by Mārama Stewart, ākonga in the 2021 cohort of the Masters of Māori and Indigenous Leadership programme
My first year as a primary school principal was in 2010. I was an optimistic 29 year old who was absolutely clueless about the complexities of leadership. During that time, the Ministry of Education had invested heavily into creating The First Time Principals Programme (FTPP). The programme would educate new principals in the “leadership practices that have the greatest impact on student outcomes” (Robinson et al., 2009).
The FTPP conference gathered over 200 first time principals from across Aotearoaapryll parata. Conference speakers included the Minister for Education the Honorable Anne Tolley, Alice Apryll Parata noted principal, and Dr Viviane Robinson, co-author of the Best Evidence Synthesis [BES] – School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why. The speakers shared the same key message, Māori were disproportionately represented in the long tail of student underachievement. We, as school leadership, were the key to changing the statistics and we needed to do better for our Māori students.
A defining moment for me occurred as Apryll Parata spoke about Māori drop-out rates in schools. My neighbour (a middle-aged Pākehā woman) leaned over and asked “Well, what worked for you?” I replied, “Nothing, I dropped out too”. I remember her look of shock and non-comprehension as she responded,“Oh, I thought you would have been one of the ones that did well at school.” I pretended not to hear her as I wondered if I was classed as a member of the long tail. I looked up at Parata, before casting my eyes wide and surveyed the 95% non-Māori new principals sitting in that room, and thought… “Well nothing’s going to get any better from this room while we (Māori) are excluded from the supposed solution.”
A heartbreaking revelation to have so early in my career. The combined potential influence in that room could have made a critical positive difference in the achievement and well-being of thousands of Māori students (Robinson et al., 2009). Yet less than half a dozen of the attendees knew what it was like to be Māori in a school in Aotearoa. My experiences there left me with the feeling that Māori Educational Leadership is not valued as an effective resource to challenge disproportionate underachievement in our schools. All the more frustrating when the Ministry of Education’s own literature specifically referred to Māori Educational Leaders as change agents capable of challenging existing power structures and becoming strong advocates for Māori students in their schools (Robinson et al., 2009).
As I look back, I wonder what kind of effect could have been achieved if even half of those first time principals had been Māori like me. This thought saddens me. Not once, since my pale inauguration into the world of principalship, have I seen evidence that the Ministry of Education has acknowledged the imbalance of non-Māori leadership versus Māori leadership in our schools today.
While the article I have chosen is not specifically situated within the education space, it is a tale of leadership, founded within Te Ao Māori. It spoke to me as it perfectly illustrated the potential for positive change which was lost in that room back in 2010. It answers the question; what would happen if Māori were empowered to lead as Māori, while facing the contemporary challenges found within today’s society?
The article from The Spinoff, entitled The story behind the fight to save Ihumātao is a retrospective interview by Justin Latif (2020) with Qiane Matata-Sipu. Matata-Sipu and her group of local cousins stopped a housing project, due to be developed on land which had been stolen from the local indigenous community in 1865. Their efforts as Māori leaders restored that land, Ihumātoa to tangata whenua in 2021 (Latif, 2020).
Latif (2020) provides the reader with intimate insight into Matata-Sipu and her cousins’ development into a uniquely Māori style of leadership. Through their leadership, the Save Our Unique Landscape campaign (S.O.U.L.) would grow to include thousands of members globally and lead to the occupation of Ihumātao. Historians, archaeologists, and academics, both Māori and non-Māori, supported the cause that would take the group to the United Nations, twice (Latif, 2020).
To understand how Matata-Sipu and her five cousins came to lead this group, it is important to understand the epistemology of Māori Leadership. In his paper, Māori Leadership in Governance, Professor Hirini Mead (2006) synthesises and modernises two lists of eight traditional leadership qualities by Te Rangikahake of Ngati Rangiwewehi, Te Arawa and Himiona Tikitu of Ngati Awa. He refers to these qualities as The Eight Talents for Today or Pūmanawa (Mead et al., 2006).
The Eight Talents for Today:
- Manage, mediate and settle disputes to uphold the unity of the group.
- Ensure every member of the group is provided base needs and ensures their growth.
- Bravery and courage to uphold the rights of hapū and the iwi.
- Leading the community forward, improving its economic base and its mana.
- Need for a wider vision and a more general education than is required for every day matters.
- Value manaakitanga.
- Lead and successfully complete big projects.
- Know the traditions and culture of their people, and the wider community (p.10 ). (Katene, 2010, p.11)
Mead (1997) states that Māori Leadership must not only lie within one’s whakapapa, but also in the mandate given to them by the leader’s people. Matata-Sipu grew up on the pā at the feet of her grandparents surrounded by political conversations and governance decisions her grandparents made for her hapū (Latif, 2020). Through whakapapa and Mead’s (2006) pūmanawa, Matata-Sipu and her cousins created a leadership network which gained the mandate to lead their people. The alliance they formed around S.O.U.L, became the key to creating momentum in the outside world. The leadership partnerships they formed strengthened their campaign to its eventual acknowledgement and concessions by The Crown (Latif, 2020).
In Latif’s article, each of the pūmanawa organically appears as Matata-Sipu recollects the story of Ihumātoa and the networked leadership roles each of her cousins took upon themselves. We experience first hand the cousins’ growth into the mantle of leadership until we reach the climax of the occupation, the attempted eviction of the rightful owners of the stolen lands. The uniqueness and power of Māori Leadership can be seen in Matata-Sipu’s recollection of the day the New Zealand Police came to evict them.
“It was really emotional. Everyone was so upset, and as the sun set behind the police, I just fucking cried my eyes out. I was thinking about all the kids, and what they had to see and then also thinking about our grandparents, and all they had done for this place. I was mourning for everything we had lost over generations, for our tūpuna, for our whenua.
“And I thought about my grandfather and how he wouldn’t have let this happen, and as I looked at the sunset, and the maunga, and my nieces singing, I cried out to my tūpuna, saying to them, ‘we need you to be here right now, if we ever needed you – we need you right now’.”
And in that moment Matata-Sipu found the strength she needed (Latif, 2020).
Crisis surrounded Matata-Sipu and her cousins. It was from that moment and her connection with her tīpuna that she was able to find the courage and commitment to succeed. The article When Leadership Spells Danger, Heifetz and Linsky (2004) discusses the contemporary theory of leadership which forms around to two different types of leadership challenges – technical challenges and adaptive challenges (Heifetz & Linsky, 2004).
Technical challenges prescribe to the common misconception that the sole requirement of leadership is expertise to resolve the problems we face, not unlike a mechanic fixing a car (Heifetz & Linsky, 2004, p.35). Technical challenges are an easy managerial fix, they involve seeing a simple problem such as a gap in communication and a simple fix such as forming a Facebook group to reach a global audience. In fact, the entire campaign for Ihumātoa was founded via a clear and concise Facebook post written by Matata-Sipu in 2015 (Latif, 2020).
The challenge which Matata-Sipu faced as she stood in defiance of the police eviction was anything but a simple technical fix. The incredibly complex problems Matata-Sipu and her cousins beheld that day were born out of the same colonising tools the crown had designed to subjugate Māori since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 (Walker, 2016). The tools which allowed the theft of mana whenua and subsequent vilification of Matata-Sipu and S.O.U.L. for fighting for return of that mana whenua (Muru-Lanning, 2020) are the same tools which are still manipulated by those in power “to maintain an unjust social order between Māori and Pakeha” (Walker, 2016, p.20).
Heifetz and Linsky (2004) call these kinds of incredibly complex problems adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges often involve leadership living up to their convictions; “to closing the gap between their espoused values and their actual behaviour” (Heifetz & Linsky, 2004, p.33). What we see in Latif’s article is that Matata-Sipu and her cousins understood instinctively that the “solutions to adaptive challenges lie not in technical answers, but rather in people themselves” (Heifetz & Linsky, 2004, p.35).
Colonisation and its effect on the lives of Māori through multiple generations has been compounded by successive systemically racist government policies which have created a problem so complicated that the adaptive leadership capabilities needed to solve them seem almost insurmountable (Walker, 2016). Since the 1960 Hunn Report on Māori Affairs, subsequent investigations have frequently found that the gaps between Māori and European health, education, wealth, employment and economic development have all deteriorated (Walker, 2016).
Yet within the story of Ihumātao we see contemporary Māori Leadership force one of Aotearoa’s largest listed companies (Fletcher Building, n.d.) to backing off from their lucrative deal, and a once resistant government buying out that building giant. In fact, Matata-Sipu and her cousins are just one iteration of Māori Leadership successfully counteracting the colonial tools of subjugation created by the crown (Walker, 2016). Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Peter Buck, Dame Whina Cooper, Ranginui Walker, Sir Mason Durie, Sir Tipene O’Regan, Hana O’Regan and Dame Tariana Turia to name just a few are all incredibly successful people, facing complicated, adaptive challenges, and meeting those challenges using Mead’s (2006) eight pūmanawa.
I have been a primary school principal for twelve years now a Leading Principal according to the career structure in my collective agreement. Last week I attended the Whakatane Principals’ Association meeting. Not all 25 members were in attendance, but it was my pleasure to help welcome the fifth Māori member to our association. I am still the minority Māori in the room.
Twelve years on from my conference nothing has changed for Māori. According to Education Counts 2019 data shows that over a third of Māori students are leaving school without Level Two NCEA. Retention rates for Māori are 12% behind the total number of students at 69.6%. In Term Two 2020 attendance rates for Māori dropped to 47.5%, while COVID-19 is a factor which should not be discounted, it is still 21.2% behind European students.
Schools are still not serving the needs of Māori students despite the millions of dollars spent on Māori achievement strategies in schools over the last 16 years. The 2013 – 2017 Māori Education Strategy Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success (Ka Hikitia) focused on teaching the teachers how to support Māori students to enjoy and achieve educational success as Māori (The Māori Education Strategy, 2013).
Ka Hikitia has five guiding principles. One of which states the following:
Māori students are more likely to achieve when they see themselves, and their experiences and knowledge reflected in teaching and learning (The Māori Education Strategy, 2013, p.3).
Of the 61,000 teachers working in this country, only 7,403 identify as Māori. These strategies have not worked, and nor will they ever work because a non-Māori teacher, principal, educator will never understand what it is like to be Māori. Just like how that middle-aged white woman could not comprehend that the first time principal seated next to her was a high school drop-out. A non-Māori will never have the same connection to whakapapa nor understand that our connection to our tīpuna is not of the past but very much present in our now.
Further evidence of the positive effect of Māori students seeing themselves as normal in the classroom is provided in Dr Viviane Robinson’s BES (2009) where she describes the challenges faced by educational leaders in tackling wide spread disparity amongst students:
A second challenge is to markedly improve educational provision for, and realise the potential of, Māori students. Recent national data suggest that Māori-medium schools are better serving Māori than English-medium … (Robinson et al., 2009, p.36)
Within this context it is important for the reader to know that the ethnicity of over 95% of Māori Medium teachers is Māori. Within Māori Medium schools Māori students see themselves as normal, and their normality as Māori reflected back at them through their teachers.
Until our tamariki can see that reflection surrounding them and nurturing them and staring right back at them kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) they will never enjoy and achieve educational success as Māori. This barrier has been created because 7,403 Māori teachers spread between 2,563 schools is only an average 2.8 teachers per school. That’s not many for the 200,000+ Māori students enrolled in 2020.
Matata-Sipu and her cousins changed the course of a multi-billion dollar company versus a tiny iwi south of Auckland in less than half the time that it took for all of our current Māori achievement strategies to fail. Matata-Sipu and her cousins proved that Māori Leadership that is deeply rooted in Te Ao Māori enabled them to be strong, connected and innovative, and ultimately to achieve success. Their ability to create a uniquely Māori network of leadership where responsibility was shared and talents strengthened by that network reinvigorates my own personal approach to leadership.
If the Ministry of Education was genuinely committed to its espoused values found within its own Māori Education Strategy (2013) then they must enact these values in its actual behaviour. The Ministry must follow the above clearly stated and well researched phenomenon of Māori Leadership. It can not continue to ignore the knowledge and evidence and refuse to act upon that evidence when forming policy. Our tamariki have been disadvantaged for far too long.
Heifetz, R. A., & Linsky, M. (2004, April). When Leadership Spells Danger. Educational Leadership, 61(Leading Tough Times), 33-37. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr04/vol61/num07/When-Leadership-Spells-Danger.aspx
Walker, R. (2016) Reclaiming Māori Education. In Hutchings, J., & Lee-Morgan, J. (Eds.), Decolonisation in Aotearoa: Education, Research and Practice (pp. 19 – 39). NZCER Press.
Katene, S. (2010). Modelling Māori leadership: What makes for good leadership? MAI Review, 2010(2), 1 – 16. http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/mrindex/MR/article/view/334.html
Latif, J. (2020, December 18). The story behind the fight to save Ihumātao. The Spinoff. https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/18-12-2020/the-story-behind-the-fight-to-save-ihumatao
The Māori Education Strategy. (2013). Summary of Ka Hikitia: Accelerating Success 2013 – 2017. The Ministry of Education.
Mead, H., (1997). Landmarks, bridges and visions: Aspects of Māori culture. Wellington: Victoria University Press.
Mead, H. M.,(2006). Hui Taumata Leadership in Governance Scoping Paper. Wellington: Victoria University. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/27440364/maori-leadership-in-governance-unitec.
Muru-Lanning, C. (2020, December 19). The truth about Ihumātao: All the false claims and misinformation, corrected. The Spinoff. https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/19-12-2020/the-truth-about-ihumatao-all-the-false-claims-and-misinformation-corrected/
Robinson, V., Hohepa, M., & Lloyd, C. (2009). School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why. The University of Auckland.
 Haki Wilson, Bobbi-Jo Pihema, Waimarie Rakena McFarland, Moana Waa, and Pania Newton
 Is the Ministry of Education online “doorway” to statistical data, quantitative information, and research on education and education services in New Zealand. https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/home