The new history curriculum is now officially in place in all New Zealand schools for Year 1–10 students. In this extract from Te Pouhere Kōrero 10, Aroha Harris, an associate professor in history at the University of Auckland, looks at the rightful place of Māori history within the curriculum.
Aroha is a founding member of Te Pouhere, a collective of Māori historians and researchers, some of whom have been involved in various stages of developing the new curriculum. This latest edition of their journal focuses on the new curriculum.
The future of history is Māori.
I reached this conclusion when the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories (ANZH) curriculum was a draft for consultation. I was thinking about what I might say to a conference of history teachers about the curriculum, then a work in progress. This essay is a version of the talk I eventually gave. It was winter, July 2021. Waitangi. Dark and rain-saturated one day; bright and smiling the next.
The ANZH curriculum positions Māori history as “foundational and continuous”, so on that basis alone the future of history must be Māori. And about time.
The Māori Women’s Welfare League first advocated for Māori subjects — including history, arts, literature and language — to be taught in New Zealand schools at their inaugural conference in 1951. That was more than 70 years ago. It should be unsurprising, then, that elsewhere I have described the curriculum’s recognition of the value of teaching our history as “long overdue and obvious”.
It is hard to assess how well Māori history in schools has fared in the decades since the League’s provocation. But a new curriculum cannot travel back in time to address any damage wrought by poorly taught, not taught, or inconsistently taught history throughout the years.
It cannot make amends for the offence caused by prime ministers who claim New Zealand was settled “peacefully”. It cannot assuage the feelings of “regret” older generations have expressed about the absence or deficiencies of New Zealand history in their education.
Nonetheless, the ANZH curriculum — compulsory for Years 1 to 10 and knitted in with a broader refresh of its host “learning area”, social studies — presents a massive opportunity. This essay offers some evolving thoughts about the potential for Māori history to be the foundation and the frame for all of our histories. It is less interested in critiquing the curriculum, which is yet to bear fruit, and more concerned with the positive influences Māori history can offer.
The future of history is Māori. This is true because here in Aotearoa, the past, without doubt, is Māori. And I mean both the past in general, across the motu and the moana; and the past in particular, like the past specific to Waitangi, where I once spoke at a history teachers’ conference, and the past specific to Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland, where my daily practice as a Māori historian is based.
Thinking about being at Waitangi but not from Waitangi offers a framing and grounding for thinking about history: teaching and learning history, history and place, history and people, history and relationships.
Waitangi — the place, the Treaty, Te Tiriti — is central to all our histories, however we came to be here today. But it is also, in some ways, not my history. I am tangata whenua; however, I am not tangata whenua at Waitangi, despite my northern (mostly Hokianga) roots.
I can say the same about Waipapa Taumata Rau. No amount of belonging — to place, to community, to practice — makes me tangata whenua there. I am Te Rarawa, a distinction not all Māori can claim, though all Te Rarawa can claim to be Māori. Still, this state of belonging-not-belonging is a good position from which to think through, around and over these complexities.
Both Waitangi and Waipapa “ground” history and “place” history. They tell history and bind history: history that arrived with our earliest ancestors, who voyaged here from across the seas, who arrived with histories that facilitated becoming the iwi who became Māori here.
Their histories name all our places and explain these islands: their features, their resources, their medicines, their foods, their teachings, their weather, their place in the universe. They connect across time and place to ancestral navigators, rangatira, tohunga, progenitors, originators; to te taiao, life, politics, relationships, the cosmos and each other.
All those people, all those places, all those stories. All producing histories among us and between us, histories that are acting on us now, whether we know it or not.
Waitangi reminds me that my tupuna, Hōhepa Ōtene Pura, signed Te Tiriti there on 6 February 1840. He is great-great-great-grandfather to the generation of cousins I belong to. I like to think of him, a convert to Te Hāhi Wēteriana, the Wesleyan/Methodist Church, engaging with the critical issues of the day.
I am simultaneously conscious that my academic home, Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland, is the site of Albert Barracks, once an impressive British military stronghold.
Waitangi and Albert Barracks are geographically distant from each other, located in the territories of related and sometimes rival iwi. The barracks were built primarily as a response to the wars of the mid-1840s in the Bay of Islands, beginning across the water from Waitangi at Kororāreka (Russell), where musket-ball holes have seared the memory of that war into the walls of Christ Church.
In subsequent years, establishment of the barracks addressed rumours that northern Māori would attack the growing Auckland settlement. No such attack eventuated. But Albert Barracks remained a going military concern, at least until the capital moved to Wellington in 1865. With Parliament situated nearby, it was in this vicinity that the colonial government planned its 1863 invasion of Waikato and debated how much land to confiscate.
Built features of the Waipapa Taumata Rau campus were also key institutions of the past in this place. Buildings that the university community members use daily boast architectural and historical significance. Old Government House was built within the barracks in 1856. Designed by architect William Mason, its timber exterior was made to look like stone. King Tāwhiao stopped there in the 1880s during a diplomatic visit to Auckland, but not before spending time with Ngāti Whātua rangatira, Pāora Tūhaere. A banquet in his honour was held at another nearby university building, Old Choral Hall.
The barracks once encompassed the whole of what is now Albert Park, crossing the ridge that is Princes Street and covering those blocks of the university that run between Wellesley Street and Waterloo Quadrant. A remnant length of about 70 metres of the barracks wall runs alongside the university’s main library.
These structures remind me that my place of work, the University of Auckland campus, is a site of colonial settlement, colonial government, colonial power. Conceptually, historically and narratively, Waitangi and Waipapa may not be so distant after all.
And, as Māori history knows, there is more. There is always more. These campus histories are not the first stories of Waipapa. It is well known that Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, was the place desired by many, as its name records. Tāmaki Herenga Waka — the mooring place of waka — offered safe harbour with opportunities to hui, kōrero, trade and engage.
So later stories of waka pulled up on the shore, filled to the brim with goods to trade with the burgeoning population of newcomers to Auckland, should be unsurprising.
Accepting the guidance of local hapū and iwi histories, with their deep knowledge of land and sea, makes sense of a time when the shore was much closer to campus than it is now; a time when access to coastal resources implied environmental wealth and political power.
Māori history, in framing the past at Waipapa Taumata Rau, remembers the importance of water: the Waitematā, the Manukau, and the portages between. Māori history pays attention to local iwi politics, rivalries and relationships. It remembers travelling to Ōkahu Bay by waka, and only later by steamer, horse and cart, or car.
The Albert Barracks were strategically located because the site had already proven strategic, for Ngāti Whātua. It encompassed Rangipuke (a ridge overlooking the Waitematā), a papakāinga of the same name, and pā tūwatawata Te Reu Roa and Te Horotiu.
Its strategic positioning included always important freshwater springs, among them Wai Ariki, which can still be accessed near the University’s Law School. Though culverted and sent underground long ago, the waterways of Auckland’s CBD still have life. Those paying attention during the recent Auckland floods noticed when water burst up from below manhole covers on Queen Street, formerly the course of Waihorotiu, which ran, and arguably still runs, from what is now Aotea Square to Commercial Bay.
On 20 March 1840, Āpihai Te Kawau, chief of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Manukau Harbour, together with Te Tinana and Te Rēweti.
The previous month, on Te Kawau’s instruction, Te Reweti had led a diplomatic mission to the Bay of Islands to offer land in Auckland to Governor Hobson if he would relocate the colonial capital there. Hobson confirmed his agreement in July, and in September, amid some fanfare, Auckland indeed became the location of New Zealand’s second capital. Ngāti Whātua affirmed their extension of manaakitanga to the Crown in a gift of some 3,000 acres of land, encompassing the present-day suburbs running from Herne Bay in the west to Parnell in the east, and inland to Maungawhau/Mt Eden.
As Joe Pihema, a descendant of Te Kawau, has observed, the gift marked the “beginning of a vibrant and flourishing city”. But it came at “immense cost” to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, who have since paid generation after generation.
Before long, Auckland’s forebears forgot the import of their arrangement with Ngāti Whātua: that there was more to it than a simple exchange of land for cash and goods. The gift, or tuku, was explicitly intended to bind Ngāti Whātua and the Crown, through its on-the-ground representative Governor Hobson, in a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. “Partners and friends”, as Pihema puts it, balanced “obligation and responsibility”.
Histories of Auckland city record some moments of genuine mutuality and shared prosperity in Māori–Pākehā engagements through the middle decades of the nineteenth century. But settler encroachment on Ngāti Whātua territories steadily became the norm and continued relentlessly, eventually pushing right into Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei homes at Ōkahu Bay as recently as the 1950s and at Bastion Point in the 1970s.
There is far more to this “troubled” and “complex” account of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei history than my essay permits. The same can be said of each of the historical vignettes presented here. And while they may seem potted and rambling, they are all connected. And relevant. All can be told in greater depth and extent.
My intention has been to tell just enough of these stories to bring forth their historical contexts, our historical contexts, their permanence, and their presence. I do so because when I talk about history, I am rarely — if ever — talking about content alone.
I do love the content, including the content I have just shared. I love the stories in and of themselves. But usually, I am also talking about other things: sources, methods, philosophical underpinnings, analytical framing, the history of history — all of it.
It is these “other things” that give Māori history its richness: its instinct to connect across time, place, people, seas; its certainty that Māori histories are everywhere, deep within the land, always.
When it was a draft, commentators praised the ANZH curriculum for its emphasis on Māori and iwi histories, a feature that historian Jock Phillips said was “to be applauded”.
But balance was identified as important too. Learn about Ngata’s Ngā Mōteatea and also Split Enz. Study Rangiaowhia and Ōrākau but don’t dare forget Passchendaele. Phillips sounded a warning. “It would be a tragedy,” he wrote, “if the planned curriculum simply evoked hostility and racist resentment because non-Māori New Zealanders found no place for their own traditions and experience.”
Phillips’s contribution to the public discussion echoes a view held by several respondents to the Ministry of Education’s public engagement on the draft, which expressed concern that the “focus on Māori history will encourage negativity and divisiveness”.
For some New Zealanders there is such a thing, it seems, as “too much emphasis” on Māori history.
I am yet to be convinced. Maybe one day someone will be able to show me how the home of Māori history can also teach too much of it. For now, I prefer to imagine an expansive capacity for our pasts, where we continue to add more and more history to all our histories, especially the histories we cannot see or that do not occur to us: the stories, the people, the events that we walk and cycle and drive over every day; that have been written, exhibited, memorialised over by other people’s histories.
Whether we see Māori histories or not, whether we elbow them aside because we think they take up too much room, whether we acknowledge them or not — even when we repeatedly, boringly, make them invisible — they are always here. Māori history is always here. Sometimes it flows through the streets below the manhole covers.
If there is more to the curriculum than merely contested content, what other factors should be given consideration?
Several are easily identified. Some things that will really matter include ample and robust resources, cutting-edge professional development for teachers, and best practice as standard practice.
Generous measures of goodwill and commitment will no doubt help, too, because a curriculum on its own, even if it is compulsory, cannot teach the teachers or produce much-needed teaching resources.
It cannot negate the racism evident in public feedback on the draft, including “disturbing and hateful anti-Māori and anti-Māori language sentiments”, refusal to “accept Māori accounts of history as reliable or valid”, and dismissal of questions about ethnicity as “racist” and “irrelevant”.
Compulsory or not, a curriculum cannot identify and coach teachers who may lack awareness of their own biases. Nor do I think a compulsory New Zealand history curriculum can deliver us to a culturally diverse social and political nirvana, which we sometimes seem to crave.
But we should not expect it to. As I have said previously, “rather than pin all our hopes on the teaching of history to deliver a unified future based on an understanding of our distinct pasts” we might begin by appreciating history “for what it allows us to teach, explore and come to know about ourselves”.
In that spirit, perhaps we can free ourselves from living in ignorance of our past. Perhaps ample resourcing and effective implementation of the curriculum will bolster the education of critically engaged citizens of the future, encouraging all our children and mokopuna to ground themselves, to identify themselves, and to remember their ancestors.
Compulsion is a defining feature of the curriculum. It saddens me that we did not already have an effective Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum in schools, that we did not already love and respect our history enough to provide for it resolutely without compulsion.
But we have compulsion. And I have a problem with it, a view I made publicly known before the curriculum development began and before I accepted an invitation to join one of two curriculum-writing groups assembled to work on the draft.
In state hands, compulsion has produced some bad outcomes for Māori — compulsory expropriation of Māori land, compulsory exclusion of te reo Māori from schools are examples.
Instead of compulsion, I would have preferred an arrangement that leaned towards political anarchy — but political anarchy of a particular kind, the kind that constantly searches for balance between no overarching rules and voluntary cooperation, along the lines discussed by political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott.
It is a delicate arrangement that reminds me of the saying “Ngāpuhi kōwhao rau”. To some, the “one hundred holes of Ngāpuhi” might suggest iwi disunity or inconsistency. But perhaps they reflect local autonomy or political anarchy: freedom to come together, freedom to be independent.
In such conditions, anarchy can inspire creativity and spontaneity. When the rules are loose but agreement to cooperate is established, the channels of communication are forced to stay open. Independent groups are bound to work together towards their goals. Creative energies are given room to play. In contrast, compulsion is constraining, it risks shutting down all that productive creative energy.
However, it does not have to be that way. Once it has settled in, the ANZH curriculum may well show the ways it can be compulsory and pliable, allowing for incorporation of the local and reflection of the specificity of the communities to which each school belongs. As already implied, there are limits on what a curriculum can achieve. The real work is yet to come.
The future of history is Māori. This is at least true for school children in Years 1 to 10, beginning in the current school year, because the first “big idea” in the curriculum states: “Māori history is the foundational and continuous history of Aotearoa New Zealand.”
This statement — this “big idea” — recalls the Waitangi Tribunal’s future-focused report Ko Aotearoa Tēnei, which presents mātauranga as the foundational knowledge of Aotearoa. It is time for New Zealanders to “make the leap to acceptance of Māori culture and identity as a founding pillar of our national project”, the Tribunal proposes. Both “history and the future demand” it, not only as a “matter of justice” but also as a necessity dictated by “demographics, economics, and geopolitics”. What is called for is “a genuine infusion of the core motivating principles of mātauranga Māori — such as whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga — into all aspects of our national life”.
In our twenty-first-century national life, “the Pākehā mainstream” is welcoming — sometimes even championing — te ao Māori more and more.
This kind of welcoming can be seen when combing back over the histories of Auckland city. For example, Te Paparahi, Toi Māori provides eight mapped walks of Auckland city sites of significance, and public and private art and design. It does so through a lens that positions “Māori identity” as New Zealand’s “unique point of difference in the world”. Similarly, in 2022, the Tūrama lighting and sculptural installation along Queen Street revived in art the former Waihorotiu valley.
Presented against this backdrop, there must be more to the idea that Māori history is “foundational and continuous” than ensuring Māori content. Māori history must have more influence than in choosing topics and training teachers. If Māori history is genuinely foundational and continuous, surely it can be foundational and continuous for all. Surely it can provide a sturdy frame for the whole of the curriculum, not just the bit identified as Māori. The ANZH curriculum presents an opportunity to think — deeply, critically, locally — about what that might mean and what benefits might result.
To conclude, I return to Waipapa Taumata Rau, specifically the last remnant of the Albert Barracks wall that runs alongside the University of Auckland library.
In 2020, the wall got a new neighbour, a sculpture, Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui, installed as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the Christchurch mosque attacks on 15 March 2019.
Beautifully told by Michael Steedman and Hirini Kaa, the story of the sculpture and its installation is traced from the grief that surrounded the mosque attacks, to karakia hosted by the University of Auckland where the university made the gesture of blessing and presenting a large pounamu carved with the raukura.
They contextualise the creation of Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui by Taranaki artists Anton Forde and Ngahina Hohaia, including the sculpture’s incorporation of the pounamu. They recount the unveiling of Ngā Roimata o Ranginui at a moving dawn ceremony on the last day of Matariki 2020, when the pounamu carved with the raukura was given its permanent home on campus.
Kaa and Steedman’s storytelling demonstrates the best of Māori history, holding together layers and connections in the past and in the present. They acknowledge lives lost, mourned and remembered. They show how karakia and ceremony brought Māori, Pacific, Christian and Muslim traditions together, contemplating justice, peace and connections to creation.
They historicise. The traditions and themes, the layers and connections, were held together by the guidance of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei; a guidance and manaakitanga first offered in 1840, then squandered as Auckland grew, and now finding contemporary expression in the twenty-first century.
They connect. As Forde and Hohaia explained, Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui, the Tears of Skyfather, references the tears Ranginui shed when he was separated from Papatūānuku, Earthmother. Steedman and Kaa write: “We cry and grieve at the loss of our loved ones and remember that grief. It connects us to our ancestors, and manifests both our pain and our memory.”
The raukura, the feather carved on the pounamu, is a well-known symbol of peace. It resonates most significantly with Parihaka, a place with its own traditions of “peace, prosperity, and prophecy”.
From here, the stories of Ngā Roimata ō Ranginui and of Waipapa Taumata Rau can extend their connections beyond Auckland and beyond the north: to the leadership of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi and the invasion of Parihaka; to war in Taranaki and the confiscations that followed. Taken in another direction, these campus stories may also reveal the University of Auckland as a site of social and political activism, whether on-campus activism against the 1981 Springbok tour such as the Bantu shack protest in Merata Mita’s Patu!, or He Tāua, the 1979 Māori response to the engineering students’ mock haka.
As Steedman and Kaa remind us, such connections even reach across the globe to recent reconsiderations of historical monuments and memorials, and return again to local debates — statues of Governor Grey in Albert Park and Colonel Nixon in Ōtāhuhu.
Historicise. Connect. There are so many ways to think and teach about this thread of the past, this one spot on campus: the colonial wall and the twenty-first-century remembrance; the violence and the peace; the aroha, anger and grief. Two distinct responses to violence, centuries apart, stand and face each other. These stories are enriched by their Māori history framing. They are richer still when ingrained with the unique mātauranga to which Steedman and Kaa draw attention; the mātauranga of a particular place; the mātauranga of the whenua of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.
Our campus, like our country, is a site of colonial settlement, colonial power, colonial histories. But it is not beyond us to reframe it, to remake it, without either losing our history or foregoing a shared vision of who we might become.
This is the opportunity, the gift of Māori history as foundational and continuous: to reprise the long histories of sites too quickly forgotten and displaced by the people and structures that occupied them; to gather up all the threads of all our histories and connect them; and to let our histories stand.
Māori history can do this. Expertly. It can demonstrate the ways we are connected to the past and why we are always connected to it. It can express in multiple ways that staying connected to the past is what allows us to make connections with each other in the present.
The future of history, indeed, is Māori.
This chapter, written by historian Dr Aroha Harris, is extracted from Te Pouhere Kōrero 10, edited by Arini Loader and Nepia Mahuika, and published by Te Pouhere Kōrero and distributed by Bridget Williams Books.
Aroha (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) is an associate professor in history at the University of Auckland and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal. She’s also a founding member of Te Pouhere Kōrero.
Te Pouhere Kōrero (www.tepouherekorero.org.nz) operates as a broad collective of Māori colleagues interested in history. It was established in November 1992, at an inaugural hui convened at Rongopai Marae at Waituhi, near Gisborne, Aotearoa New Zealand. The official journal, Te Pouhere Kōrero — Māori History, Māori People, focuses on Māori and Indigenous history.
All 10 volumes of the journal (digital) can be accessed through the many libraries (public, school, tertiary) subscribing to the New Zealand History Collection.
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