Making our universities into places where Māori feel at home requires something other than simply “including” them more, as Te Kawehau Hoskins and Alison Jones explain.
Thirty years before the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, northern rangatira Ruatara, Hongi Hika and others sought a Pākehā teacher so that their tamariki could learn to read and write.
In 1890, Te Aute College principal John Thornton said his talented young Māori students should go to university.
Over a century later, leading academic Professor Sir Mason Durie reinforced the potential for Māori and Pākehā to come together with mutual respect at universities, saying that future Māori leaders would need to be well versed in both Māori culture and lore, and the disciplines of science, business, law and the humanities.
“In that respect,” he said, “the most convincing justification for a strong Māori presence in higher education is linked to the national benefits likely to accrue from knowledge creation at the interface between indigenous knowledge, science, philosophy and commerce.”
Universities have been responsive to these calls, at least since the 1990s.
Ubiquitous strategic plans in our educational institutions make it a priority to fulfil “our commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi” — and the most popular approach to being “committed” has been “inclusion”. The well-intentioned goal has been to make more effort to include Māori, who’ve been left out and left behind.
The Tertiary Education Commission’s tertiary education strategy requires our universities to strive to remove barriers to access for Māori students, develop learning settings that are free from racism, build relationships with whānau and communities, and be responsive to learners’ identities while incorporating te reo and tikanga Māori into everyday activities.
These admirable priorities dominate educational rhetoric. They offer some practical guidance but lack any philosophical and political framework for genuine change.
Speaking more reo, better access for Māori, and making curricula responsive to students are, in fact, not much of a departure from the old “taha Māori” approach that encouraged schools to include the “Māori side of things”.
It seems education policymakers are doomed to keep repeating themselves, using slightly different sentences, in the hope that this time it will be different.
If universities are to take their obligations to Māori seriously, then they’ve arrived at a fork in the road. Do they continue to take the familiar “inclusion” approach? Or should they embrace “indigenisation”, which is the term that’s now gaining ground in the institutions of our state.
Let’s consider what these terms mean.
Inclusion as “helping Māori”
The terms access, retention, participation, success, equity, diversity, and culture have become key words in liberal rhetoric regarding Māori in the education system.
Strategies and policy papers share phrases like these: To attract and retain a culturally diverse academic student and staff body, institutions must engage in inclusive and culturally responsive practices to ensure fair and equitable achievement for all, and particularly for priority groups.
These terms and phrases define the central idea of inclusion as the integration of formerly excluded and disadvantaged diverse groups and individuals into the patterns of achievement and success that, in the past, have been accessible mainly to the privileged.
When educational institutions seek to “include” Māori, the underlying intention is to help Māori, by successfully imparting the necessary skills they lack. The idea behind this deficit approach is that Māori need to gain the competence and confidence to achieve, and to access the social and economic rewards of the education system.
Few would disagree that relevant academic skills training is needed for all students, including Māori, particularly given their historical dispossession. The logic runs that educational problems for Māori are rooted in a range of conditions outside the university: from socio-economic status, poor transition from low-decile schools, or the ongoing effects of colonisation.
Universities can’t fix these things, but they can try to help by making efforts to welcome Māori into our institutions.
But framing Māori student access and achievement problems as coming from such cultural displacement can let the university off the hook.
Universities rarely see themselves as a significant part of the problem, even when they haven’t identified or anticipated Māori expectations, and haven’t transformed in systemic ways to become places where Māori students and staff see themselves belonging.
Problems with “inclusion”
Two problems are evident with the inclusion discourse and programme.
The first is that, although imbued with care, love and good intentions, ultimately, “inclusion” aims to better fit Māori to a relatively unchanged university environment.
Cultural inclusion can be seen in Māori language signage, Māori greetings, and even Māori design principles in new buildings and spaces.
Research money and energy is also spent on identifying inclusive practices such as “culturally responsive” or “culturally sustaining” pedagogies. More Māori language and culture are thought to make the institution more “culturally appropriate”. Non-Māori staff are then required to become “culturally competent” in the quest to assist Māori.
At institutions following the path of inclusion, cultural competence is seen largely in terms of non-Māori becoming more competent in understanding te ao Māori and te reo.
The pitfall of inclusion is that as Māori cultural knowledge and skills become more recognised and required, the recognition is accompanied by a request for Māori assistance: “Can you share with the class/group your knowledge about the marae/Māori language/a Māori perspective, please?”
Māori colleagues and students are seen primarily as a helpful resource rather than as individuals who may or may not know much about te ao Māori, who are from iwi other than the ones being discussed, who are faced with the impossible request to “speak for all Māori”, or who may or may not want to share their knowledge.
The burden of change tends to fall on individual Indigenous students and staff members. Not only must they assist their non-Māori colleagues to become more knowledgeable about Māori, but they must change by becoming something “more” than they were. More “skilled”, more “included”, more “successful”.
On the face of it, this is a good thing. Yet, too often, Māori students report that they must “fit in”, and “leave their full selves at the door” to be successful. They must change themselves as the focus shifts to the problems of Māori in the institution rather than those of the institution.
Another risk for Māori, or indeed any “ethnic minority”, is to be seen primarily in terms of culture. The dominance of the term “culture” in relation to Māori can overshadow the intellectual, philosophical, and political dimensions of te ao Māori, which is not limited to material signs, words, names, and designs.
A focus on culture can also lead to homogenisation, even though Māori, like everybody else, are extremely diverse tribally, politically, historically, culturally, and personally as well as ethnically.
Likewise, the terms “te ao Māori” and “mātauranga Māori” don’t refer simply to a singular traditional world or set of traditional knowledge. They can refer to all contexts in which iwi Māori are engaged, yesterday, today, and tomorrow: from philosophical thought to photoshopping, from rugby to rocket science. There is no part of the modern world from which Māori thought and experience are isolated.
So, despite the persistence with which institutions have pursued the task of inclusion, it’s never going to yield the necessary real-world changes to ensure that universities, as Sir Mason Durie envisioned, are sites of knowledge creation at the interface between Indigenous and other knowledges.
We don’t reject inclusion as a strategy in the development of Indigenous engagement. But, as the goal for universities, it has proved inadequate for achieving a properly productive relationship between Māori and non-Māori.
Our point is that, despite the best intentions for change, inclusive approaches only hope to incorporate Indigenous people, values, and knowledge within a largely unchanged institutional structure.
We think the concept of indigenisation leads to quite a different — and potentially more promising — route, because it’s a process by which Indigenous ways of being and knowing are normalised.
Indigenising the university
Indigenising the university doesn’t entail reaching an end goal. Rather, the emphasis is on process, and the day-to-day interactions that either create relationships and connections or break them.
Indigenising the university builds a respectful partnership for shared benefits. It requires clear aspirations for mutually productive relationships framed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, where the focus is on the “how”, not just the “what”.
Choosing this path requires a reset and rethink of definitions about who is the “we” and the “us” in a university.
Common greetings in te reo Māori are helpful here. “Tātou” and “koutou” are heard when people meet. “Tēnā koutou” means, roughly, “there you all are” or “hello to all of you.” “Tēnā tātou” is “here we all are”, or “hello to all of us”. The latter is unusual in English. Greetings such as “hello everyone” don’t include the speaker. It would be very unusual in English to hear: “Hello all of us.” Te reo Māori gives more attention to who is addressed, reflecting a deeply relational culture.
Indigenising encourages us to think about who is the “we” being spoken about in the phrase: “We are changing our policies to be more accessible to Māori”?
Who is “the university” when it announces: “The university aims to have a partnership with Māori communities”?
Who is the “us” who have an ethical concern about poor Māori achievement and employment statistics, or about the reputation of the university and its commitment to Te Tiriti?
The “we” or the “us” could be the non-Māori university leaders who report to the Tertiary Education Commission and Ministry of Education (the Crown) on how the university fulfils its duty — leaders who, with the best intentions, assume or assert what is good for Māori inclusion.
They are often the “we” who welcome Māori warmly: “Tēnā koutou katoa.”
Imagine if university leaders and members could authentically say: “Tēnā tātou katoa.”
That would recognise that indigenising the institution is a process of engagement between everyone. It’s not a state of “us doing something for you”. Rather, the deeply relational greeting acknowledges the move towards a collective identity for Māori, together with all other members of the university.
The institution then becomes “ours” because it holds and nurtures all of us.
A focus on process is also a reminder that we shouldn’t aim simply to make fast changes or quick wins. Change needs to grow from within. It requires attention to how everyday interactions can proceed with generosity and patience — for both Māori and non-Māori.
Indigenisation is a steady and stable altered direction of travel, not a sudden lurch and a new set of demands.
For Māori members of the university, a tolerance of ambiguity and complexity may demand at times an unsettling sense of complicity with a colonial institution.
For non-Māori, the task is how well they can stay with a new direction of travel, maintain a warm openness to learning, and, at the same time, embrace or tolerate their uncertainties and anxieties.
At a truly indigenising organisation, cultural competence requires non-Māori not to be more competent at knowing about Māori language and culture, but to be more competent at being, and understanding, themselves — who they are, how they are of this place and on this land, and how they’re entangled in its histories and with the histories of their own people.
For all the expected problems, in an indigenising university, a collective ability to return to relationships, even after setbacks, becomes a measure of strength.
Given the indigenising university is oriented towards good relationships — whanaungatanga and manaakitanga — between and among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, it follows that it benefits all of us, regardless of whakapapa and background.
The shift in language helps create space to enable mātauranga and Māori initiatives to thrive because tātou, all of us, are proud of these things.
Māori colleagues still report that when they contribute in institutional settings, others pause and listen politely, then everything continues as usual. Indigenisation — living the “tātou” — requires non-Māori to pay constant and careful attention to the invisible barriers preventing genuinely shared discussions and outcomes.
Nor does “tātou” mean “we” are the same. Some have wrongly assumed that the words supposedly uttered by the Crown representative Governor William Hobson at the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 — “He iwi tahi tātou” — means “We are one people”.
Ngāti Hine rangatira Waihoroi Shortland and others have pointed out that he didn’t say, “He iwi kōtahi tātou” which means “we are one people”, but clearly said “He iwi tahi tātou” to mean “Together we [peoples] are one nation.”
Waihoroi Shortland’s words are relevant to the question: “Who is the university?” Is the “tātou” something that is diverse, relational, and engaged, so that Māori staff and students can also say “tātou” about the university?
Why indigenising creates institutional change
By its very definition, inclusion is not indigenisation. Some reasons are obvious. “Diversity” is the word educational institutions use to refer to a range of priority equity groups that include people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, immigrants, Pacific peoples, LGBTQI +, gender-diverse people, and those for whom English is a second language.
But Māori are not an “equity” group in diversity terms, because Māori are not simply an ethnic minority among diverse other ethnic minorities.
Rather, Māori have whakapapa rights based on their status as the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, rights that the Crown agreed to protect in 1840.
Any equity framing for Māori stems from Article 3 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which pledges equality between the tikanga of Indigenous Māori and those of the Queen’s subjects. This is a guarantee of tikanga Māori having mana or status alongside and equal to, but different from, those laws of the British, or the coloniser group.
Terms like coloniser and colonisation are also far from straightforward. Given it has been established by the Waitangi Tribunal that (at least northern) rangatira, and thus their people, didn’t relinquish their sovereignty, or tino rangatiratanga, in February 1840, then it’s the case that Māori, as a sovereign people, don’t always recognise themselves as having been colonised.
So, the indigenisation ideal inevitably confronts a further tension: a recognition of the fact of colonisation and the effects of its laws and practices, alongside the assertion of continuous Māori sovereignty or non-colonisation. Both of these elements sit at the heart of indigenising the university.
Decolonisation is a useful term, but it can turn attention yet again towards the coloniser and invite preoccupation with criticising the “colonised system” rather than focusing on what might be possible. Others argue that indigenisation is not the role of non-Māori. Non-Māori may involve themselves with processes of decolonisation, while Indigenous colleagues lead self-determining indigenisation work.
We believe that indigenisation keeps a firm eye on institutional change. Success comes with evidence. Does the university have more, permanent, high status, Māori staff, and students? Does it teach more Māori knowledge in more Māori ways? Is the university a place where Māori assumptions and priorities are supported and resourced? Is it a place where people at all levels engage with each other on the basis of whanaungatanga and manaakitanga? Has the university earned recognition as a place that produces a respected storehouse of mātauranga that is universally valued?
A path towards indigenisation creates rich opportunities. It invites the use of Māori terms that stand for relational aspirations. For example, rather than “inclusion”, we would use the word “rangatiratanga” which states the positive authority held by Māori and becomes a reminder that Māori shouldn’t be viewed as a colonised people with a need to be included.
Other terms such as whanaungatanga and manaakitanga affirm that the mana of others is to be upheld and relationships become central to everything.
Such phrases make ethical and practical demands of everyone at the institution; they are not simply about “including Māori”. These and other Māori terms also suggest immediate practices, rather than elusive goals. They are not vague like “inclusion”, yet they are all about inclusion. They are not as elusive as “equity”, but they are all about equity. They do not mention “success”, but they invite engagement and possibilities for ways to achieve success.
In an “inclusive” university, Māori as a group tend not to gain as much as others. Paradoxically, an inclusive university can primarily benefit non-Māori, who are upskilled as they know more about Māori language and tikanga, who feel better about being less monocultural and ignorant, and who can access better data as they get better Māori participation in their research projects.
So, the inclusive university might provide many of its members with a sense of progressive change, while change for Māori is not actually significant at all.
As we have suggested, making an institution “more Māori”, doesn’t mean simply that there are more Māori language signs, more Māori names for units, and a karakia at every meeting. It doesn’t mean that non-Māori individuals in the organisation try to become “more Māori”.
Instead, it’s an invitation for non-Māori to understand their own identities in relation to Māori, to history, to this whenua, and to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in its modern status as a foundational guide to our work in this country.
For Pākehā, indigenising the university is an invitation to “be Pākehā”, that is, to orient towards Māori with undemanding attention.
For some Pacific peoples, it’s an opportunity to think through the whakapapa relationship with Māori and with Te Tiriti. For immigrants from Britain, India, China, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it’s an invitation to consider who you are in this place, at this time in history, in relation to the Indigenous people and New Zealand’s historic agreements.
In short, from the perspective of a Māori member of the organisation, an inclusion model asks me to change — thus contributing to the improved culture of the institution — while an indigenising organisation is where a Māori member can be Māori.
This takes us back to the simplest definition of the word “māori”, which can be translated as “ordinary, everyday, usual”.
Our goal must be to make the university māori for Māori communities.
It means we collectively turn towards a more relational way of doing things based in whakapapa, ethics, and social justice. It acknowledges the impossibility of clear solutions to the big, grinding structural forces we all live in, including colonialism and capitalism.
Indigenising moves us all in a direction of a better, more just, society.
Associate Professor Te Kawehau Hoskins is Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori, and Alison Jones is a professor at Te Puna Wānanga, Faculty of Education and Social Work, at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.
Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.
If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.