By RENEE KIRIONA
An Auckland academic has been accused of putting a damper on Maori Language Week by describing Maori immersion teaching as a major cause of ethnic division.
Dr Elizabeth Rata, a lecturer at the Auckland College of Education, has been criticised by Maori language leaders for a 19-page report she released this month.
In her report - Ethnic Ideologies in New Zealand Education: What's Wrong with Kaupapa Maori - she described Maori initiatives such as total Maori immersion language schools, or kura kaupapa Maori, as being flawed.
"Kaupapa Maori contributes to creating ethnic division, is anti-democratic and fundamentalist," Dr Rata said.
"Nothing is sacred, everything must be scrutinised and I am simply calling on New Zealanders to do that."
Dr Rata, a principal lecturer in the faculty of postgraduate studies and research, also claims that kaupapa Maori:
* Is not scrutinised enough.
* Has become too influential in government education policy.
* Reinforces the victimhood mentality.
* Is intellectually flawed.
* Is scientifically flawed.
The chief executive of the Maori Language Commission, Haami Piripi, said he welcomed scrutiny, but he described Dr Rata as being the "female equivalent of Don Brash".
"She's an ignorant academic who has had her head in the books for too long. I had never heard of her until three weeks ago when I attended a conference she spoke at.
"A lot of people walked out of the room when she spoke and even the Pakeha academics there were questioning her. Apparently she has got personal hang-ups with some Maori people."
Mr Piripi said Maori Language Week would go ahead full steam.
"This is going to be our biggest Maori Language Week ever, and if she thinks she can get rid of kaupapa Maori then she needs to wake up."
Wiremu Doherty, the tumuaki (principal) at the country's first total immersion Maori language school, Te Kura o Hoani Waititi in Waitakere City, said kaupapa Maori was about being inclusive, not exclusive.
"Kaupapa Maori has nothing to do with anything that she is talking about. It's about empowering Maori, not defying other groups.
"Kaupapa Maori is about being independent and self-sufficient, knowing who you are as a Maori, where you come from and where you are going."
Dr Rata, who is also an honorary research fellow in the department of political studies at the University of Auckland, said she had been researching kaupapa Maori for the past 10 years.
But when asked if she spoke Maori or had ever visited a Maori language school or traditional marae, she refused to answer.
"That is personal information," Dr Rata said. "It has nothing to do with what I'm researching."
The Education Review Office regularly issues reports evaluating kura kaupapa Maori, as it does with mainstream schools.
In a 2002 report it said this about the effectiveness of kura kaupapa Maori: "While ERO has concerns about the delivery of education at many kura kaupapa Maori, some kura are providing excellent educations for their students.
"Many of the factors which make for good performance in kura kaupapa are the same as those which would be found in high-performing mainstream schools."
The kaupapa way
Kura kaupapa Maori are schools within the state system where the principal language of instruction is Maori and the curriculum is based on Maori values, philosophies, principles and practices. The 'whanau', or parents of all students, make major decisions rather than a board of trustees.
There are 325 kura - up from 62 in July 2001.
Kura kaupapa Maori were born from a desire to save the Maori language and help Maori children who were failing in mainstream schools.
By RENEE KIRIONA