He Iti Pioki: Swimming against the currents in education

Dr Therese Ford addresses the question: If a school came to you and wanted to develop a relationship with tangata whenua – mana whenua, what would you tell them?

In this conversation Dr Therese Ford (Ngāi Takato, Ngāti Kahu, Pākehā) speaks with Alex Barnes (Pākehā) about swimming against the currents in education and about entering te Tiriti-based relationships from a position of humility.

In my experience when people have engaged with hapū and iwi from an informed perspective, and from a place of humility about wanting to learn more and better understand, it’s usually received well. There’s always more learning to be done.

Dr Therese Ford.

With a background in school teaching and leadership, Therese is a PLD facilitator and activist scholar. She is currently a national coordinator of two leadership development programmes with Te Akatea Māori Principals Association:

  • Te Akatea Emerging Māori Leaders’ Programme
  • Te Akatea Māori First Time Principals’ Programme.

Click here for more information about these programmes.

Dr Therese Ford, national co-coordinator of the The Māori Emerging Leaders’ and Māori First Time Principals’ programmes.

WATCH: If a school came to you and wanted to develop a relationship with tangata whenua – mana whenua, what would you tell them?

Jump to transcript

In this video:

Tēnā rā tātou, nau mai, whakatau mai ki tēnei o ngā wānaga ki tēnei o ngā whakawhiti whakaaro, whakawhitinga kōrero i tēnei o ngā rā. Ka tīmata au – ka hoki au ki tēnei o ngā whakataukī. Mō tēnei o ngā mareikura kua tae mai nei i tēnei rā. He iti pioke nō Rangaunu, he au tōna.

Nā reira e te uri o Ngāi Takoto Therese, tēnā koe nau mai piki mai rā.

Therese Ford, it’s wonderful to have you here. I’ve been channelling some of your people from Ngāi Takato and Muriwhenua here, and started us off with this whakatauākī from your people: He iti pioke nō Rangaunu, he au tōna.

I just learnt about this this morning, Therese. Talked to you a bit about it before we jumped on and recorded this. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the strength of the individual but also the strength of the collective, and the pioke being a metaphor for the distinctiveness in your harbour Rangaunu, and how it can go across the currents, or go up against the current and then also work with other groups.

I thought it’s very fitting because of the work you’ve been doing for many years around changing our education system, and challenging racism in our education system.

It’s wonderful to have you here, Therese Ford. I will pass it over very shortly for you Therese for you to talk about yourself, but let me just list off some of your accolades.

Of course, we started with your whakatauākī from the North, but I would also like to acknowledge your co-coordination role with Te Akatea and the work you’re doing with Johnson Davis – our brother Johnson – around the Emerging Māori Leaders’ Programme and the Māori First Time Principals’ Programme.

Kia ora.

E mihi tonu ana ki a kōrua, otirā ki a koutou ko tō māpu.

I just want to acknowledge your crew there and the work you’re doing with all those exciting new leaders coming through. And of course some of your background – limiting it here to your professional background – but your work with Te Kotahitanga, your work with Kia Eke Panuku, and your work more recently with Poutama Pounamu and Waikato University generally. Nau mai rā e hoa.

For those listening and watching, my name is Alex Barnes. I’ve worked with Therese for a few years now, loved it, learn a lot from her. I live in Te Awamutu, fifth generation Pākehā tauiwi, still figuring out why my people came here. I’m committed alongside Therese to challenging the status quo of racism, and finding frameworks, ways of being and doing that enable us to change.

And so, Te Tiriti, He Wakaputanga has been one of my core ways of thinking and doing in relation to that change work. So, enough about me. Therese, we’re going to hand it over to you and then we’ll get into our kōrero for today. Kei a koe, e hoa.

Kia ora koutou, kia ora Alex.

Ko Kurahaupō te waka
Ko Tohorā rāua ko Puwheke ngā maunga
Ko Rangaunu te moana
Ko Awanui te awa
Ko Waimanoni tōku marae
Ko Ngāi Takoto rāua ko Ngāti Kahu ngā iwi
Ko Terese Ford ahau

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēna tatou katoa

Thank you Alex for that introduction. As you’ve said, I’m a descendant of Muriwhenua. I connect across the five iwi of Muriwhenua but I primarily locate myself in Ngāi Takoto through my grandmother and Ngāti Kahu through my grandfather. I’m very proud of my links up to Muriwhenua. Ngāi Takoto in particular are characterised by their resistance and their activism. So, I draw really strongly from the mana wāhine who lead in the North, who have led in the North and who continue to lead.

I inherit my Māori whakapapa through my mother, and I inherit my Irish-Catholic-Pākehā whakapapa through my father. Interesting what you say Alex about wondering what brought your people to Aotearoa – I know my Irish tūpuna were fleeing colonisation when they left both the Northern and Southern countries of Ireland. They were escaping the Crown and what was happening there with the British colonising that country. Interestingly, they found themselves in Aotearoa and became complicit in the colonisation of this country and the impact it had on my Māori tūpuna.

I have the tension, I guess, of being both the coloniser and the colonised. But I also like to think about the potential within that, because actually, I am an embodiment of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. That’s in my DNA and I challenge myself and I challenge the people that I’m fortunate enough to work with to think about what that means – Te Tiriti in particular – in how we might live out the promises inherent. And I believe that’s really closely connected to the mahi that you’re doing with the people that you’re working with, and to the kōrero we’re going to have today. So, kia ora.

Tēnā koe. Thank you for all of that. Bring them all in, baby! Bring them all in! All of that tension, eh! Well, I’m looking forward to this.

My friends, we have a key question which we’re going to explore today. And I will just kick us off by saying these are two human beings who are thinking about this work every day. Exploring ideas, sometimes – I’ll speak for myself here Therese – sometimes I try some things, doesn’t work. Other days, it works a bit, and other days it really works well with groups of people. So, the disclaimer is we’re still becoming. We’re still working on what it means to think in socially and culturally-just ways here in Aotearoa.

What you just said earlier, Therese, about that tension and the complexity of colonisation and how it reproduces – I see this in the work I’m doing, how systems of oppression are reproduced through our systems of work. So whether that be in education, and how we then internalise those systems often without even knowing what we’re internalising. It’s very complex stuff so just want to acknowledge some of what you were saying.

Do you have any disclaimers before we get into our key question of world peace? Or should I just get in there?

I think we just get in there, Alex.

Ka pai, let’s hit it! Muriwhenua, let’s get in there! So the key question is: Therese Ford, if a school came to you and wanted to develop a relationship with mana whenua and tangata whenua, what would you tell them? And I’ll just repeat the question again: if a school came to you and wanted to develop a relationship with mana whenua and tangata whenua, what would you tell them?

I’m particularly interested here in your evolution of thinking and being in relation to that question of relationship with schools and tangata whenua. What would you say? How has your thinking changed?

About ten years ago when I started working with the University of Waikato in Te Kotahitanga, I was asked that question quite frequently in light of the role that I was in which was about supporting school leaders to develop relationships with their whānau Māori.

What I would’ve said back then, what I would’ve asked back then in response to that question is, “What do you know about the mana whenua, hapū, iwi upon which your school is located? What do you know about who they are? What they value, what they believe, what they want.” So it’s asking questions about the work before the work that needs to happen when we anticipate going into a relationship.

Now, in terms of how my thinking has evolved (and I don’t want to suggest for one minute that understanding who you’re entering into a relationship with isn’t important – because it is really, really important) but when I’m asked that question now, because of the learning that I’ve done over time, I respond to that question more from the perspective of asking people what they understand about themselves first before what they understand about mana whenua, hapū, iwi.

I locate that question in the two constitutional covenants that you’ve mentioned, Alex. He Wakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Because what I’ve learned is that people generally have some understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but often little if not any understanding around He Wakaputanga, The Declaration of Independence that was signed in 1835. So often the question back to the people who have asked me, the question turns into a bit of an exploration around what He Wakaputanga was, what it represented and what it means today.

So, helping people to understand that our tūpuna in the 1800s had been meeting together, thinking together, collaboratively problem solving together because they recognised that tauiwi were coming to Aotearoa – people from other lands, non-Māori – they were liking what they were seeing and they wanted to live here. They recognised that, and they recognised that they needed to find ways to manage that. So they met regularly to discuss: how can we manage and stay in charge of our own affairs, and also how are we going to manage and live with the people who are coming from other lands?

Working that out together, and often when I share that with people, it’s a bit of a disruptor to an entrenched narrative around historically iwi didn’t get along. That we spent all of our time fighting and killing each other and we needed tauiwi to come and help us sort out our affairs. While there’s a little bit of truth in that in terms of we did work together to think about how we could sort out our affairs, we were really effective prior to the arrival of tauiwi to debate, to discuss and to collaboratively form solutions.

He Wakaputanga was an opportunity to formalise that forum of rangatira meeting regularly to collaboratively solution-seek. The other thing about He Wakaputanga that’s really, really important is that it was also an assertion of Māori power and authority over their land, their resources and their people. And they recognised that they needed to make that really clear to tauiwi. As more of them were gonna come and settle, they needed to explicitly position themselves as the people who had power and authority here in this land.

Progressing on from He Wakaputanga, we had the development of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in this time frame, we’ve got more and more tauiwi arriving. So we’re progressing on to Te Tiriti which was and is an affirmation of those principles within He Wakaputanga that develops more detail, that’s more relative to the settling of tauiwi.

So, we have Article One that talks about kāwanatanga, that principle of governance and tauiwi governing themselves and managing their own affairs, their own people.

Rangatiratanga, which is about Māori retaining power and authority over themselves, their people and their resources, and Mana ōrite that third article about how might tauiwi and tangata whenua work that out together in ways that uphold each other.

Often in that conversation that I have with people who want to know how to develop a relationship with their local iwi, I ask them do they understand the relationship between He Wakaputanga, which is the tuakana, to Te Tiriti, which is the teina, how they’re related to each other and how they reinforce each other, and do they understand how they themselves are located in relation to those two covenants? Because that’s a really important understanding and that should sit at the heart of informing how we then endeavour to develop a relationship with our local mana whenua, hapū, iwi.

So much going on in this heart and mind now, Therese. Thank you for that. Because there’s so much going on, I need to just take a breath.

One thing that strikes me is that people’s minds and hearts probably blow up; they’re like ‘what!’ when they think of… I don’t know, maybe they don’t. I’d be interested to hear more. That’s a really, really important – and you’re demonstrating it.

Important groundwork to cultivate those foundational elements because even how iwi – well, hapū really – those nations, how they came together and collaborated – that would be a very different worldview practice to how my ancestors – or our ancestors on your tauiwi side – would’ve thought of collaboration.

Bringing that history into the present enables us to have an understanding of our constitutional responsibilities and our constitutional background – how decisions are made in a sense – but then what does that mean for us now given what we’ve got? I love that. I love that.

I would just like to add also the importance with Te Tiriti. My understanding has developed and changed. We were talking about this evolution and you reflecting on that, and moving away from “Where are Māori at?” to “and ‘Hold on, who are you?’ Which is great.

One thing that I’ve had to do for myself in that regard is to think about that preamble of Te Tiriti, and then the fourth spoken article too, and how my learning has developed around the preamble being about – in the terms back then, a peaceful coexistence – and the preamble was about (my understanding of it anyway) a really clear acknowledgement again of Māori having their own sophisticated social, cultural systems, economic systems, governance systems, and the ability of my ancestors to come here and have their own and contribute to a nation.

Then that fourth article being religious and spiritual freedoms. I know in some of the churches that’s been an important part too.

How we inhabit the work around relationship building, it’s not just the intellectual thing, it’s the vibe that we bring to the relationship.

Yes, absolutely

So I think that fourth article is kind of important, like what’s your vibe? What are you bringing? Who are you bringing with you? And who aren’t you bringing with you? So, I was just thinking about the evolution and my evolutional thinking and being has changed in response to those things.

What’s the response from people when you share what you’ve just shared with us? In ‘the now’ for people. Where do they go? Where do you go with them from there?

I think initially, because it’s a bit of a disruption – they are expecting, ‘What do I need to go out and do’ as opposed to my response which is actually, ‘There is some internal work that needs to be done first if you haven’t already done that.’

Understanding who you are, what you value and believe, which is that link to the fourth article, but also how do you understand what those covenants represented and why they were developed, and what realising those promises might mean. What are we – because they haven’t been realised.

Because that’s part of the other internal analysis – if those were the constitutional frameworks and they were developed so that both people or all peoples on this whenua could thrive and be uplifted by this peaceful coexistence, the reality is that hasn’t been the lived experience of tangata whenua for generations.

That internal analysis is about critiquing: What have I done? What am I doing that’s contributing to perpetuate the inequities that we currently have? Or: What am I doing? and What do I understand? – about what I have to do to realise those promises and address inequity and racism and learning disparity that we talk about in education.

So an internal analysis first, and then some thinking about: And what do I know about the mana whenua, hapū of the area? What do I know about who they are? About what they value? About what they want? What do I know about their story of colonisation? Because all hapū and iwi have an experience of colonisation. What do I know about what the system has – or how this colonial system has impacted upon these people? And what am I prepared to do about that?

So that when it is the right time to engage, you’re coming into that relational space from an informed position. Not an expert position, and that’s really important that we don’t do all this learning about ourselves, about the national story and about the local story so I know it all now, and I know what you need and I’m here to help – really important that you don’t take that positioning in there with you.

In my experience, when people have engaged with hapū and iwi from an informed perspective, and a place of humility about wanting to learn more and better understand, that’s usually received well.

Can I just jump in there? I think this notion of humility and what it means to be a leader. A core characteristic disposition is really important.

I’m really happy that you’ve distinguished the expert / informed difference. That whole idea of an expert I’ve always had problems with that but that aside, I was just reminded as you were talking about humility of a number of experiences I’ve had but I was talking to some Māori whanaunga of mine earlier in the week, and one of them was saying they were in a school and one of the school leaders was saying, “Yeah yeah yeah, well, we’ve got all these Māori values, we’ve got whanaungatanga, kotahitanga, manaakitanga, and so we’ve got all of that. I already know about all that. I know about that stuff. So we want to do this now.”

He was reflecting and saying (he didn’t use the term ‘arrogance’) but my reading of it is arrogance – where these leaders who are non-Māori talking about Māori concepts, assuming that they knew it all. They probably didn’t know they were coming across that way, but assuming that they know it all.

He was saying well okay you know about whanaungatanga, and then he was saying (I hope that I’m representing this right) … He started to ask some questions about relationships with the staff, with the students, how whanaungatanga actually operates. And they had no idea. But they had these values plastered around the school about manaakitanga being care and stewardship or something like that.

It was a very superficial understanding and you can see how (and this was one of my concerns) the current thing about mana ōrite is they’re very charged, deep concepts. And they don’t have to be deep like, ‘Oh, it’s so hard’ but they’re complex and it takes time to learn about their application so this notion that we need to look internally first. What do we understand about this concept? Before we rush out. It’s really important.

I think being really cognisant of the dual (and sometimes there’s more than two), but the dual worldviews at play. Because that example that you give, Alex, is so common. In some respects we celebrate that we see more reo, that we hear more reo, that kupu reo has become a fairly normalised practice in documents, across schools, around schools, that bilingual signage.

But one of the implications that I’ve encountered is once we put that word out, often what’s required or what’s expected is an English translation and then from a colonial Western perspective, that is the one definition and the one truth that explains something like manaakitanga which is deep and complex. And so there’s a worldview that defaults us to that one, dare I say it – simplistic – understanding of care when it’s multi-layered and multi-leveled and actually it can be interpreted in different ways by different peoples because there are tribal and hapū interpretations.

From a Māori perspective, that notion that there can be multiple interpretations is normal and it’s okay. But if you don’t understand that, you do adopt an expert position because you know that manaakitanga means ‘care’ and that’s actually really problematic if you’re wanting to develop a relationship with people who might actually have different interpretations. Or it might be deeper and more complex.

This is where that positioning around humility and understanding that there’s more learning to be done is really important.

Hard out. And this is what we expect of the young people in communities that we serve. That we’re active learners, we’re learning. Like, I know with my own reo learning, I’m constantly learning and being challenged. There’s no end to it. The relationship between manaakitanga and whanaungatanga is infinite! It’s infinitive! You know? Is that the right word? It just keeps going on!

This openness to learning and continuing to learn is a very humbling place and it’s also a place of real creativity and innovation too because it’s like saying: We’re here now, this is what we understand about our school and how we work with tangata whenua, but we’re not stuck here, this is an evolving relationship.


One thing that I just want to pick up on because I know we’ve got to finish shortly (we’ve got another five to ten minutes) which links to this issue is around motivation. It’s around motivation and learning.

One of the things that you’ve talked about in the past Therese which I really like – and I want you to talk more about it – but I also want to have some critical discussion about is this idea you’ve talked about localised curriculum.

You’ve asked the question: what is the motivation for developing a localised curriculum? What is your motivation? Talk more about that and what the issues are there. I’d like to hear more about that trap. That mind-trap, that heart-trap that we get into.

Absolutely. So, in the learning that I suggest people do about themselves and about our national narrative and then about local narratives, what you will learn as you explore that space is that a lot of harm has occurred. So, it is about the people we are seeking a relationship with. The mana whenua, hapū, iwi. Be aware, be really conscious to the harm that these people have experienced. And think carefully, therefore, about the motivation for the relationship and think carefully about the reception that you might receive on account of these lived experiences of harm.

So, the motivation for the relationship is really important. If after all of the learning that you do, the motivation for the relationship is explicitly still about getting the knowledge I need to develop a local curriculum because that’s what the Ministry says we need to do, that’s really problematic.

And the hapū and iwi that you engage with, they’ll get a sense of that. They’ll get a sense of: Is this going to be what I call a bi-directional, mutually reinforcing relationship within which we both benefit, so that’s mana whenua. Or is it going to be unidirectional? Is it going to go one way from iwi hapū, mana whenua to school to give them the things that they need to meet the policy requirements that the Ministry now has of them.

That’s the default setting, right? That’s the default. Give us your knowledge – so we can then just put it in our document. So what you’re doing is you’re being the pioke here, you’re challenging, you’re going up against them and saying ‘hold up, hold up. Don’t just default to that sucking of information because that’s dangerous.

That’s part of the pre-thinking and the work before the work. How will this hapū iwi benefit from being in relationship with us? Be clear about that.

Be clear about some of the things that you can bring to the relationship. You might have an expectation – it’s likely that you might have an expectation that they might bring their knowledge, their people – what are you going to do? That needs to be really thought through very carefully and I, in many instances, I have seen that that hasn’t happened and actually, the relationship hasn’t evolved.

The idea of relationships is really important. Some consideration given to how this relationship will be ongoing and sustained and that’s a really important consideration for school leaders. I’ve seen in schools where principals have done a lot of internal analysis, they’ve done the narrative around the national story, they’ve done the learning around the local story, they’ve worked over years. And it takes years to develop a deep relationship with mana whenua that is mutually reinforcing, but then they leave. And they’re the key relationship holder. That’s really problematic.

There’s some thinking around spread and sustainability when going into these relationships as well. The other thing, the other word that I use really deliberately, and it’s been about my learning that I’ve done largely from people who’ve been generous enough to share this with me from the North in Tai Tokerau where I’m from, the word ‘partnership’ is really problematic.

The partnership for Māori between tangata whenua and tauiwi has never been an equal partnership. It’s been a partnership within which tauiwi have dominated and Māori have occupied an oppressed position. So, partnership is really problematic in the North. Mana whenua, hapū, iwi are seeking a relationship which is different from a partnership.

I like that distinguishing feature too, and I think that it comes into discussions around how the principles of the Treaty are now being critically re-thought and that’s another discussion around principles of partnership and participation and blah blah blah. What do we actually mean by those and how are they actually being enacted or not?

Well, ka pai. I’m going to – we’re going to finish off now Therese because your time is precious. E hoa mā, those who are watching, thank you again. We will be putting some resources attached to this recording as well so I’ll be talking with Therese about some resources she thinks you can check out and access, and so that will then hopefully sparks the gems, the illuminations – or, being in the dark, because that’s got some goodness too. You can then find some further learning, some further resources to help you in your learning and evolve the thinking, mindsets and ‘heart-set’ that you have.

Therese, before we finish, what would you like to say? Finish us off – picking up on that idea of relationship with mana whenua and tangata whenua in schools. Anything like the last – not the last word – but some concluding thoughts around that?

I think it’s really important that people are prepared to invest in a long-term relationship. And often long-term relationships that are meaningful and mutually reinforcing, they take time. And in most instances in communities where I work where the relationship is sound, it’s taken years to get to that point. And it wasn’t all perfect, there were mistakes that were made. But like in any relationship, you need to work on it. You need to maintain that determined but humble disposition to learn and grow together over time.

Ah, e te iti pioke, tēnā koe. E te mana o Rangaunu and mihi ana. Thank you so much for your time, Therese Ford. Keep doing the good work. I’m looking forward to another opportunity. If people want to get in touch with you, Therese, how do they do that?

So they can find my email details and my phone number as well on the Te Akatea website.

Don’t give people your phone number!

I don’t mind people ringing me Alex, this is important work.

Ah! Generosity my friends, thank you Therese! We’re going to finish off. Go well out there in the wild world. Thank you again Therese. I’ve said thank you five times, it’s been wonderful. We’re looking forward to more conversations like this and more action actually on the ground.

So tēnā koe kei taku tuahine, e mihi ana.
Otirā koutou, e whakarongo mai nā, pai mārire ki a tātou. Tēnā koutou.

Ka kite.