As the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Māori) of the University of Auckland, Te Kawehau Hoskins can look back a few decades when, as a Whangārei teenager, she wasn’t too sure she’d be able to handle university. But, at school, she hadn’t been too bad at writing essays, and, well, essays are what they make you write at uni, right? So, university was the path she eventually took, and, along the way, she gathered degrees, she lectured, did research, wrote papers, and became an associate professor.
Now she’s in an especially influential position where she can help ensure that Māori priorities aren’t neglected, even though the university, like most other tertiary institutions, is overwhelmingly Pākehā. Here she is with Dale looking back at her journey so far.
Tēnā koe, Te Kawehau. You’ve got a beautiful name. Can you tell us about it?
It’s a tupuna name from the north. The name I was given at birth is Clea, which is Greek and which I think my parents got from an author, Lawrence Durrell, who wrote a set of four books called The Alexandra Quartet, and each book was named after a female character. Clea was one of those.
I was never given a middle name, and, through all of my upbringing, there were family discussions about what middle name I might take. I eventually said to Dad: “I want a Māori name.”
He came up with Te Kawehau who is the mother of the Ngāti Hao rangatira Patuone. During the renaissance of the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was active in the Māori world and learning the reo and, of course, people would ask: “What’s your Māori name?” I’d say: “Well, I’ve got Te Kawehau as a middle name.” People started referring to me by that name, and it grew from there.
In the end, I had to decide. How was I going to sign my name? How was I going to present myself? I eventually made a swap to Te Kawehau as my first name, and Clea has ended up being my second name, with the full blessing and permission of my parents. It’s probably not an uncommon story for people of my generation.
Can you tell us about your parents and your home?
I was born and bred in Whangārei, and I’m from a local hapū north-east of Whangārei, Ngāti Hau. Our marae is Whakapara. We also have whenua handed down to us at Whangaruru, which is just south of the Bay of Islands. I grew up spending a lot of time in these places.
That’s Dad’s side. Mum’s side is Pākehā. She was born and bred in Wellington, and has English, Irish and Scottish ancestry. Mum was actually adopted. Her mother died when she was born, and she stayed with her maternal grandmother for some time, before a family up the road asked to adopt her.
She had a kind of open adoption, but her relations were scattered, so we didn’t really see much of them as we were growing up in the north. So I suppose my primary identity has been on Dad’s side.
Dad was very involved in marae life. He spent time revitalising our marae and our hapū trust board, and in iwi developments through the ’70s and the ’80s. Both Mum and Dad were also involved in the 1975 Māori Land March. These were formative experiences for us when we were young.
Did you grow up recognising that our people were short-changed — that our houses weren’t flash, that our jobs weren’t as good, that our education achievement wasn’t as sound, that our people have been treated unjustly over the years? When did this sort of stuff start to register with you?
I feel like I’ve always been an insider and an outsider in certain ways to the Māori world. Or maybe I should say the Māori world I grew up in offered unique insights. A bicultural parentage provides you, early on, with points of reflection and comparison. I remember when I was young thinking that, although I wasn’t very brown, my primary identity was Māori. I made that decision consciously when I was still really young.
Because of that, I became aware, for example, of the treatment of Māori students in my own school life. I was hanging out mainly with Māori, and I had a first-hand experience of what was happening for a lot of our kids. But I was also sort of escaping that treatment because I had some different forms of cultural capital, if you like, that I think were protective factors.
My parents were politicised, and those were conversations that we often had at home. My four brothers and I were pretty young when the Land March started and, before and during the march, we were going to many hui, especially around the Ngāti Wai area. Our involvement in the Land March was through the Ngāti Wai Action Committee who were fighting the government designation of our lands on the coast.
I became connected to different activists, leaders, and activities in and around my area in Whangārei. I was in the Whangārei Māori Women’s Collective as a 17-year-old. Those were such interesting times.
Who was you pāpā?
His name is Patuone. Just about every male from Whakapara is a Patuone, so he is Patuone Guy Hoskins. The Hoskins name comes from Cornwall. Dad is an interesting guy. He was one of 10, and his grandmother and his parents thought he could go far. Be a lawyer, or whatever.
Dad went to university for a short time in Wellington, and started a law degree, but he had alternative views and ended up working on the wharves. He enjoyed that no end, with all the unionists and the different characters who he worked with. Then he met Mum and they moved north.
They tried to live on the coast at Whangaruru where we’ve got family land, but it’s landlocked, and there’s no power and no road access to this day. They made a go of it for a while but, with a growing family, they ended up having to bite the bullet and move to Whangārei.
Dad worked for many years at the Portland Cement Works, and then he tried to get a professional job. I remember him talking about the racism he experienced when he applied for his first job in what was then the Labour Department.
On his second try, he did get a job in the Labour Department. He started off as an employment officer and worked his way up as a public servant, and then branched out into GELS, the Group Employment Liaison Scheme.
That was one of those employment approaches in the 1980s that gave Māori communities and whānau some support in developing small businesses and local livelihoods. He did that throughout the north.
GELS was full of radicals up and down the country — and he enjoyed the work. Alongside that, he was the first chairperson of the Ngāti Wai Trust Board.
Through the years, he spent a great deal of time trying to amalgamate land shares and stem the tide of the fragmentation of Māori land in the Ngāti Wai area. For us in Ngāti Hau, which is the neighbouring hapū, he was central to the revitalising of our own hapū trust board and the rebuilding of our marae.
He sounds like an amazing guy. We can learn a lot from people like your pāpā, willing to commit to community growth. Just out of curiosity, is Rau Hoskins, a well-known architect, one of your crew?
Yeah. He’s one of my brothers. He’s just a bit older than me.
I’m assuming you did your schooling in Whangārei, but did you go directly to varsity from high school?
No, it wasn’t a direct route. I worked in various community organisations, including the arts and the environment. I did some film and television training, too, with Don Selwyn and Selwyn Muru, back in the day.
I had my first child quite early, at 22, but I always thought maybe university was something for me, because at school the only thing I felt I was any good at — and this was a revelation to me — was writing essays. I could structure my thinking into some order and write it down.
Then, I thought: “What do you do with those sorts of skills? They write essays at university, don’t they? Maybe I’ll go to university.”
So, I did, but I flunked out, because I was this girl from Whangārei, and I went to Auckland on my own, and I wound up in the Kiwi Tavern, like plenty of people do, which was more fun than trying to find out where your lecture theatre was.
Then I had my daughter, and I thought: “Right. You’ve got to knuckle down and give it a go.” And I became an A-student. I enjoyed the learning. I enjoyed the challenge of university life. And I chipped away at an undergraduate degree in Māori studies and education.
When I was there, it was the halcyon days of Linda and Graham Smith in Māori education. Some of us went into Māori education simply because they made a space where we could develop our thinking and write about what we wanted to write about.
So, I did those things, and then I started tutoring and doing some guest lecturing, which flowed into my master’s degree, which was in Māori education. I taught for a couple of years at Unitec, and then thought: “Well, if I’m going to carry on in this kind of life, I probably need to get back to Auckland University and start a PhD.”
I was fortunate enough to get a lecturing role in Te Aratiatia, the Māori education group in the School of Education. Those were probably the last days you could get a lecturing role without already having a doctorate.
Ten years can go by really quickly, when you’re trying to keep one step ahead of your students, and you’re reading, you’re crafting lectures, and you’re trying to do research on the side, which, for me, included my PhD.
Māori and Pasifika scholars have faced difficulties advancing in the administrative side of the universities. Have you faced similar challenges getting to where you are?
Yes. Of course. Just being Māori in a largely Eurocentric institution, you have a daily feeling of marginalisation and alienation, of being removed from what’s going on in the institution.
Māori at our institution are only just over six per cent of the academic population. And it can be lonely. Fortunately for me, I was part of a Māori department — First Te Aratiatia and then Te Puna Wānanga, which is the School of Māori and Indigenous Education. So I had the benefit of being within a group of Māori.
As Māori, we generally have different priorities, and those priorities often aren’t the ones rewarded by an academic institution. For instance, we might have a priority of looking after our students, or serving our community, inside and outside the university.
Perhaps we don’t always want to work individually. We may prefer to work collegially or collectively. Relationships are important to us. But you’re judged and promoted as an individual researcher on your performance in teaching and research, and in service and leadership.
Sometimes — and I was one of these people — we’re not ambitious personally, and so we’re not always aware of how the game is played. It took me a very long time to apply for a promotion from being a lecturer (which I had been for 10 years or more) to being a senior lecturer, because no one said to me: “You’re at a point where you should apply for a promotion.”
Some people are good at using the system, and some aren’t. But there are still so few Māori in the university, relatively speaking, that we can often feel alone, and yearn for more Māori life.
Part of what my Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori office is working on is to provide many more opportunities for Māori to get together across the university. That may be for waiata, or for bringing our whānau along and having an afternoon together, offering te reo opportunities, karanga workshops, and the chance to discuss tikanga and to engage with local hapū and iwi. Really, it’s just trying to practise whanaungatanga in a place that can, at times, work against that.
We’re just completing a Māori staffing strategy for the university — and it’s very wide-reaching. We’re asking questions such as: What kind of mentoring might Māori staff need? How do we attract, retain, and promote Māori staff? How do we keep our good Māori doctoral students so that they don’t walk out the door to another institution?
I attended Auckland uni in the late ’70s, and I probably spent more time at the Kiwi Tavern than at the lectures. But now there’s a new name for Auckland uni. It’s Waipapa Taumata Rau. And there’s a rūnanga, and a stunning marae. How important have those changes been?
One thing is that Auckland University is going to be the first university in the whole country to have two marae on one campus. We already have two marae, one in the city and one on the Epsom campus, since the Auckland College of Education amalgamated with the University of Auckland back in 2006.
The Epsom marae there is Te Aka Matua ki te Pou Hawaiki. It was developed by Taru Rankin and other Māori academics, along with a group of students in the early 1980s.
Now the Faculty of Education and Social Work are moving to the city campus, and we have an agreement from the university to bring that marae with the faculty.
I want to acknowledge the previous vice-chancellor, the late Stuart McCutcheon, who died early this year, for agreeing with and supporting the proposal that we made to bring that house with us — along with the kaupapa of education and all of the things that house was for. The faculty is moving to the city, and the kaupapa will move with it. These are big things for the university.
The rūnanga is a committee that reports both to the senate and to the university council, the governing body of the university. At this point, the rūnanga doesn’t represent a co-governance or partnership relationship with the council. Our focus now is to build positive Māori engagement with the many developments going on in the university, and provide a forum in which Māori staff can gather and discuss matters of importance to us — and be a point of influence.
We’re now seeing attendance and engagement that haven’t been seen in years, which shows how Māori staff are feeling about the university. And we’re building positive engagement by Māori staff with Māori life at the university, one kaupapa at a time, but framed by Te Tiriti as the core to what drives our thinking about the future.
The university is certainly undergoing some significant transformations. For example, Taumata Teitei, the latest strategic plan for the university, incorporates many significant issues, like the importance of Treaty relationships, the importance of relationships with mana whenua, and the importance of place.
The university is being encouraged to look out not only to the world, but also to its own identity and place, and the history of its relationships with that place — and with Te Tiriti and with Ngāti Whātua and other iwi in the area.
Also included in that strategic plan is an indigenising framework we’ve called Toitū Waipapa. It’s about the identity of that place — and all that might mean for how the university thinks about itself, how it might brand itself, how it might embrace Māori ways of approaching problems, and how it might incorporate Māori priorities into its institutional priorities.
I see big movement here. I think most people feel positive about that, although there are likely some who are freaked out about it.
But isn’t that life in the Māori world, when you’re trying to drive change? There’s always fear and backlash — fear that we’re going to demote the university from being an elite place of excellence to some kind of localised Indigenous institution.
The Pākehā world often struggles to see that this isn’t a zero-sum game — that if you embrace indigenising the university, it doesn’t mean the loss of excellence. Why would it? In fact, it should mean greater excellence, because you’d be bringing Indigenous, Māori and local knowledges into engagement with other knowledge systems. The products of those engagements, in my view, can only be better.
Our academic learning institutions are starting to appreciate the depth of our mātauranga base, rather than being dismissive of it. What are you noticing about our Indigenous learning environments, our wānanga, and what that has meant for the growth in confidence of our people in the education sector?
We need a diversity of institutions to meet the needs of our people, and the wānanga play an important role in that. I often look to them and think how great it is to have a mandate to explore what Māori education might look like in whatever you offer. The possibilities are amazing.
But I think every institution should be responsive to Māori students, mātauranga and communities. It’s not okay to say: “Oh, well, the wānanga are doing this for Māori, so we don’t have to do it.”
We do have to do it, because every institution in this country, by virtue of Te Tiriti and by virtue of history, should be responsive to the needs of Māori students and meet the needs of students who want to come to an institution like Auckland University.
In basic terms, our objective is to keep doing transformational work at these institutions, so that Māori students come here and feel like they belong on their own terms. They belong as Māori — rather than being met with this attitude that says, “Well, we gave you a hand up and we’re ‘including you’, so shouldn’t you be grateful?”
No. The university can respond to you on your own terms. It can have pathways through its degrees that enable you to grow your Māori knowledge and your Māori self, rather than expect that you leave it at the door and pick it up again when you finish at the end.
At the end of a kōrero, I often ask people what else they do, because we tend to talk all about work instead windsurfing or baking or whatever. What do you do to keep yourself grounded?
Probably not enough, that’s for sure. Our first mokopuna has arrived and he lives in my house, and I’ve also just built a house on the back of my place for our parents.
I’ve been focusing in the last six months on this four-generation household that I’ve brought into being, and that keeps me busy. My marae committee also keeps me busy. So my challenge is how do I carve out a bit of time for myself?
Fortunately, in my job, you get to travel and meet people and share knowledge and ideas. I get a lot of pleasure from that.
Then there’s our whenua at Whangaruru. That’s a big commitment for all of us, because it’s one of those places that requires a lot of support. You’ve got to bring all your kai in on a boat — your gas bottles, all your building materials. And you’ve got to take all your rubbish out on a boat. There are always building improvements or boat repairs or solar panel upgrades, or new whare to be built.
So, it’s quite a big, collective whānau endeavour. And it’s also the beautiful centre of our world.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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