Getting Started with the Aotearoa NZ Histories Curriculum

By Renée Leckey on April 23, 2021 in Te-Tiriti o Waitangi

So, you’re going to teach Aotearoa NZ histories…

The Aotearoa New Zealand Histories draft curriculum was released in February this year to great interest in the history teaching community. As a history teacher of many years standing, I was excited to see what was in it and how it would guide us to develop effective history teaching and learning for our ākonga.

The curriculum has a strong focus on Māori history as the foundational history of Aotearoa New Zealand. This means not just pre-contact Aotearoa but a continuous history through early contact, Te Tiriti, the New Zealand Wars, and throughout the twentieth century right up to today.

The purpose of this curriculum is to address the presently poor understandings that many New Zealanders have of our shared history, and to educate future generations about the role and continuing impact of colonisation on Māori and all New Zealanders. Whether your family have been here for generations, or you are first generation New Zealanders, this history continues to resonate for all of us, shaping our lives in ways we are likely to be mostly unaware. From where I sit, the purpose of this curriculum is to decolonise our history and our future, so that all New Zealanders have a more balanced view of our past, and how that has shaped us today.

If the purpose of the curriculum is decolonisation then, as teachers, we have to decolonise ourselves before we can effectively lead teaching and learning about histories of Aotearoa New Zealand. I write specifically from my perspective of being Pākehā and I cannot seek to offer advice about how non-Pākehā tauiwi (visitors) engage with this process. However, I hope that there is some inspiration here for other tāngata Te Tiriti (those who have settled here since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi).

Teacher with students on laptops

I would like to share how my interaction with Aotearoa New Zealand histories has shaped my decolonisation journey in the hope that this creates connections and prompts reflection.

My decolonisation journey

I’m from Mid-Canterbury originally. I grew up on a dairy farm near the Rangitata River in the 1980s and 90s, a time when Treaty settlements were prompting debate and consternation amongst farmers. I grew up hearing the farming community’s perspective on Māori and the Treaty settlement process, which strongly coloured my views and understanding of the history of our country.

I have always loved learning about history, but I left school in the mid-90s thinking: “New Zealand history is boring. We’ve got hardly any history anyway. There’s no kings and queens or famous battles. I’m better off learning about world history.”

Fortunately for me, I couldn’t fit anything but a New Zealand history paper into the gap in my timetable in my first year of a history degree, and boy did Professors Tom Brooking and Erik Olssen open my eyes! They showed me how rich and interesting our history is and I became a passionate convert to New Zealand history, choosing papers throughout my degree that would help me learn more. But all of those papers were developed and facilitated by Pākehā which, again, coloured how I learned and then taught Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories.

When I started teaching, I was so enthusiastic for my students to learn about Aotearoa New Zealand history but a lot of the curriculum I taught had little or no New Zealand focus, let alone a local history focus. For a long time I also held deficit views of some of my ākonga but the question of how to help my Māori ākonga and other diverse learners to achieve in my class room led me to start inquiring into culturally responsive practices. Over time this helped me to start to identify that my own deficit framing of my students was affecting their learning and I started on the process of decolonising my mind.

Decolonising me

So what did I do? To start with, I’ve made a concerted effort to educate myself by listening to Māori perspectives. I follow accounts on Instagram that present a variety of Māori views on a variety of topics, including te reo, New Zealand history, current politics, and art. I began learning te reo. This year I am making myself be brave by aiming to use te reo Māori as much as I can, even when I’m scared to make a mistake.

Often this learning has been uncomfortable and I’ve experienced a dissonance between the perspectives I grew up with and have internalised over the years and the new perspectives I’ve been encountering. I’ve learned to accept the discomfort and to embrace it as a symptom of my learning.

I’ve also experienced ‘Pākehā paralysis’- the uncertainty that comes for many non-Māori when engaging with Māori. One of the best pieces of learning I’ve done that has helped with this was a paper in Research Methodologies in Māori education at the University of Auckland. It helped me to learn about and reflect on ways of working with Māori, for Māori.

Sometimes I think to myself, “This isn’t enough, Renee! You’re not changing the world! You need to do more, take some action!” But I keep reminding myself that equity is a garden. That you can’t just plant it and weed it once and expect it to bloom, you have to return to it again and again. For my equity garden to bloom, I know I need to make internal change to be able to work for external change.

I look for opportunities to create space for Māori in schools where I facilitate, for my ākonga, my hoamahi (colleagues) and with my friends. I respectfully try to challenge ignorance about Te Tiriti and Aotearoa New Zealand histories. This is the hardest part and what I am working on most at the moment. I don’t want to just yell someone down or lecture, I want to make them curious, prompt them to start the learning process within themselves. I’m striving for progress, not perfection.

Where to start

If you’re thinking about starting an equity garden for yourself, here are some resources to support you.

Recommended reading

Mahuika, N. (2015). New Zealand history is Māori history: Tikanga as the ethical foundation of historical scholarship In Aotearoa New Zealand. Retrieved from: (retrieved 12 April 2021)

Hutchings, J. & Lee-Morgan, J. (Eds.) (2016) Decolonization in Aotearoa – Education Research & Practice.

Margaret, J. (2019) Becoming ‘really Pāheka’ [Blog Post] Retrieved from: (retrieved 12 April 2021)

Alison Jones (2020) A Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir UniNews. Retrieved from 12 April 2021

Want further support?

If you are looking for further support with embedding Aotearoa New Zealand histories into your local curriculum, Renée can help. She is a MOE accredited facilitator who can work alongside primary, intermediate, and secondary schools working within their local context.

Get in touch for further support with embedding Aotearoa New Zealand histories into your local curriculum

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