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Monthly Archives: July 2014

In praise of…Pākehā learning and teaching te reo Māori

I had one of those lump-in-the throat moments the other day watching Jennifer Ward-Lealand on Native Affairs talking in te reo Māori about her journey into te reo Māori (watch it here.) She was suffering from a bit of a cold, and she chose her words carefully, and she was gorgeous to watch and marvellous to listen to, giving hope to many an aspiring reo learner judging by comments on social media. I found my own emotional reaction a little surprising. After all, what’s new about people learning te reo? What, especially, can possibly be new about that kind of interview during Māori Language Week? Get a grip, girl! At any rate I found myself analysing my own response (yes the inside of my own head can be a pretty annoying place at times). One stream of thinking in my mind was the cynic. She is often present and not always pleasant. ‘Riiight’, she sneered. ‘You need Pākehā approval of our language just to be able to feel good about it. Typical behaviour of the colonised mentality.’ ‘Ah shaddap’, I told my cynical self. But on the other hand there might be a grain of unwelcome truth there. As someone who has had to learn how to be culturally Māori over the last three decades or so, perhaps I really haven’t left behind that insecurity that has me fear that I will some day be found out as a cultural fake. As the late and very great Barry Barclay said to me in an interview once, he always felt like he was in a ‘spiritual wheelchair’ during his journey to learn to be culturally Māori as an adult. By this he meant that he always felt at a level of disadvantage that perhaps was only perceptible to him. Maybe, if I still have the remains of that kind of cultural ‘dis-ease, I still need ‘validation.’  Perhaps I really do need Pākehā I admire to like and respect things Māori in order for me to ‘have permission’ feel good about them myself. I don’t know. I hope not.

But there is another slightly (actually substantially) louder voice in the hubbub. That’s the voice that reminds me how absolutely grateful I am to certain Pākehā who cropped up at critical times in  my life to let me know that not only was it OK to be Māori, the Māori language is truly a thing of genius as well as beauty. My Pākehā mother raised me to believe it was good and special and enviable to be Māori even of she was never quite sure what that meant. (My Māori dad, I don’t think, gave a pātero in the high wind for the language, for much of his life.) It was Dr Winifred Bauer at Te Kawa a Maui in 2007 who opened my eyes to the brilliance of the language. I knew how to speak and write it by then (to a useful but not fluent degree) but I had no idea that the language I had been learning was so bloody GOOD. Yes, I know all languages are good. I just think I had taken it for granted up until that point, and being in her class was like taking the back off a Swiss watch and seeing for the very first time the unbelievably intricate mechanisms that lay behind the smooth and beautiful face.

Then there are the Pākehā who are fluent in te reo Maori that I just happened upon over the course of my working life, people like Anaru Robb, Tipene Chrisp and Mary Boyce just to name a few. There were the many Pākehā and Tauiwi students that formed some part of my own language learning journey. Something I have learned over the years is that for Pakeha learning te reo there may be quite a heavy personal cost as they can be challenged about their right to access te reo, and for those that attain fluency and go on to teach, the pressure they can experience, the challenges placed before them because of their Pakehatanga can be substantial (as alluded to in this article). Not only do such individuals sometimes face challenge from Māori about their right to participate in a language that has been lost to so many Māori already, they will often face challenges from other Pākehā and Tauiwi questioning the utility of their choice. That decision to plough on regardless takes a certain kind of bravery.

I have heard it said that if Māori is to survive in this country as a viable language, then Pākehā must speak it. If they do not, the declining numbers of Māori currently speaking te reo (as identified in the most recent census) may be the harbinger of linguistic doom. We need all hands on deck. If that is indeed the case (and I agree that it is) reports this week of the low numbers of non-Maori studying te reo at school (4% of the total student body in year 9 and above, (see here) are concerning. The Māori and Pākehā learners of today are the reo Māori teachers of tomorrow. One of the key argument against making te reo compulsory in schools has been that due to the low numbers of te reo Māori teachers the bulk of the people who would need to deliver te reo to the school kids would be Pākehā, and in many cases, inexperienced and underprepared to do a good job. As calls for compulsory te reo Māori at primary school level start to gain a bit more of a head of steam (see here) it becomes pretty obvious that there would be a massive problem in delivery, even if the compulsory element is only in the offering of te reo Māori, rather than in ensuring every child must learn it. But I don’t think the lack of human resources comprises an effective argument against compulsory reo in schools, rather, that is a logistical problem that will need to be solved by governments – governments that have a shabby record in solving logistical problems as far as the Māori language is  concerned, at least. (If you need evidence of this, have a look at the te reo Māori chapter of the WAI 262 report as profiled on Carwyn Jones’ Te Ahi Kaa Roa blog.) I don’t know what the new language strategy holds for the future of Pākehā learning te reo Māori, but without those Māori and Pākehā dedicated to, and loving, te reo, I would not be able to hold the conversations that I do. I know how lucky I am, and how grateful I am to all those who have helped me over the decades of my reo journey, Māori mā, Pākehā mā. Tēnā koutou katoa, ngā manu tioriori. But the flight path you leave has to be a wide one, so it seems, if enough of us are to follow.

My day in LollyMunks-O-Rama; a parent’s waking nightmare

I’ve just taken the kids to one of those indoor playgrounds on a wet Sunday afternoon. You know the ones, interchangeable barns, largely windowless, with brightly coloured climbing frames, inflatable slides, pits of balls and the like, and that indefinable vomit smell that my oldest son sagely tells me is the ‘combination of boy sweat and smelly socks.’ What is it about this place (as a stand in for all such places) that makes a 9 year old shriek at the top of his voice and disappear into the crowd as quick as a German from a Brazilian World Cup celebration party for no apparent reason as soon as he is let inside the gate to the kingdom? Buggered if I know. Anyway. In my 11 years as a parent I’ve been to LollyMunks-O-Rama [insert name of your local fixture here] more times than I can recall for birthday parties, and sanity saving days like today when I know I have to get the kids away from the X-Box before their small bodies decay for want of use.

For all my squeamishness about the sights and smells and sheer bloody garishness of such places, I use them and I’m grateful for them, on occasion. I’m not fond of the the occasional refrain from other GenX parents (not to mention earlier generations) including choice pieces of revisionist social history such as: “We never had these to go to in the 80s, we used to go to parks, we used to ride our bikes everywhere, we had REAL childhoods. We didn’t need the mollycoddling and safety-at-all-cost risk averse ‘fun’ today’s youngsters are fed.” (I’m not sure why I am reciting that in a Coronation Street accent, but there you go.) There is (as always) an element of truth in all that. For one thing, I remember the change in our behaviours after Teresa Cormack’s awful 1987 death; when a child’s wander to school became a symbol of unjustifiable risk and utter horror.

But on the other hand, I’m not so sure that ‘blimmin’ kids today’ really are that different to us lil paragons growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Yes, kids are more likely to be sheltered and more sedentary now. We certainly know they are more likely to be obese. I don’t think this translates to children being intrinsically different to what they were “in my day”. Surrounded by kids this afternoon by maniacal mini whirling dervishes and adventuring tots, squabbling siblings, harried parents and families just generally getting on with being families, I feel kind of optimistic actually, that kids really will be ..well, kids. Just don’t get me started on the over-priced food. Or the ridiculously profitable machines and rides that we managed to resist today. Or the smell. Especially not the smell.

Pita & Tariana: legacies and looming threats

What a week it has been for the Māori Party, and for Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples in particular. Today (9 July 2014) marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Māori Party, (even as the party’s survival becomes increasingly subject to question). On Thursday last week Pita introduced the new Māori Language Bill to Parliament. On Monday Tariana launched Te Pou Matakana  the new North Island commissioning agency for Whānau Ora. Not bad for a week’s work.

Both the Bill and the launch of the commissioning agency represent a pretty powerful encapsulation of Māori Party thinking. Both developments seek to displace core decision-making from central government to iwi Māori and urban Māori communities in regards to Māori frameworks designed to improve the Māori language survival (on the one hand) and healthy whānau development (on other).

To illustrate: both developments set up independent agencies with iwi/urban Māori representation that will oversee to a substantial degree developments in both spheres. In the case of te reo Māori, Pita is pinning high hopes on the ability of Te Mātāwai “to provide leadership on behalf of iwi and Māori regarding the health of the Māori language” despite some fairly widespread concerns about the proposed agency. Regardless of the criticism, the new agency looks likely to forge ahead, to be appointed by “regional iwi clusters”, taking over the governance of the Te Taura Whiri,Te Māngai Pāho and Maori Television.

The same phenomenon is at work with the launch of Te Pou Matakana, a new entity that was conceived and created out of the National Urban Māori Authority (NUMA) although not without some controversy. This new entity, (alongside the South Island commissioning agency (Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu) and the Pasifika Futures agency) will take over from from Te Puni Kōkiri in contracting out services, setting policies and distributing funding.

In one week the roles of several government agencies have been either placed under threat or significantly diminished.

I get this. There is a pretty powerful stream of thinking that holds that Māoridom needs to find its own answers, and that Government adoption of and interference in Māori generated solutions causes more problems than it solves. I have written about this before  in regards to Māori welfare outcomes, which are fairly closely connected to Whānau Ora:

New Zealand governments have never actively pursued Māori solutions to Māori welfare problems. One reason for this is because Māori welfare has been  intimately tied up with Māori self determination and notions of rangatiratanga, however that might be interpreted. A brief review of the history of social security in New Zealand shows that  the New Zealand state’s distrust of Māori ambitions has often meant the neutering of Māori initiatives that could have effected better Māori welfare outcomes.

(O crikey, quoting myself is a slippery slope..)

Anyway, bearing all that in mind I read something in the Herald yesterday that left a cold feeling in my stomach. That something was a headline: Labour Government would review Whanau Ora policy. As outlined in the article Labour has announced plans to review the policy should it lead the next government. Reviews often mean fundamental change. As Nanaia Mahuta stated:

“While the minister may feel emotionally attached to her programme it is important that future commitments under a Labour Government are based on outcomes achieved and evidence that underpin the strength based approach in the Whanau Ora model.”

Although, it is true that Whānau Ora must live beyond Tariana’s tenure as Minister, there are a couple of reasons I find this statement odd. For one thing it seems strange to link the Ministers ’emotionalism’ to an implication that Whānau Ora is somehow not outcome focused. This seemed to be a statement that reduces Whānau Ora to an outlier minister’s pet project.While there is no doubt Whānau Ora could not have existed without Tariana’s belief in it, it has very long roots indeed (once you take into account its conceptual beginnings under He Korowai Oranga in the health sector well over a decade ago).

For another, ummm…I thought outcomes-focus was integral to the design of the approach in the first place. Sir Mason Durie said as much back in 2010 at the time of the launch of the Whānau Ora Taskforce the momentum was gathering for the programme and shortly before the establishment of the Minister for Whānau Ora. When asked on TVNZ’s Q&A what kind of accountability Whānau Ora would provide for, Sir Mason said:

Absolutely, you’d expect that is there’s a Whanau Ora practitioner, that if they’re dealing with a whanau, they should be able to demonstrate that the whanau is better off financially, better off socially, more social cohesion, and better off culturally, so that they’re broad areas I know, but they’re indicators within all of those areas that will be useful in measuring the outcome, so I think the accountability will be greater not less.

This intention has been borne out, for example, in the prevalent concern exhibited by Te Puni Kōkiri for tracking Whānau Ora outcomes for 333 whānau engaged in the programme by the end of June 2012.

So if accountability and outcomes are already integral to the Whānau Ora approach (debates about measurement and analysis aside for now), I wonder what the purpose of this intended review would really be. My suspicion is that it would be aimed at a well worn story in New Zealand politics across the political spectrum: pushback – recovering a higher degree of Government control over Māori intitiatives, in this case over the functions and tasks that are now being carried out by the commissioning agencies.

And there is no doubt Whānau Ora is vulnerable to political winds of change. There is no legislation underpinning the policy, there is little mention (last time I looked) of Whānau Ora in strategic documents outside of Te Puni Kōkiri’s, The fulcrum of its existence is the Ministerial office and little else. This minimalist approach seems to be deliberate for the reasons I mention before, that Whānau Ora might have a greater chance of success with less, not more, Government oversight.

In which case, Tariana’s own words of unease yesterday (in a Māori Party press release  commenting on the observations made by a political panel at the launch of Te Pou Matakana) may have some foundation:

Whanau Ora leaders also described their despair at the word ‘review’, given they have felt under the microscope every step of the way in the Whanau Ora journey while many other services appear to escape such scrutiny,” said Mrs Turia. “Rather than a review, it would so wonderful if political parties could instead reflect and learn from transformation of so many lives that is occurring through the means of Whanau Ora.

Perhaps future more detailed policy announcements from Labour might allay some anxiety that could be gathering pace about one of the legacies of the last ten years of the Māori Party.



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