Tūpuna inspire a fire in the belly of ākonga Māori

Issue: Volume 101, Number 15

Posted: 23 November 2022
Reference #: 1HAYCA

A collection of stories about Te Tai Tokerau tūpuna is showcasing inspirational role models to accelerate ākonga Māori cultural pride, academic success and engagement at school and kura.

Dr Melinda Webber and Te Kapua O'Connor.

Dr Melinda Webber and Te Kapua O'Connor.

Backed by extensive research, A fire in the belly of Hineāmaru by Melinda Webber and Te Kapua O’Connor features stories of 24 inspirational tūpuna – their actions, values and aspirations.

The University of Auckland’s Professor Melinda Webber (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) is Te Tumu/deputy dean of Faculty of Education and Social Work, and Ahorangi/professor in Te Puna Wānanga/School of Māori and Indigenous Education. Her research focuses on ākonga Māori and achievement.

“My research has shown that many mainstream classrooms don’t speak the language of Māori students,” says Melinda.

“They rarely include their ways of knowing in the curriculum and they almost never hold Māori ancestors up as role models of success or academic excellence. Yet, Māori know by way of whakapapa, our cultural narratives and our distinguished history of oratory that we descend from a long lineage of academic excellence.

“What they [ākonga Māori] want is a curriculum that inspires them and shows them how they can contribute back into their communities with the skills, strengths and interests that they have – they should know that they can bring their whole selves to their future endeavours.”

Melinda was awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship in 2017 to tackle an important question facing educators: How can we foster cultural pride and academic aspiration among Māori students?

“If we want to educate in ways that accelerate Māori student cultural pride, academic success and engagement at school, we need programmes of learning, classroom resources and books that acknowledge and celebrate the lofty aspirations, histories and whakapapa of Māori students and the communities they carry on their shoulders with them to school every day,” she says.

Focus on strengths

Between 2017 and 2020, Melinda worked with doctoral student and co-author Te Kapua O’Connor (Ngāti Kurī), on The Starpath Project.

“It was during this study that we started to better understand the considerable desire that Māori students have for curriculum content that emphasises their whakapapa/history. This finding influenced Melinda’s application for Marsden funding, leading to this project and this book,” says Te Kapua.

A fire in the belly of Hineāmaru, available in English and te reo Māori, brings together the two academics’ educational, community, personal and professional interests in Māori student success and whānau aspirations.

“Māori students must come to believe that their knowledge systems, language and culture have as much value in modern times as they did in the past. Role models and positive counter narratives are essential here,” says Melinda.

“The discourses within Māori communities themselves don’t focus on academic underachievement and deficit. Instead, the focus is on the strengths, wisdom and opportunities tamariki Māori need to flourish. Māori families have told me that they want their children to learn in educational contexts that teach them that their ancestors were exceptional, tenacious, courageous and clever,” she says.

Tamariki from Ngātaki School explored their cultural identity through the mahi toi project.

Tamariki from Ngātaki School explored their cultural identity through the mahi toi project.

Powerful role models

A positive sense of Māori identity is related to school success and achievement because it helps ākonga Māori remain academically persistent in the face of racism, negative stereotyping and low teacher expectations.

As there is little separation between past, present and future in Te Ao Māori, Melinda says that the tūpuna profiled in the book are powerful role models in contemporary times too.

Melinda’s research has found that the career paths tamariki and rangatahi aspire to are often highly influenced by the role models in their lives – whether they’re alive or from the past.

“We can’t be what we can’t see, so hearing about all these tūpuna shows them that Māori didn’t sit back and let things happen to them. They were active and agentic – they sought education and engagement with non-Māori.

“All of these bits of information, I hope, will help Māori to sit with their backs straighter and encourage non-Māori to think ‘oh, that’s a different history from the one I’ve heard,
or read’.

“I grew up in an education system that didn’t look like me – I was taught amazing things about James Cook, Kate Shepherd, but I was never taught about my own ancestors. I wasn’t taught that I descended from greatness, however when we go onto marae and other Māori contexts, it is always about connection and feeling a sense of pride – it’s a real celebration of identity,” she says.

The mahi toi ignites a sense of cultural pride.

The mahi toi ignites a sense of cultural pride.

Rich curriculum resource

Melinda says that while schools from throughout Aotearoa could use the stories, ideally each school can come up with their own kōrero tied to their particular rohe/area.

“This is a resource for teachers in the first instance and it’s pitched at a level that secondary students can also read. It doesn’t preclude the stories being taken and simplified for a primary audience, alongside some pedagogical notes – I would love to see something like that happen.”

Melinda explains that curriculum can be woven into all the stories in the book. A story about Nukutawhiti, one of the navigators who brought the Ngātokimatawhaorua waka into the Hokianga Harbour, talks about the types of trees he used, the distances travelled, how he kept himself and his crew fed, and how he was guided by signs he saw in the sky, stars and the birds.

“I talked about this story to a group of teachers in Kaikohe and got them to brainstorm what they could teach from this story in each of the 13 curriculum areas. They came up with three or four things in each curriculum area.

“We tested one of the stories with primary and intermediate age tamariki. We asked: ‘If you were designing a waka to come to Aotearoa, what kinds of materials might you use?’ They designed clothes they would need on the journey and when they got to New Zealand because the weather is completely different for different parts of the voyage,” says Melinda.

Act of decolonisation

The book’s release was delayed by a year so that a te reo Māori version could be prepared by Quinton Hita (Ngāpuhi).

“It’s not a direct translation of the book – it’s written with a kind of Māori worldview. That was an explicit act of decolonisation because there are not many resources provided for Māori medium education. We wanted ākonga in Māori medium context to have these resources – we waited so they could be published together to ensure that the mana of both books and languages are honoured.”

Melinda explains that doing this is not only an act of decolonisation, but also acts to indigenise New Zealand history.

“We’re not trying to negate anyone else’s history but we’re trying to say these are the stories we tell when we have an opportunity to narrate our own history. It’s saying ‘here’s a starting point – it’s exploring Māori histories but is also a springboard for all histories. We need to know each other’s stories so we can be more empathetic to become a more accepting and progressive society.

“The whole project is about belonging, connection and contribution. Māori have had a longer time in this place and have a particular relationship with the land, but that doesn’t preclude other people – even the newest migrants have stories about their family’s desire to come here,” concludes Melinda.

The Heart of the Matter(external link) explores the bicultural arts education movement in the 1950s/1960s (The Tovey Experiment). When Alan and Bebe Simpson were exploring music education at Ngātaki School, Elwyn Richardson was doing his In the Early Years work down the road at Oruaiti School.

Tūpuna inspire tamariki

In the Far North, Te Hāpua School and Ngātaki School have been involved in two Creatives in Schools projects that have woven together whakapapa and mahi toi/arts to tell the story of Tūmatahina, a tūpuna who led his people away from an invading tribe before he was killed. 

 Rāwiri Hindle welcomes the opportunity to use the story of a Ngāti Kurī tūpuna for a mahi toi project in the far North.

Rāwiri Hindle welcomes the opportunity to use the story of a Ngāti Kurī tūpuna for a mahi toi project in the far North.

A large part of the school, as well as Tracey Ashby, principal of the two schools; Rāwiri Hindle, Creatives in Schools facilitator; his son Te Kapua O’Connor, and Creatives in Schools facilitator, Bethany Edmunds-Kuki are Ngāti Kurī and direct descendants of the innovative hero.

When Te Kapua told his father, Rāwiri about Tūmatahina, he saw the potential to use it as the basis for a mahi toi project using tūpuna stories, place-based learning, hauora and culturally responsive practice.

Wananga were held to develop the mahi toi project which combines mau rākau, waiata, dance and drama and culminated in a week-long kaupapa at Waiora Marae at Ngātaki in early November.

Primary school arts education specialist Priya Gain worked alongside Rāwiri across all three wānanga and with Selena Bercic (Te Rarawa) and Wiremu Sarich (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa), who came on board as local muriwhenua lead educators to support the mahi, particularly with taonga puoro, taonga tākaro, waiata, and kapa haka. Funding was also received from MENZA (Music Education NZ Aotearoa) to support the taonga puoro and taonga tākaro elements.

“As ngā toi Māori lead educators working in a wide range of schools in the Far North region, this is a key aspect to the sustainability of this project,” she says.

Walking in footsteps

Rāwiri is a kaiako and ngā toi facilitator and began working with the two small rural schools in term 1. A dramaturgy process with teachers saw them drawing and sharing pictures to shift the story from literal to abstract and metaphoric, thus opening different ways to tell the story.

The mahi toi brings the whole story alive and ignites a sense of cultural pride in ways that elevate tamariki.

“We’ve been using a combination of all those arts in collaboration. After we did that with the teachers, we shared the story with the children and they said things like ‘is he real?’, and ‘where did he live?’ So, they got very interested straight away.

Tamariki from Ngātaki and Te Hāpua Schools in the far North learned about traditional Māori arts as part of a Creatives in Schools project.

Tamariki from Ngātaki and Te Hāpua Schools in the far North learned about traditional Māori arts as part of a Creatives in Schools project.

“When they found out Tūmatahina took Ngāti Kurī to Murimotu, an island off North Cape, we asked tamariki if they had been there. None of them had, so we brought it up in Google maps. They got so excited when they could see the rocks in the water leading from the mainland to Murimotu. Their interest and sense of connection to this ancestor has been expanded on,” says Rāwiri.

“We have them walking on rocks and walking in the footprints of Tūmatahina – they’re actually walking in the footsteps of their ancestor, which brings in the taha wairua – it engages all their senses and their state of being, expressing the metaphor and symbolism rather than just the narrative,” he says.

Tracey says tamariki have been very engaged in a different way to the usual classroom learning. For many reasons, they couldn’t extend learning into science and geography curriculum areas by visiting the scene of Ngāti Kūri’s escape, but the story has been integrated into literacy learning.

“It became part of their reading and writing programme and they were researching and learning about the story at the same time as learning it through performing,” she says.

“It’s a holistic literacy as well – a literacy of movement, waiata, knowing tikanga and te reo,” adds Rāwiri.

Vessels for mātauranga

Bethany Edmunds-Kuki believes that tūpuna had a hand in Covid delaying a waiata project she and husband, Anaru Cook, were commissioned to do as part of Creatives in Schools in term 1. The couple moved from Tāmaki Makarau Auckland back to Bethany’s roots in Kaitaia and wanted to share their skills in hip hop, music, audio engineering and using creative modes of engagement with rangatahi.

“A few years ago, the two schools Ngātaki Kura and Te Hapua put together a booklet of the waiata that are commonly sung at Waiora Marae. Rāwiri and I had not met at that point – we share a great-grandfather – but all the strands have woven together beautifully.

“Part of our project has been going to the landscapes and learning the history contained within the waiata so that our tamariki are very strong and confident in their identity. When they sing those waiata, it’s more than just singing the words – it’s knowing the history behind them,” she explains.

Bethany and Anaru have set up a temporary recording studio in the wharenui and recorded tamariki singing the waiata as a resource for the wider whānau. The waiata are threaded through the mahi toi performance, with the kōrero helping to illustrate the story.

“We’ve seen an increase in their confidence using te reo Māori and their kotahitanga as a rōpu [unity as a team]. The project is making it easier for them to access te reo, history and tikanga without even realising it. Now they are vessels for all that mātauranga that they may not even realise until later in life,” concludes Bethany.

Bethany Edmunds-Kuki, Creatives in Schools project lead for Kapohia ngā Waiata works with tamariki, including her young daughter (left) at the mahi toi.

Bethany Edmunds-Kuki, Creatives in Schools project lead for Kapohia ngā Waiata works with tamariki, including her young daughter (left) at the mahi toi.

Student kōrero

Students involved in the mahi toi share their feedback about the experience.

  • I really enjoyed working with Matua Rāwiri learning about the different beats and styles to tell the story of Tūmatahina. I enjoyed how he retold the story so we could see what Tūmatahina was thinking, like how he created the distraction to confuse the others. There were lots of different styles used, like instruments and waiata.
  • It felt like we were Tūmatahina. We had to jump on the stones quietly and over the waves. It made me feel good in my head. I like learning that way.
  • The performance worked out great for me. It was seeing people happy, my family watching. They were proud. Mum, Papa, Nana and Dad had tears in their eyes.
  • We sang the songs to the parents. They were learning new songs about their ancestors and whakapapa as they listened.
  • The Tūmatahina story is a very old story. We wouldn’t all be here if it wasn’t for his sacrifice. So, it is extremely important for everyone to know that Tūmatahina is not just a giant, but a hero. I loved every part of this experience.
  • Whaea Beth is a great singer. We learnt new songs and made cool raps about our ancestors and whakapapa.
  • I learnt that our ancestors’ bones are in a cave on our mountain.
  • The acoustics in the wharekai were just perfect for haka and waiata to echo and bounce across the entire marae.

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

Posted: 11:44 am, 23 November 2022

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