I've enjoyed revisiting this book several decades after I first read it. It was published in 1992 and I bought it hot off the press. I had experienced my first 7 years as a teacher at Ngaruawahia High School in the heart of the Tainui Iwi and the Kingitanga movement.
While there I made my first foray into the Maori world. This included my first formal learning of Te Reo, experiencing powhiri, delivering whaikorero, participating in poukai and developing ways to support Maori aspirations in relation to education without charging in with the answers. I felt privileged to be made to feel at home at Turangawaewae and enjoyed many conversations with the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu. I had a close relationship with her Private Secretary, Ngahia Gregory, who was on the teaching staff at Ngaruawahia High School. With her guidance and mentoring I was able to support the establishment of a "Bilingual Class" and was Chairman of the NHS Marae Committee that built the school Wharenui,Te Huingaongawai.
While these two (Bilingual Class and Wharenui) were physcically visible outcomes the greatest outcome was the way in which, to make sure these projects came to fruition, Maori parents were supported to grow in confidence and move into key positions on the PTA and new-fangled BOTs.
None of these outcomes were my ideas. By listening to Maori students and their whanau their aspirations were clear, as were ideas on how to achieve them. I soon realised that where the support was needed was in navigating the Pakeha world and its institutions and ways of operating. This is where I could help.
We had a great time - shooting geese on a farm and selling them at the Delta Hotel off the back of a trailer (fundraising), harvesting truckloads of ponga logs for the marae fence, and working alongside Rongo Wetere and his staff and students from Waipa Kokiri (soon to become Te Wananga o Aotearoa) to design and create our carvings for our whare and the wonderful murals for inside.
All through those 7 years this Pakeha atheist was finding ways to operate in a world rich with tikanga. At no stage was I asked or required to relinquish any important aspects of my Pakeha world. I truly hope I operated in a way that did not ask or require the same of the Maori I was working with.
The true winner out of these experiences was me. I began my journey of learning the reo and I came to understand the concepts of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, aroha, wairua, and mana motuhake.
I think I was beginning to develop an understanding of bi-culturalism: we all brought something to the table (our values, our principles, our world view, our practices ie our tikanga) and no one had to compromise on these important elements of their tikanga.
When I read James Ritchie's introduction in 1992 it resonated with me:
"There are two predominant cultures here, not one. Pakeha culture is dominant by power, history and majority. Maori culture is dominant by a longer history, by legacy and by its strength of survival and the passionate commitment of its people." (p 6)
Without this understanding many view Pakeha culture as dominant and take this view to the concept of biculturalism. Such a position can lead to people exhibiting practices of ''biculturalism" in which the dominant culture requires the less dominant culture to have some important aspects of its tikanga pushed aside.
A case in point is the important tikanga element of wairua and its associated practices such as karakia. When I have participated in aspects of wairua within the Maori world such as karakia or himene, being an atheist, I have wondered how I can reconcile this. (Well, to tell the truth, I have rarely wondered about this and have felt little discomfort).
Reading James Ritche (a Pakeha atheist as well who's work was situated increasingly within the Maori world) has helped when I have felt I may have needed to reconcile (or more commonly justify the validity of wairua to Pakeha - even those who aspire to biculturalism):
"Spiritual concerns apply to all things. They are never obliterated and must be given full status and recognition. Pakeha are not expected to share such beliefs but are expected to respect them. Matters of the wairua are deeply and personally cultural; do not intrude upon them." (p 53)
In most cases in situations where there is a strong presence of wairua and spirituality such as karakia I simply close my eyes and think of things and people important to me. I do the same when at a Pakeha funeral and there are Christian prayers for the departed and their famiiliies. Sometimes I will not sing himene, but I must admit I did belt out a strong Whakaria Mai at a recent funeral for a friend. No reconciling was necessary. I am proud of the fact that none of my responses show disrespect or require Maori to abandon what is important to them.
Too often in our institutions if Pakeha feel uncomfortable with aspects of wairua being incorporated in the institution's practices then such endeavours are abandoned. Once again the dominant culture requires the other to compromise and again the members of the less dominat culture continue to experience the levels of discomfort as a result to which Pakeha will not subject themselves.
In my view, it is too easy to play the "schools are secular" card to avoid Pakeha discomfort (while exacerbating discomfort of Maori). This is where the rubber hits the road and determines our true commitment to biculturalism. If we allow the "schools are secular" position to win the day we should, morally, remove our aspiration for biculturalism and reject the presence of Hauora (including) wairua from our Health and Dispositional Curricula.
I recently discussed these issues with a colleague who works within a major tertiary institution. He shared with me a reply he used to a Pakeha colleague who was opposed to karakia being used to start hui:
For me, inviting a Maori colleague to open a meeting is about giving more prominence and visibility to tikanga. If for that person karakia is an important element of that opening then I am fine about that.
Most non-religious Pakeha would still attend religious-based funerals, with prayers and hymns, and find ways to respectfully be present. I assume they do this for the same reason I do: respect for others and their beliefs.
There is no doubt that much of what is seen as Maori spirituality has, since the mid 1800s, taken on a Christian belief system, but spirituality within the Maori world existed long before then. James Ritchie gives an interesting perspective:
"But to inflict my non-religious attitudes on Maori commits the same error as the early Christian missionaries did when they denied the validity of Maori belief." (p 54)
In schools, as Pakeha (who occupy most leadership and decision-making positions) we cannot dismiss these aspects of bi-culturalism because of levels of discomfort. For decades our Maori colleagues have had to endure high levels of discomfort because the dominant culture has not acknowledged the important wairua aspects of their culture.