A Kaupapa Maori Early Childhood Care and Education

Dismantling Colonial Myths: Centralising Maori Language in Education

Mere Skerrett

Abstract: This chapter explores some discourses shaping colonial thinking in Aotearoa. Implicit in Deleuze and Guattaris (2004) notions of deterritorialization is the restructuring of colonized space. Unmasking the power hierarchies (Cannella, 2011) of colonization serves to dismantle them. Alternative discourses speak to the conditions within which colonized peoples find themselves. It is argued that the re-generation of the Maori language in education is transformative. It repositions Maori knowledge/s at the core of curriculum. Transformative praxis (Freire, 1972) resists archaic teaching pedagogies, dismantles fixed truths, challenges knowledge monopolies, and troubles the hierarchical power structures that disadvantage indigenous children. Exposing the harmful effects of ‘linguafaction (a toxic byproduct of colonization) through discourse analysis strengthens the counter-colonial efforts of Maori language education in the early years.

Ritchie J., and M. Skerrett. Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. doi: 10.1057/9781137375797.0005.


New Zealand is a colonized country. Its institutions are British colonial imports. This chapter is concerned with countering colonization through a discourse analysis with a view to re-centering Maori language and knowledge in education. After Bevan-Smith (2012) through a discourse analysis we dehegemonize settler historiographies in New Zealand. We counter the effects of institutionalized racism, a feature of New Zealand schools that continue to position Maori children as being “in deficit.” Even though the concept of “race” to me is based on an error of science—that is, assuming there are scientifically quantifiable qualities that amount to “race,” the concept and associated discourses have powerfully shaped colonial institutions. Gannon argues the concept affords varying degrees of privilege and disadvantage to culturally diverse people (Gannon, 2009); Grosz argues that “the various distinctions and categories that mark race today are historically variable, politically motivated, and highly volatile in their operations” (quoted in Davies & Gannon, 2009, p. 71). As a British colony Maori in Aotearoa inherited the deficit colonial constructs of “Maori race” through its colonial discourses, its institutions, and its English language. Reality is both shaped by, and shapes, the languages we speak. Languages are dynamic forces. They create our realities in socio-cultural communities. Further, Gordon (2012) argues that we (people) are created in those realities that are social and cultural. He posits:

Communication, at least at the level of human communication, requires social and cultural dimensions. These dimensions, as Frantz Fanon has argued in Black Skin, White Masks, are reservoirs of creativity, and the things they create are, in his words, sociogenic, that is, social in their origins. What this means is that the social world can create and eliminate kinds of people. Once created, the claim that their identities themselves [and languages] are the problems is a failure to address the social dynamics of their creation; it makes them the problems instead of the society that created them. (Gordon, 2012, p. 46)

The societal, systemic failure of Maori in the colonial and neocolonial education contexts of Aotearoa/New Zealand has led to, and reinforces, societal stratifications of disadvantage and privilege. In a foreign (for Maori at least) knowledge (English) system this is done through curricularly truncated practices designed within a pedagogy of erasure (of Maori knowledge and language). Ultimately these practices seek to colonize the Maori mind. In the sections below and chapters that follow in Part A, I will explain how Maori, as tangata whenua (the people of the land), come to be positioned as “priority learners” with a strange twist that becomes apparent as we work through the discourses, policies, and practices in education.

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