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Honouring Te Tiriti in actions, not just words

By Rebecca Thomas




Never before have our obligations to Te Tiriti been amplified with such passion, in our curriculum design, accountability, procedure and documentation; and about time too. But, how can we move forward with sincere actions, creating impact, and be certain that we are not just using words?


To explain my thoughts on how this might be possible I want to use the Understand, Know, Do, framework and one of the four big ideas from the Aotearoa New Zealand Histories documentation. I want to explore the use of power.


‘Individuals, groups, and organisations have exerted and contested power in ways that improve the lives of people and communities, and in ways that lead to exclusion, injustice, and conflict.’ (MOE ANZH Histories Documentation)

Understand: Ko te pipi te tuatahi, ko te kaunuku te tuarua (A small wedge is used first, followed by a larger one)


Understand the gravity of what changes are necessary; understand the effort that is necessary to balance power. Usually, it begins with small things, just like the process by which a small group gains strength and grows to the point at which it can challenge the previously dominant force.


A good friend of mine sent me a link to a statement/poem/provocation when I was having a unsettling time in finding some strength to confront a power imbalance recently. The poem came from the journalist, Mihingarangi Forbes Twitter account (those of you who know her story will make the links to why I think her phrasing is particularly appropriate):


Dream like Tāwhiao

Lead like Whina

Fight like Eva

Think like Moana J

Write like Ranginui

Build like Kawiti

Speak like Apirana

Educate like Katarina

Believe like Te Whiti

Challenge like Te Puea


The beautifully balanced prose above consists of Māori figures associated with certain qualities and accomplishments that have both challenged or contested authorities. Let’s unpack what they have in common.


They are all leaders who have led their people through cultural upheaval and injustice; leaders who have advocated for Māori social and economic development and addressed grievances towards social injustices; leaders who have contributed to a deeper understanding of challenges faced by Māori communities; leaders who have made strategic decisions that have contributed to Māori development, education, and cultural revitalisation; leaders who have peacefully uplifted communities through challenging times and worked hard to preserve Māori traditions.


Know: Tino rangatiratanga me te kāwanatanga


‘This context focuses on the history of authority and control, and the contests over them. At the heart of these contests are the authorities guaranteed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi.’ (MOE ANZH Histories Documentation)

Each of these individuals contributed to the resilience, strength and development of Māori communities by contesting or interacting with authorities granted by the Treaty.


Some protested, fought, worked with authorities, challenged the status quo, or uplifted and empowered communities to take action; they all aimed to assert Māori rights and kawanatanga in the face of colonial pressures.


Do: Your inquiry, your journey


My inquiry to you, as leaders, as we engage with Te Matāiaho, as we reword curriculum documentation, as we ensure our policies and curriculums are fit for purpose, as we begin to challenge the status quo, I want you to wonder what ‘actions’ you need to take to ensure this progress is not just made with words.


If I were leading a school during this process of change I would imagine I might be one of these leaders mentioned above, and try to imagine what these individuals might ‘do’ in our educational context. Where would they begin?


Maybe you would: advocate for the preservation and promotion of Māori language and culture; ensure equitable access to education for ākonga Māori by pushing for culturally relevant curricula that incorporates Māori perspectives; teach accurate Māori history and land rights issues using mātuaranga Māori resources to promote the injustices faced by Māori communities; talk about the justice system and offer alternatives to punitive measures, particularly for Māori youth; challenge stereotypes and misconceptions; integrate Māori arts, crafts, and cultural practices promoting pride in Māori heritage; ensure the teaching of Māori language at all levels of education to maintain its survival and growth; plan for initiatives that prioritise the wellbeing of Māori communities and provide resources and support to address socio-economic challenges.


Once you have chosen your beginning, how can your staff draw inspiration from and embrace the characteristics of these individuals too?


Embrace cultural awareness: this includes learning about and respecting the cultures, languages, and traditions of the communities they serve.


Advocate for equity: address disparities in resources, opportunities, and outcomes.


Stand up to justice: create safe spaces for discussions and diverse perspectives to be shared.


Challenge Injustices: challenge systemic biases and injustices within the educational system; ensuring that all students are treated fairly.


Promote Accurate Education: create policies that ensure a well-rounded, unbiased representation of history and culture in the curriculum.


Value Traditional Knowledge: acknowledge and incorporate traditional knowledge and practices into learning experiences, fostering an appreciation for diverse ways of understanding the world.


Support Cultural Expression: encourage students to express their cultural identities through arts, crafts, and other creative outlets, promoting pride and self-confidence.


Language Revitalisation: promote and teach indigenous languages; efforts here strengthen cultural bonds and contribute to a sense of belonging.


Peaceful Conflict Resolution: emphasise conflict resolution skills based on communication, understanding, and respect, creating harmonious learning environments.


Community Support: actively engage with the community, providing resources, mentorship, and support to students and families facing socio-economic challenges.


If we can take some inspiration and some comfort in the actions of these significant leaders who have been at the heart of injustice and conflict then we can draw upon their- leadership and drive to ensure that we are taking actions and we are honouring our commitment to Te Tiriti with more than just our words.




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