A Tai Tokerau education group is requesting a te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) partnership with the Government to develop Aotearoa history teaching programmes in schools.
The four founders of HĀ, History of Aotearoa, presented their proposal to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and various ministers at Whangārei's Hihiaua Cultural Centre yesterday. It followed her warm welcome to the centre by tohunga whakairo (master carver) Te Warihi Hetaraka, local kaumātua Fred Tito and others at the award-winning facility.
Earlier yesterday, Ardern virtually attended the National Iwi Chairs Forum in Whangārei before returning to Whangārei ahead of today's dawn ceremony at Te Whare Rūnanga on Aotearoa's national day.
A few hundred people, along with Ardern, fiancé Clarke Gayford, and a noticeably restless 2-year-old daughter Neve, gathered in Waitangi for the Royal New Zealand Navy Beat Retreat and Ceremonial Sunset ceremony.
Also present were Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, Minister of Defence Peeni Henare, opposition leader Judith Collins, among other politicians. The performance even included a rendition of Stan Walker's hit single 'Aotearoa', which had the crowd breaking out into cheers.
HĀ co-founder Justice Hetaraka, mokopuna of Te Warihi and a former Whangārei Girls' High School student, formally requested a genuine relationship with the Government based on te Tiriti's articles of partnership and tino rangatiratanga (absolute sovereignty).
It came after Ardern's recent announcement that Aotearoa history was expected to be taught in school and kura from next year.
Founded in 2019, HĀ had recently completed its pilot programme, Kākano, with Whangārei Girls' High School where students learned Aotearoa history through oral narrative and expressed their personal interpretation through art.
"[We hope] that we, as a kaupapa Māori entity, are able to create a programme with our tino rangatiratanga, with our mātauranga, without the restrictions of Crown limitations, but for the Crown to assist in resourcing for that to happen and that then protects our mātauranga, protects our history," Hetaraka said.
Ardern and HĀ founders had a kōrero before the Prime Minister's departure yesterday, but no firm plans were made. However, Hetaraka was confident an agreement would be reached.
During her proposal in front of Ardern, Hetaraka referenced the necessity for teachers and students to feel safe while discussing Aotearoa history - often a confronting topic.
"These hostile learning environments have the potential to cause further harm to our history, to our student relationships and our mokopuna."
HĀ co-founder Rhoen Hemara, whose whānau whakapapa to the Hokianga, recognised how important the issue was.
"It is a big problem, teachers who might not feel equipped or who may not feel safe to speak and teach the history.
"I think the solution will be to make sure that we have that partnership with the Government."
Several Whangārei Girls' High School students, who went through HĀ's pilot programme, said it was rewarding and confronting to learn about New Zealand history through art.
"If you look back at our past, we weren't so kind," 15-year-old Lilly Williams said.
"A lot of kids in schools, they just get taught all this information but they can't visualise it and HĀ is a way they can visualise it, the way they can put it down on a piece of artwork," 15-year-old Courtney Phillips said.
In accordance with HĀ's kaupapa, Ardern and her ministers were charged with creating a piece of art which reflected their thoughts on the place Aotearoa's history held in education.
Their art would be featured in the opening night of HĀ's Kākano fundraising exhibition at the centre tonight until next weekend.
Te Warihi, who looked on proudly as his mokopuna addressed the Prime Minister, said it was good to see today's youth creating solutions for the future.
"We need, I think, that type of exuberance and initiative that they have to take this into the future, to train new leaders."
Whangārei MP Emily Henderson said she was ecstatic to see Tai Tokerau youth cultivating the future of Aotearoa education.