Treaty of Waitangi 175

Issue: Volume 93, Number 22

Posted: 8 December 2014
Reference #: 1H9cs6

2015 is an auspicious year for all New Zealanders as it marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, our founding document. 2015 will also mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, recognising the contribution that many of our forefathers made in shaping and building our nation.

There are many themes in both anniversaries that teachers will find relevant to their classroom programmes, and the events can be commemorated and remembered throughout the year.

The national date of commemoration for the Treaty of Waitangi signing is 6 February, although in reality there are many local dates of significance that communities can individually celebrate in recognition of the Treaty’s journey around the North and South Islands. The last recorded signatory was known to occur at Kawhia in September 1840; although the signatories are unknown.

Many schools will start term one very close to Waitangi Day. It is a good idea, therefore, for teachers and educators, early learning services, and schools to be thinking about what activities, content, and planning need to be considered to enable children to join in the commemoration and celebrate the signing of the Treaty. No doubt many have been doing this already.

Teachers will want to make the most of both themes in the classroom. To help you share projects and ideas, find resources and discuss themes, the Ministry of Education has set up the Waitangi 175 website(external link) within Te Kete Ipurangi. 

Education professionals will find useful links, a project gallery to discover what their colleagues around the country are up to, and a big pool of resources that can be used in class. Teachers are encouraged to upload their own project ideas, too, to strengthen sharing among the sector. This new site is a great place to start.

The Treaty of Waitangi 175 site will encourage educators to link in with commemorations around the country throughout 2015 and to explore themes that come out of the spirit of the Treaty; participation, protection, and partnership.

Examples might be:

  • The Declaration of Independence (October 1835)
  • The anniversary of New Zealand becoming a British colony (October 1840)
  • The movement of Parliament from Auckland to Wellington (1865)
  • The land march (October 1975)
  • The establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal (1975)
  • The emergence of the first kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori (1981 and 1985 respectively) in response to the serious decline in te reo Māori.
  • 20th anniversary of the Tainui settlement (May 1995)
  • 19th anniversary of the Ngāi Tahu settlement (September 1996)
  • 11th anniversary of the seabed and foreshore hīkoi (March/April 2004)

Along with these events, the fact that the Treaty was signed all over New Zealand provides great opportunities to localise teaching and learning content. Studying the Treaty is a cross-curricular activity reaching into many aspects of planning for New Zealand’s future; economics, health, international relations, law, and social and political science.

Of course, lots of teachers and schools around the country are already doing great things to help young New Zealanders to understand the Treaty of Waitangi and its future place and meaning in Aotearoa New Zealand. Below are just two examples of how education professionals are applying Treaty principles to teaching and learning as well as relationships with students, colleagues, and communities.

Michael Harcourt, Wellington High School

Michael Harcourt is a history teacher at Wellington High and a recently accepted Fulbright scholar. He says that teaching the Treaty of Waitangi is all about examining the pre-conceptions that students have inevitably built up.

“The first part is to acknowledge that the students will usually come with opinions on the Treaty. It depends, but often they come with what I call ‘Treaty fatigue’; they’ve studied it before, and they may think that it’s just going to be another boring lesson.

“One thing I’ve done is to try to gauge those pre-conceptions straight away and look for patterns and themes in the responses. Then we ‘problematise’ – we ask ourselves how those opinions might have come about. That becomes a starting point.”

After getting students to examine their own ideas, Michael encourages comparison with historical fact. He says that students are surprised to learn how little of their pre-conceptions tally with what is indisputable fact.

One example Michael gives is an examination of the reasons why the Treaty of Waitangi was even conceived. He says that there is an almost uniform assumption among students that the whole point was to prevent war.

“Then you start to ask historical questions, like ‘why was the Treaty signed?’ or ‘why didn’t everyone sign it?’ A common theme, for example, is that most students seem to think that the Treaty was signed to prevent conflict between Māori and Pākehā. When I say ‘well actually, relations weren’t too bad at that stage, certainly there wasn’t going to be a war’, they’re very taken aback.

“They’re always very surprised to learn that one among many reasons for the signing of the Treaty was the desire among humanitarians to protect indigenous peoples from lawlessness among Pākehā.”

The next step in the process is to examine the life of the Treaty – specifically, prevailing attitudes of Pākehā toward it – over the 175 years it’s been around. There have, of course, been periods where the Treaty was officially considered to be a legal nullity1, which surprises students, says Michael.

Fundamentally, Michael says that over the years he has been teaching the Treaty of Waitangi, he’s simply been trying not to foist his own opinions onto his students or to insist on an arbitrary version of what is ‘correct’, but to help students consider what is knowable, and to arrive at their own beliefs.

“The thing that stands out for me is that despite most students thinking they know the Treaty of Waitangi, when you really start pushing them to think about it and start asking historical questions, they realise that really they know very little of any substance.

“Students appear also to have no sense of the Treaty being signed in their locality. For Wellington tribes, the Treaty wasn’t signed on 6 February 1840, it was in April, as the Treaty went on tour. So there was an entirely different context surrounding the signing of the Treaty for tribes down here, as opposed to those in the far north.

“One pattern that I see is that there’re kids who just don’t know anything about it, and then there’s the well-meaning kids who seem to feel guilty about it. They’re anxious to be seen to have the so-called ‘politically correct’ opinion. They might blame themselves and judge their ancestors.

“My response is neatly encapsulated by something Ranginui Walker said: ‘Ignorance and guilt are sides of the same coin.’ Neither are helpful in terms of historical understanding.”

Gonville Kindergarten, Whanganui iwi, Te Puna Mātauranga o Whanganui, and the Ministry of Education

Te Whāriki is the early childhood curriculum framework and the first bicultural curriculum developed in New Zealand. Along with delivering a teaching and learning programme consistent with Te Whāriki, all early childhood education centres must abide by a range of regulations.

One is particularly relevant to this topic:

The service curriculum acknowledges and reflects the unique place of Māori as tangata whenua. Children are given the opportunity to develop knowledge and an understanding of the cultural heritages of both parties to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Gonville Kindergarten is an example of a centre that’s not just teaching the Treaty; they’re living it every day.

Some years ago, head teacher Katie Fry and the staff at Gonville had been thinking about defining for themselves a philosophy that encompassed the shared values and aspirations of their entire community.

“We were looking at defining a philosophy that was unique to our kindergarten and our community and which reflected everybody’s aspirations, including iwi and all our teachers. Our group of children is around 60 per cent Māori, so we really wanted to find out what the aspirations of our Māori whānau were for their tamariki,” says Katie.

This became a great way for Gonville to make the most of Te Kōpae Ririki (the Identity, Language, Culture and Community Engagement initiative), delivered through a partnership between the Ministry of Education and Te Puna Mātauranga, the Whanganui Iwi Education Authority. In July last year, Katie and the team were introduced to Kahurangi Kawau, regional facilitator for the project.

Katie says that Gonville Kindergarten wanted to create a truly bicultural atmosphere and embody this in their new philosophy.

“We wanted to reflect our Māori children’s culture in our programme. We met with and consulted with Whanganui iwi a lot, and we decided that rather than coming up with a big wordy philosophy, we would instead focus on concepts. We looked quite deeply into Māori concepts like whanaungatanga, rangatiratanga, manaaki, which are really important to us as a community.”

Kahurangi was able to help the kindergarten build relationships with iwi and the Ministry, and advise on ways in which the kindergarten could celebrate their philosophy in a Whanganui Māori way. She says it was simply a matter of listening.

“It was really just all about sitting down face-to-face, and doing a lot of talking, building trust, and examining who from iwi could come in and be part of the development of truly bicultural ECE services.

“With Gonville Kindergarten, we looked at where the Māori child fits into their philosophy, and how we could celebrate their place in that philosophy.”

The concepts that Gonville identified as embodying their aspirations became encapsulated in a symbol that represents the life of the kindergarten, in the form of a harakeke plant. Kahurangi and Whanganui iwi gifted the kindergarten centre their very own whakataukī (proverb) that sums up the kindergarten’s mission statement:

Kotahi te hā o te whānau, ko te aroha

We are of one breath, and that is of love

With Kahurangi’s help, Gonville went into key Māori concepts, and it was decided that the kindergarten could further create a living legacy and statement by creating tukutuku panels that embedded these ideas. Of course, this was just as much about the process as the product, and it was a great way to involve the whole community, many of whom had input into the panels.

There are three aspects to the tukutuku panels; pātikitiki (flounder), poutama (the stairway) and roimata (tears). All three are now proudly displayed at Gonville Kindergarten.

When the tukutuku panels were completed, the kindergarten held a ceremony to bless the newly defined philosophy and the tukutuku panels. Kahurangi shares a poignant moment.

“During the blessing of the panels, one of the little boys, when the korowai [cloak] came off the panels, he said, ‘yay, we’ve got a Māori kindergarten!’ It was a real demonstration that we’d succeeded in adding a true sense of belonging.

“For me, the partnership that we have created is an awesome manifestation of the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi, as it applies to the present and to the future. Again, it’s about that relationship, that sense of walking hand in hand. We need to be walking together, for the sake of the whole country. That means we need to focus on children, so that they can take a respect for this partnership through their whole lives. When it starts with little children, it can only grow and develop along with them.”

1 Legally invalid, lack of effectiveness, or usefulness.

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:23 am, 8 December 2014

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