Cultural identity and community in whitestream schools – uLearn17 keynote by Dr Anne Milne
Giving mana to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in our schools – Janelle Riki-Waaka
Addressing Pākehā paralysis with non-stupid optimism – Alex Hotere-Barnes
Abraham, M. (2017). Challenge of Biculturalism Lies With Pakeha. Retrieved from http://principalpossum.blogspot.com/2017/03/challenge-of-biculturalism-lies-with.html
Hitchcock, J. (2018). The Treaty of Waitangi granted us tino rangatiratanga – but what is it?. Retrieved from https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/06-02-2018/the-treaty-of-waitangi-granted-us-tino-rangatiratanga-but-what-is-it/
Mead, H., & Grove, N. (2003). Ngā Pēpeha a ngā Tīpuna / The sayings of the ancestors. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.
Milne, B. A. (2013). Colouring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7868
Wano, W. (2016). Is Māori representation Māori privilege?. Retrieved from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2016/04/is-maori-representation-maori-privilege.html
Wilson, J. (2016). The three articles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Retrieved from https://teara.govt.nz/en/document/4216/the-three-articles-of-the-treaty-of-waitangi
Images: CORE Education, All Rights Reserved