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Māori and non-māori shoulder to shoulder: a new canvas, a blank canvas

by Steve Saville and Rebecca Thomas





Fifty years have passed since Tame Iti and Ngā Tamatoa aimed to rescue and normalise te reo Māori. Yesterday morning amongst the cloak of white flags there was one simple message, ‘focus on the route we should take’, we must ignore the white noise.


This sunrise spectacle at Waitangi evoked a sense of excitement and provocation within us. Over 300 men, women and children waited in the darkness preparing to be part of Hakī Ātea. Not one of these people felt like they didn’t belong. Hakī Ātea, designed to lift up the nation; ‘stunning’ was the significant word used to describe this piece of performance art. 





If you could begin your school year as a blank canvas of limitless possibilities, what would it look like?


This provocation could be in terms of your career path, your classroom, your localised curriculum, your school camp…


The invitation is open, and the action can be small - yet still transformative.


It could be a simple intervention, or reframing of a comment.


Imagine you heard a statement about a student. The teacher is trying to reach out and ask for some help. The teacher is explaining that this student doesn’t feel like they belong and they were wondering if this student needs to be with like-minded students who are ‘similar’.


It would be easy to agree with them and affirm their theory, that being with like-minded people would be the solution for this student, but instead you insist that it is our job to make every student feel they belong, minority or not. Maybe you gently remind them that we do have some responsibility, and we are absolutely accountable for how we encourage our students to know and feel that they belong - it’s our job to understand and know them.


We use words like inclusion often and freely, but do we always realise that powerful and meaningful inclusion can often be based on a simple act? Listening to a student, asking someone how they are, and then really listening to their response. Tama Iti’s white flag, blank canvas action was but a small part of Waitangi and yet it succeeded in setting a tone. At once positive, aspirational, inclusive and hopeful. Inclusion is not about the size of the statement but it is about the heart and aroha that drives it.


Let’s all do something small, just like that collection of people who followed the Hikoi into Waitangi that morning armed with their white flags. To the participants it was a small gesture as they arrived early morning looking to park their cars in the dark. But when the collective became a groundswell, and the atmosphere became one of performance and respect for all of Aotearoa to see, their small actions actually became something significant, something bigger, something memorable.


Don’t let that student/teacher/principal who doesn’t feel like they belong feel lonely, don’t let the norms you tolerate be tolerable, don’t let the uncommunicative whānau be left in the cold. Reach out. If something you are doing doesn’t work for just one of them we urge you to try again. Don’t be satisfied with the first rejection, the first failure, the first no show - be persistent. Treat everyone you interact with like a blank canvas that has limitless abilities, perhaps they are waiting for just one small gesture to engage them.


We all know the cliché, 'if we keep doing the same thing, we will keep getting the same results', - but it’s true, as only this morning we read this article about principals in Tai Tokerau


Now do something small, make a change, start today.





photography credit: Tania Heke and Louise Miller




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