Māori Academics Critical of AUT’s Use of Indigenous Values

By Justin Hu (he/him)

A new research article says that tangata whenua are being harmed by AUT using ‘tika’, ‘pono’ and ‘aroha’ as its official values.

Researchers wrote that the university’s existing approach “damages Māori culture, language and people.”


The Indigenous academics called for an educational rāhui across the university, in order for staff and students to have conversations and to learn more about embracing te reo and tikanga Māori.


Paper co-author and Associate Professor Georgina Stewart said that the literature-based research had come out of several one-day workshops that involved wānanga with Māori staff.


Speaking with Debate, the associate professor said that Māori staff were uneasy with how the three Māori concepts were directly equated with the English translations of ‘integrity’, ‘respect’ and ‘compassion.’


The paper identified three issues with AUT’s usage of the values. The researchers wrote that the three Māori values were concepts deeply informed by Indigenous philosophy and culture, and therefore couldn’t be equated with a single English term each.


“Tika, pono and aroha are not separate nor separable concepts, but are closely intertwined aspects of traditional Māori understandings of the nature of reality, of the human, and of right action in the world, underpinned by other key Māori concepts such as mana and tapu.


“Pono is closest to truth. Tika is a central principle of ethical behaviour towards other people and the world. Aroha is a supreme power and the essence of humanity.


“To equate pono with respect, tika with integrity, and aroha with compassion falls far short of the full Māori meanings,” the paper said.


Prof Stewart explains: “We can't take language and culture and think of them as separate things, they’re interwoven. Every language from every ethnic group encapsulates the thinking, and that's the concept that we call worldview.


“Cultural philosophy is found in the natural language. So when we appropriate Māori words into an English context and give them meanings that are not consistent with their traditional Māori meanings, that's where the idea of epistemic violence or symbolic violence comes in.”


The associate professor also said that more care could have been taken when first introducing the values to staff.


The researchers added that the university had been “ambivalent” about integrating the values into the institution, citing that they only appeared once somewhere on the AUT website.


A key idea in the paper was that of the epistemic violence and symbolic violence caused by the misappropriation of tikanga Māori in everyday life, Prof Stewart says.


“The central message of the article is more a reflection or comment about a wider scenario — we weren't trying to say that AUT is wrong and other people have it right.


“I wanted to comment on this general kind of fad or trend — things like bilingual signage and people using Māori greetings on their emails. Like, when I'm called to a meeting in the Ministry of Education in Wellington these days, it's inevitable that every Pākehā person gets up and does some sort of mihi and pepeha.”


The associate professor says that there is “a fine line between embracing versus appropriating te reo and tikanga Māori” that institutions like AUT and others have to grapple with.


“I have colleagues who are using Google Translate to prepare a mihi for their classes.


“Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know, but I think it's a thing that we should think about. So it's not so much about saying this is wrong, or this is right, but saying we need to think more carefully about this,” Prof Stewart said.


In the paper, Māori researchers called for an education rāhui to be placed on how the AUT community thinks about and uses the university’s three values. This would signal that more learning is needed about their full meanings and relevant tikanga.


“It was flagging a Māori concern within the discourse environment, the symbolic culture of AUT — to say to the general community that there is more that we need to think about, and more that we need to learn, and that we need to have good conversations to do that,” explains Prof Stewart.


“Rāhui is not about managing resources, but rather about managing people’s behaviour in relation to the resource. Rāhui is a cultural framework that safeguards mana and tapu.”