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“Flax-roots” early childhood education and care services

The beginnings of ECCE services in Aotearoa are sometimes described as having “flax-roots,” as having emerged in response to urgent needs identified by local communities. Maori were “early acquisitors” of schooling provision provided by missionaries from 1816 onward (May, 1997, p. 20). Initially this provision was through the medium of te reo Maori (the Maori language), but with the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi came an immediate assumption of colonizer sovereignty, with English-medium schooling a key tool of assimilatory colonization. Diminishment of rangati- ratanga (self-determination) was tightly implicated in the loss of language, lands, and the capacity to uphold mana (authority, prestige) through careful management of resources. Distinct tribal and sub-tribal authority was eroded in a deluge of legislation and regulation. The great white/Anglo settler tidal wave (Belich, 2009) of breaches of articles of the Treaty, whose intentions if sustained by the Crown, would not only have protected Maori authority, language, lands, and belief systems, but should also have upheld Maori as having equal status to the settlers. The impacts on Maori were severe, with Maori communities decimated by illness and dislocation.

By the early 1900s, Maori infant mortality had become a huge concern of Maori leaders such as Te Puea Herangi, a leader of the Tainui tribe who cared for large numbers of Maori children orphaned by a series of influenza epidemics; Sir Maui Pomare, a medical doctor who became Minister of Health in 1901; and Sir Apirana Ngata, a lawyer who became Minister of Native Affairs in 1928. The vast majority of Maori, who remained predominately located in rural areas, did not get access to the health services available in the urban settlements. Nor did they feature in the beginnings of ECCE and care services, which had emerged in the major townships, initially in response to outcry at “baby farming” of infants from illegitimate relationships and destitute families. The names of Maori children are not evident on the rolls from early kindergartens because of this rural/urban separation of Maori and settlers (May, 1997).

The Playcentre movement began during World War Two, and was initially a middle-class Pakeha (of European ancestry) parent cooperative organization advocating a “free-play” philosophy (May, 2001). Post war, Maori, urged to seek a “better life,” were increasingly lured into the cities to serve in industries. This did not necessarily mean relinquishing their language and cultural values and practices, although unfortunately this was the over-whelming result for many. Sir Apirana Ngata wrote an autograph, which appears in the opening pages of the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki:

E tipu e rea

Mo nga ra o tou ao

Ko to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha

Hei ara mo to tinana

Ko to ngakau ki nga taonga a o tlpuna Maori Hei tikitiki mo to mahunga Ko to wairua ki to Atua

Nana nei nga mea katoa. (Sir Apirana Ngata, 1949, as cited in New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 3)

Here is a translation:

Grow up and thrive for the days destined to you.

Your hand to the tools of the Pakeha to provide physical sustenance.

Your heart to the treasures of your Maori ancestors as a crown for your brow.

Your soul to your God, to whom all things belong.

(Brougham & Reed, 1999, p. 89, as cited in Mahuika, 2008, p. 12)

Maori retained the aspiration, as expressed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that they might uphold their rangatiratanga (self-determination), retaining their language and values, whilst participating and benefiting in the offerings from the wider Western world (Skerrett, 2007). Yet once they began to participate in ECCE settings run by Pakeha, this proved to be a challenge.

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