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Having moved to New Zealand as a twelve year old, my initial dealings with Māori people were not positive. When I arrived in Hawkes Bay in the early 1990s, Māori made up a large amount of the unskilled and uneducated work force and this had led to the ghettoisation of some Māori communities within residential pockets. These communities exhibited high amounts of crime and problems associated with low socio-economic conditions. Because of this, within the Pakeha community, there was an entrenched notion of an ‘us and them’ system of segregation. Needless to say, as a weedy and unconfident young boy, this led me to develop an unnecessary and irrational fear of Māori.

In terms of a Mauri model of cultural awareness – adapted from Potahu, 2011 – this placed me firmly within the Mauri Moe (death) state of Māori cultural awareness. I had little to no appreciation of Māori culture, and apart from some familiarity with the All Black’s haka, I had no idea of what it meant to be Māori.  Fortunately, this changed as I entered a high school where Te Reo Māori was a compulsory subject in forms three and four (years 9 and 10). It was here that I entered the Mauri Moe (sleep state) of cultural awareness.

Here at my new school I was introduced to simple tikanga Māori and learnt basic protocols. Little did I know, but the seeds were being sown to help enable me to further explore tikanga. Under the tutelage of Paul Blake, I discovered mihi, haka, and a love for hangi. I also experienced my first tangi after the loss of a school friend. Yet, although I wasn’t proficient in Māori customs by any means, the roots had begun to form.

From Mauri Moe, to Mauri Oho, my tertiary years fostered a great period of proactive pursuit of knowledge around Māori history and art. Here at university, I studied papers on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the historical interactions between the early British Crown and Māori iwi. I also studied Maori art and culture which developed a deeper appreciation for Māori customs.

The carving demonstrates the integration of Christian, and in particular Roman Catholic, beliefs with a Māori world view. The carver has suggested the concept of the Virgin Mother of God by placing a full facial moko (tattoo) on the face of Mary. In doing so, he has likened her to an Ariki Tapairu – the firstborn female in a family of high rank. Ariki Tapairu were invested with special tapu (sacredness). They weren’t allowed to marry or be touched by men, and their full moko signified their status.

Finally, within my own context, I believe that I am openly moving towards the Mauri Ora stage, though I am not quite there yet. Experiences with the He Kakano programme, marae visits, and frequent attendance at powhiri have enabled me to better understand Māori practice and customs. However, I firmly believe that full Mauri Ora can only occur with language acquisition and this is a step that may be too difficult. In the meanwhile, I try to actively engage with the relatively few Māori within my classes and try to weave their cultural histories into my lessons. I also seek their advice on certain aspects of lessons and use this to guide my classroom reflections.

In terms of my school’s practice of engaging Māori and enabling staff and students to engage with Māori, a number of steps have been taken. Firstly, at the school-wide level, the start of each week always begins with a karakia in Reo Māori. When planning for events (building openings, blessings, mass, etc), we try and incorporate local hapu customs. For example, after the death of a student, we invited the local kaumatua in to bless the buildings and remove the tapu associated with the deceased student’s mauri. The school’s Māori language teacher also wrote a waiata oriori to help the students to sing about the school’s cultural history. Finally, the year 9 retreat is built around a terms worth of education around personal identity in a New Zealand context (biculturalism and links to Tangatawhenua) which culminates in a day and overnight stay at the local marae.

Within my own pedagogy, as a religious studies teacher, I am in the fortunate position of being able to weave biblical narratives with Māori cultural stories and understandings to better enable Māori voice within my earning activities. For example, in one learning activity, we might analyse the creation myths of both the Māori and the Hebrew Old Testament to search for the greater meanings behind the stories. We also look at myths around figures such as Maui and compare his exploits to those of the biblical figures of Joshua, Sampson and such like. In this way we can create bridges of understanding between the cultures that enable not just Māori students, but also Pakeha students to engage with the topics.

Lastly, I discuss the roles of faith and the importance of Māori spirituality. It is essential to acknowledge that Māori adopted Christianity and it was not something that was forced upon them. When Samuel Marsden was invited to New Zealand by Ruatara of Nga Puhi, it was with Māori consent (Parsonson, 1990). Indeed, with Maori vastly outnumbering Europeans at the time, if the Māori had disagreed with the proselytising of their people, the early missionaries would not have had much success. Using the Māori expressions of religion and art fostered by the Pai Mārire, Kīngitanga, and Ringatū movements, we are able to investigate the expressions of Christianity through a Māori lens. This strategy leads to more engagement with the Māori community and a better sense of hauora among the Māori students at school. It also allows me to foster more student focused agency (Gutschlag, 2007) to identify areas of improvement within my own teaching as Māori students feel more comfortable approaching me within their own Māori context.

Gutschlag, A.(2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioning. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from http://www.teacherswork.ac.nz/journal/volume4_issue1/gutschlag.pdf

Parsonson. G. S. (1990). ‘Marsden, Samuel’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, and updated online in May, 2013. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m16/marsden-samuel

Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/v…

2 thoughts on “Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

  1. Thomas, your personal journey is one that I admire. I wish more people could be brave and challenge their cultural ignorance. It’s about seeing your own identity…. am I the best person I can be?!…. or am I stumbling through life as the lowest form of my self that I’m prepared to put up with??!!
    Our students and communities (let’s be honest, some times the apple doesn’t roll far from the tree) need to shift our thinking. I see the te reo states of perception you used as similar to this:
    1. Unconsciously unskilled – we don’t know that we don’t have this skill, or that we need to learn it.
    2. Consciously unskilled – we know that we don’t have this skill.
    3. Consciously skilled– we know that we have this skill.
    4. Unconsciously skilled – we don’t know that we have this skill (it just seems easy).
    … and in this regard we could gamify racial/ethnic/cultural tolerance! I think this could be in the form of a Parihaka peace week in a school, or on retreat: “accepting who we are and shifting to be who God truly calls us to be”. What do yo think?

    • I think that you’re spot on. Luckily, this coming term I will be on a conference that will spend the day out at Parihaka. The more I encounter this peaceful Maori/Christian movement, the more I am drawn to the prophetic and pacifistic teachings of Te Whiti and Tohu. I know that we need to come a long way on integrating ourselves and our staff to an area of an unconsciously skilled practitioner, but conferences like the one I will be attending give me hope for the future. I sincerely hope that as I continue to learn about the Maori world view, it will become an unconscious part of my teaching, and not something that I feel like I’ve just ticked a box on in class when I’ve deliberately made the links.

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