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Taku patu, taku patu, Māori mana motuhake! – Issue 10

Māori identity at university is a subject of broad and current interest but it’s not just about universities. It’s about every industry, sector, field and service that Māori are involved in, or not involved in, but everyday decisions continue to be made for us, without us. It would be irresponsible of me to say that Māori struggle with identity in the spaces that we navigate. But that isn’t incorrect either. Everyday, we’re proud to be Māori in whatever way, shape or form. 


Māori identity at university, incidentally, isn’t a Māori problem. But we’re the people having to dust off the dirt that’s been thrown at us for the last century, that we have been in western academia. What does that mean? That Māori are constantly seeking reconciliation and attempting to fix a system that has hurt us in so many ways, for the betterment of all, but with our money, time and labour. That doesn’t sound, nor look like, a Tiriti partnership to me. 


Waitangi day, 1989, Sir Eddie Durie says that the Treaty of Waitangi is not just a bill of rights for Māori – it is a bill of rights for Pākehā too. It is the treaty that gives Pākehā the right to be here. Without the Treaty there would be no lawful authority for the Pākehā presence in this part of the South Pacific. The Pākehā are tāngata Tiriti, those who belong to the land by right of that Treaty.


So I don’t think the question is really about Māori identity at university. It’s more about how are both Māori and tāngata Tiriti honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi at university? Because despite public institutions in our country being founded in our settlement history and education systems adhering to western tradition and culture, the presence of universities in Aotearoa New Zealand only have lawful authority because of Te Tiriti. Period.


The University of Waikato has been dubbed as “having the worst racism” of any institution in Aotearoa. That’s not a statement I personally agree with because the conversation needs to be more critical than that, deeper than the problems that have surfaced and wider than the current interest. University institutions across the country are structurally, systemically, and casually discriminatory. Period.


So how do Māori experiences at university differ from non-Māori? Where to start? Have you ever been turned away from a general enquiries desk because you’re Māori and “the Māori mentors can help you with that”? Have you ever been declined an extension on an assignment because the person who passed away isn’t immediately related to you? Have you ever been made to feel ashamed because someone who paid to learn your language speaks it better than you? Or have you ever been acknowledged for having “good English for a Māori”? The university system for many Māori is like a loop with a running knot, tightening as the rope is pulled, trying to pull us in line, because we’re too Māori. Sound familiar? See; “racist NZ Parliament rules”, “necktie”, “Rawiri Waititi”, “colonial noose”.


I’ll go as far as saying that the university system continues to breach Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Tell me where you recognise partnership. Ask any Māori, staff and student, if they feel protected. What the heck does participation even look like if non-Māori have to be reminded and encouraged to attend kaupapa Māori? Again, Māori identity at university isn’t a Māori problem. We’re here. We’re in your classes. We’re in your board rooms. We’re reciting the karakia you requested and we’re singing your songs. We’re making your food and drink. We’re your Māori friend, colleague, we’re potentially the only Māori person you know. We’re all of that and more. Māori identity at university isn’t a Māori problem!


This all may be quite difficult to understand depending on the fabric of your makeup but if you are here on this whenua by virtue of Te Tiriti o Waitangi then you have every obligation to honour that agreement signed in 1840. We all have ancestral legacies to uphold in the context of Te Tiriti.


The University of Waikato’s Kirikiriroa Hamilton campus has afforded us a unique history not shared by any other university in Aotearoa New Zealand. This land has a pulse that is Ngāti Wairere. The Waikato river is the vein. The loud beating heart is the people. The philosophy is the Kīngitanga. Kīngi Tūheitia Pōtatau Te Wherowhero VII is the reigning monarch. These connections give rise to a significant responsibility to achieve the changes sought after and reflect an education model that is Te Tiriti based, Te Tiriti led, Te Tiriti focused. We don’t want improvement and we don’t want reformation. We want transformation!


The Parata-Gardiner review in September 2020 is only the start of the process. Many challenges have been identified and laid down throughout that process and even to this day. A University of Waikato Taskforce was appointed to develop a programme of work following on from that review. The work of this Taskforce is not something that has been tried before nationally or internationally, and it signals the beginning of a voyage towards long-term, intergenerational and sustainable change.


The University of Waikato has unique strengths and advantages that can support the work programme envisaged by the Taskforce. We are a young university developed through local community initiative and with support from the Kīngitanga and unencumbered by some of the colonial beginnings that other universities are marked by (Report of the Taskforce, 2021).


It is oddly satisfying to be discussing racism in the university sector so publically. Up until recently these conversations were in private, in fear of punishment. Thank you to the #Waikato6 for bringing these conversations out of the darkness and into the world of light. You have added another notch to the belt of Māori identity at university. A belt that will fashion aspiring Māori academics for many years to come.


Māori identity at university; we have the faces of Mataora and Niwareka. We have the staunch stance of Tūmatauenga. We flow like Tangaroa. We have the ability to succeed like Tāne Māhuta. We have the skills to navigate storms like Tāwhirimātea. We are a vital crop like the kūmara in the garden of Rongomātāne. We are grounded like Haumietiketike. We are eternal like Ranginui and Papatūānuku.