Biculturalism starts in the classroom

Biculturalism starts in the classroom
Te Kawa a Maui pukenga, Dr Awanui Te Huia. Credit: Victoria University

Language is a key component, and with more Pākehā opting to learn te reo Māori, Victoria University of Wellington pukenga (lecturer), Dr. Awanui Te Huia, is researching how learning the language helps develop a truly bicultural relationship.

Among the aspects the Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies) pukenga focuses on is Pākehā students' awareness of Māori experiences and how this helps develop biculturalism.

"Prior to university, many Pākehā students haven't had a lot of interpersonal communication with Māori people generally, so te reo Māori classes provide a context for meaningful relationship development. These relationships create greater awareness about Māori lived experiences in a post-colonial society. Issues of racism and discrimination are very real for a proportion of our society, and they impact on our wellbeing as a nation," says Awanui.

"When Pākehā students make progress toward addressing inequitable treatment of Māori, it can create a sense of partnership and bicultural allegiance."

Awanui's research involved a small qualitative study of University students with a range of te reo Māori capabilities that explored how a more bicultural identity is created through learning the language.

"When non-Māori enter into a Māori context a big thing is where do you come from and who are your people? Who are you in a collective context? Which is not such a big deal in an individualistic society," Awanui says.

"Students who are used to operating in individualistically are trained to think about identity in a different way when they are put in a collectivistic indigenous context."

The research found that the more proficient a Pākehā student becomes in te reo, the more investment the tends to make towards their cultural identity development.

"This is where the acknowledgement of the colonial history comes into play. Students who are able to acknowledge they are from a group who has a history that is beneficial to them as descendants of colonisers are able to connect on a level that is more honest," Awanui says.

"They are able to own the identity and use it to position themselves in a way that acknowledges that history, but is also committed to an equitable society based on Treaty principles of partnership and equality. They talk about being a 'full citizen', and the rewards that came with that."

Beyond the classroom, Awanui says there are a number of ways to become a more accepting and equitable society.

"At a basic level, if we remove discrimination towards Māori people and Māori language, then that's going to be positive. One step further is using te reo Māori and attempting correct pronunciation," Awanui says.

"These are small things tell the Māori, and non-Māori community with aspirations towards bilingualism, that te reo is something that we value and are trying to support."

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