One of the underlying foundations of Diocesan School for Girls is the recognition of partnership with Māori and embodiment of the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In line with this, Diocesan School for Girls has established a new faculty, Te Whare Huia. It embraces all things Māori, including the teaching of te reo Māori, Kapa Haka and Mātauranga Māori as its core subjects.
“We believe it’s imperative for all of our students to understand Māori knowledge and how this sits alongside existing world knowledge to enhance our appreciation and understanding of te ao Māori,” says Heather McRae, the school’s principal.
“An important part of this is understanding the theory of knowledge and how it was created. Knowledge isn’t static. It’s always developing and changing. It’s often deeply embedded in cultural history in the same way that Greeks, Romans and Chinese enhanced areas of knowledge we learn about today,” she adds.
The Mātauranga Māori curriculum at Diocesan examines the culture and belief systems of Māori and has been two years in the planning. It was launched this year as a core subject, alongside English, Science and Mathematics, and includes topics that offer an indigenous perspective to also help support the aspirations of the soon-to-be-introduced New Zealand Histories Curriculum in the Social Sciences area.
“The curriculum we offer at Dio is one that serves to expand knowledge and capabilities for life beyond school,” says Heather.
“As our students move into the world and into their adult lives, they’ll need to be confident in the diverse communities of Aotearoa if they are to make decisions that might positively contribute to our country. There’s a compelling need for tomorrow’s leaders to have a deeper understanding of tikanga and te reo Māori, and this knowledge will give them a point of difference anywhere in the world.
“It’s vital that Te Tiriti o Waitangi is understood and woven into our curriculum.” Heather says that Te Whare Huia will also create a space for students to hear the stories of those who are not often heard. “Through story-telling, we want to help foster an understanding of the root cause of disparities and meaningfully consider how they might be reconciled. We believe the establishment of Te Whare Huia will help prepare our students to be able to confidently lead on social issues and contribute towards building a more equitable society.” Since 2018, the school has partnered with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to offer te reo and tikanga courses to the school community, including staff, parents and neighbouring schools.
In addition, the school is working on developing a closer relationship with local iwi to ensure that the Mātauranga Māori shared in the classroom is accurate and relevant to the local stories of mana whenua. “We want to make links into Mātauranga Māori but I also want it to be a bridge into other learning areas, such as the sciences. Whatever we create in our classrooms, we want to give back to iwi. It needs to be a reciprocal relationship.” Te Whare Huia is the school’s ninth faculty, with Ashley Pihema (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Kai Tahu) as its Head. It’s named after the now-extinct huia bird, which was once hunted for its prized feathers.
“Ashley is a role model of leadership and an important mana wahine – a woman standing tall in education, sowing the seeds of knowledge to grow a better, more caring world that recognises the value and care of being kaitiaki (guardians) for the hapori (community),” says Heather.
Head of Te Whare Huia, Ashley Pihema.
Ashley Pihema has done a lot in her eight years of teaching at Dio, but it’s her establishment of Te Whare Huia which is perhaps her greatest achievement.
“The name of the faculty is to honour Māori taonga,” says Ashley. It includes the three strands of te reo Māori, Kapa Haka and Mātauranga Māori, all now taught at Dio.
Raised in South and East Auckland, Ashley joined Dio as a first year teacher in 2014 after studying Criminology and Māori Studies at Auckland University. She’s a second-language learner and studied full-immersion te reo at Te Wānanga o Takiura for two years.
Ashley has taught te reo Māori to Years 7-13 for the past seven years, but the expansion of her department and addition of more staff means Ashley can focus more on the strategic development of the new faculty, curriculum development and further strengthening relationships with the Māori community and iwi groups.
Ashley Pihema says that the Mātauranga Māori programme offers an indigenous worldview through a different cultural lens that exists.
“It’s about creation, exploration and migration; stories of resistance and taonga,” she says. “It’s a core part of what we do. We want to recognise the same mana to subjects taught in this faculty as we do to every other subject.
“I’d love to see the Faculty grow and develop as a place of learning where students feel confident and comfortable with ways of understanding Aotearoa and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. I’d like to see it embedded as the tikanga of Dio. Our focus is on teaching all students to help develop their understanding of Aotearoa, and to recognise that New Zealand is a place of privilege”, she says.
Ashley says she has been very fortunate to have the unwavering support and encouragement of the school’s Board and executive team in the establishment of Te Whare Huia. She works closely with senior school deputy principal Simon Walker (Ngāti Porou, Whakatōhea), who also has a passion and drive to see Te Ao Māori thrive at Diocesan.
Simon is the grandson of writer and academic Ranginui Walker whose works include Ka whawhai tonu mātou. His academic writings continue to challenge educationalists, particularly with the concepts of deconstructing and decolonising the education system.
Ashley is supported in her mahi by two other members of the Te Whare Huia team. Kali Haenga (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-a-Apanui) heads the language and kapahaka initiatives for the Junior School at Diocesan, while Cydel Peters (Tainui, Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Whātua) delivers the Mātauranga Māori programme to the Year 7 and 8 cohorts.
Earlier this year, the team spearheaded a school waiata initiative led by Year 13 student, Rosie Leishman. Kōhine mā is a waiata that represents the school's values and also the local iwi heroine, Puhihuia; a brave young woman of Maungawhau.
“The waiata will be a taonga and a legacy for the students to sing for many years to come,” says Ashley.
The new Te Whare Huia faculty is based in the wharenui which is a prominent and welcoming part of the school campus. Students gather there for class lessons, hui and kapa haka including Te Ara Hou which is a steering group set up to share ideas, and a Manu Huia waiata group where staff learn tikanga, songs and mihi whakatau.
“There are a lot of people involved and a lot of passion,” says Ashley.
Staff start their weekly meetings with a karakia and mihi; an initiative led by the staff who had completed the Te Ara Reo course with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“It’s a high-trust model,” she says. “A lot of our staff have their own stories of discovery in finding their identity, and are keen to share them. From learning more about Te Ao Māori they find a new appreciation for the culture and then they want to know more about their own ancestry and heritage.”
E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea.
I shall never be lost; I am a seed sown from Rangiātea