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Tangata Tiriti: Finding our place in the partnership.

by Steve Saville





As Tangata Tiriti teachers around the Aotearoa continue to unpack Te Mātaiaho, and as we strive to embrace the opening challenge:


Mātai aho tāhūnui,

Mātai aho tāhūroa,

Hei takapau wānanga

E hora nei.


Lay the kaupapa down

And sustain it,

The learning here

Laid out before us.



we become increasingly aware of our responsibility to find our place in this aspirational document; we become increasingly aware of the need to find our place in the partnership.


The vast majority of us want to see the need to, and are desperate to be part of the solution, but all too often, as Tangata Tiriti, we aren’t too sure how we are to find this place. We are not too sure what our place, as educators, in this partnership actually is - and we are not certain of our role and even our legitimacy in playing an active role in any partnership moving forward.


Often, as a result, we are struck with Pākehā Paralysis. I borrow this term from an excellent article that I would strongly advise you read. It may be a good idea to preface this read by looking at this short video from Alex Hotere-Barnes on the same topic. The basic premise presented is that we are often afraid to act because we are afraid of getting it wrong, and therefore becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.


For most of us we interact with Te Ao Maori first through Te Reo and an awareness of Tikanga, but if we waited for individuals, like me, to become fluent in Te Reo then we would be waiting a very long time. Often our fear of mispronunciation, or mangling a language, or our fear of causing offense by not having a full understanding of Tikanga, means that we lack the confidence to embrace the partnership. Fear of getting it wrong, or unwittingly causing offense, means that we withdraw. It is hard to be a partner if we are stuck in this position, but it is not clear how we navigate our way through this ‘paralysis’.


Obviously correct pronunciation and respecting Tikanga are hugely important, and are areas that we must constantly strive to improve in, but it is also imperative that as Tangata Tiriti educators we find our place in the partnership - and we find it fast! Te Mātaiaho demands it, and the needs of ākonga are immediate and pressing.


Our perception of Te Tiriti has shifted from seeing it as a historical document, often reflecting a colonial past that gives us little to feel proud of, to a living partnership document that is aspirational and looks optimistically to the future, whilst still being aware of the history that we are all part of.


Sharon Murdoch’s cartoon below captures this concept better than any words alone can.




All of this brings us back to the question,


“How do we, as non-Māori, engage and play our part in this partnership?”

For me personally, it was about embracing the aspects of Te Ao Maori and, in particular, Te Taioa Māori which resonated with me as an individual. For me personally, it was concepts like Tūrangawaewae and Kaitiakitanga that proved to be the ground where I found my place to stand within the partnership. These concepts gave me my entry point and have been my anchor.


I came to this country as a five year old and this meant that for years there was an internal conflict caused by being a bare foot, freckled Kiwi kid climbing, running, swimming, and laughing growing up in a small New Zealand town - but going home to a very English family home.


It was only when I left home though and settled in another small New Zealand town where I married, where my children were born, where I heard the tui sing and where we, as a family, fed tame tuna in the creek behind our house, did I feel that I was truly at home. It was only in this place did I feel that I belonged, and that my feet went deep into the ground that I stood on. For this reason the concept of Tūrangawaewae feels very personal to me. In the same way my growing love and respect of the New Zealand bush, and the sense of calm I experience when walking through or sitting within our natural environment, fills me with a sense of the land as a living entity that I merely look after for a brief period of time.


These two concepts, and how I embrace them, provides the bridge that enables me to start to understand what being Tangata Tiriti means to me, and where I stand within the partnership between Tangata Tiriti and Tangata Whenua.


Taking that into account it should come as no surprise that whenever I drive down the Waikato Expressway and pass the eight Pou, Te Kaahui Hakuturi, looking down on me, I firmly believe that they are looking over me personally, so feel it appropriate to say ‘hi’ to them and thank them for looking out for me, I may also tell them where I'm off to.




It is for these reasons that I feel the following greeting is more appropriate for me to give when I am presenting as part of my mihi:


Kei ngā maunga whakahī,

Kei ngā wai tuku kiri,

Kei ngā mātāwaka o te motu,

Ka nui te mihi.


To those who connect to the mountains,

the rivers and oceans across the land.

Hello and welcome to you.


It feels right and captures where, I feel, I stand as I find my way forward in this partnership.


The reason this is important is because we have to know ourselves as centered individuals and as Tangata Tiriti (in my case as a Kiwi born in a small coastal town in Kent - but raised in Aotearoa), we have to know who we are if we want to be able to play our role in any partnership.


The quote below from the ‘Pākehā paralysis’ article referenced above explains this much better than I can,


If you do not position yourself, you are inviting others to position you instead.


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 Pākehā/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”.


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.


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.


It is important that we see all of this as a partnership, despite how the media often presents it.


This is not a binary

It is not an us and them

It is not a Māori/Non Māori


We need to know ourselves as Tangata Tiriti, so we can walk alongside Tangata Whenua as an effective partner. In education, where most of us operate, this awareness is vital, it is an imperative as we are responsible for and directed by Te Mātaiaho.


This document expects us to provide inclusive environments that acknowledge the diversity that sits expectantly in front of us in our classrooms. That is our role, but to truly understand and help others we must make sure that we fully know ourselves.





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