Mana ōrite: Supporting equal status for mātauranga Māori as a Pākehā teacher

Karen Finn, PhD Candidate, University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau

Current changes to The New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA call for equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori. I’m both excited and challenged by this prospect. As a Pākehā geography teacher, giving equal status to mātauranga Māori differs from my expertise and requires me to acquire new knowledge. In this blog post I offer some reflections on my learning so I can support mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori.

Equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori – is one of several key changes being made to NCEA and curricula. Mātauranga Māori is defined in Te Aka Māori Dictionary as “Māori knowledge – The body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, including the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity and cultural practices”. Sir Hirini Moko Mead argues that mātauranga Māori is knowledge of the past, present and future, and it continues to develop and emerge. Mead further explains the importance of mātauranga Māori in this way:

Put simply, the term refers to Māori knowledge. However, once efforts are made to understand what the term means in a wider context, it soon becomes evident that mātauranga Māori is a lot more complex. 

It is a part of Māori culture, and, over time, much of the knowledge was lost. The reasons for the loss are well known. Several minds have worked to recover much of what was lost — to reconstruct it, to unravel it from other knowledge systems, to revive parts of the general kete or basket of knowledge, and to make use of it in the education of students of the land. Especially Māori students for whom this is a precious taonga, a treasure, a part of the legacy that is theirs to enjoy.

Mead’s statement goes a step further than simply defining mātauranga Māori to explaining the urgency of mana orite o mātauranga Māori, particularly for schools. Giving mātauranga Māori equal status in education is important for honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi and supporting ākonga Māori (Māori students) to achieve success as Māori. Mason Durie says that supporting ākonga Māori to achieve success as Māori requires schools to engage with te ao Māori, and this includes mātauranga Māori. Giving equal status for mātauranga Māori expects the education system to change to fit Māori students rather than the students change to fit the system. It shows ākonga, whānau and communities that their knowledges are valued in schools.

Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline. These are some of the ways that I have begun learning:

  1. I am listening to and partnering with Māori. Sometimes I ask questions. I am grateful for kaumātua, supervisors, colleagues and friends who are so patient with me.
  2. I am continuing to learn te reo Māori. Te reo Māori is integrated with tikanga Māori and a Māori worldview, which are aspects of mātauranga Māori. Better Māori language skills give me a deeper understanding of mātauranga Māori and a wider vocabulary with which to articulate it.
  3. I am continuing to reflect on my worldview, my privilege, and my ignorance. I am learning and practising humility. One day I hope to be what Georgina Stewart calls a White Ally to my Māori colleagues and ākonga.
  4. I am accessing teacher professional development on to build the connections between mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori and geography, through the Auckland Geography Teachers’ Association (, the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association, and Mana Ōrite (
  5. I am reading Māori authors. On social media, e-Tangata; in news media, Atea by The Spinoff; through open access academic journals, MAI journal, Waikato Journal of Education, and some articles in the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies.
  6. I am physically connecting with my learning. After reading journal articles about Ngā tapuwae o ngā tupuna in Waitaki, I visited the area with my family, and then toured Te Ana Ngāi Tahu Māori Rock Art Centre. Combining these three ways embedded my learning.

I’m not alone in this learning journey. Most teachers are learning, planning, and beginning to teach mātauranga Māori, according to NZCER’s National Survey of Secondary Schools. Despite most teachers having begun this journey, non-Māori lag behind Māori in working towards giving equal status to mātauranga Māori. Māori teachers also take more of the burden in supporting colleagues and schools to implement equal status for mātauranga Māori. The survey findings remind us that Māori teachers have varying levels of expertise in te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori and need support too. I need to approach my learning with humility and kindness, without making assumptions or demands of my Māori colleagues.

I am hopeful about this opportunity I have to learn. Another statement from Mead’s 2012 essay gives me confidence in my place, as Pākehā, in supporting mana orite o mātauranga Māori:

Mātauranga Māori is thus linked to Māori identity and forms part of the unique features which make up that identity. Because this is so, it also means that mātauranga Māori is a unique part of the identity of all New Zealand citizens. 

Some citizens may deny it, some may not realise it is there, some may reject it. But a good many will embrace it and be proud to be part of the revival process. 

I am on a journey towards embracing mātauranga Māori and supporting its place in schools.

Karen Finn is a geography teacher and a teacher educator. Karen is researching decolonising school geography in Aotearoa New Zealand for a PhD in Education through Te Puna Wānanga at University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau. Her research is in its early stages, and she will continue to report on her project through NZARE and geography teacher networks.


  1. Kia Ora Karen
    I am also researching about Principal’s Implementation of Mana Orite mo te Mātauranga Māori for the Change 2 of the NCEA Change Package I would be interested in having a korero with you sometime
    Anthony Hawkins


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