’til death do us part

First, I’d like to thank my sister Tohu and brother-in-law, Sam for letting me use one of their wedding photos, seen as the feature photo.

Second, due to the topic of this post, it seemed fitting to finish and publish this blog on our national day, Waitangi Day.

So I shall begin …

At the core of my role as a Māori academic developer is the embedding of mātauranga Māori into the curriculum here in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s something that we have been grappling with since the colonisation of the education system. Back in 1971 the National Advisory Committee on Māori Education established that,

what Māori people wanted from the education system [was]
1. That cultural difference need to be understood, accepted and respected by children, [students] and teachers.
2. That the school curriculum must find a place for the understanding of Maoritanga, including Maori language.
3. That in order to achieve the goal of equality of opportunity, special measures need to be taken. (Walker, 1979. p. 4)

What I am witnessing within my role as an academic developer is the actioning of these statements within the curriculum of universities has not been achieved. Why is this the case? Especially when there is so much work that has and continues to be done with kaupapa Māori and indigenous educational research. So many people have and are working tirelessly and relentlessly. When I sat to kōrero about my strategy with my Māori advisors, Tawhiri and Kaa Williams, my motivation declined for a moment when Tawhiri mentioned they tried advocating values-based education in the 80s. In a split-second thoughts raced through my mind.

Crap!!! If they couldn’t achieve it, who am I to think I had any chance of making a difference?!  Tawhiri and Kaa are matatau i te reo me te tikanga Māori (Elites in Maori language and law). But I, with our team, had achieved some momentum. I can’t stop! Times are different. Needs have changed. Haere tonu – Keep going. 

In my own institute, I discovered that Hana Cringle, who held a similar position to me also focussed on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There are countless others who have walked this path. Can I make a difference? Yes, I can.

There is possibly one difference in my strategy. I’m not focussing primarily on Māori people … not that I’m excluding Māori, absolutely not. My focus is on re-establishing manaakitanga. And that means I need to be tāngata whenua and welcome our visitors into te ao Māori (Māori worldview). Māori know these practices from marae, for us it’s about remembering and ensuring we uphold tikanga within new spaces such as those within the university.

In my wānanga with staff, I explain my take on Te Tiriti as a Tatau Pounamu, a marriage contract, and I simply ask staff “how’s the marriage going?” Shifting it from a relationship perceived with political agendas to a personal relationship and commitment seems to make it REAL and relatable to the staff. And that’s my approach. It’s a marriage, and those who have or have had inter-racial, intercultural, inter-belief personal relationships could possibly empathise how much love, negotiations, compromise, forgiveness, and faith is required to make the relationship keep working. It certainly isn’t a one-off apology or settlement fix. That’s the reality. And if we look at each generation of Aotearoa-New Zealanders or migrants as children of Te Tiriti … well, the relationship shifts into the next level for testing its fortitude.

Now I use these analogies because that is my reality. I draw solutions from how to approach embedding mātauranga Māori by reflecting on my own relationships (and sometimes that of my sisters. Sometimes the brother-in-laws can be enlightening 😉). For me, we are a living embodiment of Te Tiriti. My partner and daddy to our twins is a Highland-born-and-bred Scotsman choosing Aotearoa New Zealand to make as his and our home. It certainly a challenge and we sometimes have lively discussions of our different perception, interpretations, and expectations. Child-rearing adds another dimension because it is here the questions of what values are important and how do we demonstrate that to our girls gets tested. But I can tell you this, it is through being with him he has drawn out my deeper understanding of mana and provided the environment and knowledge as someone within the hospitality industry, to really understand the different value systems between hospitality and manaaki. Between industrialism and humanism. Thankfully this is something we are in complete agreement on, and like I said, his knowledge of industry operations, particularly management and leadership styles, have provided the parallel to what I experience in the university.

So it is from my own personal experiences I can empathise,  not sympathise, with staff to how difficult the process of building a relationship with others of a different value-system. Yet, it is that same personal experience that leads me and encourages me,  within the university, to advocate for manaaki, caring and hospitality; mana-aki, encouraging positive personal growth, and mana-ā-kī, stand with dignity to speak with integrity.

So in attending to the National Advisory Committee on Māori Education’s recommendations, I have these parting comments.
1. That cultural difference need to be understood, accepted and respected by children, [students] and teachers.

I was always taught you have to give respect to receive it. I know easier said than done and sometimes it’s about seeing the person beyond the behaviours or the misperceptions or collective story from which we make judgments of others.

Same goes for acceptance. Reflecting upon what I am willing to accept to be a truth. What another chooses to accept is their business. Therefore, I am not here to convert our staff I am simply here to offer them another alternative or reality. It is up to them whether or not they accept it or how much they can accept. However, my effectiveness and the level of acceptance and engagement of mātauranga Māori from the staff is dependent on how I introduce and welcome them into te ao Māori. It is all dependent on how I manaaki.

And until one is willing to accept I would advocate they cannot understand. Or from another perspective, you can only truly understand what you are truly willing to accept.
2. That the school curriculum must find a place for the understanding of Maoritanga, including the Māori language.

Te reo Māori has played a huge role in the success I, and the team, have with changing the curriculum. It is a tool for revealing the subconscious of Māori. I also call it a heart filter for English. That is when you translate from English to Māori and translate that back to English, the mood, and essence of the English changes. In academia, I have seen it go from a soul-less vanilla and often corporate language to an intimate language of care.

I would also repeat as I mentioned above that bring in tikanga practiced on marae into the university needs to be authentic. Keep it real! Use ako, Māori pedagogies: wānanga, pūrakau, waiata, rāranga (these I will discuss in a later post). And use assessments that mana-aki (encourage self-esteem and integrity) students.
3. That in order to achieve the goal of equality of opportunity, special measures need to be taken.

I guess this has been the mission of strategies such as the Māori Education Strategy, Ka Hikitia, and equity-weighted funding. To be honest this has not been an area of focus for me as I see it being problematic especially in the neoliberal measured institutions. For me, the issue lies in the word opportunity. And from my experience, if the opportunities are preconceived, well that’s not working because of preconceived opportunities limits and confines my choices to the imagination and convictions of the architect of said opportunities. However, I do not dwell on this one as points 1 and 2 I feel are more fundamental.

And finally, to whakatau, settle, with my little bit of self-doubt mentioned earlier. From my experience I was right. It is a different time. We are on a threshold. And in the university, the cracks are beginning to show. The Death of the University threatens to be a reality, as the bureaucratic beast struggles to compete with the agility of corporatised training and content delivery. And constant attacks for more and more outputs that put more and more stress and pressure on the people of the universities. The cracks reveal fertile land. Time to reconnect putting soles to soil so that soul to soul can unite as one for all.

Ngā mihi koutou.

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