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Speech To Whanganui City College Maori Parent Hui

28 February 2002 Hon Tariana Turia Speech Notes

Thursday 28 February 2002

Tena tatau nga whanaunga e tau nei I tenei po. Tena tatau nga uri o te awa.

I am pleased to have been invited here this evening, to be amongst a group of people who are demonstrating (by their presence), a commitment to the education of their children.

I have a few thoughts on education, but what I want to say very clearly this evening is that, I believe we as iwi of Whanganui, indeed we as tangata whenua of Aotearoa New Zealand are very clever people.

I have always been amazed by the fact that despite the negative educational statistics, which have been published over generations and which show that tangata whenua have been failed by the system, we tangata whenua, continue to see education as being a path to our liberation and a waka, which will carry us to the fulfillment of our dreams.

The Maori Affairs Select Committee, chaired at the time by Hon Koro Wetere undertook an inquiry into Maori education, it spanned 7 years the final report was presented in 1996, with 5 interim reports in between, such was the need to identify what was being investigated. The terms of reference for the inquiry included:

- assessment as to whether existing education policies are capable of improving Maori performance levels, and if so, to consider how these levels can be effectively monitored;

- the examination of the administration of resources to Maori education; and

- a report to the House with such recommendations as the committee sees fit on changes to current and new policies.

The major issues which arose in the inquiry and that are addressed in the report are:

- Lack of resources

- Maori involvement

- The need for a seamless education from Kohanga through to tertiary institutions and work related training

- Teacher training and development.

The recommendations were designed to address each of the four major issues raised.

The inquiry identified by looking at the system that the system needed to look at itself. It had to take a long hard look at what it was teaching, how it was teaching both the students and the teachers, who was teaching, and what the resources were. What was learnt in that process remains as relevant today as it was then.

I continue to be impressed by parents who themselves, were failed by the system, yet still encourage their children to seek out education.

I am impressed by kaumatua, who in their time, were considered as school failures, having the ability to cite generations of whakapapa, which they have committed to memory. Who are able to philosophise on the meaning of life and our purpose for being here and yet never have attended a philosophy class.

I am impressed by people who know scores of songs, some of which go on for at least 7 minutes. Just imagine that, singing a song for 7 minutes. Songs which, explain in detail procreation, conception, child-birth, physical, psychological and spiritual development.

I am impressed by people who, like waka tohunga Hector Busby can read the skies and the seas, as he plots his way on the Pacific, Te Moananui a Kiwa.

I am saddened to read in this past Monday’s Dominion newspaper, that teachers had low expectations of Maori and Pacific Island children - where teachers’ greatest expectation for our kids was to ensure they (the children), aspired to what I will refer to as mediocrity.

I am pleased the teachers who spoke up about their previous beliefs, now believe our kids should aspire to excellence.

My concern, however, is how many teachers continue to believe that because the kids are Maori or Pacific Island, they cannot expect them to do any better.

I know that a survey in Northland also revealed, that the parents had more positive views about their children’s abilities than the teachers.

Importantly, how many of us parents also believe our children are dumb. Just as we believed as children we were dumb, because our school results told us so?

The system that measures, “cleverness”, told us we were not clever, and we as a result of our trust in the system believed it.

How many of us parents here tonight believe that we did not do well because “we were Maori”?

How many of us have been told that our culture was a hindrance to academic achievement?

Did you know that “culture”, our culture, features in what is called “criminogenic” indicators where features of the culture are considered as being influential in criminal behaviour?

How many of us have been told we were “good with our hands” - thus denying us a brain? How many of us are encouraged in to sport because “we are good at it”?

And we are good at sport. Just look at the Super 12, the majority of the players are Maori and Pacific Island - so without question, we are good at playing the game. But it appears we are not considered capable of coaching, or managing, given that few Maori, if any, are involved in coaching in the Super 12 and only one Pacific Islander, Dave Rennie of the Hurricanes is considered good enough - interesting don’t you think?

I remember Farah Palmer, the Captain of the Black Ferns the women’s equivalent of the All Blacks, saying she was tired of being portrayed as a role model, because she was a good rugby player.

Her preference was to be portrayed as a good rugby player with a Phd.

I am saddened by the many instances, where in this day and age we have whanau whose children cannot be helped, in their schoolwork, by their parents, because of those parent's negative experiences in the education system.

Yet these parents continue to make sacrifices so the kids can get a “good education’ so that they can get a “good job’.

I know for example, people who are successful students, who are university graduates, and who have told me that one of the saddest things for them was coming home from college, as third formers knowing their parents could not help them, because they (the parents), did not know how to.

Because they, the parents, had not had successful experiences at school.

They remember thinking at the time, their parents were dumb, and as they looked around their whanau and talked with their cousins, similar experiences were shared.

It was easy they said, to “give up”. That many of them did not, is a tribute to them and to those parents!

What these people have also told me, is that in adult life, what they treasure most about their education, was not their scholastic or academic success but, that they were always taught by their parents, how to care for and love each other.

What was also important to them, then and now, was knowing where “home” really is. My friend and colleague Parekura Horomia is always mystified when some of our parliamentary colleagues go “away” for their breaks, whereas he goes “home” for his breaks.

I know, for example, that some people have said that the indicator for ones alienation from ones whanau and “home” is indicated by the direction of the hearse upon death.

Having a strong sense of identity is pivotal. Our language holds the key to our knowledge and who we are. Installing the importance of identity and of our right to be tangata whenua, is the responsibility of us all.

My question to you here tonight, is how will you ensure that the purpose of this education that is being sought will benefit the whanau who are seeking it?

Do not get me wrong. I support learning, but what I want us all to consider is this. The learning that comes from this institution must be about liberating our tamariki and mokopuna, it must not trap their minds. We must do all that we can to achieve this so that they can be liberated.

I believe that we are a highly intelligent people. I believe that we are innovative, proactive, creative, lateral thinkers. I believe we are a people who go out and achieve, just like Maui, who pulled up Te Ika A Maui, who slowed down the sun and, who attempted to gain eternal life.

We are an adventurous people. You coming here tonight demonstrates this.

Like Maui we must never forget who we are and from whom we have come.

I therefore congratulate you all on coming to meet and talk with your new Head of Tangata Whenua Studies Department and the tangata whenua staff members here at Whanganui City College.

Change is needed to support whanau to build their capacity to take control in all areas of their lives. Change is needed for whanau to reclaim control of their development, make their own decisions and be able to act on those decisions.

This education must compliment rather than replace that knowledge, which is unique to our whanau, hapu and iwi. Our language is the embodiment of our culture.

We must be ever vigilant, in maintaining our own knowledge, so that we pass it on, in tact, to our future leaders, just as our tupuna ensured as best they could, that they passed it on to us.

No reira, kia kaha, kia manawanui, kia toa.


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