A journey through Māori-medium education

Issue: Volume 101, Number 12

Posted: 21 September 2022
Reference #: 1HAWTe

“As I listened to that lecture on Te Tiriti, even at 11 years old, I knew in my heart that this was what I wanted to do. Whatever he was talking about, that’s what I wanted to dedicate my life to…”

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tūhoe)
talks to Education Gazette about his journey through Māori education and how it shaped his life.

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tūhoe). Photo: Rotorua Daily Post/Stephen Parker.

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tūhoe). Photo: Rotorua Daily Post/Stephen Parker.

Q: What was your pathway through Māori education?

I proudly identify with, and view myself as being a product of, the total immersion Māori education pathway. 

By that I mean kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori, wharekura Māori and whare wānanga – cradle to the grave education. It’s something I’ve had the benefit of through my father’s Ngāti Raukawa iwi. A child of Whakatipuranga Ruamano, also of Te Aho Matua more generally. 

I was born to parents heavily involved in the Māori sovereignty movement, and they got to a place where they wanted to take local action, so in Ōtaki we had Whakatipuranga Ruamano coming through the tribal strategy by Whatarangi Winiata and others. 

In addition to that work was the establishment of Te Kākano Kōhanga Reo. There was this real desire by rangatahi of that iwi at that time, and the partners that were brought into our community, to advance kaupapa Māori, and of course, in that community, education was the go-to. 

Other whānau further afield moved into other areas, but we decided to make cradle to the grave education in te reo Māori and tikanga Māori our thing, something we achieved in the five-kilometre radius. I’ve heard it described by Chris Winitana as the silent revolution, the revolution that no one heard about, but it was a revolution, nonetheless. 

Q: Like many tamariki Māori of that time, you were a bit of a system beta tester, a guinea pig as they say. Would you agree?

Yeah, and I recall as a child at the time, I had no idea of the politics of education. There were probably similar conversations taking place in households all around the country, but early on in my household, my kaumatua were not only sceptical, but they were also fearful. They were fearful of the decision by my parents to place me in kōhanga reo. 

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti and his son, Te Ahutikirangi.

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti and his son, Te Ahutikirangi.

Guinea pig is probably the nicer description they would use. Irresponsible was the other one, and you could tell that was a concern that came from their background. They were worried that by making a Māori education decision for your child, they would not be able to participate in the economies of the future, and it was a real fear that they had. 

It wasn’t so much that it was experimental, but that it was full of risk. It wasn’t a risk that they were prepared to take through the renaissance, but that’s the beauty of that renaissance, it wasn’t so much about challenging relationships with the Crown, but our relationships with ourselves. 

And that was the beauty that happened in my whānau; those same grandparents are proud that I’m a mokopuna that came through that system, and now participate in the modern economy of Aotearoa based on my te reo Māori and tikanga Māori background and expertise.

Q: What are some comments or attitudes you’ve encountered as a product of Māori education?

As an adult, I reflect on it because not only do you come through that education system, but very quickly you are exposed to the politics of it, even as a child. From non-Māori, but from Māori as well. 

I’ve had former teachers and educators express concern around my decision on wānanga Māori to the extent that they doubted or didn’t support my decision to attend wānanga. But even through those challenges, I had absolute faith and belief in the type of work that we were undertaking. 

I had faith in the leadership, Whatarangi Winiata and others, and that what they were trying to lead us through would benefit us all ultimately. Through those years, I identify myself as having a background in mātauranga Māori, and it’s only in the last five years or so that I have experienced this as being an advantage in my career. 

Ever since I started the wānanga at 12 years old, people told me, “That’s brilliant that you’re doing mātauranga Māori, but when are you going to pick up a real profession like law?”. So, I got pushed down law, political science and policy more than te ao Māori. The irony is now I’m in those spaces because of te ao Māori, not from those professions.

Q: Not many Māori, and in fact, not many people, can say they spent time studying at Yale, especially at 15 years old – tell us about that experience?

I internalised that immediately once I got there – that my entire upbringing, my entire education steeped in Te Aho Matua, was now being put to the test. You can’t fail. Success had to be what I walked away from Yale having achieved.

I reflect on this point, and I think, “Is the achievement that a young Māori boy from Ōtaki went overseas to study at an Ivy League institution?” I’m not sure if that’s the success story. The success story to my mind is there was an Ivy League institution recognising a tohu, an existing diploma, from an indigenous whare wānanga, Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti and his son, Te Ahutikirangi.

Ngaa Rauuira Puumanawawhiti and his son, Te Ahutikirangi.

In those places, educational success is about breaking new ground. It’s about understanding what is not yet understood. That is what impressed me the most.

It was a highly privileged environment. As an example, my peers were the nephews and nieces of former American presidents, princes and princesses from different kingdoms who had obviously been sent there because they come from the Rangatira classes of their nations, so highly privileged in that sense. 

What blew me away was that in this country, when you study, often your lecturer is lecturing from someone else’s material. At Yale, the person who wrote the book is your lecturer. If the kaupapa has to do with, say, diplomacy at the United Nations, only diplomats from the United Nations lecture you on that kaupapa. It’s first-hand knowledge. And so that’s how I understood why the fee was the number it was, it’s because you have access to some of the world’s greatest expertise.

Q: How did the community and your kura send you over and support your educational journey?

Because I was too young, I didn’t qualify for scholarships either here in Aotearoa or overseas, and so we fundraised a significant amount of our pūtea to finish that mahi. 

Community input and uplift, it’s part of the genius of kaupapa Māori, of Te Aho Matua, and so in my mind, my education doesn’t belong to me alone because others had invested in it so heavily.

I’m careful not to claim individual success through that work because I’m kind of like, you wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for your village, your hapori. It’s something I take seriously – that education pathway doesn’t come for free, the price of having that opportunity, that education pathway, is to enable others to do so as well.

Q: Once you got back from Yale, you went back to wānanga – how does it compare to your Ivy League and mainstream experience?

The irony is that my entire career has been forged off that mātauranga Māori tohu. How I explain it to my colleagues who ask, particularly those who come from mainstream universities, is, “what’s the difference between my mātauranga Māori studies and the similar subjects studied elsewhere”?

In an assessment for his masters at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

In an assessment for his masters at Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

My explanation is always the same – my degree, the masters Tāhuhu Mātauranga Māori can only be authorised by your iwi. It recognises that the graduate of the tāhuhu is an authority of Mātauranga Māori which is a mandate that only your iwi can give. 

Although that tohu wasn’t NZQA-approved, it’s the only tohu at that level officially recognised by Ngāti Raukawa, and that was conferred to me, so I take that more seriously because you can’t purchase that mandate, that recognised authority in mātauranga Māori. You can’t study for it, it can only be bestowed upon you once you have finished that tohu, that process. So, while that didn’t make me ‘economically viable’, although it actually has, it placed in my work great authority that no one else can give except my iwi.

Q: You now work in public service – tell us how you think your education pathway has led you there?

I’ve said this name maybe like five times already, but I was inspired by Whatarangi Winiata. I was an 11-year-old when I sat in the dining hall at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, in a kauwhau (lecture) for a Te Tiriti paper, the last paper for the Mātauranga Māori diploma. It was delivered by Pete Sciascia and Whatarangi Winiata.

As I listened to that lecture on Te Tiriti, even at 11, I knew in my heart that this was what I wanted to do. Whatever he was talking about, that’s what I wanted to dedicate my life to, and I think he helped me to understand what my purpose in life was, and it was to advocate for the rights and interests of our people and to restore the place of Te Tiriti in Aotearoa. 

So at 11 years old, I was clear in what I wanted to do, and all of my career developments to date have led me towards that pathway. 

Now, I provide iwi rights and interests-based treaty advice to Government on significant water reform. And the reason why I’m so passionate about being there is because that’s my personal promise to that young 11-year-old boy. We will do this, and we will commit our lives to this work.

Q: On a more personal level, how do you think your Māori education pathway has shaped you as a person?

I think it really helped me to find my place in the world. I use the term privilege in terms of what I was born into. I was born into love, care, time, and attention. We weren’t materially wealthy, but I was extremely wealthy in terms of that, so it helped me find my place in the world. 

I’m not out here asking, “Who am I? How Māori am I?” I’m asking, “How can I be a better Māori?” I’m not really looking for my place in the world, I’m looking for the place of our people, of this country in the world, so the privilege of that upbringing means I can look further beyond, and more strategically. 

At the United Nations.

At the United Nations.

All these questions of identity had already been reconciled by, like, 20 years old, and that’s the beauty of Te Aho Matua and of coming through that system; you don’t have to question that sense of belonging because it’s a founding principle of the system. Those are values I take into my career and into my personal life, that at no point do I question my belonging. That’s the gift given to me by the iwi, by the hapū through that education system.

Q: As we celebrate 50 years of Māori language revitalisation, where do you think we stand as a nation, and do you think the Māori education pathway has contributed?

To my mind, and I’m not expert in this space, there is reasonable stability. What I mean by that, and I can only speak for my own iwi, for Ngāti Raukawa, I mean stability in terms of language revitalisation to the extent we can begin to look to new areas.  

That may not be the case, and I’m happy to be corrected on that, but to me, there is an opportunity to move from revitalisation and from striving, to thriving. Now that the reo is stable, make it employable. I think the nation has benefited from the advent of Māori education, as has the language revitalisation movement, but I think there’s still some work required to embed those benefits that have been accrued. 

Q: You mentioned earlier that your grandfather feared what your future would look like if you followed the Māori education pathway – do you think that comes down to a distrust in the system?

Yes, totally. But to preface that, I don’t challenge that mistrust by our people, by that generation.  I don’t challenge that at all. In fact, that attitude of distrust is what helped them to survive. The era and the tools and the coping mechanisms they built to get them through that time, I’m not sure if that’s what will carry us and deliver benefits to our next generation and what we’re going through. 

There’s a deep respect for their experience, but that is why the biggest challenge is to have some honest conversations as a whānau. And that to me was the transformation. Yes, the policy stuff was important, but these difficult conversations were happening, I imagine, in households across the country, and that was the real revolution. 

That generation are so proud of their mokopuna. One, we’re more culturally connected speakers, and two, we are now employable as a result. I think that not only allays their concerns, but it makes them happy for the future, excited for the future because ‘my moko can be a Māori and he can live being a Māori in the new world after I’m gone’. It wasn’t my truth, my reality back when I was a child, but for my mokopuna and his tamariki, it is.

I like to believe that clearly, it’s not an experiment anymore. Clearly the experiment worked. So, to my mind, I think we’re beyond experiment phase. And back to your original question, I haven’t had this conversation with my grandfather, but if we did, my suspicion is that he’d be quietly proud that he was wrong... quietly proud. 

It’s just a really great time to be Māori right now.
That’s all I’ll say.

With his grandparents as he graduates with his masters from Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

With his grandparents as he graduates with his masters from Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

Tama Tū, Reo Ora – Te Petihana 1972 rauemi

flagThis year, commemorations for Te Petihana 1972 celebrate 50 years since the Māori Language Petition was presented to Parliament. It’s an opportunity to support ākonga to learn about the history of te reo Māori in schools, raise awareness of the events that revitalised te reo Māori and pay tribute to the education stalwarts.

Te Poutāhū | The Curriculum Centre has developed a graphic novel to depict the time before, during and after the Māori Language Petition was presented to Parliament, which includes a te reo Māori and education timeline. There is also a 10-minute animation to accompany the graphic novel and activity cards for three age groups, 0-6 years, 7-12 years and 13-17 years. 

All resources will be available in te reo Māori and English. There will be 3,000 copies of the graphic novel available at thechair.co.nz(external link) and all resources are now available at kauwhatareo.govt.nz(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:05 pm, 21 September 2022

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts