Te Rū Rangahau: Weaving kaupapa Māori research into national research agendas

The University of Canterbury’s College of Education, Health and Human Development is home to Te Rū Rangahau Māori Research Laboratory, the 2016 recipients of the NZARE Group Award for high quality research involving Māori. In this blog post, we introduce Te Rū Rangahau, providing an overview of who we are, what we do, and what makes us unique.

Who we are

Ruaumoko-TeRuRangahau.jpgTe Rū Rangahau has incorporated into its title two key words. One of these, Rū (in this instance taken to mean vibrant) is a tribute to the mythical Rūaūmoko (god of earthquakes and seasons). The other, Rangahau (research), is a marker to remind us of an important dimension of our core work. This title was chosen as a way of recognising the resiliency and camaraderie that was evident at the University of Canterbury at the time of the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquakes. Te Rū Rangahau is a place of vibrant scholarship where postgraduates and staff discuss plans, analyse activities, write proposals, report on and complete projects, and, importantly, express whanaungatanga.

Since its inception following the Christchurch earthquakes, Te Rū Rangahau has become influential within the College of Education, Health and Human Development. The NZARE Group Award citation described Te Rū Rangahau as ‘a pivotal part of the development of Māori research’ at the University of Canterbury. Indeed, Māori research has a growing presence in the College.

What makes us unique: Kaupapa Māori research

Kaupapa Māori research is a phenomenon that challenges the conventions of research while seeking to identify and uphold Māori views, solutions and ways of knowing. It is about empowering Māori people, voices, processes and knowledge. It is about inclusion too; working with local, national and international colleagues across the disciplines of education on projects that move Māori from the margins towards the centre. Te Rū Rangahau has been instrumental in bringing Kaupapa Māori research to the fore, and this is evident in the extensive research projects and collaborations that Te Rū Rangahau scholars are involved in.

Below, we highlight two of our current projects that have been influential in moving Māori epistemologies, pedagogy and researchers to the centre: our project within the National Science Challenge, A Better Start, and the Ministry of Education project, Huakina Mai.

The National Science Challenge: A Better Start

The NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has funded 11 National Science Challenges which aim to seek solutions within science to ensure best practice and outcomes across a diverse range of fields. Research initiatives linked to these Challenges must also give life to Vision Mātauranga, an MBIE policy document that encourages researchers to draw from Māori knowledge and ways of knowing for the betterment of all New Zealanders.

Te Rū Rangahau is involved in one of the National Science Challenges, ‘A Better Start’, which aims to improve the potential for young New Zealanders to have healthy and successful lives. This is where Te Rū Rangahau makes its presence felt, in the ‘education’ theme of ‘literacy’. We are delighted that two doctoral scholarships are underway and Māori research and researchers are on the move and feeling positive.

The research team for A Better Start draws from an innovative model called He Awa Whiria (Braided Rivers), which is inspired by both Indigenous and Western streams of knowledge (see Macfarlane, Macfarlane, & Gillon’s chapter in this 2015 book). It is suggested that:

“Western knowledge and theory, although fundamentally sound, are culturally bound (Durie, 2006), and are therefore not able to be transferred directly into another (Indigenous Māori) culture. It is therefore necessary to make a plea for an interdependent and innovative theoretical space where the two streams of knowledge are able to blend and interact, and in doing so, facilitate greater sociocultural understanding and better outcomes for Indigenous individuals or groups.” (p. 52)

The He Awa Whiria model encourages a blending of Indigenous and Western bodies of knowledge to create an approach that has the potential to be more powerful than either knowledge stream is able to produce unilaterally. The He Awa Whiria model is used in Te Rū Rangahau’s work with A Better Start. A good example of this blending is the research project being conducted by Te Rū Rangahau doctoral scholar, Melissa Derby. She has braided Western indicators of literacy (phonological awareness and vocabulary knowledge) with Māori epistemology and pedagogy to co-construct a literacy programme that is being trialled with bilingual (English and Te Reo Māori) preschool children with the aim of supporting their emerging literacy. This is one example of the pioneering approach evident in Te Rū Rangahau’s involvement with A Better Start, as well as an example of the innovative research happening in Te Rū Rangahau that is bringing Māori knowledge, pedagogy and epistemology to the fore, paving the way for a new generation of Māori researchers to build on the body of Māori scholarship that Te Rū Rangahau has contributed to the academy at the University of Canterbury.

Huakina Mai

Huakina Mai (Opening Doors for Tamariki) is a behaviour support program that was brought into the PB4L (positive behaviour for learning) mix back in 2012. The University of Canterbury and the Ministry of Education began a journey aligned to the kara, or banner, of “Getting it right for Māori”. The university then sought the skills of Kaha Education to carry out a pilot project (2014 – 2016) which had a pronounced iwi presence. One of the premises of Huakina Mai is that it supports teachers, whānau and learners to create strong relationships that enable Māori to be successful as Māori.  Great schools are continually improving and looking for ways in which to better serve their students, and Huakina Mai never lost sight of that imperative. Sets of attractive rauemi (resource booklets) have recently been completed for the Ministry of Education – keep an eye out for these in the near future. See this article to learn more about the story of Huakina Mai and its kaupapa Māori approach to relationship and behaviour support.

These two current projects are but two examples of research carried out by Te Rū Rangahau that has been influential in moving Māori epistemologies, pedagogy and researchers to the centre.


Te Rū Rangahau is the Māori Education Research Laboratory based at the University of Canterbury College of Education, Health and Human Development. It is led by Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane and involves a team of researchers dedicated to Māori and Indigenous Research. Te Rū Rangahau was awarded the 2016 NZARE Group Award for their contribution to Māori research.

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