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Indigenous Maori and Tongan Perspectives on the Role of Tongan Language and Culture in the Community and in the University in Aotearoa-New Zealand
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The American Indian Quarterly 30.1 (2006) 11-27

Mere Kēpa

Linitä Manu'Atu

Pō Ako

In Aotearoa New Zealand it has become clear that programs started by people in a community are a better possibility for robust partnership and practice in education. In fact, Indigenous Māori grassroots work to establish Te Kōhanga Reo: Early Childhood Education conveys this point well. The Indigenous Māori feature of Te Kōhanga Reo is that partnership and practice are enmeshed in social networks that emphasize the richness of Māori language and the complex ways Māori people live their lives (culture). In this manner, Te Kōhanga Reo elevates differences amongst the tribes—the specific and the out of the ordinary—rather than blindly following technocratic assumptions of education grounded in the concept of the individual, sameness, and universals.

It is time now to look more closely at the notion of social networks creating the robust partnership and practice between Tongan parents, their children, and Mt. Roskill Grammar School, Auckland. In January 1991 not a single Tongan student attending the grammar school passed the national examination for a School Certificate. In May 1992 Pō Ako was organized by the Tongan parents in response to the enduring absence of their adolescents' accomplishment in the school Kēpa, T.M.A. (2001). Language matters: The politics of teaching immigrant adolescents school English (p. 206). Doctoral Thesis. School of Education, The University of Auckland (Kēpa 2001, 206; Manu'atu 2000, 151). Pō Ako is a community-based project that established partnerships and practices to break the experience of absence—cultural alienation and educational exclusion—overwhelming the students. From its introduction, Pō Ako drew upon Tongan language and culture in order to strengthen the students' understanding of academic ideas. By way of this practice, the students do not discover a "pre-existing" meaning prescribed in the official curriculum; rather, meaning is created and re-created as the tutors teach and the students learn and vice versa. Likewise, the parents are able to express their issues concerning the school, to question and learn from the tensions and contradictions between the school and themselves. The significance of this critical dialogue/Pō Talanoa is to enrich and bolster Tongan language and culture, the students' academic learning, and the parents' critical awareness that they no longer remain what they were in the Kingdom. By implication, Tongan peoples' relationship to the world is linguistic, and meaning is being constructed and reconstructed from the artistic or linguistic enterprise. The Indigenous feature is that Pō Ako is a specific example of Tongan grassroots work to include Tongan language and culture in education.

In the beginning the program for "educating (Tongan) people in the night" was formed in the extensive relationships and activity among the Tongan teacher in the school and the Tongan Parents' Group, Täkanga 'a Fohe 'i Puke Tapapa Incorporated Society, the very small number of Tongan academics in the university, and Tongan students who combined university and polytechnic studies and work as tutors. The important practice for the Tongan teacher was to locate young bilingual, bicultural, biliterate Tongan women and men who would be part of the effort to promote the Tongan students' learning of the curriculum subjects in Tongan and English. From the start, the parents were hopeful that through the appointment of youthful Tongan tutors their children would come to know the value of study in the tertiary sector of the education system. In addition, the parents hoped that by employing Tongan tutors a "signal would be sent" to Tongan graduates to actively participate in the history-making project (Manu'atu 2000, 157). Of course, lying behind the Tongan teacher is a shared reality—a community, a tradition, a language—that is not an external object from which she stands detached but rather is an ongoing partnership that embraces her principles of conduct that guide her practice. By extension, the teacher's relationship with the tertiary institutions incorporated presentations of career advice made to both the students and the parents by liaison officers from the different institutions. The important notion is that the Tongan teacher in the school accords importance to the roles...

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