Niho Taniwha - It is time

By Doreen Bailey on March 30, 2023 in Cultural capability

A personal reflection on the last 40 years, the progress made and how we can build upon that.

I reflect on how far we have come. Starting my teaching career in the early 80s was exciting. I was posted to my first school in South Auckland. In those days we had to choose the top 20 schools we wanted to begin our teaching careers in, and we arrived often having forgotten which schools we had selected. 

Those were the days of ‘Taha Maori’ (ae, no macron!). What this looked like was someone on staff who was ‘Māori’ (more often than not, said maowree) would have a special role in the school to share waiata with our pupils and their teachers. We had a ‘Maowree’ action group, sets of waiata tapes and that was pretty much the sum total of the visibility of te Ao Māori in many mainstream schools. 

Ākonga Māori was not a known term. Kupu like kura, mahi, wairua, hauora, manaakitanga, rorohiko, hinengaro and tinana were not in our collective vocabulary. Concepts and frameworks drawn from mātauranga Māori didn’t exist and Whare Tapa Whā was not yet part of the school landscape. Whānau, hapū and iwi did not feature in our strat plans, nor did any statements about the need to be cognisant of equity issues and te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

At none of my schools in the 80s did we have karakia, nor were pōwhiri or mihi whakatau to welcome manuhiri the norm. Kaumatua and kuia did not have a role other than attending ‘grandparent days’ and what was kaitahi? Matariki was not a holiday and the importance of the taiao, moana and maramataka was unknown to the majority of New Zealanders. Language, culture and identity was not a ‘thing’.

The landscape in schools and indeed in Aotearoa is completely different 40 years down the track. We can talk about uarā, mātāpono, kaupapa, tangata whenua and mātauranga Māori, knowing that at the very least these kupu Māori have been heard, most are understood and many of our schooling community are able to confidently have a conversation explaining them in the correct context. Pōwhiri and mihi whakatau are the norm as is the expectation that schools engage with mana whenua and tangata whenua, and embrace the intent of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

In Aotearoa we are reclaiming our identity and restoring the place of tangata whenua and all the cultural norms that have been lost and taken. We are learning our whakapapa, pepeha, history and our collective stories that have formed our nation. We can do this with deliberate actions, engaging with programmes that will ultimately raise achievement and reduce disparity.

Niho Taniwha is one such programme. It has a significant part to play in reclaiming and restoring tangata whenua to their rightful place. Niho Taniwha takes us on a journey of self-discovery, challenges our belief systems and creates a landscape that allows us to explore our biases and raise our consciousness to the part we play in a system that continues to fail ākonga Māori. 

Niho Taniwha, it is time.

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