Embracing Māori Cultural Narratives: Whangārei Intermediate School

By Judy Bruce

In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the importance of incorporating Māori cultural narratives into school buildings and curricula. This initiative not only promotes cultural diversity and inclusivity but also offers ākonga a deeper understanding of Aotearoa histories, values and traditions. In this article we will explore the significance of including Māori cultural narratives in school environments and educational programmes, and learn about the way in which Whangārei Intermediate School is embracing this kaupapa.

Māori have a unique connection to the land and a distinct cultural identity. Recognising and honouring their history and contributions to Aotearoa New Zealand is not only a matter of respect but also an opportunity to promote unity and mutual understanding among our nation’s diverse population. By integrating Māori narratives into school buildings, such as through the incorporation of traditional artwork, symbols and names, we can foster a sense of belonging for ākonga Māori and a greater appreciation for their culture among non-Māori students.

Incorporating Māori cultural narratives into the curriculum is equally important. Education is a powerful tool for promoting cultural awareness and sensitivity. By studying Māori history, language, and traditions, students gain a more comprehensive perspective of Aotearoa New Zealand’s heritage. This knowledge enables them to engage with cultural differences in a respectful and empathetic manner, preparing them for a future in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

For ākonga Māori seeing their culture represented in school buildings and curricula can instill a sense of pride and confidence in their cultural heritage. It reinforces their identity and provides a positive platform for them to share their traditions with their peers. This, in turn, can lead to increased self-esteem and academic success, as ākonga feel valued and respected for who they are.

Cultural competency is a crucial skill in our globalised world. By teaching all ākonga about Te Ao Māori, our education system will better provide them with the tools to navigate a multicultural society with respect and understanding.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi forms the foundation of New Zealand’s constitutional framework. The articles contained in Te Tiriti emphasise the importance of upholding Māori rights and cultural identity. Incorporating Māori cultural narratives into education aligns with treaty objectives and helps ensure that the promises made in the document are upheld.

Whangārei Intermediate Story 

Whangārei Intermediate School — Image by: Art work by Juliana Hoogeveen

Whangārei Intermediate School, led by their passionate Tumuaki Hayley Read, has been on a journey for the past ten years. Through flipping the script and teaching through a Māori lens they have worked towards embedding Te Ao Māori across the school. Senior leaders and kaiako continually identify ways to foster cultural awareness and appreciation as articulated in their local curriculum based on principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, MAC Marautanga (Te Whare Tapu o te Ngākau Māori) and Kia Māori Mai (local kura curriculum).

Kaiako and ākonga alike have embraced the rich cultural heritage of Whangārei Terenga Paraoa by seamlessly integrating local narratives, te reo and tikanga into its buildings, classrooms and school culture. Through engaging lessons and activities ākonga not only learn about the vibrant history and traditions of the area, but also develop a deep appreciation for te ao Māori. This holistic approach fosters a sense of belonging and respect, creating a truly inclusive educational environment.

The school’s vision serves as a guiding light that permeates every facet of the school:

Mā te Whānaungatanga – through developing and maintaining strong relationships 

Kā Whai Mātauranga te Akonga – knowledge and understanding can be acquired

Ka tū Rangatira – which will allow the learner to stand with confidence 

By embedding this vision across all areas of the school, Whangārei Intermediate fosters these crucial skills and attitudes among all ākonga, with the aim of shaping well-rounded and confident individuals prepared for success in life.

There is also a strong commitment to the school’s ‘non-negotiables’ that shape the educational experience. Teachers are not only encouraged but expected to implement te reo Māori in the classroom, ensuring that Māori language and culture are integral to the curriculum. Teachers are supported each week with ongoing reo Māori lessons, including developing resources they may use in their classrooms.

Culturally responsive pedagogies are also a ‘non-negotiable’, with kaiako incorporating diverse perspectives and teaching styles that honour the unique backgrounds of ākonga.

Furthermore, ākonga are actively encouraged to bring their own cultural identities into the classroom, fostering an environment where every student’s heritage is celebrated and respected – enriching the educational journey for all.

Whangārei Intermediate School — Image by: Whangārei Intermediate School

Ākonga are grounded in cultural practices which are evident every day, giving them a sense of belonging and respect. All students are able to lead in mihimihi and karakia, giving them a deeper understanding of their cultural roots.

Classrooms are named after local historical places, providing a unique opportunity for ākonga to learn the significance and stories behind these names.

The school’s waiata further highlights these place names, instilling a sense of pride and identity.

At the start of each year all students attend a noho marae (stay at marae) at a locally based marae. This experience emphasises whanaungatanga, fostering a strong sense of belonging amongst both ākonga and kaiako.

The Senior Leadership Team and kaiako understand the importance of engaging with whānau. Whānau voice is highly valued in the school, contributing to a collaborative and inclusive educational environment. By listening to and involving whānau, the school ensures that the educational experience is culturally relevant, responsive, and aligns with the needs and aspirations of the community it serves.

Concluding whakaaro

The inclusion of Māori cultural narratives in school buildings and curricula is not just a matter of cultural enrichment; it is a fundamental step towards a more inclusive, respectful, and harmonious society. It empowers ākonga Māori, fosters cultural competency among all ākonga, and fulfils the nation’s obligations under the Te Tiriti o Waitangi. By recognising and embracing Māori cultural narratives, Aotearoa New Zealand is taking strides towards a future where cultural diversity is not only acknowledged but celebrated as a cornerstone of our nation’s identity. 

Ngā mihi ki a Hayley Read (Tumuaki, Whangārei Intermediate) for sharing this schools journey with us. Ngā mihi ki a Kim Rogers (Ringa Whao, Te Tai Tokerau) for writing this article.