Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tangata whenuatanga – who am I, where am I, and what is the nature of this place?

My place in the world is near the edge of Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere in Waitaha / Canterbury. Ngāi Tahu is the established name of the mixture of indigenous Māori tribes who came to reside in the Waitaha area. Before Ngāi Tahu’s 17th century migration the dominant tribe had been Ngāti Mamoe, who had themselves previously displaced the tribes of Hāwea, Rapuwai and Waitaha. It was the chief, Te Ruahikihiki, who established control over the Taumutu territory on the edge of Te Waihora, in conjunction with several chiefs who held territory to the North and supplied the Ngāi Tahu stronghold at Kaiapoi pā. Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki is now one of the five primary hapū of the Ngāi Tahu iwi. Historically Te Waihora has been an abundant mahinga kai teaming with waterfowl and sea-life and was guarded by the protective taniwha, Tūterakiwhānoa (Christchurch City Libraries, no date).

When considering place-based education, or more specifically Ngāi Tahu and Taumutu based education, teachers need to think about how students can develop understanding of themselves as a citizen in connection with this community. How does Ngāi Tahu/Taumutu fit in with the student’s perception of history and identity? How can teachers engage students with the concerns, customs and cultural ways of knowing of this community, and enable them to make connections to the ecology of Te Waihora? As Woodhouse & Knapp suggest (cited in Gruenewald, 2003) place-based education is inherently multidisciplinary and pathways from Ngāi Tahu/Taumutu to the New Zealand Curriculum can easily be found. It is the dynamic relationship between place and student that must be recognised and nurtured.

In order to establish and maintain student connection with Te Waihora, class groups must go out of the classroom and spend time there and learn what is of this place. These visits are opportunities to encourage students to make and share links of what they personally know of the place with their classmates, creating relationships with each other and the locality. There must be people in the community from Ngāi Tahu/Taumutu on site, to share their own knowledge of the place, for students to reflect upon, consider and connect with, an expectation that was voiced by Ngāi Tahu themselves (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 1996). This social sharing of knowledge and memories then becomes part of the students’ awareness of this place through multiple perspectives and exploration (Gruenewald, 2003). Rather than read about the history and significance of Taumutu from an objective perspective, students can go to Ngāti Moki Marae, built on the site of Te Pā o Moki (a pā built by Te Ruahikihiki’s son over 600 years ago), and see its proximity to Te Waihora in order to learn about its importance to Ngāi Tahu and the wider community, which will develop empathy and interest, and a foundation for reflection and inquiry.

In 1848, the land around Taumutu was sold as part of “Kemp’s Purchase”, the largest Crown purchase in New Zealand history which involved some 20, 000, 000 acres being ‘sold’ by Ngāi Tahu  for £2,000. The eastern edge of the purchase was contested by Ngāi Tahu almost immediately, as they had not consented to the inclusion of Te Waihora (or several other valued locations along the eastern coast). The Crown disregarded Ngāi Tahu’s right to the mahinga kai as it was seen to interfere with the civil drainage required for the immigrant settlements (Waitangi Tribunal , 2012). Te Waihora subsequently became polluted as Ngāi Tahu were no longer allowed to manage the water levels and the land was converted to pastures for the new European colonists. Irrigation canals were routed and livestock effluent entered the waterways. Because they have been a site of social, cultural and ecological disruption Taumutu and Te Waihora provide opportunities for rich place-based learning from social, cultural and ecological perspectives.

Gruenewald (pg.9, 2003) asserts that developing a critical pedagogy of place can “teach us how to live well in our total environments” and “identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places” (2003, p.9). Both aspirations are relevant in the New Zealand context which promotes the values environmental sustainability and bi-cultural identity. It would be impossible to separate the two values, as the landscape and ecology is so closely woven into the fabric of Māori identity, and the Pākehā identity has also formed over generations in response to colonist, indigenous and environmental experiences. 

Das (2008) adds weight to the argument for place-based learning by suggesting that education is not only for preparing children to become active citizens in the future, but can be used to enable their democratic participation now. This is not to suggest that students be burdened with a sense of political responsibility to solve every social, cultural and ecological problem, which is also warned against by Gruenewald (2003), but they can be inspired to feel an empathetic connection with one place where they can and want to make a positive impact.

In 1998, after nearly 150 years, the Ngāi Tahu grievance against the Crown was settled in one of the most significant settlements by the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal. The bed of Te Waihora was returned to Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki ki Taumutu were appointed primary kaitiaki of the lake, a role which is officially recognised by the local Selwyn District Council (SDC) and Department of Conservation (DOC) (Waitangi Tribunal , 2012). Over the last 14 years a number of joint initiatives between Ngāi Tahu, SDC, DOC and Environment Canterbury (ECAN), the regional management council, have been put in place for Te Waihora, in order to revitalise its historical, cultural and ecological values. More recently, Fonterra has stepped in with funding also to help the community revitalise this taonga (NZ Government, 2011). The social, cultural, ecological and economic value of Te Waihora is not questioned.

A purposeful initiative in action in the Taumutu area which addresses these values and offers educational opportunities is the revegetation of the Canterbury Plains by Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust. Students are invited to get involved with the project which aspires to develop a greenway from the Southern Alps to the sea, including the shores of Te Waihora. The community based project works alongside other environmental initiatives and has the support of Lincoln University scientists and governing agencies. Students are encouraged to design and develop native green space in their school as well as to volunteer at planting days where native plants are reintroduced to public areas, such as riverside recreation spots (Te Ara Kākāriki, no date). This one project can be linked directly with the aspirations Ngāi Tahu have expressed and documented for their children.

In response to the invisibility and reported achievement levels of their tamariki in education Ngāi Tahu developed Te Kete o Aoraki, a memorandum of understanding which specifically details how responsibilities and relationships between the iwi, schools, and Ministry of Education can be developed. Te Kete o Aoraki states Ngāi Tahu expectations that the school environment should ensure Māori students “have an understanding of the uniqueness of their takiwā/rohe” and “ be confident in themselves and in their identity as Māori” and provides a framework for schools and iwi to work together to achieve these expectations. (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 1996, p. 21). One of the suggested methods for achieving this is to utilise ‘real-life’ contexts for learning which are compatible with Ngāi Tahutanga, and the example of participation in enhancing mahinga kai is used. To fulfil their role in this framework, Te Taumutu Rūnanga has established relationships with the schools in their takiwā and have gone so far as to produce resources to aide schools teaching of Te Taumututanga, including He Tirohanga Ūara Nō Taumutu, a document which aligns Te Taumutu expectations with the New Zealand Curriculum. This document is made available to teachers employed in the schools in the Taumutu takiwā.

Christchurch City Libraries. (no date). Te Waihora. Retrieved August 12, 2012, from Te Kouka Whenua:

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, Vol. 32, No. 4, 3-12.

Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.

Te Ara Kākāriki. (no date). Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust. Retrieved August 19, 2012, from Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust:

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. (1996). Compulsory Sector Education. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu:

Waitangi Tribunal . (2012). The Ngai Tahu Report 1991. Retrieved August 18, 2012, from Waitangi Tribunal Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti O Waitangi:


tangata whenuatanga – placed-based education

Place-based education is, literally, beginning where students are at and adapting the curriculum to reflect and respond to their local environment in meaningful and relevant ways. Sobel (2004) describes place-based education as a process of engaging students in authentic learning contexts with their natural and social-cultural surroundings.

Developing an understanding of place-based education, and a pedagogical approach which supports it, requires teachers bring down the walls of the classroom, which are metaphorical and physical barriers to exploring the local community and the world beyond. Schools have traditionally been places of learning about canons of knowledge which have little relevance to the places students come from, play in and explore in their out of school time unless explicit links are made.

The doubt and uncertainty teachers can feel as they begin dabbling in place-based education is described by Foran & Olson (2008) who assert that assumptions about teaching, learning and classrooms can cause teachers to doubt the place-based process. Classrooms are the places were knowledge and skills are taught and learnt, and it can be difficult to disrupt the assertion that learning is somehow synonymous with the building in which it has traditionally occurred.

Foran and Olsen (2008) go on to describe situations in which place-based learning have been subverted by the assumption that abstract classroom based learning has more validity and authority than a student’s experiences. Penetito (2009) describes how this subversion was reflected in the dialogue Māori students, like himself, had with their parents, indicating that the, largely Pākehā-centric, school-learned knowledge was somehow more accurate and truthful than the views of the adults in the community and their histories.

Traditional education has trained students to separate themselves from the environment and communities in which they live, in order to view standardised learning content objectively and develop abstract thinking abilities. This disconnection has been experienced significantly by Māori students, and has been identified as a cause of academic underachievement. It has also been a focus of interest for scholars and iwi who seek to address this trend. Prioritising the establishment of culturally responsive learning environments where Māori students can engage in supportive relationships and authentic contexts is identified as a leading factor in rectifying Māori student disconnection in education  (MacFarlane, Glynn, Cavanagh, & Bateman, 2007).

Place-based education affirms student identity by providing the context where they develop understanding of themselves as an active citizen in connection with community, engage with concerns and customs of their community culture, and make connections to the history and ecology of their unique locality. Tātaiako describes the tangata whenuatanga competency, required by trained teachers, as the ability to affirm “Māori learners as Māori [by] providing contexts for learning where the language, identity and culture of Māori learners and their whānau is affirmed” (Ministry of Education, 2011, p. 4) and identifies place-based learning as an effective way of providing those contexts.

When stating the relevance of place-based learning Penetito (2009) refers to the tangata whenua relationships of ancestral connection, roles and responsibilities and the spatial metaphors adopted to illustrate how these concepts relate to the environment. Penetito’s statement that Maori practices of pepeha, ‘who am I, where am I and what is the nature of this place’, illustrate place-based ways of knowing is confirmed by the sentiments of Zucker (cited in Sobel, 2004) when he suggests the place-based process enables student to ask ‘where am I, what is the nature of this place’ and position themselves within the cultural and natural stories of that place.

Place-based education has clearly been identified as a culturally responsive pedagogy.

"Taupo carvings" CC image courtesy of Steve Gilham on Flickr

“Taupo carvings” CC image courtesy of Steve Gilham on Flickr

Foran, A., & Olson, M. (2008). Seeking pedagogical places. Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 2, No. 1, 24 – 48.

MacFarlane, A., Glynn, T., Cavanagh, T., & Bateman, S. (2007). Creating culturally-safe schools for Maori students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education Vol. 36, 65-76.

Ministry of Education. (2011). Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners. Wellington, NZ: Crown.

Penetito, W. (2009). Place- based education: Catering for curriculum, culture and community. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 18, 5-29.

Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.