Two lifetimes of learning and sharing

Two Māori educational icons, Distinguished Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith and Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, received Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards this year in recognition of their varied and important work in the education sector.

A relentless and passionate focus on improving Māori education, health and wellbeing was acknowledged at the recent Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards.

Distinguished Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith (Ngāti Porou, Ngai Tahu, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kahungungu) and Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou) were recognised with Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Advocating for theoretically informed strategies to transform the lives of young Māori, both Graham and Linda have worked tirelessly to influence the broader picture of education in New Zealand.

From kōhanga reo to ageing well

Linda Tuhiwai Smith is currently Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, where she works on her own research and supervises students working on their PhDs.

“Back when I was doing my own PhD, like Graham, I was the only Māori student doing so at the time. But now we have whole cohorts of Māori PhD students around the country, and I find the supervising quite rewarding work,” she says.

“Each of my students does an interesting study, but it’s also about supporting their own journey as well – that process of becoming a researcher has a powerful impact on them as an individual.

“In terms of my own current research, I’m working in the area of trauma-informed care, and on a community health project, and I’m also doing some work in the ‘ageing well’ space with kaumātua.”

Linda, who from 2019-2016 was for the most part the only female Pro-Vice Chancellor Māori at any university, admits she has a lot of different projects on the go.

“Yes, most of what I’m doing is trying to catch up!” she laughs.

Starting out by training as a teacher, Linda says the transformation of Māori lives through education has always been important to her.

“I did a degree at the University of Auckland, then decided to go on to primary teaching, which I loved. From there I got involved with Māori education and raising the aspirations of Māori.”

This led to years helping to establish the kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa movement.

“We wanted to develop this model of Māori education that used te reo as its medium, but also taught through Māori perspectives,” says Linda. “And of course this has generated a lot of other educational work, and influenced education at our community level too. I think that work has been transforming.”

In 1999 Linda wrote Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, which critically analysed the role of Western scholarly research in the colonisation of indigenous cultures, including Māori.

This book challenged Western traditions of research, and became influential in Māori and indigenous studies, as well as in wānanga.

“Even before that, I was involved in Ngā Tamatoa and other groups – we were really focused on creating change in the education system.”

When it is suggested that she has certainly helped to do that, Linda replies, “Well, it shows that change is possible, but there’s definitely more work to be done.”

Linda believes that creating more opportunities through education is paramount for the future of New Zealand.

“It’s about making connections between what we do in education, and what is happening in society and the economy,” she says.

“We’re leaving so many people behind in terms of poverty and homelessness and disengagement and marginalisation, in what is essentially a first world country.

“So I think education is the key bridge there, both in creating equal opportunities for individuals, but also in equalising our wider society.

“It’s about finding a good balance. And that requires wisdom.”

Transforming the system

Distinguished Professor Graham Smith has dedicated his life to education and is internationally respected for his work at the forefront of alternative Māori initiatives, from kōhanga reo to wānanga.

His position as Pro-Vice Chancellor (Māori) for four and a half years at the University of Auckland was followed by a number of years teaching at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, where he earned two honorary doctorates.

His time at the University of Auckland was especially notable for a concerted effort to produce increased numbers of Māori students at the master’s and doctoral level.

“We achieved a lot of changes there, including the Mai programme, which was an idea I had to develop 500 Māori PhDs in five years. It actually took us seven years, utilising all the universities across the country,” he says.

Looking back on his career, Graham says the longevity of his work in education has been an important element.

“I’ve been in education for 64 years at least, given the fact that I started kindy when I was four years old. I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of different education experiences, whether as a student or educator myself.”

An influential contributor to the development of what he has described as “the 25-year Māori educational revolution, 1982–2007”, Graham worked with others to develop a range of transformative alternative educational strategies for Māori communities that included kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori, wharekura and wānanga.

“I think this work has been really transformative in that it’s centralised the validity and legitimacy of Māori knowledge and pedagogy and understanding.”

Graham says that his overseas experience has shaped the way he looks at education in New Zealand.

“After spending six years teaching in Canada, at UBC, and then coming home, I’ve seen that we’re doing a pretty good job in terms of our diversity and I have an international perspective on where we’re at here,” he explains.

“That’s not to say that we’re doing everything right and everyone’s happy, but I do believe that New Zealand is at the forefront of trying things and doing things, and engaging with different groups of people, which I believe is commendable.”

Graham says the continued focus on improvement and change is something that makes New Zealand education special.

“My hope is that people will continue to engage, and search for ways to make things more effective and beneficial for everybody who lives here,” he says.

“It’s the engaging, it’s the fact that we live in an environment where things are able to be contested, and we are trying to change things for the better, and that’s what is significant about it.”

Both Graham and Linda were closely involved in establishing Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (NPM), a Centre of Research Excellence that undertakes research relevant to Māori communities.

With its vision of Māori leading New Zealand into the future, NPM remains an important vehicle by which New Zealand continues to be a key player in global indigenous research and affairs.

Graham says he and Linda were honoured to be acknowledged at the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards.

“We made the point that it’s usually one of us – I would acknowledge Linda’s work as well as being absolutely important in this space, it’s unique. But it’s very nice to be awarded this together,” he says. 

This article was orginally published in the Education Gazette

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