Beyond Māori boys’ writing: Reading and writing our WORLD [part 2]

This seven-part blog series is based on a symposium presented at the 2017 New Zealand Association for Research in Education conference by a group of student Warrior Researchers from Kia Aroha College in Ōtara, South Auckland.

This is the second post in the series. To start at the beginning of the series, click here. To view all posts in the series, click here.


Reading our community

Pilisi Mafi | Year 13 | Toa ko Pouvalu | Vai ko Puna

Through our engagement in Youth Participatory Action Research (described further in the first blog post), one of the first major issues we encountered was how to ‘read’ our world of Ōtara from our own positive perspectives – especially when there is so much negative information out there about our community. One quote from Matua Karega Bailey, a hip hop artist and a teacher at our partner school, Roses in Concrete, in California, stuck in my mind. Talking about young people in communities like ours, Matua Karega said:

“You see, the tricky thing about hopelessness is that its narrative is everywhere.

You can’t come with some fairy tale ‘everything is going to be ok’ – it don’t work that way. Especially when they know otherwise.

If you’ve ever journeyed into the most hopeless circumstances – if you’ve ever seen hopelessness, if you’ve seen it, not studied it, not went to visit it, if you’ve lived in hopelessness – you know how beautiful hope is.”

We can see the beauty of hope and the counter-stories to hopelessness in our community of Ōtara and in our school. As Matua Karega says,

“It’s no use telling us fairy stories when you don’t know anything about our world.”

It seems to me that the New Zealand government is good at fairy stories and coming up with solutions – when we don’t think they have ever actually asked us! So I want to tell you about our world, the world of Ōtara.

Ōtara, South Auckland

Ōtara: the “community of slums”, where “coconuts [Pacific Islanders]” are, or in other words, “the ghetto” – right? I’m sure you have heard those descriptions. We certainly have! Well, you’ve got it wrong. Our Ōtara is a community of acceptance; rich in culture, love, character, and hope. This community allows Pasifika and Māori students to be who they are culturally, and I want to explain the positive aspects of Ōtara that people should know.

People say “Ōtara is a bad place” because of the high rates of crime, gang affiliation, vandalism, and economic status. What they should know is that it is simply not possible to know Ōtara without experiencing, living and working here, without connecting with our families and without understanding our realities.

In the 1998 documentary “Defying the odds” which told the counter-story of Ōtara, Rawiri Paratene said:

“They look at Ōtara and all they see is slums. All they see is the outside of the houses and they will always pass with their cameras and they go ‘Ōtara is a ghetto’.”

The media is a powerful tool that can be used to transmit information, news and exert influence over large sections of society. What irritates me is that whatever negative comment or news is being shared, people start to believe it and take it in – even though it is untrue.

We – my fellow Warrior-Researchers and I – know about poverty; we know about crime; we know about being safe (or not); and we know about the presence of gangs, particularly youth gangs, in our community. The key words in that sentence are: WE KNOW! These things are facts of our world, just as they are in every other community. None of those issues is unique to Ōtara. WE KNOW about these issues, too, because some of those community members who feature in those statistics are personally known to us. We grew up with them, and often we know the reasons why they feel these choices are their answers. When we blame these people for their choices, we are looking at the symptoms, instead of looking at the deeper causes.

Here are some more things you might not know about Ōtara:

  • The 2013 census for Clover Park, the community within Ōtara where Kia Aroha College is located, shows the ethnic breakdown for our people – Pasifika, 74%; Māori, 17%; and Asian people, 15%.
  • Over 40% of the people in Clover Park were born overseas – the majority of those in the Pacific Islands.
  • After English, the most common language spoken in Clover Park is Samoan, spoken by 32.5% of people.
  • 30% of people in Clover Park are under 15 years of age, compared with 21% percent for all of Auckland.
  • 48% of people aged 15 years and over in Clover Park have an annual income of $20,000 or less, compared with 39 percent of people for Auckland as a whole.
  • The University of Otago publishes New Zealand’s deprivation data on a scale ranging from 1 to 10, where 10 represents the areas with the most deprived scores, or areas that are the poorest. Our community is a 10 on this scale.

A very experienced teacher of Kia Aroha College, Matua Willie Ropata, who has lived in Ōtara all his life, says:

“there is no shortage of smiling happy faces of this community, children laughing, adults who are committed in creating a better world. Those are the stories that should be told.”

For example, there’s the history of resistance, the cultural occasions such as the ASB Polyfest, and let’s not forget the world famous Otara Flea Market.

I would read our world of Ōtara as a community of resistance, and a community that stands up for itself. There is no doubt that we are a young community, a diverse community, and that many of our families struggle to find housing, to feed and clothe us, and to support our needs in education. This is our daily reality. The massive gap between wealthy communities and communities like ours never seems to feature in the government’s plans and strategies for our education, which seem to just focus on what they think we can’t do. So if you want us to get better at reading the word[s], you need to learn about our world, and allow us to be who we are in our schools.


The first post in this series introduced the Kia Aroha students’ research.

Having ‘read’ their community in this second post, the next post drills down further as the students ‘read’ their school context. Together, these initial posts provide a fresh perspective and a rich context that inform the students’ interpretation of educational policy and practice in Aotearoa NZ across the rest of this blog series.

To see all posts in the series, click here.


Kia Aroha Symposium 2017

The 2017 Kia Aroha College Warrior-Researchers Group was made up of eight students in Years 12 and 13.

The following six students presented the group’s work at the 2017 NZARE Conference in Hamilton:

  • Jasmine Bellamy | Year 13 | Ngāti Kahu | Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Pilisi Mafi | Year 13 | Toa ko Pouvalu | Vai ko Puna
  • Foloiola Finau | Year 12| Hufangalupe | Lotokaiano
  • Matthew Katipa | Year 13 | Tainui | Ngāti Whātua
  • Jacob Harris-Kaaka | Year 12 | Te Aupouri | Ngāti Kuri
  • Timitimi Ropata | Year 12 | Ngāti Toa Rangatira | Ngai Tai

Two further students, Aneeva Cherrington-Christie and Harry Seuala, also contributed during the year. The group acknowledge the support of their past principal, Dr Ann Milne, who mentored them through their research.

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