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Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote
Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote

ĀteaOctober 10, 2018

‘We care so much it exhausts us’: A Māori educator on the mountains still to climb

Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote
Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote

In her first post for Te Puna Kōrero, a new blogging platform for Māori education and kaupapa, Māori research expert Linda Tuhiwai Smith takes stock of how far we’ve come, and at what cost.

It’s 2018. We’ve had almost 30 years of Māori education resurgence with specific and innovative developments led by Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa Māori and Wānanga, but also including such things as Whānau units, Marae in institutions, kapa haka in the curriculum and a plethora of other programmes, from curriculum to pre-service teacher education, from leadership to student support systems.

These institutions were built on generations of dreams and decades of work to revitalise Te Reo Māori, implement the Treaty of Waitangi as both a means to sustain mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga and as a framework for partnership, to improve the practices of teachers, remove racism at all levels and grow the capacity of Māori to meet our wide aspirations. That is to be Māori and to be successful citizens of Aotearoa. More so, however, we have sacrificed ourselves, our children and grandchildren to an education system that consistently consigns another and another generation to social and economic exclusion.

Hundreds of Māori education hui have been held; super big ones, small ones, and ones that lasted until dawn. I have attended many of these hui. So many in fact, that it gives a lie to any claim that Māori don’t care about education.

We do care. We care so much it exhausts us.

Our hui are never meaningless as they enable us to voice our concerns, share knowledge, identify capacity and strategise. Our hui processes are intense and at their finest are the best educational gatherings I have ever participated in. Mostly they reaffirm that we are not alone and our experiences are not isolated. But, we rarely have the system power to make the changes we need and when we do, for example Kura Kaupapa Māori, they never have the investment to make the changes sustainable.

Hundreds of meetings have been held about Māori education, staff meetings, policy meetings, curriculum meetings, education policy and reform meetings. I have attended many of these too, well-meaning professional meetings to address Māori aspirations and needs. I know what it takes to develop a school marae and programme such as Kahurangi at Auckland Girls Grammar School and educate a couple of generations of Māori education scholars. I know what it’s like to spend hours of work to get one Māori word into the Tomorrow’s Schools policy. I think the word ‘whānau’ appears once. I know what it’s like to get legislative change for Kura Kaupapa Māori only to experience the divide and rule of our early Kura who were then put in a room to decide which one of them would not get funded for three years; that was Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamatā. I know what it’s like to argue for Wānanga into a complete and deliberate policy void, or more accurately policy avoidance, an example where the means was available but no one in Government wanted to allow it to happen. I know what it’s like to come to the state of such disempowerment that the only avenue to get heard and get substantive equality of opportunity is to seek a hearing before the Waitangi Tribunal.

Every Māori word, idea, person and programme that appears in education has been hard won and then winning them has not guaranteed success or sustainability. I also recognise the drivers, politics and personalities that lead our own people and allies to get worn down by fatigue, lose heart and leadership or simply misuse tikanga to go rogue. I recognise the huge pressure on individuals and parents to trust a kaupapa that not only has not been tried before but has not had the opportunity to fail consistently like all the other options we have! I understand the challenges of capacity, succession, good governance and the multiple demands on key individuals who carry the hopes, dreams and workload of several human beings on their shoulders. Implementing this stuff has been hard work.

Now I teach a generation of young Māori born since the late 1990s. For this generation there has always been Kōhanga Reo although not all have attended Kōhanga Reo. There has always been Kura, Kura Kaupapa Māori and Kura-ā-Iwi, but not all have attended these Kura. Most of them do not know the history of these initiatives, what was struggled for and why that mattered. There has always been a Māori Language Act although many if not most are unaware the Act exists. There has always been Te Karere, Māori Television and Iwi Radio stations, Te Matatini Kapa Haka competitions and Waitangi Day as a national holiday. Treaty Settlements have always been happening but they are not sure what that means for them.

And of course, given the lack of history of Aotearoa taught in New Zealand schools and our Kura there is a horrible gap of knowledge about our own stories and accomplishments. Even sadder is the fact that there has always been racism and our students are most aware of that reality because they have experienced it, institutionally as racism and individually as racial prejudice in their everyday lives. What is remarkable however is that this generation of 20 year olds have had more choices and opportunities in schooling than any other generation of Māori.

What does that all mean?

I lay this quick history out in order to ask some questions over the next three blogs about where Māori education is at in 2018. What are our new challenges and how should the current reforms in education be addressing these challenges?

This article first appeared on Te Puna Kōrero.

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