For local iwi – Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Toa, Rangitāne and Ngāti Kuia – Te Tātoru o Wairau is a golden opportunity to make a difference in education in Wairau Blenheim, says Michelle Lavender, pou ārahi/operations manager for Ngāti Rārua.
Speaking on behalf of the iwi working group, Michelle says group members look at the project as being more than just constructing some buildings.
“For us, it’s a chance to really influence the way that education is delivered here to encourage those better outcomes that we have wanted for our Māori children for a long, long time,” she says.
“In the last 12 months we have got on board with our mātauranga work stream, working with all our iwi, particularly the mana whenua of this area, and they want their tamariki to know the purākāu stories of this area. If you don’t truly embed the histories and stories of local mana whenua and Māori, it just becomes a tick-box exercise,” adds John.
Michelle says that each of the eight iwi in Marlborough have slightly different strategic goals, but they all aspire to the same objective: their tamariki having choices.
“We all want them to receive an education, formal or informal, that will set them up to succeed in life. That aspiration hasn’t changed over the last 100 plus years. It’s making sure that our school environments are conducive to that for our kids – they need to be places where Māori students see themselves, where they feel safe,” she says.
Te Tātoru o Wairau has removed barriers to engagement between iwi and the schools and Michelle says that already the working group is setting up opportunities where teachers can learn from iwi experts who have rich skill sets and knowledge.
“We’re very excited about it. Most people engaged in the project are super-keen to learn and be part of the process. We really think it will become an exemplar for schools in Aotearoa going forward – ways that you can work together.
“When you sit with a teacher or administrator and have a conversation about ‘what’s important to us as Māori?’ they can reflect on that and realise that’s important to them too; we’re not different at all,” she says.
A local iwi member has been interviewing experts in each of the iwi and is writing a cultural narrative, which the working group hopes will be a jumping off point, not only incorporated into the building design, but also for teachers to use as curriculum resources. The narrative will be made available to all schools in the region.
Iwi are also hoping that the kōrero happening as a result of the building project will provide them with opportunities to share their cultural practices with the schools.
“When we look at a lot of our cultural practices, they’re all about grounding people, about being grateful. The whole reason we start a meeting with a karakia is so that people can leave all the other stuff from their day at the door and come into the space and be really focused.
“If we give time and importance to those things in our schools, we think our students will become more grounded and that behaviour will improve. We want people to use our practices, but to also use them to explore their own cultures,” explains Michelle.
“Having that shared cultural narrative will make it easier for students transitioning from school to school. If we also have the backing of the iwi, we know that the cultural stories that we are sharing are correct and true,” adds Nicky.