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Wednesday, 24 April 2019 01:51 am

Promoting tolerance – teaching Maori culture in schools

Maori children were beaten once for speaking their own language, but these days te reo may be a way forward. GRANT ELLEN talks to Lisa Reweti about her work with Wellington primary school children:

FOR Lisa Reweti (left), the impetus to promote Maori culture started when she was at school.

She remembers being angry that teachers were not able to pronounce Maori properly.

“The teacher would come up to me and say ‘tea-na co-tow tama-reeky ma’.  I would think, ‘that kind of sounds familiar but what language is this man speaking to me?’

“My grandparents were native speakers, so I heard Maori spoken properly.”

Lisa, of Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa and Whanganui descent, is the Maori enrichment teacher at four Wellington primary schools, Miramar North, Roseneath Primary, Thorndon, and Owhiro Bay.

She hopes that through waiata (song), korero tara (stories) and kapa haka (performance), young children will learn about the rich cultural heritage of the country they are growing up in and appreciate the Maori language.

Lisa – the kids call her Whaea Lisa – works hard to include all children, so that they feel the history of Aotearoa New Zealand tells their story.

“At Miramar North school, a couple of weeks ago I had the whole school practising a welcoming ceremony – all with the children running and leading it.”

The feedback from parents has been positive, with one mother expressing her gratitude that her daughter was beginning to speak te reo at home as a result of going to Whaea Lisa’s classes.

Last year an independent review into the state of the Maori language found that to prevent the language from dying it would be necessary to re-establish te reo Maori in homes.

The report, chaired by Professor Tamati Reedy and established by the Maori Party, found that mainstream schools would have to play a major role in the revitalisation, with many more Maori students at mainstream schools than Maori immersion schools.

One of the strategies outlined in Professor Reedy’s report was to encourage Maori speaking students to pursue teaching careers.

Lisa uses a variety of methods to engage students and gears her classes to the different age groups.

“With the little wee ones – years one, two and three – we’re keeping it simple, legends, basic words and lots of hopping, skipping, jumping and singing, because the main crux of the language can be taught through song.

“Once we get up to year eight, we’re discussing the Treaty and the Waitangi Tribunal and how that works.”

Traditional Maori legends are popular with the students.

Through these stories, Lisa teaches the equivalent of a social studies unit which explains the history, culture and values of Maori peoples.

“Maori didn’t have a written language, so information is passed on through spoken narratives.”

Songs also draw students in to the language, as does talking to people who work with traditional art and music.

Lisa makes use of her connections from her other work in the national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, to bring in experts to talk to the children.

“I might bring in someone who works stone, or bring in someone in whose thing is musical instruments or someone whose expertise is weaving.”

“The kids like seeing stuff and touching things, so if I can bring some adzes (axe heads) that might be 400 years old and pass them around. The kids can see them for real, rather than them looking at them through glass.

“What I try to do is bring all the expertise from the museum and take that to the kids.”

Lisa believes that it is important to celebrate Maori as the first group of people to settle in the country that became a nation of migrants.

Through her programme, children get “more of an understanding about how they came to be in this country” and why people have migrated here.

“The reason Polynesian people moved from the islands was the same reason that European people moved here 600 years later.”

Chair of Owhiro Bay School Board, Chris Roberts says their Te Kete Rourou programme has been running for a number of years and has proved extremely popular with the school community.

The school surveys parents once a year on a range of topics and found overwhelming support for both the Maori enrichment programme and its teachers.

Initially attendance was optional but the programme attracted virtually all pupils, so this year it has been incorporated into the curriculum.

At 18 years old, Lisa was teaching in a Kohanga Reo and her father was teaching a Taha Maori programme in schools in Whanganui, when he invited Lisa to join him.

There she developed the first part of her Maori enrichment programme.

After completing teacher’s college and working in a kura kaupapa (school), she moved on to working at Te Papa as a host, tour guide and educator.

Lisa’s sister helped her get started in Thorndon and Owhiro Bay schools.

As other schools found out about the Maori curriculum she was teaching, they asked her to join them.

While she runs a regular programme at four schools, she also goes to many more around the time of the Maori new year (around June) when Lisa delivers a special Matariki syllabus.

She chooses to work only with schools where principals have made a commitment to Maori enrichment and would avoid places where she felt it was a token gesture.

Lisa believes everyone should have the opportunity to learn the language and is positive about the future of te reo.

“If anything we’re in a renaissance with the language and the culture – they’re intertwined so you can’t have one without the other.”

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