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Liya Antony PhD (ethnic Indian). Kaiako/Lecturer, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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David McNabb PhD (ethnic British European). Senior Lecturer, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, and Senior Advisor Social Work, Social Workers Registration Board, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Indigenous Lives Matter in Aotearoa New Zealand

While the Black Lives Matter movement began in the USA, it has resonated with the indigenous rights and decolonising movements within Aotearoa/New Zealand (Aotearoa is the preferred indigenous name). This article will outline the context of social work education decolonisation in Aotearoa and will give an example of indigenous and non-indigenous partnership among social work educators.

Aotearoa context

Māori are the first people of Aotearoa and signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) in 1840 with the British. Māori were promised sovereignty over themselves and their lands but instead were subject to colonisation by the British who also became a numerically dominant group with many negative impacts for Māori.

Social work was imported from Britain and the USA and became the major influence on its development within Aotearoa. However, the resistance by Māori has gained further momentum in recent decades so that within Aotearoa society Western dominance has been challenged and the voice of Māori increasingly privileged. Often this is expressed as honouring the original Treaty, affirming the rights of Māori, and engaging in more of a partnership relationship between Māori and non-Māori (McNabb, 2019).

Over time the social work profession has strengthened its commitment to honouring the Treaty and explored ways in which Māori self-determination can be better expressed within the profession. This has included structural partnership arrangements within the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) and more recently the establishing of a separate group for Māori social workers, Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association (TWSWA). These two groups formed a partnership arrangement and together now formally represent Aotearoa within the International Federation of Social Work (IFSW).

Across Aotearoa, social work programmes have become established in a range of institutions. This includes the traditional university context, but also polytechnics, a private training provider and most significantly two wananga institutions, Māori led education institutions. One of them, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, offers a recognised social work degree across several sites around the country. This institution was established to champion Māori interests and so the establishment of a social work programme signalled a shift from other programmes situated in ‘mainstream’ institutions. The wananga institutions have curriculum and pedagogy which are strongly influenced by traditional Māori ways of knowing, being and doing.

While there are many Māori lecturers within Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, non-Māori lecturers are welcomed provided they align with a Māori centred approach to education. Typically, non-Māori lecturers have a steep learning curve on entering this context because, alongside their existing social work knowledge, they need to both know fundamental aspects of Māori culture, and to be able to partner with Māori leaders and colleagues.

These social work programmes that sit within wananga institutions are a statement that indigenous lives matter and are an expression of decolonising social work education in Aotearoa.

The experience of being a non-Māori lecturer in a Māori focused programme

One of the authors (LA) is a lecturer within the social work programme of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. Their experience of being a non-Māori lecturer within a Māori focused social work programme is situated within a decolonising commitment and is discussed below.

The principle of Āhurutanga (quality space) from Te Ao Māori (Māori worldview)

In te ao Māori (Māori worldview), āhurutanga embodies the concepts of āhuru, which means warmth, comfort, or calm. It exemplifies the āhuru mōwai i.e a calm place or sheltered haven for anyone (Moorfield, 2013). Āhurutanga is one of the tikanga (Māori customary practices) values that comprise the notion of being that is needed in any relationship in the context of wā (time) and wāhi (location) (Pohatu, 2003). Ngā takepū framework - the principles of Kaupapa Wānanga defines āhurutanga as creating and maintaining quality space to ensure and promote striving for best practice within any kaupapa (Pohatu, 2003). The concept of āhurutanga encompasses a holistic realm to experience a nurturing environment for tāngata (person or people) that allows us to achieve the maximum pursuit of excellence. As tāngata we are naturally creative and wise. However, creating or establishing safe space for engagement with others as āhurutanga, help us to build deep wisdom, creativity, and positive well-being.

The principle of Āhurutanga (quality space) and education practice through self-reflection (aro)

As a manuhiri (guest) in Aotearoa, it is important for me to actively engage in respectful relationships with Māori as part of my obligation and responsibilities to Te Tiriti O Waitangi. Being a kaiako for Bicultural Social Work programme at Te Wananga, has reinforced my tiriti based emancipatory ako experiences. The core philosophy of the social work programme underpins ngā takepū and it grounded my bi-cultural positioning as tāngata tauiwi (the Treaty partner to Māori). The ako experience revitalised my own cultural values as Indian – Malayalee (one who speaks the Malayalam language from the state of Kerala, India) who was raised in a Christian Catholic family. Āhurutanga inspires one to deepen their cultural identity that allows a sense of belonging which results a safe space positioned within their worldview (Chand, 2020). In reflection on my own values, the concepts of wairua and spirituality is identified as the core foundation of my personal and professional life. To create āhurutanga, it is important for me to experience internal peace and oneness with atua (God), hence it is essential for me to do personal prayer. Karakia helps me to ensure the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual safety of the people I interact with. In the context of teaching, it aided me to acknowledge tauira’s spiritual beliefs and values. It creates safe platform for learners to express and practice their own values and beliefs therefor creating reciprocity and āhurutanga.

As a kaiako (lecturer) for a social work programme in Aotearoa, it is important to follow the ethical, professional, cultural and legal requires of Social Work Registration Board (SWRB). Āhurutanga from a social work professional perspective, encompasses the mandatory registration requirement implemented on 27th of February 2021. The mandatory legal requirement of social work registration ensures the safety of the public and enhances the professionalism and accountability. It will also reassure the tāngata that social workers have the professional obligation to adhere to code of conduct and code of ethics therefore reinforcing trust and āhurutanga in the profession. To curtail risks and improve the wellbeing of the vulnerable children, all registered social workers must undergo regular safety checks and police vetting as part of the Children’s Act (Oranga Tamariki, 2014). On top of these professional safety requirements, as a Kaiako, I have to follow Te Wananga o Aotearoa’s tauira induction check list and health and safety policy to ensure utmost safety that results āhurutanga for learners and kaimahi (staff).

An inclusive and inviting environment for diverse Tauira

Social Work profession recognises ten core competence minimum standards of practice for social workers in Aotearoa (SWRB,2021).The first three competencies are: (1)Competence to practice social work with Māori ; (2) Competence to practise social work with ethnic and cultural groups in Aotearoa; and (3) Competence to work respectfully and inclusively with diversity and difference in practice. The ultimate professional values of social work are equity, equality, and justice to ensure inclusion, diversity and participation. Hence, as a kaiako of the programme it reiterates the need for creating safe space and āhurutanga for tauira and enable them to practice those values in their profession. This requires a synchronisation of my words and deeds as a kaiako for the social work programme.

A set of diverse and inclusive akomanga (class) values recognises the contributions of all tauira, their whānau and communities regardless of who they are, feel equally involved in and supported in all areas of the learning (Te Kete Ipurangi, 2022). To ensure āhurutanga through inclusive learning environment, it is important for me to build whanaungatanga with my tauira and gain their trust. This is achieved through creating āhurutanga space for tauira to express their mātauranga during class teaching and learning. I also follow the principle of kanohi kitea- meeting the tauira face to face. One of the sessions helped me to get know a tauira who was diagnosed with dyslexia and anxiety. She disclosed me that she has writing and comprehension issues for which she receives assistance for notes taking. She added that she uses assistive technology of read-aloud and voice recognition software. I thanked her for sharing the concerns and acknowledged her proactive response. I also appreciated for reaching out for help that allowed me to accommodate the learning needs of that tauira. Through one-on-one session, we jointly created an individual learning plan depicting the points of reference including safety plans for any severe panic attack she may experience during the learning hours. This has helped her to reduce her major concerns and created āhurutanga and empowering ako experience.

Addressing social, cultural, and educational needs of diverse tauira (students)

The COVID 19 pandemic has caused enormous challenges to humanity including the forced global shutdown of several activities, including educational activities and travel restrictions which has resulted tremendous socio, economic, cultural, and educational implications to diverse tauira. The pandemic instigated a crisis response migration of online learning for all the educational institutions (Adedoyin and Soykan, 2020). It has created a severe challenge to the principle of kanohi kitea - the face-to-face teaching learning experience. A recent study carried out by Rangiwai, Chand, and Mataroa (2020) explored the impact of Covid-19 on tauira of Master of Applied Indigenous Knowledge programme at Te Wānanga O Aotearoa in New Zealand. The key findings of the research highlighted some of the socio -cultural needs and the challenges experienced through pandemic lock downs (Rangiwai, Chand, & Mataroa, 2020). Hiltz and Turoff (2005) highlighted that digital transformation is considered a revolutionary modification in the context of higher education. Although digital transformation opens plethora of opportunities, it also presents with ample of challenges in the context of social and cultural needs of tauira. The digital learning platform replaced kanohi kitea - face to face interaction into online digital interaction which restricted the human physical presence and interaction. The research findings showed tauira’s experiences of anxiety, depression, stress and loneliness and emphasised the frustration experienced due to lack of wānanga, kanohi-kitea and noho learning environment (Rangiwai, Chand, & Mataroa, 2020).

The digital platform supported a hybrid learning method applying digital technologies to enhance constructivist, learner-centred, cooperative pedagogy for worldwide universities (Hiltz &Turoff, 2005). However, it caused huge gaps among tauira in terms of socio -economic factors. The tauira from a low socio-economic background had trouble migrating into the digital platform. Financial constraints and poverty restricted the accessibility of broadband internet connections and so they fell behind in their educational progress which amplified the challenges of tauira (Fishbane & Tomer, 2020). The application of innovative approaches in technology and student support services can resolve the socio-cultural, socio-economic, and technical challenges experienced by tauira. During the Covid pandemic, as a kaiako I have assisted tauira to receive financial assistance, food vouchers and parcels, loan devices, and assistance for broadband-internet connection. I have also trialled innovative ways of online teaching methods packed with fun to enhance āhurutanga. Although it was not easy to quickly adapt to digital online teaching and learning, the two-year period of the pandemic enabled me to navigate through the digital transformative ako experience for tauira by nurturing āhurutanga.


Decolonising social work education in Aotearoa involves social work lecturers honouring the Treaty of Waitangi within their institutional context and in their teaching practice. The traditional Māori based wananga educational institution provides an environment where Māori rights can be upheld, and Western dominance challenged. While Māori lecturers will typically find a strong alignment between personal and professional identity within the wananga, non-Māori lecturers also have an opportunity to be partners in this decolonisation movement.


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