The stories of Ngāti Whātua

News items - Voices - 23 July 2015

Robert Davidson, Associate Director of Teacher Preparation and Support for Teach First NZ, reflects on the latest Mid-Year Intensive, where both staff and participants stayed the night at Ōrākei Marae.

The stories of Ngāti Whātua are not for the faint hearted and are well documented:  land confiscations, houses burnt,  a history of bullying and oppression. Many non-Māori are struck with feelings of guilt when they first learn about this treatment. Yet if one single theme emerged from the recent Teach First NZ noho at Ōrākei marae it was not resentment, but regeneration.  The focus was on forgiveness and looking forward, the theme of regeneration reflecting the three sacred obligations of Te Rūnunga o Ngāti Whātua: to uphold the mana of the iwi, to care for people and to protect the land.

Graham Tipene, our guide and host, moved students and facilitators alike with his underplaying of this shameful period in our history, opting instead to focus on a message of going forward and building a society that will benefit Māori and non-Māori alike.  If the young people still refer to the Ngāti Whātua stronghold as Boot Hill - a reference to a time when Māori were literally booted up the hill by police, Graham’s own emphasis is upon re-building, the need to embrace Western culture, but still preserve local knowledge.  It is an attitude that seems to embody the spirit of this remarkable iwi.

His humour and love of detail was completely engaging: the iwi attempt to teach children not only the Māori and English names for plants, but the Latin as well;  an introduction to the enormous waka ‘carried there by the army’.  Whether sharing iwi stories, introducing students to the wonders of carving of simply guiding us around the marae, he left us always with sense of enrichment and hope.

For Paul Cunningham, Teach First NZ Development Director, the experience strongly countered the negative stereotypes he had heard ‘from a tourist perspective’.  As an honoured guest, Paul felt that the experience pushed him  ‘happily out of his comfort zone’.  He was touched by the story of Xavier whose Ngāti Whātua mother had been fostered out and caned at school for attempting to speak Māori. ‘It sounds like ancient history,’ said Paul. ‘But it was happening in my lifetime.’ Paul, like many others was moved by the ‘magnificent strides’ made by the iwi.

Liam Munday of Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, who joined Teach First NZ this year as Recruitment Advisor, also spoke with admiration of the willingness of the iwi to move on and to live in harmony with their non-Māori neighbours. ‘I felt empowered by the connections and opportunities that came from the experience’.

It was a weekend of varied learning. An afternoon presentation of Kia eke Panuku by Dawn Lawrence and Therese Ford focused on the use of culturally responsive pedagogy in education. Wiremu Flavell, recently HOD Te Reo Māori at Rutherford College, worked with our Māori participants on leadership – exploring possible ways to lead in a Māori way in mainstream settings. The opportunity to consider these matters in a marae setting proved a moving and meaningful experience for our students,  as was the evening session that followed, with its focus on mauri – led by Te Aroha Morehu (GM of Ōrākei Ahikaaroa) and Rongorito Wirihana (student at University of Auckland BA, Maori and Law).

The noho stretched beyond marae boundaries as well. We were treated to a wider exploration of the area surrounding the marae site, in homes occupied only by the iwi and hosting a remarkable range of professional practitioners.  On the grounds near the multi-denominational church, we were further illuminated by the recollections and musings of another wonderful guide, Moana Tamaariki-Pohe. It was a weekend of sharing with an iwi who are always gracious and generous. 

“Mā tō tātou whanaungatanga e whakataki i te ritenga tika”
“By our kinship we strive to meet our present and future needs”