Mātai Whetū Marae, Hauraki

24th June 2022 will be the first official Matariki holiday in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Last year the government agreed to have a Public Holiday to mark Matariki. This is a very significant step as it is the first indigenous festival in the whole world to be marked and celebrated with a national public holiday. The decision has not come without controversy, but we have it and that is that. It won’t be held on the same day every year as Matariki is governed by the lunar calendar and the rising of stars. I won’t try to explain it here but share this link for you to read as it explains it so much more eloquently than I possibly could. However, in short, Matariki is part of a cluster of stars that rise when Pipiri, another star, is visible in the sky. Matariki marks the start of the Māori New Year as it rises in midwinter around the time of the winter solstice. The Matariki star cluster is known as Pleiades in Greece (often referred to as the Seven Sisters), Subaru in Japan, Matari’i in Tahiti, Karatgurk by indigenous people in some parts of Australia, Mao in China, Krittika in India, Isilimela in Africa, Freyja’s Hens in Scandinavia, Ani’tsutsa by Cherokee Indians, and Tianquiztli by the Aztecs. Some cultures observe 7 stars in the cluster, some see 9 and others may see more. We can all see the stars, the moon and the sun wherever we are in the world, though our skies may look a bit different.

When we first came to Aotearoa, the sky seemed very weird and unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t find The Plough which had always been a point of reference to me but I could still see Orion’s Belt and I learnt to recognise the Southern Cross and now that is my point of reference.

Whilst Matariki is a Māori celebration, it is not observed in the same way across the country. There are small but significant differences in the time and how iwi celebrate Matariki and like other cultures, some recognise 7 stars and others 9. Reasons for those differences are many but I’m not going to go into them here, sorry! Rangi Matamua is a Māori scientist and academic and he has written and spoken extensively about what he has learnt about Matariki. This is a long video, but worth watching if you want to know more.

The main point of this blog is to share my first experience of how one iwi celebrate Matariki.

I was privileged to be invited to the Matariki celebrations at Mātai Whetū marae in Kauaeranga, Thames in the Hauraki district. Ngāti Maru are mana whenua in this area and I have been working with a group of schools to support them as they develop their local curriculum. If I understood correctly, Ngāti Maru is one of the iwi that recognises only seven stars. They don’t recognise Pūhutakawa (the star that helps send the souls of those who have died during the year to be stars in the sky) and Hiwaiterangi (the star that carries our wishes and dreams for the future).

Taniwha on Kōpū Bridge as you come into Kauaeranga, Thames

Nigel and I drove up to Kauaeranga, Thames on Saturday afternoon so that we didn’t have a long drive on Sunday morning as the celebrations were due to start at 5.30am. Traditionally, Matariki is celebrated as the star cluster rises above the horizon at dawn.

We arrived at Mātai Whetū marae around 5.15am, it was foggy and damp but not actually raining as it had been all night! We found a place to sit around the fire. Tarpaulins were set out on the ground and there was space behind them to put our chairs and we settled in rugged up with plenty of warm clothes, raincoats, umbrellas and blankets. Gradually, the place filled up as the shuttle buses brought more people. It was uncannily quiet and we sat and watched, and listened, enjoying the peace and quiet in the dark and the time to think.

Sometime around 6am the opening karakia started. This was simply to open the proceedings and the kaikõrero also gave us some instructions about what was going to happen, we were asked to respect the sanctity of the event and not take photos or video during the karakia and karanga, though we were free to do so afterwards. I was heartened that I understood all of that kõrero in te reo Māori although it was reiterated in English by Koro, the kaumatua afterwards for those who don’t speak te reo Māori.

Then the formal karakia began. There were several Kaikarakia (men who said the karakia – karakia is often translated as ‘prayer’ as it is the closest concept we can relate it to, but they are more of an incantation, blessing, acknowledgment. Prayer to me is a poor translation as it has a religious connotation). The karakia referenced the stars, and what they provided for us (see below) and also helped us remember those who had died during the year. Matariki is closely tied to the Māori Orokohanga (Creation Story) Matariki is a short form of the full name “Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea”. This ‘sand story ‘ tells the story of how Matariki got its name. Part of the wider constellation of Matariki includes Te Waka a Rangi and Taramainuku. Each night he gathers up the souls of those who have died in his kupenga (net) and then at Matariki they are released to become stars on the chest of Ranginui. A significant element of this morning’s ceremony was to remember those who have died during the year and release them – this is an important part of the grieving process and allows us to let go of those we love but still remember them. It’s a complex worldview and quite different from how westerners approach grief but the more I learn, the more I think how much healthier it is. So, Koro went around the people gathered and we all had the chance to call out the names of family and friends who had died during the year to let them go. It was a very moving experience.

A Mullet and a fish head from a Kaipuku as an offering to Waitā

Each of the stars in the constellation guides an element of the Taiao (environmental world) so Waitī is the star of fresh water and all the creatures that live in it, Waitā is the star of salt water and all the creatures that live in it, Tipuārangi is the star of things that live above the ground, such as birds and berries, Tipuānuku of things that grow below ground such as kūmara. It is believed that how the stars shine at the time of Matariki foretells the prosperity of those things. Matariki is also a time to give thanks to those stars for the bounty that they provide. There is also Waipunerangi, the star connected to the rain, and Ururangi, connected to the wind. Matariki herself guides all of them. Some iwi, believe that Matariki is the mother of the other six who are sisters. Ngāti Maru is one of those iwi. Others, such as Ngāti Porou believe there are nine stars and whilst Matariki is the mother the others are brothers and sisters and they provide balance. According to Dr Rangi Matamua, there is scientific evidence to suggest there are nine stars and some cultures suggest there are even more. However, whatever the truth, the stories that each iwi and each culture around the world tell are valid in their own right.

A Tītī (Mutton Bird) and a Kererū (Wood Pigeon) as an offering to Tupuārangi

So, part of the ceremony is to give back to the stars in thanks for their bounty. One of the things I found fascinating as we watched was how the firekeepers maintained the fire. It never lost its shape, they constantly fed it with logs, keeping the ‘teepee’ form. At this point in the proceedings, it was clear why. As the other karakia were being recited and we sent our loved ones to the chest of Ranginui to shine for eternity, they created an opening on one side of the fire, and took the embers out to a prepared space at the side. They then placed elements from the environment to cook; kūmara for Tipuānuku, Tītī and Kererū for Tipuārangi, Tuna (eel) for Waitī and Mullet for Waitā. There was a pause as they cooked and Koro explained what was happening. When the steam rises from the cooked food, (in some iwi, this kai is cooked in an umu (earth oven), and when it is uncovered the steam rises) karakia are recited to each of the stars as offerings of their element are given to them to nourish them so that they continue to provide for us during the year to come.

Kūmara as an offering to Tupuānuku

There were 4 pou (posts) around the fire, the cooked kai was placed in rourou or kono specially woven from harakeke for the occasion and hung on the pou. Each kaikarakia went to a pou and offered up the kai to the appropriate star. Waitī, Waitā, Tipuārangi and Tipuānuku. By now the sky was starting to lighten despite the continuing fog and we could smell the fish and fowl baking in the embers.

Tuna (Eel) in a kono as an offering to Waiti.

Once all the karakia had been recited and thanks were given, the karanga started. This was a beautiful and incredibly moving part of the proceedings. I am unsure what its purpose was. Normally, karanga happen at the start of a powhiri and are an exchange between tangata whenua (the people of the land) and manuhiri (visitors). However, coming at the end, my interpretation is that it was calling the stars to the people to guide and protect for the coming year. I need to ask my friends for clarification. Whatever it was, it was beautiful. These wāhine, kaikaranga took it in turns to call the stars each in their own way, the tangi (rhythm and tone) flowed and rang out in the silence of the brightening sky.

Once the karanga were over, people stood to tautoko (support) the kaikarakia and the kaikaranga with waiata (songs). The hakari (feast), in this case, hangi, would be ready soon but it wasn’t quite ready yet and we were entertained by a medley of waiata*, anyone who knew the waiata was invited to come up and join in. They finished off with a rousing haka.

Now it was light, we could see who was who and I soon bumped into some of the kaiako from the kura in Thames who I work with, we had a natter, took some photos and discussed what we had just been a part of. I had some kai, Nigel had a cup of tea – (hangi is not vegetarian!!), and then we headed off back to the van, the sky now light and the day had begun.

I felt strangely disconnected as we moved away, unwilling to leave. It was a very moving experience, a sense of being part of something so much bigger than me. For a short time, I was part of a ceremony and a story that is ancient and which connects generations. It also grounds us and connects us with the elements of an environment which nourishes us, guides us, and with which we have an inextricable relationship. In the maelstrom of our lives, it’s easy to forget those connections. This morning, it was humbling to take a breath, sit down, disconnect from technology, focus on a ceremony that is ancient, and reconnect to the environment.

Sun shining through trees.

*(In my te reo class this evening we discussed ‘He aha te Māori Wāy?’ One of the things I suggested was that Māori can keep on singing, filling in time, and finding more songs until a signal from the kitchen that kai is ready.)

Design Thinking: developing inquiry and questioning

This post describes a practical session I ran with a group of teachers and some of their year 7 & 8 students. I have been working with them for 18 months now and have got to know them well. This was our very last session together. It takes us through a design thinking process to explore how to generate inquiry questions and support an inquiry process for learning. A Design Thinking process also aligns with the principles of the Technology Learning Area and supports how teachers can approach integrating the Digital Technologies Curriculum content across the curriculum.

I had decided, given the time (4 hours) to use the analogy of a play in three acts to structure the session;

The Prologue aligns with opening minds to ideas, to getting to know the content, to getting to know each other, to exploring (Te Pō)

Act 1 is brainstorming, ideating, blue sky thinking (Te Wehenga)

Act 2: Scene 1 is identifying a question, exploring ideas more deeply, trying ideas out, refining, seeking feedback (Te Ao Marama and Te Whakaata)

Act 2: Scene 2 is redeveloping, improving, refining, reflecting, iterating, improving, taking action. (Te Ao Tangata and Te Whakahua)


The prologue is all about opening ideas, setting a ‘safe’; environment, whanaungatanga or getting to know each other. We started with looking at what made an effective team and I used an activity from Gamestorming called “Forming, Norming and Storming”. This asked you to consider how you would FORM a team, who you might work with, why, what strengths each of you brought to the team. Then to explore what your ways of working would be – your NORMS – what ‘rules’ or ‘expectations you might have of each other as you worked together, how you might ensure that everyone had a voice and all opinions were valued. Finally, what would you do if relationships started to break down, how you would weather a STORM, what strategies you might adopt to support each other and mend broken bridges.  I am unsure if this might have been a better activity to do later on as a starting activity once everyone had already decided who they would work with. My original thought was that it was useful to think about how to form teams, especially for the students when they tend to pick their friends to work with rather than focus on the kaupapa. In a later session with another school, where there were no children, I included it later on and it worked well as a whanaungatanga activity for the teams to establish ways of working together.

We moved on to a Survival Kit activity in which I asked the participants to make a list of 10 things you would put in a survival kit. I was deliberately vague about the context because I wanted them to have some ‘fuzziness’ about their goal and think broadly.  My aim here was to provoke some thinking but also to set up for an activity later in the session. 

We talked then a bit about the design thinking process and “Fuzzy Goals” and how to start off with your goal might not be well-defined and that’s ok. You can refine and define it more tightly as you explore and go through the process. Your goal might be along a continuum – you sort of have an idea of where we want to go, but there may be a roundabout way to get there. A fuzzy goal ‘motivates the general direction without blinding us to opportunities to divert, explore, pivot on the way, it allows us to follow our intuition.’

Act 1: Blue Sky Thinking

Next step was prompting some thinking. I brought along two artefacts. I specifically chose these as I felt they had a connection to the place I was in and also because I thought they would appeal to the students’ sense of curiosity and because they provided a wide scope for questions.

I gave everyone the chance to look at them, touch, examine and asked them to ‘wonder’ about them. We used “Opening Questions” 

These types of question encourage us to think widely, creatively, create divergence and variation, provide opportunities, they are part of getting to know each other and laying out the ground rules

  • What are ….? 
  • What do you think….?
  • Why…?
  • Tell me about….
  • What do you notice?
  • What is it for?

I asked them to generate as many questions and ideas as they could, blue-sky thinking, think big, be daring, be bold. Then they developed a question that they wanted to pursue – the time was pretty tight for this on purpose. It wasn’t the time to really dig deeply into an issue; it was a time to identify something that sparked curiosity, that they thought they might like to explore further, a time to develop a question and not a solution, a time to work out whether it was a question that was easily answered using a Google search or whether it was a question they needed to do a bit more thinking about. When we want our students to develop questions, we don’t really want them to come up with a question for which the answer is searchable, they need to wrangle a little with it, to come up with a solution that is new, innovative, that will make a difference. 

After a one minute pitch in which they briefly explained what their question or curiosity was, said what they had already learnt and stated what they wanted to explore further, they displayed their ideas on large sheets of paper and then everyone looked at them and ‘voted’ on the ones that they liked or thought they might want to explore further using sticky stars that I had provided them with.  At this point, they could choose to stick with their own idea or go with someone else’s.  We talked about ‘holding an idea lightly’ as this is just a starting point and springboard to further research. They formed teams of no less than 2 (in a bigger group you might stipulate that groups couldn’t be less than 3) and moved on to the next act. 

Act 2; Scene 1

Now it was time to work in teams – we revisited briefly the ‘Forming, Norming and Storming” activity we had done at the start as they worked together – and start to really delve more deeply into their question and do some research. The idea here was to develop more fully what their question or problem was, it was still not time to come up with a solution. It was a time to gather information about the topic. In a classroom situation here, this might be the time for some direct instructional teaching that might arise as needed. It might be point where, as you work with the kids, you identify gaps in their knowledge and work with them all together or in small groups. It might also be a time where you just observe and provide feedback, you may need to facilitate conversations if you spot that relationships are strained, that not everyone has a voice in their group. 

It was time for introducing Examining Questions that help us to find out more about something, to deeply learn and understand. (Marama pū)

  • What is it made of?
  • How does it work?
  • What is it for?
  • What are all the parts?
  • Can you describe…?

Explorative Questions follow on from Examining Questions and prompt us to use our imagination and think about possibilities. It is important at this point that we are still very open-minded and encourage creative, whacky ideas.  They force expansion on new points of view and uncovered areas. 

  • What else works like this?
  • What if all the barriers were removed?
  • What are we missing?
  • What could we do to improve….?
  • How could it be redeveloped, re-imagined…?
  • Have you thought of…?

Affective questions which reveal people’s feelings about something. How do you feel about…?

Reflective questions that encourage more elaboration. What do you think causes…?

Probing questions that invite a deeper examination. Can you describe how…?

Analytical questions that look for the roots of a problem. What are the causes of…?

Act 2: Scene 2

After they had had a chance to do some exploration and research they had to prepare and deliver another One Minute Update to the whole group to explain what their problem was, whether it had diverted from their original, what they had learnt, what they saw as things that could support them and what might hold them back as they explored further, what else they needed to know and what support you might need.  

They reflected afterwards that this was a valuable way to keep kids on track as they worked, it was a useful way of seeing what progress they had made and it was extremely valuable for them as participants to have to stop and focus on where they were, and what they needed to do next as it was easy to fall down rabbit holes when they were researching. A teacher’s role as a facilitator in this would be to provide feedback to the groups as they presented, to ensure that One Minute Updates were only one minute, and to then follow up with any support that they felt they needed. You may also identify support that they need that they weren’t aware of! This is also a place where you could bring in outside expertise. If the kids are working on an issue around pollution, for example, you might get them to approach the Environment Agency to answer some specific questions.

We returned to our Survival Kits for a follow-up activity. This was designed for two reasons;

  • a brain break, to take them away from what might be a bit of a fug as you grapple and to possibly break any tension. As a teacher, if you were working with a whole class, you might introduce a brain break at different times for each group as you notice that they are going round in circles or struggling in their team. It is useful for kids to start to identify these points and have a range of strategies to use. 
  • to model how useful it is to prioritise and to learn how to identify things which you might think are essential to solve your problem but aren’t really – to hold your ideas lightly.

I asked them to take their 10 essential survival items and lay them out in order of importance. This is an individual activity so also provides time to think without lots of white noise around.  Then they compared with others in their group and had to explain why they chose those items in the first place and why they were now in that order. They also had the chance to change the order after discussion. The crunch came when I asked them to take 5 away. Some of them simply took away the bottom 5 but then reconsidered – were they really the least important now they couldn’t have them at all? 

Other brain break activities could be;

Creativity 12 basic symbols 

You can create anything from these 12 basic symbols. This and the following activity (Squiggle Birds) are fun activities to show that you can create anything with some imagination but that constraints are often a good thing to help focus and develop creativity


Start with using them to form the numbers 0 – 9

Then use them to draw 5 different cats or dogs…


Squiggle Birds is a really quick activity which gets people used to stretching their visual thinking muscles. Just get everyone to draw random squiggles on a blank piece of paper and then add a beak, wings, a tail and feet on them so they look like birds. It’s surprisingly easy and demonstrated that our mind is wired to make patterns, that we don’t need a heap of drawing skills to convey an idea. You don’t even have to use birds – try anything!


Act 3: Prototype/Te Whakaata & Test / Te Ao Tangata

We didn’t have time for this part but it is the point where lots of wrangling goes on, the discussions get messy, you start to get confused and your direction sometimes just doesn’t seem clear. Your goal seems to be getting fuzzier but it is the time to really focus in on it and remind yourselves what you are aiming for.  Research sends you off down rabbit holes but you have to start to narrow down the options, set actions, roles, and timeframes. Another One Minute Update in this phase is useful to keep focus and to reset. The feedback from the facilitator/mentor at this point is crucial to support kids to stay in touch, to feel like they are making progress and to encourage them to think of opening up their minds again as they may have got bogged down. At this stage, you would also gather some feedback from outside your own group about the validity of your idea – if you are working on a product to sell and nobody actually needs or wants it, there is little point in continuing. If your presentation is confused and unclear to the recipient then you will need to re-evaluate and re-design. You would use the Closing Questions to focus on selection, decision making, commitment and action. We need to make some decisions, really narrow down the options and select one to move forward with.

  • What do we need to prioritise?
  • What is feasible?
  • What can we do in the short, medium and longterm?
  • Who is going to do what?

A final presentation to conclude should be short and sweet; 3 – 5 minutes to present then some questions. The actual product or documentation that goes along with the presentation should be appropriate to the issue or problem. It might be a website, a written report, a video, an app, a physical artefact but the presentation that goes with it needs to explain clearly;

  • What the problem or question was that you were seeking to address
  • What you learnt
  • What the enablers and blockers were
  • What your solution is
  • How it will help others
  • What you see the next steps would be

Feedback for One Minute Updates and for the Final Presentation should come from the floor, encourage everyone to be involved in the feedback process. It is an opportunity also for kids to learn about giving and receiving effective, respectful, critical feedback and forward.

For our session, we finished off with a reflective activity. We had talked before about the importance of reflecting on our mahi and what we have learnt and how it can help us as we set goals and actions for the future. I asked them in their groups to reflect on these 5 things:

We spent a good 20 minutes on this and I used the 1 – 2 – 4 – many approach – time first of all for them to think individually, then time to share in a pair, then share as a group and then feedback to the whole group. This gives people time to think if they ‘think to talk‘ people and then still time for those who are ‘talk to think‘ people.  The feedback was hugely valuable for me as a facilitator and for them as teachers and learners, we discussed as a group what they had written and had a chance to question each other and clarify. One comment from each of the elements;

Positive aspects; “Learning with the teachers and getting involved.”

Things you have learnt: “The benefit of working together and sharing ideas. Also the importance of focusing ideas to get a clear idea of what I’m researching.”

Stand out moments: “Reporting back to the group: so neat to see the variety of ideas that can come out of the stimulus provided and the enthusiasm to share ideas. It’s okay to think differently.”

Something I struggled with: “Going off on tangents whilst researching.”

Actions: I would like to use this with my class in future to generate enthusiasm for a topic and a process for effective research.”

A tātou kura

Atawhai ngā rito, kia puāwai ngā tamariki.

Ako i ngā tamariki, kia tu tāngata ai, tātou katoa.

Cherish and nurture the shoots, so the children will bloom.

Learn from and with these children, so that we all can stand tall.

Over the last few months, I have been observing teachers on the TER programme and so I have visited a lot of schools. After having heard Janelle Riki-Waaka talk about what schools look like, sound like and feel like a few years ago, I have made a point of trying to enter each school and see it through the eyes of a Māori parent.

The ‘look like’ part of it has definitely improved. Most schools have a whakatauki, many have the school motto in te reo now, though an alarming number have Latin mottoes. I wonder how they came about and whether anybody understands them? Some have their values either entirely in te reo or a mixture. It still grates when I see schools trying to force their values into a word so that they are easily remembered which often means that the Māori value is there just to get a letter to make the word – I saw one the other day that had all the values in English except the last one which was ‘Manaakitanga’ so they could spell a word.

I like how one school I have visited links qualities to the people whose names they used for their ‘House’ names and uses them as their values. Of five people, 3 are male, 2 female and one of the females is Māori. I’ll leave you to ponder on that mix.

I make an effort every time I enter a school of saying ‘Tēnā koe’ or ‘Kia ora’, or ‘Mōrena’ or any other appropriate greeting. So far, I can probably count on one hand the number of times the reply has been in te reo Māori. The majority of receptionists are white females. They are generally lovely, smiley, warm people. I wonder how much office staff and other ancillary staff in schools are included in professional learning about culturally responsive practice or learning about partnership and te Tiriti? As I walk around schools, I often come across cleaners, support staff and groundsmen. When I greet them in te reo, I frequently get a ‘kia ora’, or a ‘mōrena’ in reply and a beaming smile.

Once I get into classrooms, what do I see, hear and feel? In many classrooms, I see the date written on the board in te reo Māori, there are numbers, and greetings, I see the school values if they are in te reo Māori already displayed for all children to see. I sometimes see key kupu – the names of subjects or the words that are related to a unit of learning, there may be posters of the kara, tinana, ngā rā o te wiki, karakia for kai and karakia timatanga. In a few schools, I have seen the school pepeha beautifully presented as a poster. What haven’t I seen? Any student work in te reo Māori on the walls.

What do I hear? If I am there at the start of the day, I sometimes hear the children saying a karakia. I may hear the teacher greet the students with ‘kia ora’ or ‘mōrena’, give basic instructions such as ‘E tū’ or ‘E noho’ or “whakarongo mai’, ‘titiro mai’. Some teachers maintain and build on thos instructions, for some, it happens sporadically. Sometimes, I see and hear no te reo Māori in the classroom at all.

What do I feel? In nearly all schools I feel a sense of belonging, of children being challenged, nurtured, supported to be who they are and learn in ways that are appropriate to their needs. In most schools, children have choices about how they learn and have opportunities to share and lead learning with each other. Relationships are strong, both between kaiako and ākonga and between tamariki.

What I don’t see, hear and feel is well-developed, holistic environments in which te reo Māori and tikanga is integrated and normal.

I am interested in the local elections that are being held later this year. There is a real need, in Kirikiriroa at least, to get more people out to vote. Only 30% of those eligible to vote turned out last time. More than 50% of our eligible voting population is under the age of 35. The majority of those who voted last time was over 55. The Council is made up of mainly white, middle-aged men or white middle-aged women. A group of people, united through Twitter and the hashtag #lovethetron are looking at ways to motivate ‘millennials’ to vote. We already have several ‘millennials’ standing either for Mayor (Louise Hutt) or for council positions (Anna Smart, Tim Young are two of them), the challenge now is to get the youth out to vote.

There is a group called Seed Waikato….

Seed Waikato is a movement that brings millennials together to improve their wellbeing. Led by millennials, we run inspiring events, workshops and digital education that empower you to dream big and take action.

I went along to one of their events a couple of weeks ago. (I know, I’m not a millennial but I have given birth to two!) and as they say, they’re very inclusive and as I heard on the night ‘if you don’t have a connection with a millennial you are likely to quickly become irrelevant.’

We have also been having coffee over political kōrero in a local coffee shop. This came about through the twitter chat when we decided that we really needed to know more about the issues that might be important for the local election and start to get to know the candidates and what they stand for. So far there have just been two of these kōrero and you really need to be on Twitter to get to know about them so although anybody is welcome, the scope for getting to know about them is narrow. Nevertheless, it’s a start and we’re looking at ways to branch out.

So what’s this got to do with Culturally Responsive Practice?

I guess, that both these things just aren’t culturally responsive. They are ‘white’ constructs – the idea of coffee mornings or afternoons or even evenings – are they a te ao Māori sort of thing? Where do kōrero about politics happen and how and where would we engage with Māori. My guess is that they happen at the marae over kai, in the kitchen or at hui that don’t really have a fixed start and end time. I asked yesterday on Twitter, what proportion of Māori voted at the last local elections. I’m supposing that, just like the youth, they didn’t. Because they don’t see themselves in the ‘system’, they feel like decisions will be made anyway regardless of what they think or say because they don’t have a voice.

Interestingly, Hamilton City Council has decided to have Māori representation on some Council committees. The jobs were advertised, local iwi were asked to nominate candidates and 5 worthy people were selected. This is a positive start but my wondering is what the selection criteria were, who applied, how well do they represent ordinary Māori in our city? Is it time to have Māori seats on Council so that we ensure fair representation? Boards of Trustees in schools co-opt Māori and Pasifika reps if nobody from the community stands or is elected to ensure that our treaty commitments are upheld in all decisions made. Why not Councils?

So coming back to schools. There has been some robust discussion recently regarding the compulsory teaching of NZ History and Te Reo Māori in schools. Aotearoa, New Zealand is a bi-cultural nation with 3 official languages, which I believe should be spoken at least at a basic level by all citizens. It’s a fundamental part of our commitment to te Tiriti o Waitangi. Knowing our own history – all of it not just one side of it is absolutely necessary to be able to move forward together. If we are to see, hear and feel that commitment in our community and society as a whole all our ‘institutions’ white constructs or not need to work harder at their commitment to honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Kids need to see, hear and feel it everywhere they go but school is a place that they spend a huge amount of their time in, so we have to get it right there, right from the beginning.

How bi-cultural is your school?

childs painting of a big orange sun with a face
Painting by Aonghas Robertson aged 8

I am currently learning. What’s new? I am currently deepening my understanding about culturally responsive practice and what it looks like. This blogpost is my response to Janelle’s Blogpost – “I don’t see colour, I treat everyone the same”.

When we first arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand we needed to find schools for our boys aged 8 & 12. Before we left the UK we searched online for prospective secondary schools and did a bit of research about the education system. We learned that schools were zoned which meant that we needed to live in the right area to get into a school. My husband had secured a job at the University of Waikato so we looked at which schools were in the immediate area thinking that that was where we would live.  There were three schools; one was a Catholic Boys school, one was an all boys school and the other was a mixed school. We talked to our son who was already at a mixed comprehensive school in the UK to see what he would prefer.  He said he would prefer the mixed school so we called them to see to find out more.  The lady who answered the phone had a very familiar accent. She was warm, friendly, very informative and it turned out that she came from West Yorkshire just down the road from my home town of Leeds.  We immediately felt a connection. 

When we arrived in New Zealand, we went to enrol him at the school and met the lovely lady from West Yorkshire (we have since become friends!) Having someone there with whom we connected made all the difference in making us feel confident and comfortable that this was the right choice for us and our son.  Well, to be honest, by the time we’d arrived it was the only choice as we weren’t in zone for any other school except the Catholic one and since we aren’t Catholic that wasn’t an option.  So it was heartening to have some sense of familiarity.

So, to our wee son. There were several primary schools in the rohe. We looked at their websites which, to be honest, didn’t tell us much 11 years ago. We measured how far they were away and whether we (our son) could easily walk or cycle there from our rental home. Then we arranged to visit. The closest to home seemed like the favourite on the face of it.  Five minutes walk, round the corner from our other son’s secondary school so they could walk together, relatively small so he wouldn’t get lost as he got to know the place and the people.  

No connection. The office lady met us and made no effort to talk to our son. She talked over the top of him at us.  We didn’t get to meet any teachers and she suggested that our son would have to go back a half year so that they could work out where he really fitted in terms of his academic level.  Being a teacher I had done my homework so I knew which year he should be starting in although I would have been happy to discuss with a teacher to ensure that he was best placed.

On we went to the next school.  We walked in.  The first person the receptionist spoke to was our son. She asked him his name, how old he was, when his birthday was, what he liked doing, where he came from. Shyly he gave his answers. As soon as he said when his birthday was she said what class he would be in and talked about other children in the class who would help him settle in.  Then she turned to us and invited us to meet the DP. 

It was a no brainer. We never even went to the 3rd school. 

In retrospect, we didn’t see any evidence that we were arriving in a bi-cultural country in those schools. There may have been a few Māori words around and some artwork but nothing that shouted out to us “Aotearoa, NewZealand – Bi-cultural country with 3 official languages and a Māori history and tikanga.”

I guess what I’m saying is that as a newcomer to the country having a welcome and friendly face who connected with us and our child made a huge difference at the start.  (What happened next is another story!) So, when I think of any child and their whānau making that step into a new school, the relationships and the connections you make right at the start make all the difference.  In Janelle’s post she asks “What would I hear, feel and see in your school that would send a message about how my child’s history, language and tikanga are going to be celebrated?”

As immigrants, we knew that we were coming into a ‘foreign’ country where we would see a different culture and history, though of course, it would be our language (or would it? That’s also another story!)  But looking back now it didn’t feel different enough. Yes, my youngest came home telling us about songs he learned, and his first piece of artwork told the story of Māui and the Sun,  and he talked about learning about the Treaty of Waitangi and having to make a class treaty.  For my eldest at secondary school, there was no obvious evidence that we were living in a bi-cultural country.   

And there should have been. 

What is whakapapa?

Ko te Pu

For the Wananga course I am doing at the moment we have been asked to consider what whakapapa is. I found this resource useful;

Whakapapa is what binds all things – animate and inanimate, known and unknown, terrestrial and spiritual. It is the line of descent from our beginning. 

It is how we make our connections, recognise our identity, ground ourselves to a place and to people. 

It is the core of our knowledge and that knowledge builds layer on layer through generations. 

There are different ways of presenting your whakapapa.  Here are just a couple.


This includes all the family tree – the marriages and connections across and between tribes as well as the direct line of descent.


One single line of descent with no reference to marriages and connections – this is the most commonly recited one. 

The Wharenui is also a way of telling the whakapapa of an iwi or hapū – the oldest ancestor is on the tetoko – the carved figure at the top of the whare, and then spreading outwards and downwards where the most recent lines are traced. They show how people are linked together. 

Creation Genealogies are like the stories that many cultures develop to try to understand where we all come from.  Many are told in song or waiata;

Ko te Pu  is a sung karakia or lament to acknowledge the creation of life.

Te Pu (root, origin).

Te More (tap root).

Te Weu (rootlets).

Te Aka (creeper, vine).

Te Rea (growth).

Te Wao-nui (great wood).

Te Kune (conception, form).

Te Whe (sound).

Te Kore (chaos, void).

Te Po (darkness, &c.).

Ki nga tangata maori na Rangi raua ko Papa

From this came the people through Rangi and Papa

Ko tēnei te timatanga o te Ao

From them came the birth of the world

Ko tēnei te timatanga o te Ao

From them came the birth of the world

It’s a creation story telling of the origins of life, the whakapapa of the world, our beginnings, so it is for all of us. It talks about coming from the darkness, the void in to the light as Rangi and Papa are pushed apart by Tane. About the growth of the world from the roots, to the shoots as they grow into trees and climb towards the sun, of the wind and the elements affecting nature and then coming back full circle as we descend back into the darkness where our souls leave us. In this way it also represents the circle of life. It talks of how we are kaitiakitanga of the world and everything that came before it, that it will still be there after we have gone and the need for us to look after it. 

I was talking about this to a colleague and we pondered that it is a similar story to many cultures and religions. How the world came to be is a big mystery even now that we have scientific research to help explain it but way back when, we sought to answer the question by creating stories to explain the mystery of life.  It isn’t surprising that many cultures came up with similar stories.  But how does this story sit with us if we don’t believe in religion, in the myths and legends?  How does the scientific ‘Big Bang Theory’ align? 

We wondered if we could look at it this way?

The darkness or nothingness was the time before the big bang.  Then from the explosion the molecules, cells, organisms found tenure in the earth and started to grow, they put down roots (physically for plant life, metaphorically for animal life), they grew and reproduced, took form and shape.  Inevitably, they have a limited life span and so as they die they break down and go back to the earth, back into dark matter to nourish the ground so more life springs. 

I have more questions about how we whakapapa back depending on our culture, nationality.  I few years ago, I started working on my family tree. My Uncle had done some work on one from the maternal side of my family but there was nothing from my Dad’s side.  It is complicated trying to unpack the lines through intermarriages, changes of names and movement between cities and countries. I had some information from Mum and Dad about immediate ancestors – grandparents and great-grandparents but nothing that went back any further.  I dug through census records, Births, Deaths and Marriages, and connected with my cousin who had also started looking into our family tree.  

It’s interesting that in our pākeha, white European world we don’t seem to develop a need to know about where we come from until we are older. That may be too late – the knowledge disappears.  My parents were older when they had me, my grandparents all died when I was very young, my Mum died when I was 20 and my Dad didn’t know very much about his extended family as he had been a ‘late’ baby in his family and most of his older relatives had died when he was young.  My sons are not that interested in where they come from – their grandparents all died before they were in their teens so they didn’t really have a deep connection with them.  Many of our connections have been lost. I remember some stories from my Grandma but I am sure they have become confused in my mind. Now that I have come to Aotearoa where whakapapa is so important in te Ao Māori,  I can see that knowing where you have come from has a profound effect on well-being and identity.  

a collage made up of text and images. It is a house to represent genealogy, the words talk about the connection between places and people

And it’s not just about the people we connect to but the places as well.  In a world where we have travelled, where families have moved to other places to get employment, to seek out new places and cultures, where do we call our ancestral home?  As I have developed my pepeha and given thought about which places I connect to it has made me consider this.  Do I connect to a maunga or an awa that has special meaning to me personally, to my birthplace,  or do I go right back to the furthest back ancestors that I have in a direct line from my Mum and my Dad and use those even though I don’t have any direct connection with them or have any stories connected to them?  

A question was asked in our wananga class – how long does someone’s family need to be in a country before they can claim they are tangata whenua? If a 4th generation kiwi has only ever known Aotearoa, New Zealand, if their great great great grandparents came to New Zealand in the late 1700s  and settled in Whaingaroa, can they claim that Karioi is their maunga and the Wainui is their awa?  Do Māori pepeha back to Hawaiki or to the place they settled when they arrived in Aotearoa?  If my pepeha is a story – and I don’t know if it is or not – of where I come from and the journey I have been on to get where I am now, then how do I tell that story to include all the places my family have called home? I can go back as far as the 1500s on my Mum’s side and the late 1700s on my Dad’s but clearly my genealogy goes back further than that. So, going back to where we pepeha to, if I were a 4th generation pakeha kiwi and I only know my genealogy as far back as my great-great grandparent who settled in NZ in the 1800s, then can I use Karioi and Wainui as my places?

I raised this in one of our facilitator hui and also in discussions in schools; it was interesting to hear the range of views. Some who felt that if those people felt a strong connection to the place they were born and grew up then it was ok to use it in their pepeha, others who were absolutely adamant that pakehā shouldn’t recite a pepeha at all because it is part of Māori culture and it is not their own. To use a pepeha is to compound colonisation and the appropriation of a culture.

Update to this post: In 2020 Reverend Canon Chris Huriwai tweeted about pepeha;

These non-Maori academics throwing around pepeha is getting really old. I don’t care how “connected” you feel to mountains and rivers, to claim these as your own not only cancels the local whanau, hapu & iwi, but also claims a relationship to me that you do not have. Don’t do it.

– Rev Chris Huriwai, Twitter June 29 2020

This podcast from eTangata is a response to that tweet.

This article in eTangata followed quickly on its heels.

They both raise some interesting thoughts and questions….

Digging in to Te Tiriti o Waitangi

a young man walks across a field. Rain clouds scud across a dark sky.
Ka mua ka muri

This post seeks to answer some questions from the learning I am doing through Tātai Pūmanawa. I will always have the voice of my friend and colleague Maria Tibble in my mind as I consider Te Tiriti o Waitangi and what it means to me, the people with whom I work and the way that I interact and live my life in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I can feel her looking over my shoulder, I can picture her smile and hear her voice. Her passion was infectious. So, I will try to honour her as I grapple with the questions and my jumbled thoughts.

Who would hold power after the Treaty was signed?

It seems clear from the articles of Te Tiriti that power would be shared equally; Kāwanatanga, Rangatiratanga, Ōritetanga but if we look at the history of colonisation by Britain, it is clear that the aim was to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories. The aim may have been initially to open trade opportunities but Britain also sought to benefit from the countries it colonised. The underlying sense of superiority that the British had contributed massively to the way that Māori and other indigenous populations in Australia and Canada were treated. The Church which had a powerful presence in Europe, it was at the cutting edge of colonisation across the world and it contributed and legitimised the actions of colonising powers. In “Healing our History” (Consedine & Consedine p.68) there is a quote from a J.M. Blunt; “A missionary might have great love and respect for the people among he or she worked, but would not be expected to believe that the culture and mind of those non-Christians was on a par to that of Christian Europeans.” Whilst the negative impact of colonisation on indigenous populations had been recognised in Britain, and ideas were beginning to change about colonisation the need to protect trade and British economic interests was stronger.

With those mindsets, how could the idea of shared power ever become a reality?

from Healing our History; The Challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi
Robert Consedine & Joana Consedine

Did the Treaty create new rights for Pākehā people? Did it create new rights for Māori people?

‘New rights’ or any rights? In theory, Te Tiriti formalised or set out a framework for governance and the way that Māori and Pākeha lived together with shared rights and responsibilities. In theory all Māori men had the right to vote by 1867, in practice there were so many conditions that they couldn’t. As long as Māori were seen to be inferior in terms of their intellect, their ways of interacting, working, living, communicating, their beliefs then their rights would be compromised.

What important things does the Treaty say Māori will keep?

Rangatiratanga: Māori would maintain independence and control of lands and all that is important to them. My interpretation of that would be that Māori maintained their taonga – their language, culture, stories, tikanga, beliefs and the values upon which their way of life was based.

However, in 1907 New Zealand government passed the Suppression of Tohunga Act which banned Māori traditional healers and religion. This Act meant that Māori knowledge with respect to medicine, the environment, the arts and links between spirituality and secularity was disregarded and not recognised. It was not repealed until 1962. This sort of approach amounts to systematic cultural genocide. George Tinker, American historian suggests this as a definition for cultural genocide;

the effective destruction of a people by systematically destroying, eroding or undermining the integrity of the culture and system of values that defines a people and gives them life.

What impact did the population of Pākehā and Māori have before and after the Treaty was signed?

At the time of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Māori outnumbered Pākeha by 200,000 to 2,000. The Māori economy was strong, communities flourished, traded internationally and had a sophisticated socio-economic system. Following the signing of the Treaty immigration to Aotearoa, New Zealand boomed. The conditions that ensued, the way that Māori were treated and the impact of that on their way of life, their economic status, the diseases that were imported with the new settlers to which Māori were immune all led to a steady decline in the population.

Linda Tuhinui Smith says in respect to the promises that were not kept by the colonisers which were enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi;

“Indigenous populations may have survived colonisation but the impact on their social, political and economic systems is huge.”

a collage of two photos. One of the carved entrance way to a Pā sute, the other are the words inscribed on the inside of the gateway.
Entrance gate to Rangiriri Pā “Without vision the people will perish” Kingi Tāwhiao

Is partnership the same as collaboration? Or consultation? What could Tiriti based partnership look like at CORE?

I believe that partnership means that we have a shared understanding of what our vision for the way our world should be and the way that we interact within it. When I think about my conversations with Maria I remember her fierceness and her absolute belief that her mokopuna should live in a world that recognised – not just recognised, celebrated, respected, revered and absolutely empowered them to know their whakapapa, to practise their beliefs, use and develop their language, to reach their potential and go beyond it. But she was also open to seeing things from different perspectives and acknowledging that the history of Aotearoa, New Zealand is a shared history. We shouldn’t blame the descendants of settlers for the wrongs their tipuna committed. We should encourage them to know the real history of Aotearoa, New Zealand, support them in understanding what happened and why and empower them to own the history. Vincent O’Malley says in the foreword of his book, The Great War for New Zealand, that the stories need to be told and heard if we are to reconcile ourselves with the past, we need to understand it and freely acknowledge it so we can move forwards.

The Waitangi Tribunal commented: “While only one side remembers the suffering of the past, dialogue will always be difficult. One side commences with anger and the other side has no idea why. Reconciliation cannot be achieved by this means.”

For us at CORE and indeed in all our kura and our nation as a whole, we can only work in true partnership if there is recognition, acknowledgement, empathy, understanding and forgiveness of what has happened in the past so we can learn from it and move into the future together.

Further questions I am still pondering;

If we are thinking about working in partnership with tangata whenua, ask yourself what you might know about tangata whenua. Does your own world intercept with the Māori world? If so, to what extent? What is Māori ‘worldview’? What is different about Māori culture to your own culture? If your culture was a ring, and te ao Māori was a ring (picture a venn diagram) how would the two worlds meet?