From Sir Apirana Ngata to Professor Tamati Reedy, Ngati Porou has a long history of academic champions. Gisborne Herald reporter Shaan Te Kani meets another ‘beacon’ in education, who is encouraging higher indigenous learning as a genuine pathway to success.
“Whaia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei — Strive for excellence, and if you must bow, let it be to a lofty mountain.”
The words of this well-known Maori proverb are often used in striving for educational excellence.
Being a proud Ngati Porou man, with Hikurangi as his mountain, Dr Hohaia Collier ONZM knows about striving for great heights.
His lifetime work has taken him from his humble birthplace of Waipiro Bay to the world.
Now the East Coast-raised educationalist is the Chancellor of the World Indigenous Nations University (WINU).
The interim appointment was made by the 14-nation caucus at Guovdageaidnu, Norway in August last year at the Sami University of Applied Sciences.
He replaces Professor Jan-Henry Keskitalo of Norway and is the third person appointed to lead the university.
A descendant of the East Coast hapu (sub tribes) Te Whanau a Uruahi (Whakawhitira), Te Whanau a Takimoana (Rangitukia) and Ngati Horowai (Te Horo), Dr Collier was raised at Whakawhitira before completing his schooling at Gisborne Boys’ High School.
He served in the New Zealand Army for 30 years during which, he held the most senior non-commissioned office in the army.
The experiences of military life would transfer well into his academic career, and the pursuit for excellence continued.
“When I left the army, I met Professor Whatarangi Winiata, the founder of Te Wananga o Raukawa in Otaki. I was about to go to Lebanon.
“He said to me, ‘how can you make a contribution to Maori from Lebanon? Why don’t you come and work here for me?’
“I leapt at the opportunity to work with him.”
From 2002, Dr Collier began his academic career at Te Wananga o Raukawa.
He completed masters degrees in Law and Philosophy, Matauranga Maori and Te Reo Maori.
In 2015 he was the inaugural recipient of Te Kaurutanga, the most senior academic credential at Te Wananga o Raukawa.
In the same year he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy by WINU at Fort Frances, Canada.
WINU was developed from the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC), which currently has a network of 14 nations, and includes all three Maori wananga institutions of Aotearoa — Te Wananga o Raukawa, Te Wananga o Aotearoa and Te Wananga o Awanuiarangi.
WINHEC is a forum that aims to address the challenges faced by indigenous peoples across the globe by providing access to a system of higher education that is culturally and professionally astute and aligned to a commitment to advancing indigenous development through education.
It exists to impart knowledge, empower leadership and provide resources for indigenous peoples across the world from their own indigenous sovereignty and knowledge systems.
It is also aligned both philosophically and pragmatically to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Dr Collier had previously chaired WINHEC from 2015, but the new role will see him lead the university.
While the head office is in Hawaii, he will be based in New Zealand, travelling back and forth, while also continuing in his role as the Executive Director of Academic Provision at Te Wananga o Raukawa.
“My role will be much the same as a Chancellor at any university but we deal with 14 nations, which includes the likes of Taiwan, Norway, Alaska, Canada, South America and the United States.”
WINU offers co-joint undergraduate and post-graduate programs that incorporate both Western and cultural knowledge and facilitates dual accreditation and ethical consideration.
“We, at Te Wananga o Raukawa, are a wananga. We don’t think of ourselves as a university,” says Dr Colliers.
“But like any university we deliver doctorate programmes. If you want it to be matauranga-based (indigenous knowledge-based) you can do it through WINU.
“Some of the institutions from other nations are wanting to use the wananga model also. If anything, we — in Aotearoa — are ahead.”
The concept of “whaia te iti kahurangi” is part of Dr Collier’s aspirations for his people in his new role.
“The primary goal is to sell the idea of WINU to our people to make them realise that it is a genuine option for them.
“Other institutions outside of WINU may think our programmes are not to the same level as theirs, but in many ways ours are more challenging.
“I’ve been through that mainstream system of learning. It wasn’t until I went to Te Wananga o Raukawa that I realised if every person who went to university could find out their whakapapa and iwi, their identity, then that is true success.
“A lot of Maori who attend universities, especially those from the urban areas, don’t know about themselves.
“For those who do use the wananga model, it can a challenging three years of whakapapa. But they come out different people.
“The journey is really enlightening for them and they come away with more than a degree.
“What I really want, is to get more commitment from Maori students. At WINU, we try to make our offerings fee-free.
“There’s a certain way that Maori learn, which is what our wananga focus on. I’ve always said, a laughing Maori is a learning Maori.
“My aim is to get the message out that there is another way of doing it.
“Most of the students at Te Wananga o Raukawa, and in fact, all of our wananga across Aotearoa, are second-chance learners.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where they study, just as long as they do study.
“I know if we can get our people back home into education they will be successful.”