A duty of care – listening to local stories told by local people

John Ryan, history teacher at Verdon College, talks about travelling around coastal Southland with a group of secondary teachers, visiting places of significance to local iwi and to Ngāi Tahu. John describes the impact of hearing stories told by people who had ancestors affected by the events. He also describes how he plans to use rivers as an entry point for his students into understanding local histories.


Key ideas

Professional learning conversations

  1. Discuss John’s statement that “schools have a duty of care” in hearing local history from local people, with your colleagues.

  2. This initiative to teach Māori history has implications for any shared story or national identity. Determining national identity and the importance of teaching Māori history could be a powerful learning conversation to have with your colleagues.  

  3. John describes local rivers as being an entry point to construct or design a programme around local features.  What are some of the geographical features in your area that you could draw on to help in the design of your programme?

We've been travelling around mostly coastal Southland with a group of secondary teachers and we've been visiting places of significance to local iwi, Ngāi Tahu. We've been to Bluff. We've been to Omaui. We've seen some of the sites of cultural significance – things like midden sites around Omaui beach and we had a good trip round to the Riverton rūnanga and it was really interesting there to hear some of the local sort of backstory to places that you just otherwise would not have known.

Victor: “We didn’t have enough people to take our waka out, so half our people starved. So with the whalers and sealers boats, you only needed about 6 people, 4–6 people and you could operate the boat, go out and catch whale, and bring them back in. So in one respect, although they killed lots of our people with the flu, the other respect they actually saved us with their boat, allowing us to be able go out and fish again.”

This is part of a shared heritage regardless of whether you have been here one hundred and thirty years or you've just arrived in the last ten. This is part of what it means to live in this particular land and really to be ignorant to that is to be ignorant of something fundamental.

It's hard to put words on but we just need to know and it is tradition in the sense of something that should be handed over or handed on as completely as possible. It's very fragmented, but there is a duty and there's a duty particularly on the part of school teachers, particularly when you consider that schools have probably played a fairly big role in obscuring some of this history over the last hundred years. So there's a duty of care almost, I think.

I'm a bit of a local. I don't have a lot of family connections to western Southland but my father spent some time here and I've been through here from time to time but visiting the cave shelter sites in Clifden was really, really valuable because I just didn't know that they existed. I've read reasonably widely about Southland history. I’ve just never heard those mentioned before so that was really, really valuable and quite powerful to visit in a company of people who have got a direct familial connection to it, so yeah, that's been a highlight of the trip so far.

Ora: “ Way back in the year 2001, kaumātua from Ngāi Tahu formed a kaumātua hui, Tuahiwi, and that was lead by Ruahine and Jono Croft and their whānau on their marae. It was held there for about 2 or 3 years before they were invited by our kaumātua, Jane Davis, to come home and have a hui here with a kaumātua. The biggest highlight was to come up here to the caves. I was one of the carers at the time that bought our kaumātua from Murihiku up here. And I remember without fail, we started down there and our people wailed and cried for the loss, and how our people had lived here in their time. We sat here and had a big hui. That day this was full of fantails and all the birds, they never left us alone, never left the people and the kaumātua were overwhelmed just to know that our people, that were here, were safe, but sad as well. Kia ora.”

Rivers just seemed the logical sort of entry point for me. The other thing is that most students have got a connection of some form to a river. They connect to the coast, to the interior, even if somebody doesn't have ties to Riverton or maybe a better example doesn’t have ties to the Waiau at Tuatapere. They might well have connections to Te Anau or to Manapouri.

I can see places where I can make links. It’s been really valuable. Why is Irish or Scots history of value to so many people down here is because they can say, “Well, great granddad knew somebody, who knew somebody, who knew somebody. Even if it is as tenuous as that, it's still flesh and blood so there's really no substitute at the end of the day for hearing from the sources.

Victor: “So when they came back down here to gather the food they would have to clean up the whare, to scrape the dirt off it, pat it down and do up whatever they’ve got. So a lot of them, they put the carvings up, mainly to keep people away or they’d have their medicine sticks sitting up the front and if anyone touches it, you know, put a mākutu on it so if you raid the place theoretically you’ll die. But they were just ways to keep it safe and if you were to do an archeological dig around a lot of our whare, they actually had carved sticks right around them for protection. So in case other tribes wanted to mākutu you, the carved sticks would theoretically protect you.”