He Māori Ahau programme enhances the mana of Māori learners

Issue: Volume 100, Number 11

Posted: 2 September 2021
Reference #: 1HAPJA

A wellbeing and positive identity programme is supporting English-medium schools to provide a culturally safe and identifiably Māori space in which tauira Māori are supported to feel good about being Māori. Education Gazette joins the programme in action at Randwick School in Lower Hutt.

Matua Whaitiri Poutawa delivers He Māori Ahau to schools in the Hutt Valley.

Matua Whaitiri Poutawa delivers He Māori Ahau to schools in the Hutt Valley.

Māori music turns the Randwick School hall into an ambient space as tamariki file in excitedly for their weekly session of He Māori Ahau.
Matua Whaitiri Poutawa is waiting for them with kete, poi and other props at the ready, along with a big smile.
They start with a chant, delivered in unison with great gusto: “He Māori ahau, e noho Māori ai, i tāku ao Māori. Tihei mauri ora. I am Māori, living naturally, in my Māori world. Ooh it’s good to be alive!”

A culturally safe space

It’s not hard to see the appeal of He Māori Ahau.
Targeted at tauira Māori who are not in kura kaupapa, He Māori Ahau explores Māori identity, tikanga and wellbeing and engages in activities such as waiata, haka, poi, tititōrea, ti rākau, mau rākau, rongoa, raranga and taonga puoro. There are opportunities for questions and mentoring.
It’s an inclusive programme – it’s not specific to any one iwi and it caters to all ages and learning support and behavioural needs.
Ultimately, the programme provides an identifiable Māori space within the school and a culturally safe environment in which tauira Māori are supported to feel good about being Māori.
And it’s fun, as Year 6 student Kyan confirms after the session.
“You get to embrace your culture, and it’s very inspiring. I think what I enjoy is helping the tēina and knowing that they’re going to learn from this experience.”

Origins in lockdown

Whaitiri, originally from Hastings, lives in Stokes Valley, and for the past 10 years has been teaching kapa haka and Māori culture to schools in the Hutt Valley. It wasn’t until Covid-19 struck that he began to explore the possibilities of teaching online.
“Lockdown opened up a world of connection for us when a lot of people were feeling isolated. What their experiences highlighted for my family was the need to take my ability to deliver culture to a more meaningful and deeper level of understanding for our Māori children.”
Taking a step back from kapa haka, Whaitiri and his wife Samara channelled their energies into developing He Māori Ahau.
Now they deliver the programme into schools across the Wellington region and there is increasing demand to expand the programme’s reach.

Building capability

Whaea Paiana attends the programme every week at Randwick School.

Tamariki at Randwick School engaging in He Māori Ahau.

Tamariki at Randwick School engaging in He Māori Ahau.

“I think it’s about celebrating being Māori and providing the platform where children can learn more about their identity without being whakamā. It’s also about bringing a group of Māori students together and celebrating that and making it special,” she says.
Whaea Paiana is a parent as well as a teacher. “I want it not only for my own children, but for the children in my class and the children in my school, because it really benefits us all as a whole school, not just as an individual. It’s absolutely awesome.”
Whaitiri encourages teachers to attend the programme.
“One of our strategies moving forward is to spend some time doing some professional development with staff, introducing them to the way we pitch te ao Māori in the programme, and empowering them with some activity and guidance and an understanding of the tikanga themselves, so that when they’re able to introduce this kaupapa into their classroom, it gives them a little bit more understanding and confidence,” he says.
“We’re keen to support schools on their planning days, looking at their inquiry topics and seeing how we can build te ao Māori into that; supporting them with activities that take an authentic approach to introducing te ao Māori into the curriculum.”

What does it mean to be Māori?

Whaitiri says the programme is intertwined with almost every part of Ka Hikitia (Māori education strategy), resonating most strongly with the outcome domains of Te Tuakiritanga (identity, language and culture matter for Māori learners) and
Te Kanorautanga (Māori are diverse and need to be understood in the context of their diverse aspirations and lived experiences).
But he points out that many of the outcomes of He Māori Ahau are not easy to measure.
“It’s difficult to measure a young person’s understanding of their culture. It’s difficult to measure their enthusiasm for being a Māori learner about kaupapa Māori.
“If they can leave that identifiable Māori space as Māori feeling good about a) being Māori and b) having been in that Māori space, then that is the outcome in itself. They leave feeling positive that their school is supporting their Māoritanga.”

Tititōrea in session.

Tititōrea in session.

The first question asked of children in the programme is, ‘What does it mean to be Māori?’
“I prompt every adult in the room not to interfere with the answers. It has to be 100 percent the view of the children and then I’ll ask the children, ‘Well, how does the school support you to be Māori? What do you do here at kura? What do you do at school that looks Māori to you, that feels Māori to you, that helps you to be Māori?’”
A whānau hui is held and the same questions are asked of parents. A picture soon emerges of whether the perceptions of tamariki, whānau and the school are in alignment.
Randwick School principal Simonne Goodall says He Māori Ahau supports the school’s vision to enhance the mana of its students.
“Our Māori students can see a genuine commitment by our school to acknowledge them as tangata whenua and allow them opportunities to be successful as Māori. 
“The proof to me that this programme has been successful is in seeing our students stand tall and speak confidently about themselves as Māori. The best example is when I asked a student if they wanted to come to the beach with a group of students to build huts on the beach, she said, ‘No thanks, that’s at the same time as He Māori Ahau, which is more important to me’.”

For more information, contact Whaitiri Poutawa at kapahaka4kids@gmail.com. 

He Māori Ahau aims to provide a culturally safe and identifiably Māori space in English-medium schools.

He Māori Ahau aims to provide a culturally safe and identifiably Māori space in English-medium schools.

New podcast

Listen to the podcast to find out more about He Māori Ahau at Podbean(external link).

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

Posted: 12:11 pm, 2 September 2021

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