Symposium on Matauranga Maori: Framing the Conversation (Honouring Dr Ranginui Walker)

  • Pita Sharples
Education Maori Affairs

Tuatahi, me mihi ki nga mana whenua o tenei wa. Tena koutou.

E te Poari o te Mana Tohu Matauranga o Aotearoa, tena koutou.

Tena hoki koutou Nga Kaituhono, nga kaitiaki o nga kaupapa Maori i roto i te tari nei.

E te Minita [Anne Tolley], tena koe.

E nga manukura o nga iwi, kua huihui mai nei ki te whakanui i to tatou rangatira, ahorangi, a Ranginui Walker - tena koutou katoa.

Na reira e Rangi, korua ko Deidre, koutou ko tau whanau, he honore maku, te mihi atu ki a koutou i tenei po.  Tena koutou katoa.

During the day, all of you will have come to realise, if you didn't already, what a huge contribution Ranginui has made to the education of New Zealanders, and to a deeper understanding and engagement between the parties to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Education has been Ranginui's career, the driving force and unifying theme of his adult life. I don't intend to repeat what you have alll been talking about earlier - his many achievements, and the benefits to us all as citizens of Aotearoa.

What we must also remember is the broader context of his work - the turbulent times that Maori were living through, with the massive social and cultural disruptions and dislocations caused by urban migration.

The stresses on Maori communities were enormous. In many cases, Maori and Pakeha were meeting each other face to face for the first time since the land wars, and tensions were high.

Maori families were struggling to maintain control over their situation, without the benefit of traditional support systems.

There were no so-called urban marae at the time, we were having to work out ways to organise tangi in our homes, get steady jobs and pay our bills on time, support our kids in schools that were not geared up for them, and keep our young people out of the courts and prisons.

Maori Affairs' Community Officers, Maori Wardens, the Maori Women's Welfare League and the Maori Councils had their hands full, dealing with the crises.

One man who stood up for us, and carried our battles, our struggles, our issues into wider society, was the Chairperson of the Auckland District Maori Council, Rangi Walker.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, in his regular ‘Korero' columns in the Listener, and by his willingness to front up to an almost universally  hostile media, he put our points of view to the public, politely, logically and firmly.

Rangi stood out for his defence of the activists, his support for the underdogs, and for espousing unpopular causes - and he copped plenty of flak for it.

What was seen by the majority as radical attacks on Pakeha were, from a Maori point of view, just statements of the obvious racism our people experienced.

Because the media were so dangerous to Maori, Rangi was seen as a champion who entered the public arena to defend Maori rights.

He was, for example very vocal in supporting the initiatives of young Maori entrepreneurs in the 70's.  He was very upfront in supporting the work of Nga Tamatoa - a Maori student led protest group, who successfully drew the country's attention to the plight of spoken Maori language among other things.

Both through his Maori Council structure, and as a spokesperson on Maori issues he was active in supporting the provision of Maori social services and Maori urban infrastructure to meet the needs of the then massive urban migration of Maori to the cities.

Rangi's views were shaped by tikanga Maori, and his insights were novel, surprising and very often challenging to his audience.

I'm sure from Rangi's own viewpoint, joining the fray was actually part of his broader education campaign. His goal was harmony, which has to begin with mutual respect and understanding.

As a pioneer in cross-cultural communication, Ranginui's crusade was to ‘reframe the conversation' in terms of matauranga Maori.

Rangi is a multiple award-winning man of letters, and many of his columns and articles have been compiled and published for posterity.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how consistent Rangi's stance has been on many issues over forty years and more. We can see he was ahead of his time. And we can see how much he has influenced mainstream opinion.

As Rangi himself has said: "People's perceptions have changed as they have become conscientised. They see me now as an elder statesman, and some Pakeha who didn't like me in the past say ‘You have mellowed in your old age' and I say ‘No, you have caught up, I'm the same person.." [NZ Herald October 2009]

Of course Ranginui was not a lone voice. First and foremost among his supporters have been his wife Deidre, their children, and their wider whanau. I am pleased to see you here tonight to take your share of the accolades bestowed on Ranginui.

I look forward to hearing from Rangi's old Maori Council colleague (and Maori Party President!) Whatarangi Winiata.

But first it is my pleasure to introduce my colleague the Minister of Education, the Minister responsible for the NZ Qualifications Authority who are hosting us tonight, the Honourable Anne Tolley.