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Tangata Tiriti Educators - Finding our place in the partnership

Updated: May 8, 2023

by Steve Saville

I recently had the privilege to present four Tiriti o Waitangi workshops at Howick College. I say privileged because it meant that I got to work alongside an old colleague, Rewa Paewae, for the first time in many years. As always Working with Rewa meant that I learned far more than I gave, so much about Te Ao Māori and the Tiriti. My role was primarily to provide a perspective regarding the role non Māori educators have in this partnership and how we can move towards finding our place within this unique partnership.

Post workshops I have reflected a good deal and this has continued as the national attention once again turned to the Treaty grounds at Waitangi and discussion about what the Tiriti means in contemporary Aotearoa.

So I thought I would, in humility, offer what was the basis of my participation in the workshops, a personal perspective around what role and responsibility those of us who are non Māori educators have as we move forward into what is, shaping up as. an important debate in 2023.

I am no expert and so all these comments are my own.

Sharon Murdoch’s editorial cartoon from the February 5th edition of the Sunday Star - Times actually captures much of what I write about below.

As always I try to start any expression of opinion with a whakataukī, somehow the metaphorical nature of many whakataukī seems to help guide and frame what I am trying to say, almost like a parallel narrative.

Te ara o tukutuku pūngawerewere

This is one that I tend to use quite often, and I find it apt here. The path we, as Tangata Tiriti, tread is complex, interwoven and detailed, but it is also fragile and needs to be woven with care.

In my experience Non Māori tend to have one of four responses regarding the Tiriti (or a mix of more than one of these responses).

#1 An Historical Document

#2 A sense of guilt

#3 A partnership

#4 A Living Document

Some see it as a historical document with little relevance in contemporary society, some find it difficult to move past seeing it as symbolizing the guilt associated with colonialism and that it is used as a weapon to demonize European settlement in New Zealand.

Increasingly, however, many see it as a document outlining a true and meaningful partnership between peoples and, increasing numbers see it as a document pointing the way forward - not just backward looking. We learn from the past to move forward.

The first two are primarily negative, the second two more positive, we need to initially identify what our position is and own it if we are to play our part in moving forward.

The important thing is that we start to find ‘our position’ and we are comfortable with that alongside finding our point of connection with the concept of partnership. We need to know ourselves as culturally located individuals in Aotearoa before we can play a part in the national narrative.

I was not born here, I came here when I was 5 (we were ₤10 pound Poms) but I have always had a very strong sense of connection to certain places and to the idea of the interconnections that weave various elements together. This sense of weaving is not unique to Māori, First Americans, Ancient Britons and the Shinto religion all have this awareness of the living world that pulses around us, and through us, that we are part of it. However, I grew up here and so the sense of turangawaewae is one that defines my position and my connection. It manifests itself in a myriad of ways including seemingly small things like not being able to drive past the eight Pou on the Waikato Expressway without having a conversation with them. Or when I was down in Rolleston identifying with a tree just outside town that always seemed to welcome me back when I had been away.

For me personally it is not about being fluent in Te Reo as an end in itself but knowing and learning the language in a way that helps me to understand this connection. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong, it is simply how I have found my place to stand as a Pākehā and enable me to feel I have a part to play.

Which is why whenever I need to introduce myself in any formal, or semi formal situation I include the following,

Kei ngā maunga whakahi,

Kei ngā tuku kiri,

Kei ngā mātāwaka o te motu,

Ka nui te mihi.

To those who connect to the mountains, the rivers and the oceans across the land. Hello and welcome to you.

Oh and the Curriculum refresh seems to be guiding us in this direction as well as shown in the diagram below.

All of this is my way of overcoming a state that has been referred to recently as Pākehā paralysis (a slightly inflammatory term): a fear of getting things wrong that restricts our engagement.

To learn more about this I refer you to this very accessible, brief video here, Beyond White Guilt: Pākehā and colonisation.

For more detail please refer to the excellent article linked here. Even though it was written from a health provider's perspective, it resonates very strongly with the education sector. Much of what follows has been heavily influenced by this article, so a big thank you to Andi Crawford and Fiona Langridge, I was profoundly affected by your wise words,

As an example I include two quotes below that I remembered long after I had finished reading,

“We need to be clear about our own cultural identity. In our families we were taught to work hard, be kind, help our family and friends, and find solutions ourselves—these are values from our culture that we can apply positively. With a secure identity, we may shift the power away from ourselves.”

“If you do not position yourself, you are inviting others to position you instead.22 A question often asked is “should Pākehā/Palangi be involved in work in Māori/Pasifika spaces?” If the answer is yes, the next question is how can Pākeha/Palangi conduct cross-cultural work after the history, and ongoing perpetuation of exploitation and inequities? Alex Hotere Barnes states there “will always be suspicion of Pākehā working in Māori spaces. I just need to face the reality and find the most effective way of working with it” (p.47).20 We often ask ourselves: “who am I to do this? Should I be here at all? Should I say something or be quiet? Am I contributing and embedding Pākehā/Palangi power structures?” The answer is probably “yes” and “no” to all these questions. However, to stop this work is not right either as we have been invited into the communities we work with. What is required is accountability processes, to the Māori/Pasifika peoples we are working in relationship with.”

- Andi Crawford and Fiona Langridge

The diagram below is lifted from this article and, for me, provides the framework for how we, as Tangata Tiriti, find our place to stand within the partnership.

The authors identify 4 stages that we need to go through. The first is linked to the need to find our position and to do this we have to listen (and listen hard) we then have to personally reflect. We have to know ourselves if we are to overcome, what they refer to as, a paralysis. The next stage then is to start to act, embed practice, make a commitment and make ourselves accountable. Having done this, and this is by no means a quick or easy process, then we can disrupt and speak up in support of true partnership. To get impatient and rush to the disruption stage would lead to misunderstanding of ourselves and the partnership and be counterproductive as well as non sustainable. It is a journey.

Why should we?

Well there are any number of reasons. The most compelling is provided by Elvis Presley (of course), if we turn away, if we don’t play our part and take our responsibility then how can we really help our tamaiti kura. Are we happy to sit and watch another generation fail in our system? It is almost a case of if we are not part of the solution then we may well be part of the problem.

"People, don't you understand

The child needs a helping hand

Or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day

Take a look at you and me

Are we too blind to see?

Do we simply turn our heads

And look the other way."

- Elvis Presley

So, as educators in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we don’t have the luxury of doing nothing. We have a vital role to play in the partnership narrative, but first we have to find ourselves and identify what we're putting in the basket that we are weaving together.

Exciting times eh!

If you want help to find your position this might help: Critical Consciousness Tool

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1 comentário

Tracey Lawson
Tracey Lawson
06 de fev. de 2023

Kia ora Steve. Wise words as always mate, thanks for weaving this together so well. Can I suggest "Becoming Pākehā" by John Bluck as well as an interesting take on this? A lot of that resonated with me also. Ka mau te wehi!

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