Colouring in the White Spaces by Anne Milne is such an important book. Not only does it document one schools transformation and strength to push against the status quo, it also is forthright in calling out the tokenism of “Māori achieving success as Māori” in our whitestream schools.
White spaces refer to those spaces in our school that predominantly reflect the dominant “white” culture and have become the norm. In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1860 between the British Government and the Tangata Whenua (Māori). It was supposed to be a partnership but the colonisers became the dominant power.
The Treaty is a legal document and it has 3 key principles; Participation, Protection and Partnership, that underpin the relationship between the Government and Māori.
“The curriculum acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. All students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga.”
The New Zealand Curriculum, p 9.
As a teacher, the Treaty also underpins what we do. The “White” spaces need to be challenged.
One of the areas that Anne calls out is that schools think that the inclusion of a school Kapa Haka group as a space for Māori ākonga to experience “success” as Māori is enough. Too often our Kapa Haka is a lunchtime group (in my case I get 20 mins a week to run it!!) and extra to our curriculum. Kapa Haka itself is a wonderfully rich part of Māori culture where so much tikanga, reo and dispositions can be learnt. Kapa Haka is quite often seen (in my experience of education) as a Pakeha version of a dance group – all about the costumes and the performance, and nothing about its cultural ties.
Cultural identity is shaped by what we see, hear, touch and feel around us. Being Māori is to be shaped by those experiences. As I have mentioned before in an earlier blog post, those experiences for me shaped who I am today. Ann Milne points out that sometimes we don’t always have Kuia or Kaumatua to pass that knowledge down to us so we need those experiences. For me, going to the local marae at Primary school, learning te reo, and being in the kapa haka were those things. It connected me to my tipuna.
The other key idea from this book is about creating an authentic culture of care; that students know that you care for them and respect who they are. This reminded me of Carla Rinaldi and Magda Gerber’s, two prominent names in the field of early childhood education, both who mention care as an integral part of teaching. A child’s identity and security (from which they can grow) is all based on them knowing that you care. So simple, but so important.
Colouring the the White Spaces is a book that all educators should read and talk about. Unfortunately the people that need to read it most likely won’t. So my question is, with such a push from the Education Review Office for school’s to show success for Māori, how will Ka Hikitia be a living, breathing document that is understood and seen from a cultural lens? How can all those assumptions be challenged if those person’s don’t even realise they have assumptions. How do you even know that a “white” space exists if that is all you have ever known?