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Learning in a Maori way

In celebration of Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, The Gisborne Herald features local taiohi (youth) Kiana Ria Renata-Kokiri of Tairawhiti whanui. The 16-year-old was a speaker at last week’s Pae Tawhiti: Beyond the Horizon - Maori Education Leadership Conference, held in Gisborne. Kiana shared her views and aspirations for matauranga Maori (Maori education) with teachers and educators from throughout the district. Here is Kiana’s speech. . .

Child of the mist Tame Iti says “History has woven us together. We are the basket, the kete, that holds the future!”

As a young Maori woman, I have experienced both mainstream and kura kaupapa education. School is often a difficult and confusing time for me. I often question its purpose. Referring to our country’s curriculum, Dr Muriel Newman states that “the vision statement affirms that young people will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand, in which Maori and Pakeha recognise each other as full Treaty partners.”

I don’t believe this statement has any truth. Even in the kura kaupapa setting in which I currently learn, the effects of colonisation are clearly visible.

Disappointingly, neither the mainstream system or kura kaupapa adequately prepare me with the right values to become a great leader for our future, or the right tools to assist me in doing this. Rather, it restricts me and tries to manipulate me to think, speak and behave a certain way. Supposedly, sculpting me to be the “best person I can be” when really, it is failing me, trying to conform me to fit within the one size fits all mentality that society imposes on me.

Despite these challenges, I am reminded by political activist Tame Iti who claims that “we don’t always have to agree, mana can be tested, even challenged, but with respect and an understanding of one another’s mana”. Now I challenge you to open your minds and your hearts and allow yourself to feel the words I share with you. Visualise the world through my eyes as a leader of the future generation!

In addition to my parents, I have been nurtured and raised by the extended branches of my family tree. My grandparents and my great grandparents. My aunties and my uncles. Even life among cousins provides important learning and experiences for me. As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child” and I am fortunate enough to say that this is me. Dr Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Wha model states that a healthy whanau reflects the importance of healthy relationships, connections and social well-being.

Home is also where I have spent much of my life. Life for me here consists of stories of our past, present, and future. The good and the bad. My tipuna (ancestors), my mountains, my rivers and my turangawaewae, my place of belonging. I understand why everything that I have been taught is important, and why it is important to me. These aspects of my life create the foundation of what shapes me, and of what shapes my culture.

“Culture” is a way of life which is formed by groups of subcultures. With each subculture comes a set of values that are important to me, and with each set of values comes behaviour, positive or negative. The outcomes for me are a direct result of the behaviours in which I display. There is always room for growth. Home is a place which supports me to be the best version of me that I want to be, to lead us in the future. I am sure in the knowledge of who I am and where I am from. You can count on me to lead the way.

Life for many youth today, is vastly different to the life I am fortunate enough to be exposed to at home. Through studying Dr Mason Durie’s “Principle of Indigeneity”, learning about my identity as a young Maori woman has enhanced my determination to retain my own cultural identity, avoid assimilation, and exercise a degree of autonomy.

I don’t believe that school has taught me this. Home has been my classroom. This is the very reason why I say the education system is failing me. How can I succeed in the future without first understanding who I am and from where I am from?

I feel that many taiohi are missing out on a life of understanding and knowing who they are as a result of societal influences. For example, social media, technology and money. I believe that it is getting in the way of what matters most to us as Maori. We have some of the poorest health statistics in our country, not to mention our people have the highest statistics in crime. Why? Because societal influences have corrupted our minds and our way of life. I believe this is causing a certain disconnection for Maori to Te Ao Maori, to our whakapapa, to our identity. Some rangatahi may disagree, but I believe that these very things should be integrated into our everyday school life, before it is too late.

What does this look like?You’re probably wondering what this would look like? Well let me show you.

Physical education (PE) in a mainstream and kura setting is about healthy lifestyles, nutrition and exercise. However, it shouldn’t be. Other than Ki-o-rahi, we don’t have much as tauira Maori (Maori students) to link back to — right? Wrong!

PE can and should incorporate mau rakau and other traditional Maori games that many rangatahi do not know, for instance, poi toa, Hopuariki, potaka etc. In addition to the art of our traditional ways, will follow the understanding of the rich history that lies beneath the surface of these taonga — their purpose, stories, disciplines, skills, values, creativity, application, communication skills and so forth.

Kapa Haka. Many of us today only seem to practise this art form for the performance element. We should have set akoranga (subjects) for this. In these akoranga we would learn the basics and disciplines of takahi (stamping of feet) and wiri (shaking of hands). The tikanga (correct procedure) behind them, and why they are important. Not just for stage presence, but to understand why we as Maori do this. Such as a waiata kinaki (a song that complements a speech), waiata tawhito (traditional waiata) and their whakamarama (explanation). Ideally kapa haka would be a subject in which Maori students can excel in the ways of haka as our ancestors did, not for the purpose of drama, performance or theatre.

“Wananga, ao te po, po te ao. Tane mai, wahine mai — Learning in a Maori way, day and night, for all”.

We’d all be learning our part to play, to live, in Te Ao Maori (the Maori world). As a result of colonisation, learning for Maori has become confined and limited to the walls of a classroom. Our people have never been those type of learners. We are naturally kinaesthetic learners, better at learning by “doing the do”, rather than sitting there being lectured to.

Marae (pa)-based learning in our own environment would provide many benefits. Learning how to work at the back and in the kitchen. Perhaps the art of whaikorero (oratory) and karanga (ceremonial call) at the front. Whatever the lesson, there’s always a place on the pa to learn it, and most of the time someone to teach it. After all, our marae only run like clockwork with “Te Amorangi ki mua” (the leaders at the front) and “te hapai o ki muri” (the workers out the back).

How many rangatahi (youth) partake in activities on their marae? How many can confidently work roles on their marae?

It is probably safe to say there would be a higher number of foreign rangatahi to the marae, than there would be born and bred “pa kids”. My Papa has always shared that the marae was the social hub in his day. Sadly, today it is a contrast. Our marae are often cold and lonely, with barely any sign of life. Society is impacting hugely on the traditional ways of our people, as we sit by and watch.

Science. Our people were natural scientists. We knew how to live off the land, but provide for it too. We were natural environmentalists. Kaitiaki (guardians) of our whenua (land). Science today is not a popular subject for many rangatahi. Science looks like microscopes, test tubes and a whole lot of text books with words I don’t understand. We should be out in our communities, connecting with those of our people who still know and still are kaitiaki of our whenua— the people who still live off and provide for the land.

So there we have some solutions. But how do we walk the talk? That’s where you come in and I hope is why you are here today. Take the plunge and challenge yourselves as Maori educators to make a difference for me, and for many of our rangatahi struggling in today’s society. Many of you (and our kaiako Maori) are qualified teachers, but qualified by whose standard I ask? A qualification which belongs in a colonised system. A qualification that has boxed in many of our kaiako (teachers) and their thinking, confined it to the ways of the colonised system.

So what can you do to help? Challenge the system knowing that the system isn’t working for us. Challenge yourselves as educators to think outside the square. Challenge yourselves to recreate the system to fit with the examples and solutions I have provided, or at least find how the current one can be manipulated to fit a way of learning that is better for us, better for Maori. Challenge yourselves to develop and upskill in the traditional ways of our people, and challenge yourselves to open the doors to those who would be best suited to teach us until you get it together. Those people like our Papas, our Nannies, even our surrounding aunties and uncles.

I believe that going back to learning like those of our old people is the way to go. What learning for tauira Maori (Maori students) should look like. This ara of learning I trust, will connect us to our identity, understanding who we are and where we come from. Knowing our place in the world so we can stand confidently as tangata whenua. Enabling us to live in today’s society in our difference, our strength and in ourselves as Maori. Developing ourselves to ensure sustainability for our future. I conclude that this is what is necessary to be able to walk confidently in both worlds. But most importantly, so that we can say “He Maori au, e noho Maori nei i toku ao Maori — I am Maori, and I live in my Maori world”.

No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

ASPIRATIONS: Representing her Rongowhakaata whanau, Kiana Ria Renata-Kokiri was one of the “millenial” speakers featured in a segment called Iwi Voices at the Pae Tawhiti: Beyond the Horizon - Maori Education Leadership Conference last week. Pictures by Shaan Te Kani
HE MAORI AU: To learn in a Maori way, and to live in a Maori way, is one of the great aspirations Kiana Ria Renata-Kokiri has for her peers and future generations.