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Mana - The space between us

By Rebecca Thomas




The Tohunga Suppression Act and the Native Schools Act; two methods used to oppress our indigenous people, one to steal the reo and one to drive away resources and knowledge, to restrict access to Mātauranga Māori.


Both of these Acts robbed us of the ability to see clearly into the future, robbed us of the ability to see each other to the point where we don’t understand each other, or recognise the mana and the space between us.


Who you are in relation to the history of this whenua is both confronting but vital for us to understand in order to move into the future, so we can relate to the people around us. History is the documentation of our whakapapa; be it one of grief, love, triumph, pain. To know your history is to know yourself. And if we don’t know ourselves we can only walk blindly into the future.


Ko wai koe? Who are you?


These pertinent words were spoken today by Justice Hetaraka fromher words, her grace, her empathy moved me and I want you to sit with her kōrero for a while.


At the end of her engaging talk Justice left us a wero and invited us to contemplate, what are we going to leave behind for the future generations? Ko wai au? What is it to be Pākehā? What do you want the future to be like?


Prior to her keynote, Professor Melinda Webber had posed some statistics to us: 24% of Pākehā students don’t identify positively about themselves, and 34% of their parents don’t know, or can't talk about, their whakapapa. This was a new rhetoric that Melinda told us all to sit up and pay attention to. Cultural pride drops off at secondary school from, 70% of students having positive cultural identity in primary to just 50% being proud of their identity at secondary school. Why? And what impact is this having?


Despite their opening concerns Melinda and Justice weren’t there to paint a picture of the all too familiar problems, they were both there armed with solutions for us.


Justice was there to help us foster and implement mana in our spaces and showed us with the right tools we can express our emotions towards our history and our whakapapa, where indigenous pedagogies and whenua pūrāukau can be incorporated into our localised curriclum to drive learning; she empahsised that they are not just Māori stories, they are stories for everyone - as they are stories about being human.


Melinda was there to show us the way, to gift to us her explanation of the Mana Model in the hopes that we start asking better questions of our students, in the hopes that we can get them to engage in a kōrero about their futures. Futures where we foster mana through the pedagogical potential of whakapapa narratives, helping our young people to relate to each other, allowing mana to have space to grow.


Melinda explained that all people have mana, and you know this to be true as when they walk into the room you can feel the electricity in the air. Our job as educators is to find ways to foster it, and we do so by nurturing the spaces we leave between us.


Most school's visions, whānau and iwi aspiration's are not one of solely academic success, this is a bi product, a bi product of the initial goal where we seek to see our tamariki stand in a world to be proud of, where they walk tall with straight backs.


Mana is not hierarchical. It is broad and conceptual and means different things in different contexts. Despite the model containing five sections, she emphasises it is so much more, however this framework can provide a platform that we can use as educators to begin building on.





What follows are my take-aways from her kōrero:


Mana Whānau: This is our connectedness to other people in our place. If you don't have this then you have nothing. Who we are and the value we have to a context is the foundation for all that follows. The Mana Whanau is the group we belong to, the group that cares about us, our healthy relationships that support our self-belief. It can be the classroom, the school, our workplace.


Mana Ūkaipō: Similar to our Tūrangawaewae, it is our relationship to place. A beautiful word to unpack.


Ū - a female breast

kai - feed

pō - night


Ūkaipō - A mother feeding their baby at night, giving them sustenance from Papatuanuku. Contentment.


Mana Ūkaipō is about our students being proud to go to school as they feel connected, like they belong; be it the smile from the office lady or the joke from the caretaker. Its when students 'feel' their actions are meaningful by the people who care for them. This can only happen or be achieved when students are confident in their identity, their culture, their history.


It is also more than just being able to say the words to their Pepeha, it's about placing their footsteps on the mountain, it's about knowing intimately their whenua and recognising their responsibility to protect it. It's about our students valuing their whakapapa not just for the other, but for all of us so that we may walk alongside each other as Te Tiriti intended.


Relationships are hard, they may be uncomfortable, but stay in the relationship until you can be at ease.


Mana Motuhake: Embedded Achievement. As a member of our identified group we believe we are successful because of who we are. This is where teachers need to paint a future for our students, deliberately and explicitly allow them to see the value of their skills and what these attributes mean for their future jobs, their aspirations. Talk about their careers, name their skills, verbalise how they are doing in words. Quite often the only words we tend to verbalise in the business of our day are ones of perhaps slightly negative feedback to improve their attitudes and dispositions. Be agentic, communicate with clarity.


Mana Tū: Social-psychological competence. We adopt our behaviour to the context we are in. Do our students adapt their behaviours because they are self-aware of what they need to do in that moment, in that time, with that person? Do we explicitly teach them this skill as Kaiako? This skill helps them navigate adversity and the very complex social lives they lead with their peer groups. You are more likely to be able to adapt your behaviour to suit the context if you are in an environment that cares for you.


Our students need to understand humility - there is so much to learn here. Self-reflection and kindness never gets old on our journies.


Mana Tangatarua: A world of two people. Our students are craving knowledge that will help them walk in two worlds. What cultural skills will they need? What can we teach them? What do we do to support our neighbours if they are from a different world? Young adults want to know these things, they want to be involved. Teach them to help each other and remember they don't always appreciate talking to an adult, help them interact with their peers.


Give our students the skills to problem solve agentically and with agency. Help them be both Tuakana and Teina. We are never one or the other, we are both.


As you can see, if we want to foster our students mana, our end goal for education, the space between us, all of it has a starting place - it begins with our history. Knowing ourselves so we no longer walk blindly into the future, but stand tall, walk with mana and purpose knowing who we are, so that we can see the beauty in others.


Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua





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