Nurturing young Māori in the Deep South

Issue: Volume 100, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2021
Reference #: 1HANSC

An Invercargill wharekura founded 30 years ago is now the largest in the South Island – and is going from strength to strength.

Year 10 ākonga Mystery Pohatu at the mihi whakatau that greeted the Gazette.

Year 10 ākonga Mystery Pohatu at the mihi whakatau that greeted the Gazette.

More than 200 voices rang out in waiata and kapa haka to greet Education Gazette in a mihi whakatau when we visited Te Wharekura o Arowhenua in March.

That pride and enthusiasm for te reo Māori and tikanga has been at the core of the wharekura since the earliest days when a group of women from Muihuku started a small kura for children in Invercargill.

Ani Wainui (Ngāti Porou / Te Whānau-a-Apanui) was the leader of this pioneering group, and went on to be principal of Te Wharekura o Arowhenua for 28 years until 2017. She was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for her mahi in revitalising te reo Māori in Southland in 2020.

Reaching potential

Ani will be the first to say it’s a team effort and current principal, Gary Davis
(Kāi Tahu, Kati Māmoe, Waitaha) is looking forward to having nine raukura (ex-students) on the teaching staff of the Year 1-15 school by the end of the year.

“We have been focusing on strategically growing our own teachers because that was always an issue for us: getting te reo speaking teachers. Our raukura who are interested in becoming teachers will come back and give time as kaiawhina [helpers] in our classes.

“It gives them a chance to see – and for us to see – whether they’ve got the skills that we think they need. Then after a year or two we fully support them as they follow the pathway to getting their degrees,” says Gary.

“We push them into becoming teachers!” laughs deputy principal, Tiahuia Kawe-Small (Raukawa ki Wharepuuhunga, Rereahu, Maniapoto).

Tumuaki Gary Davis wants to encourage students to become teachers and return to the kura.

Tumuaki Gary Davis wants to encourage students to become teachers and return to the kura.

Tiahuia has taught for 30 years, with 15 years at Te Wharekura o Arowhenua.

“Earlier I was a resource teacher of Māori, but my passion has always been kura kaupapa Māori.”

It wasn’t until she studied at the University of Otago, that her eyes were opened to some of the inequities that exist for Māori students.

“That’s when I thought, this cannot happen for Māori students. Why should I get to university and find out that the system I’ve come through wasn’t made for me? I had to put my Māori side away.”

Tiahuia firmly believes that kura kaupapa is the best system for Māori students.

“I personally believe that’s because you can come to kura, be Māori, who you really need to be and reach your full potential. And that’s why I do what I do,” she says.

Raukura return

Education Gazette spoke to three raukura, now kaiako at the wharekura, who wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Sisters Rivah and Jahna Hura (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Raukawa) will be forever grateful to their late father, Paul.

“I went to kindergarten – I cried my eyes out every day. I went to a mainstream primary school in Invercargill; I was there for two weeks – cried every day and then my dad took us out. When I was at the pōwhiri here, I felt that I had come home,” recalls Jahna.

Kaiako Rivah Hura dreams that one day Māori in the Deep South will be unapologetically Māori.

Kaiako Rivah Hura dreams that one day Māori in the Deep South will be unapologetically Māori.

“He and my mother were not speakers of te reo Māori but my father had a dream that one day his children and grandchildren would be proud, fluent speakers of te reo. So he decided to enrol us into this school, Te Wharekura o Arowhenua. Two of my older siblings were actually enrolled in a mainstream school; he went in at lunchtime one day without my mother’s knowledge and took them out; we’ve never gone back,” adds Rivah.

Rivah feels emotional and grateful for the positive impact Te Wharekura o Arowhenua has had on her life.

“Now, just like my father I have a dream that one day Māori in the South will use their ancestral tongue and be unapologetically Māori. I know I wouldn’t be as confident as I am today without my kura. This is my home,” she says, with tears in her eyes.

Right place

Rivah, who teaches Years 1 and 2, completed a teaching degree at the Invercargill campus of the University of Otago in 2014.

“Academically I was fine, I could handle the work, but it was like going to a foreign world,” she says.

The course involved practicum placements at mainstream schools. While these were a good experience, they confirmed to Rivah that she’s in the right place teaching in kura kaupapa Māori.

“But in saying that, I have gained teaching theories and management strategies that I continue to use in my akomanga.”

She believes that Te Aho Matua is more than a curriculum. “Te Aho Matua is a way of living. It comes with me when I go home.”

Jahna Hura’s main objective as a kaiako is to inspire and uplift her students.

Jahna Hura’s main objective as a kaiako is to inspire and uplift her students.

Back to roots

Jahna calls her degree – Te Aho Tātairangi: Bachelor of Teaching and Learning Kura Kaupapa Māori from Massey University – her “third time lucky degree”. She tried a year in English teacher training, followed by a year at a wānanga and says neither fitted. She taught at a kura kaupapa at Ruatoria for five years before returning home.

“This is my third year back in Invercargill – I teach the babies! It was polar opposite to what it was here – we’re a little bubble inside the big dome of this community, which is filled with different people and languages, whereas in Ruatoria, basically everyone speaks Māori,” she says. (2018 Census figures: Ruatoria: 95 per cent Māori; Invercargill: 16.4 per cent Māori.)

Jahna who lives at Riverton and loves the outdoors, notices the impact of social media and American culture on the ākonga at the kura.

“I say to them, ‘That’s not what we’re about. Try and put your phone down and have an hour of being outside in the taiao [nature], listen to the trees and the birds. Just close your eyes and lie down and feel the whenua – this is where you belong’.”

 Jahna’s main objective as a kaiako is to inspire and uplift her students.

“Being a teacher is definitely a big rewarding job for me. There’s never a dull moment in our akomanga, its draining but I love it,” she says.

Giving back

Shandley Aupouri (Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi) says he didn’t know much English until he was 13.

“I grew up being told that if you don’t know English, you’ll struggle in the outside world. I’ve managed to go to university and I’m still not English savvy – I’m really immersed in Te Ao Māori,” he explains.

Shandley Aupouri was a former pupil at the kura and feels a sense of belonging and purpose as a kaiako.

Shandley Aupouri was a former pupil at the kura and feels a sense of belonging and purpose as a kaiako.

He spent two years as a teacher aide at his old kura and was supported by the kura to attend Te Wānanga o Raukawa in Ōtaki. He has just completed his master’s degree in teaching and leadership and is in his first year of teaching Māori performing arts.

“I wanted to be a sportsman, but then I realised there aren’t many Māori teachers, so I have dedicated my life to being a Māori teacher. It wasn’t enforced on me but I wanted to do it – speaking Māori 24/7, sharing our myths and legends and being an example – especially for young males.

“To be honest I can’t see myself away from this kura. When I’m here, I feel a sense of belonging and purpose and wanting to give back – it’s massive.”

Changing the narrative

Shandley’s biggest hope and dream for the ākonga at the kura is that they don’t feel any shame for being Māori.

“I hope they leave here feeling proud and knowing that just because we’re predominantly English around here, which is fine, it doesn’t mean that you have to put your head down and just follow the sheep in front of you.

“Just be proud of who you are – find out the essence and depth of who you are, and you’ll be fine,” he says.

“Kura kaupapa is about strengthening the cultural capital within the tamaiti. If we are able to holistically nurture the tuakiri o te tangata, then we’re doing our job. A child that knows who and where they come from can walk with confidence in any world,” says Rivah.


Kōrero with Whaea Ani Wainui

Rivah Hura interviews her former principal and mentor, Whaea Ani Wainui.

Tell me about your upbringing in Te Ao Māori.

Whaea Ani Wainui.

Whaea Ani Wainui.

I was brought up at Cape Runaway in the Bay of Plenty in the 1940s. My dad died when I was five, so my nannies brought me up. They spoke Māori to us all the time; our whole life was around Te Ao Māori. They sent me to Hukarere Māori Girls’ College in Napier. I cried every time I had to go back to school, but my Mum was quite staunch – I stayed there for five years.

I managed to top all the reo classes right through school. I learnt a lot at boarding school – what it is to be Māori and that there are other iwi in the country. 

Tell me about the social climate and response when you began teaching and promoting te reo Māori in Invercargill.

We had about 100 kids doing kapa haka, because I believed that te reo Māori had to be fun. The parents didn’t care, it was just part of learning and education at that time. That boosted my energies to keep going in te reo Māori in Southland.

When we came to setting up kura kaupapa some years later, then the boundaries started to move and the barriers started to come up. 

Why did you become interested in kura kaupapa?

In 1984 my youngest daughter was born. In 1989 I visited Waikato Teachers’ College and that’s where I first heard about kura kaupapa Māori.

When I got back to Invercargill, I was teaching at Cargill High School and I tried all sorts of things; I was literally laughed at. But I’d been on that course where we’d talked about the development of our Māori kids.

They weren’t getting anywhere and the Pākehā system just did not suit them. We battled on. I talked all over the place – Otago, Murihiku [Southland] and Nelson where Pita Sharples and I spoke to some interested Māori community members promoting kura kaupapa Māori. 

What are the most satisfying things for you when you see where Te Wharekura o Arowhenua is today?

There are many satisfying things; but it’s mainly the students, or raukura who have gone through the kura. I look at my own daughter Kate, who was a beginning student and is now giving back by being a registered teacher in our Wharekura. We started at Waimatua down the road and had about 30 kids to start with. It was awesome, we got to 60 kids – awesome! We got to 160 kids and then we had to shift.

Our kura is part of a group of around 60 around the country who come under Rūnanga Nui o ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori Te Aho Matua, which is the philosophy under which our kura are run. 

What do you think the future holds for kura kaupapa in Aotearoa?

We have got some brilliant strategists in our kura. We’re always scheming ahead – making sure we have enough qualified teachers.

We’ve been down this track since the early ’80s and the kura are growing. I’m not saying there are no problems, but as far as we are concerned, we are doing the right things for our tamariki. 

What do you think the future holds for te reo and tikanga Māori?

I think te reo and tikanga Māori are flourishing in Aotearoa because of kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa and because Māori have taken it upon themselves to do what Māori should do. Because it’s not just Māori kids who are flourishing through this, other kids are very keen. I think it should just be a way of life that we are trying to promote. 

Whānau te reo programme

Each week, more than 90 whānau and their tamariki meet at Te Wharekura o Arowhenua for He Kura Hei Kainga – a te reo Māori language programme.

Desmond and Tiahuia are teaching Māori whānau to be proud of being Māori.

Desmond and Tiahuia are teaching Māori whānau to be proud of being Māori.

“We noticed a lack of engagement with families so we have started a language programme for whānau on a Wednesday night. They have a kai and then they go away to their different levels of learning. They do an hour of learning; their children are beside them too because they carry that kaupapa back home,” says Gary.

The programme, which has been running for about three years, is Tiahuia’s baby.

“The ideology around He Kura Hei Kainga is the language that the tamariki learn in the akomanga [classroom], as well as the tools that the teachers use, are simply moved to the home. So what we do in the classroom is what we teach in our lessons.

“The other element is that all the students come with their parents so they become the tuakana to help Mum and Dad/whānau at home. It’s also about training the students to be supportive in that role,” says Tiahuia.

This year, the element of play has been integrated into the programme.

“You always want your families to play together so we’re teaching key te reo phrases when playing group games, card games and board games,” she says.

Many benefits

Desmond Tioke (Ngāti Awa, Ngai Tuhoe) teaches a Year 5-6 class at Te Wharekura o Arowhenua and also takes a class for children at He Kura Hei Kainga. The effectiveness of the programme and literacy and numeracy progress of the tamariki is being tracked and managed through Desmond’s He Kura class.

“The main goal of He Kura was so the home could actually be a learning environment where the tamaiti can become the teacher as well. Our kids can also practice te reo at home.

“You can see our families are proud to be here and have their kids here. There’s probably been a longing for a very long time for them to have a chance to come in and learn. Why else would you send your kids if you didn’t value te reo and te ao Māori?” asks Desmond.

Big commitment

Tiahuia says He Kura Hei Kainga is a big commitment for whānau as they are expected to use te reo at home as well, but there are many benefits for them.

“The bulk of our whānau come for the whanaungatanga as well – that’s super important and they leave with some skill and better understanding of what tamariki are learning in the classroom with te reo Maori and that we are a unit of people that can on-teach.

“I feel that He Kura Hei Kainga has had that ripple effect and we can row our waka a lot more effectively going in the same direction,” she says.

“We teach the ākonga how to be a family and how to be proud of being Māori. Our biggest goal is to get our whānau involved with the kids – in the learning and also to not be a spectator to their child’s life,” adds Desmond.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:15 am, 21 July 2021

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