Education helps restore Māori culture

Friday 7 September 2012, 6:17PM
By Pita Sharples

Kaupapa Māori education has been part of the renaissance that has helped rebuild Māori people and culture in recent decades, according to the Associate Minister of Education, Dr Pita Sharples.

In a hard-hitting speech to the World Indigenous Lawyers’ Conference at Waikato University this afternoon, Dr Sharples said the destructive forces of colonisation were turned around in the 1970s and since.

“The laws policies and practices of successive NZ Governments over the past two hundred years have, without any doubt whatsoever, been a major factor in the systematic de-culturalisation of Maori people, and the marginalisation of Maori in almost all areas of our socio-economic genre de vie,” he said.

“However the cultural social and economic renaissance of Maori begun in the late 70’s has forced successive Governments to support a resurgence and revitalisation of Maori cultural structures, institutions and tikanga tipuna, including te reo Māori, and to support Maori growth and achievements in many aspects of our society and economy.

“Māori culture was attacked on many fronts – our tribal social structures were targeted, our spiritual and religious beliefs, our collective land tenure, our language, and our customary rights were subjected to legislation and government policy.

“We were marginalised through the education system, whereby Māori schools focused on training workers rather than educating academics and leaders, and a deficit model of assessment blamed Māori students for their failure at school, not the education system itself.

“From the first onslaught of exotic diseases, successive policies of war, assimilation and integration failed to eradicate Māori culture and identity.

They came close during the 1950s, when many Māori came to believe that the best way forward was to pursue Pākehā ways and abandon our heritage. But in the 1960s a renaissance began, and in the 1970s it consolidated around the revival of Māori language and protests over land rights.

“The kōhanga reo movement inspired our people with hope and confidence that we could determine our own future. However the cultural basis of kōhanga reo was never recognised in statute, and today we see recriminations between the movement and the Crown.

“Te Aho Matua, the philosophical foundation of Kura Kaupapa Māori, was eventually enshrined in the law, and kura have been key players in maintaining a community of native speakers of te reo Māori, and further generations of people raised in a Māori cultural milieu.

“Today Māori culture and values has increasing influence in New Zealand’s institutions, such as Family Group Conferences and Youth Courts – though there is always a struggle to maintain cultural integrity in the new structures.

“The lesson for us all is that, at one time, the law was used to deconstruct Māori culture. But now Māori are using the law to reconstruct our society, and to consolidate our kaupapa and tikanga in a modern Aotearoa.