The day I finally understood what it meant to be living in a bicultural nation
A few years ago I was given the privilege of facilitating a professional learning group of secondary and area school principals leading schools in the far north of Aotearoa. As someone who had mainly practised in the primary sector, I felt a little nervous about this role and decided that the first thing I would do is go and visit each participant in their school and listen to their stories.
It proved to be a life-changing decision.
The first secondary school we went to was not far from Whangarei and was, to all intents and purpose a fairly typical mid-sized New Zealand secondary school. We had a great conversation with the principal and I began to realize that leadership is leadership and how you act as a leader matters much more than what it is you are actually leading.
As we travelled north the schools became smaller and their locations more isolated. We finally arrived at one area school, educating students ranging in age from 5 to 13 years. It was raining as we got out of the car, but it was warm, as was the greeting we received from the students as we made our way to the office.
As I began to talk with the students I began to realize how inadequate my knowledge of Te Reo was because the language these children spoke was a mixture of English and Te Reo. For the first time in my life in New Zealand, I found myself struggling to understand what was being said by a child in a New Zealand school.
This school was more than an hour’s drive from the nearest town centre. The community the school was in had a petrol station and a dairy which also doubled as the video shop. For most of the children, a trip to the nearest town centre happened once or maybe twice a year.
But the passion of the principal to give ‘her’ kids the very best education possible was palpable. She recognised the part digital technology would play in giving ‘her’ kids a chance in the future they were growing into. She told the story of her husband secretly doing overtime so that he could buy her a computer because he too knew that access to the internet would give the tamariki of the community access to the world.
The principal who was a very wise woman, gave the communities first iPads to the Kuia (grandmothers) because she knew that if the Kuia thought the children should have access to these devices, then everyone would do whatever it took to provide these tools to their tamariki.
The more time I spent in this community the more I realised how hard these Māori communities have to fight for what we, wealthy pakeha living in our cities, idly take for granted. For the first time in my life, I finally understood what it meant to benefit from white privilege.
I feel really proud to live in a bicultural nation. I love learning about te ao Māori and expanding my world view to encompass the views of others.
As a nation, we are making progress towards fulfilling the intent of the Treaty of Waitangi, but we also have a long way to go. Too many of our Māori learners struggle in our school system. Too many of our Māori adults are in low paying jobs and struggling with poverty.
The day I walked into that small, rural, isolated, school, whose roll was 100% Māori I was immersed in a different way of being, a different way of learning and for the first time in my life, I began to have empathy for what it is like for so many Māori growing up in Aotearoa.
He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.
We need to accelerate the process of gaining empathy with and an understanding of what it means to be Māori living in New Zealand communities. We have to stop expecting Māori families to come to us, and instead, go to them. We need to be spending more time seeking to understand and gain empathy about what it is like for Māori and to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones in order for others to be more comfortable in our pakeha zones.
I love the fact that for one day in February our nation stops to celebrate our founding treaty. I look forward to the time when everyone, every day celebrates the rich diversity that is Aotearoa, New Zeland.
Happy Waitangi Day
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