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Growing forward

Maintaining dialogue between the University and Māori, and increasing Māori student enrolments are just two of the objectives of the Director of the Office of Māori Development, Tuari Potiki.

Director of the Office of Māori Development Tuari Potiki says implementing the University's vision for Māori development will be a key factor in Otago's continuing success. Potiki, whose tribal affiliations are with Kāi Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha, says that since its inception in 2008, the Office of Māori Development's (OMD) role in leading the University's implementation of strategy has steadily gained momentum.

He is proud to be part of the University's Māori development that began in the mid-1990s following an academic audit and a University-initiated report compiled by Ranginui Walker, both of which identified the need to strengthen the relationship between the University and Ngāi Tahu.

Significant steps were taken when cultural advisors and representatives from local iwi were subsequently appointed at the University.

A Treaty of Waitangi stocktake in 2005 further emphasised the need to centralise Māori development leadership within the University and led to the establishment of a separate office for Māori development.

The OMD's activities are underpinned by the Māori Strategic Framework (MSF), which was introduced in 2007 and has become the guiding document for Māori development across the University's various campuses.

“The framework covers the whole spectrum of Māori development across the University, including relationships, research, teaching, te reo and tikanga,” Potiki explains.

“Support for Māori development has been strong because it was implemented carefully and gently, and in a uniquely polite Kāi Tahu way. A big step forward has been establishing Associate Dean, Māori positions in all divisions to lead Māori development at a departmental level.”

In a relatively short time the office's staff have achieved a great deal in their efforts to advance the University's contributions to Māori development and the realisation of Māori aspirations. Potiki was appointed into the role of Director in mid-2012 and says his priority is to build on this solid groundwork and keep the momentum going.

“We are tracking positively, but need to keep attracting quality Māori staff and students, and to continue supporting them to achieve at higher levels.”

He cites recent examples of how far-reaching and integral the OMD's strategies have become to the University. The re-signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Ngai Tahu and the University in December 2013 touched on one of his important personal objectives – maintaining dialogue between the University community and Māori (particularly Ngāi Tahu).

The re-examination of the MOU, which was last signed in 2006, also represents a continued desire from both iwi and the University to conduct negotiations in accordance with the often-evoked “spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi”.

“That phrase is used a lot, but we do have a Treaty-based relationship which requires the special place of Tangata Whenua to be recognised, and that means acknowledging history and working proactively to ensure that Māori have the same opportunities to come here and succeed.”

Two recent ceremonies have shown how the general precepts of the MSF introduce students to aspects of Māori culture that enhance their experience at Otago and lead to greater cultural awareness for non-Māori, which benefits the University's wider social environment.

A Māori pre-graduation ceremony earlier this year demonstrated how education can transform both the student and their family.

“During the informal parts of the pre-graduation event, graduands have a chance to speak about their experiences. Some students may be the first in their family to attend university and, with the families there, it can be a very moving and profound experience for all involved.”

Similarly, a ceremony held earlier this year to lift the tapu on cadavers donated to the University for research purposes was attended by more than 300 students, the majority of whom were non-Māori.

“It was really humbling to see so many students taking part, and I think they got the deeper issues [underlying the ceremony] about the Māori perspective and showing respect for people who have given the ultimate gift so that others may learn.”

The OMD is involved in a wide range of projects related to all facets of the institution's activity.

A recent example was its engagement with the family of Otago's first Māori graduate to formalise the naming of a new student accommodation facility, Te Rangi Hiroa College.

“This was significant because it not only honoured a great man, but also continued an ongoing relationship with Te Rangi Hiroa's family and iwi.”

An awareness of Māori culture and language is now a required area of core competency for University staff. Accordingly, the University has developed a “purpose-built” introductory course for academic and general staff designed to give a better understanding of tikanga concepts and te reo Māori.

The OMD also supported into the newly established Commerce seed programme, He Kakano, which aims to promote Māori entrepreneurship in business. The five-week programme will give students “real-world” experience of planning and developing a business.

Additionally, there are close links with the Māori Centre, Te Huka Mātauraka, which co-ordinates an array of services for Māori students, and Te Poutama Māori, a networking and support group for Māori academic staff.

Potiki says that, as well as continuing to support this broad range of initiatives to promote “all things Māori at Otago”, the OMD is primarily focused on increasing Māori student enrolments from their current level of about 8.8 per cent.

“The relationship with iwi is the foundation we stand on. Beyond that, I see the core objective as increasing Māori student achievement. Having quality academic staff and researchers creating knowledge for the betterment of society is essential to achieving that. In my view, learning is about setting people up for the future.”

This pragmatic student-focused ethos is derived from two decades working in the health, justice and education sectors. Potiki was previously general manager strategic operations at the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC), and other previous roles include social development manager at the Ngāi Tāhu Development Corporation and Healthlink South Kaiwhakahaere Māori – experiences that affirmed his belief in the link between educational achievement and future well-being for the individual and the wider community.

“Māori enrolments at Otago are slightly higher than they are at other universities, but I'd like to see student numbers eventually more reflective of the whole population at about 15 to 16 per cent. That will take a concerted effort on the part of the University, our iwi partners and the OMD.”

Increasing the number of scholarships awarded to Māori will attract more students and offset the rising costs of attending university.

“The University gives out 50 Māori and Pacific first-entrant scholarships per year and we have been able to secure a further 15 for 2014, which is really positive.

“An increase in Māori student numbers is attainable, but to achieve that will take a lot of extra support – and not just money. We have to keep supporting and developing student support services, our Māori academic staff and offering an environment which acknowledges the student's requirements as Māori.

“The Office of Māori Development will always be striving for more. That doesn't mean it is going to come easily, but it is our job to say 'let's not limit the potential for Māori success.”


Photo: Bill Nichol

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