Teaching Māori history in today’s world

Ricky Prebble talks about Māori history and what this means in today’s world. He considers the way teaching New Zealand history is different to teaching Māori history. Ricky believes that we need to help students to look at the past from different perspectives and to challenge mainstream perspectives. Place-based teaching is important in the teaching of Māori history, as it is a way to connect and build relationships between the different groups involved in telling, listening and recording the stories. The Māori history project is a way of bringing history teachers together, forming clusters to share resources and to help make connections and partnerships with local iwi.


Key ideas

Professional learning conversations

  1. Ricky talks about a difference between teaching Māori history and teaching New Zealand history. What does  Māori history mean to you?

  2. How would you and your colleagues begin to design a Māori history programme?

  3. What are the essential systems, processes and protocols you might need in a Māori history programme in your context? How could  you design and implement them in ways that will assist all teaching staff?

  4. How do you teach the difficult, more complex questions that make up our diverse history in Aotearoa/New Zealand?

  5. What counts as significant when you are teaching a place-based programme?

  6. Māori history is relevant to all curriculum areas. Consider how you could design a cross curricula programme.

I think Māori history to me, short answer would be a history that focuses on Māori perspectives, iwi perspectives, that emphasises Māori agency, and Māori responding actively in their world to their circumstances. I also think that Māori history would incorporate a Māori worldview, which may be more challenging to incorporate into a mainstream classroom. It could legitimise different forms of evidence, so Māori history would for instance, legitimise evidence contained in waiata or mōteatea carvings, an oral testimony. I suppose those are forms of evidence that perhaps Western traditions in history have seen as less valid or less powerful.

More broadly in a kind of a more complicated sense, the term itself “Māori history “,I think, could be a problematised because it’s a conflation of two words – what is Māori, first of all? And that, I think, is a complex question. There is no easy answer to that. So a Māori identity could be reduced more to an iwi or a hapū identity. And then of course the question is “history”, the other term. What is history? And that's another big question that is hard to pin down. So the term “Māori history” I think could be seen as somewhat problematic as well. There is no Pākehā history; we generally don't talk about Pākehā history. I know that in the university I was quite interested in gender history so that's about, I suppose, applying a gendered lens to the past. But, so what does that mean through Māori history? Applying a race lens? I don't, yes, so I think the term itself has some problems, but I also feel that perhaps it's important to include the term “Māori history” so as to illuminate what maybe has been missing from the past and what has been missing from history with the study of history in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

I think it's important that students engage with Māori history because it can challenge, perhaps more mainstream perspectives that they've heard about in history. It can offer new perspectives and ways of looking at the world. I suppose it could carry with it a broader project perhaps of building, understanding and therefore empathy, for students who maybe haven't been aware of issues or events concerning Māori in the past.

I think learning Māori history is important. Learning about the past and how it's affected Māori and Pākehā, can shed light on our shared history, and shed light on the different perspectives that surround perhaps different events and can be seen from different points of view.

One thing I think that's important is the notion of different perspectives. There are different perspectives on the past. There were different perspectives at that time, let's say signing of the treaty within Māoridom, as well as within the crown and that people have different viewpoints on what was the best way to proceed with that. The other thing I think that's important is for students to recognise that the process of colonisation was part of a broader global process and that New Zealand wasn't isolated in what was happening here.

I guess similar and different things can be seen happening elsewhere as the British carried out its imperial project. The other thing, I think, is that the treaty, both the articles and the principles, were not honored after the signing of the treaty. The process of colonisation through the 19th century was particularly hard for many Māori, and that there were winners and losers – that our society lives in the wake of that process, that we live in in the shadow of that colonisation, and that we're still attempting to address that process.

I think young people engaging with the process of colonisation can be very challenging and confronting. I don't think our society at large has dealt particularly well with it. So I think it's no surprise that in the classroom situation, you can have students who react and can sometimes shut off from engaging with the past. I think one response is to emphasise that this isn't about blame or feelings of guilt, but just in the sense of trying to understand the past and that all histories and countries have things in their past that they can celebrate and things that they need to remember and have been quite ugly. But that turning away from those or not engaging with those isn’t a way of understanding or moving onwards into a better society.

The other thing that I think that can help is for teachers to be open about their own perspectives and to talk about their past in New Zealand as well, and their family background if it's appropriate. So for instance I can talk about my ancestors arriving on Wakefield ships and doing actually pretty well out of the New Zealand Company, and yet at the same time that displaced many Māori from their land. So they can see that I can be open about talking about these challenging things. And that it isn’t about blaming but just simply trying to understand and to examine the past honestly.

My thoughts about teaching different perspectives on the past is one where you examine the perspectives as honestly as possible and you look at what people have said in the past and what people have done in the past but you try to understand why they took those steps and you try to examine their values and what they were trying to achieve.

I think that other aspects of Māori history that would be good for students to engage with include local-based, place-based histories, ideally histories that relate to students’ own home, wherever that may be. Particularly for Māori students here, a lot of Māori students whakapapa back to elsewhere, not in Wellington. So if possible and if it’s manageable, to examine histories from those regions would be very powerful. I think there are stories of national significance that are useful in terms of what they can reveal. So, for instance, history such as Parihaka, which I think have become quite popular, there's a reason for that, in that it’s quite a remarkable history in terms of what was being done there. And it also reveals things that perhaps are slightly different or can reveal also the operation of power by the government as well as reveal how different approaches to power can be taken.

I think it's a really good question to know who are the experts? Who are the guardians? Who are the teachers, the writers who can assist in engaging students with Māori history? For myself, and for this project in Wellington, we've been fortunate enough to have contacts and relationships with the local Te Āti Awa iwi, and I don't think it's always clear for teachers who are the people to approach. The hope is that a school might have a relationship already existing with an iwi group, and that can be pursued, that relationship can be pursued. There are obviously academics and writers who focus on Māori issues in history to do with Māori, that can be read. The face-to-face and the meeting-up with the local iwi groups is really powerful, but also can be a difficult process to engage with.

I guess sincerity is the key really. Like that you are interested in teaching Māori history, that's fantastic. That you, if possible, have guidance from iwi groups because that will, I think, uncover for you a whole lot of interesting perspectives about the past.