Young people should be given valuable opportunities to learn about their past, writes singer, musician and journalist Lizzie Marvelly.
Answer me this: When did the invasion of Parihaka take place? Who was the first President of the Māori Women’s Welfare League? Who was the first Māori King? When were the Māori seats established?
Before this week, I couldn’t have told you the answers to any of these these questions. Words like ‘Parihaka’ and ‘Kīngitanga’ have echoed dully in my mind for years, like places I’d been to before but couldn’t picture.
I’m ashamed to admit that it’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand their significance, when I’ve found myself out of my depth in conversation and, feeling the whakamā, sought to educate myself.
My grasp of Māori history is still woefully inadequate. While I remember one year in particular at Rotorua Girls’ High School in which Ms Morrison introduced my class to a number of important and uncomfortable events in New Zealand’s past, the stories that should’ve been my birthright – not only as a person of Māori descent, but as a New Zealander – are instead buried taonga; treasures that I am only unearthing through a commitment to continued excavation.
Despite the valiant efforts of a small handful of teachers, I could not count on school – public or private – to teach me about our national identity, with all of its triumphs and failures.
Nor could I count on our education system to teach me the oldest language of this land, te reo Māori. While we’ve undoubtedly come a long way in the time since I was a student, neither Māori history nor te reo Māori are valued enough to be compulsory in our schools.
I believe that is incredibly shortsighted.
Last weekend, I began a conversation on social media that has had me thinking all week. I asked, out of interest, whether any of my followers didn’t know who Te Puea Herangi and Dame Whina Cooper were. The generous answers I received – nearly 100 of them – were fascinating. On the whole, they confirmed my suspicions. As a nation, we simply don’t know enough about Māori history.
That has to change. Why? Because without proper understanding, we’ll be condemned to a future in which we have the same reductive arguments over and over again. We’ll remain ignorant of some of the greatest characters in our nation’s story.
We’ll continue to chase our tails every Waitangi Day, as people who don’t understand the significance of the Treaty fall over themselves to condemn it. We’ll stay sequestered in our own circles, too afraid to start a broader conversation about our history lest someone should be offended.
Thankfully, our young people now have an opportunity to learn about their past to create a more collaborative future. A new Māori history curriculum is in the pipeline, unveiled during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and scheduled to start rolling out next year. The new resources, called Te Takanga o Te Wā (the passage of time), mark the culmination of work by educators, advocates and unions sparked by a successful trial first announced by Dr Pita Sharples in 2013, and are now ready to be introduced into classrooms.
As excited as I am about the prospect of future generations raised knowing the truth about our past, I fear the new resources don’t go far enough. Under our current curriculum framework, it will still not be compulsory for schools to teach New Zealand history in any great depth, nor for schools to include Māori perspectives. While some schools will take up the new resources with enthusiasm, others will lag behind, denying their students the opportunity to fully understand their country. Some already do just that.
While the Treaty of Waitangi is one of the guiding principles of our school curriculum, it has been found to be poorly represented in school environments. An ERO report encompassing over 100 New Zealand schools in 2012 found that “Cultural diversity, future focus and Treaty of Waitangi were the least well-represented principles in approximately a third of classrooms. These three principles were not evident at all in about a sixth of classrooms.” While the report noted that representation of the Treaty of Waitangi principles had improved, it also found that “teachers have lacked knowledge and understanding of the Treaty and its implications for classroom and school practice”.
To look on the bright side, there is plenty of room for improvement, just as there are plenty of reasons to embrace Māori history. And don’t just take my word for it. Former Prime Ministers Jim Bolger and Geoffrey Palmer both told Radio New Zealand that they supported better teaching of New Zealand history. Bolger went a step further, saying that he believes it’s a mistake not to teach our young people more about their colonial history. “Frankly, the rise of white racism is partly because people don’t understand their history,” he said.
So why, as a nation of proud New Zealanders, have we not pushed to better understand our origins? Is it fear? Shame? Or are we just apathetic? Whatever the reasons, now seems an opportune moment to move past them. Imagine if we could have all of our schools teaching Māori history and Māori language in time for the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Until then, we’ll have to continue putting the puzzle of our past together piece by piece.
For the record, the invasion of Parihaka took place in November of 1881, when 1600 government troops stormed the peaceful settlement. They arrested the leaders of the movement and forced them to go on a tour of the South Island (aiming to emphasise the superiority of Pākehā society), unlawfully imprisoned residents, raped women and plundered the pā. It took nearly 140 years for the Crown to apologise, which it did, unreservedly, in June of this year.
Dame Whina Cooper was the first president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, while Te Puea Herangi was the League’s first patron. The first Māori King was King Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, and the Māori seats were established in 1867.
And that’s just the beginning.
Source: NZ Herald