Wednesday, 23 July 2014

My visit to Te Wharehou o Tuhoe: Te Uru Taumatua

This week I had the pleasure of visiting Te Wharehou o Tuhoe: Te Uru Taumatua, located in Taneatua. The context of the visit was unusual. Our local Rotary branch had organised to have a tour, dinner and a talk delivered by treaty negotiator and New Zealander of the Year finalist Tamati Kruger. Unfortunately Tamati was unable to attend at the last minute, but the warm and articulate Kirsty Luke, General Manager of Te Uru Taumatua, was able to take his place.

I am not a member of Rotary so it was quite strange to be in this ethereal building, with the first non-Tuhoe group of people to use the space.

Kirsty took us on a tour of the facilities and explained the decision making behind many aspects of the building. The images below, from the Tuhoe website, outline the iwi's thought process behind the building. We got to see the small library and archive space, cafe (which opens next month), office space, work areas available for use by the public and the main function space at the front of the building. The whare is striking with timber used throughout, always sourced from within a 100 kilometre radius. Te Wharehou is a 'living building' and it was apparent from our visit that this has just as much to do with the people as it does the materials used. Pride and mana radiated with every word Kirsty spoke about her surroundings.

Following dinner, Kirsty spoke about the past, present and future - no mean feat! She acknowledged the timing of our visit, given that this week is the signing of Tuhoe's treaty settlement, as well the Police Commissioner's visit to Ruatoki to apologise for the treatment of members of the public, including children, during the Ruatoki raids of 2007. (It only took 174 and 7 years...) Before visiting the whare I assumed this building was purely for Tuhoe use, but Kirsty took the opportunity to emphasise that it has been built to be used for the good of everyone in the area from knitting groups to youth groups. That's when I started to think about my students and how we could benefit from this wonderful space. The biggest impression I left with was the emphasis Kirsty placed on raising a new generation of positive and optimistic Tuhoe.

So, why am I writing about this? Firstly, many students at my school are Tuhoe and I feel I know a lot more about the history of this area after visiting Te Wharehou. Tuhoe are often assumed to be proud, stand-offish and radical. Like with any group of people, it doesn't help to buy into such assumptions. After hearing Kirsty speak, I would not describe her as proud, stand-offish and radical but passionate about Te Urewera, warm and aspirational.
The second reason I am writing about this experience here is to encourage teachers to engage in their students' wider world. We hear this kind of thing a lot, and often it is a challenge to make the time, especially when you are not involved in sport. I know feel like I have made a connection and I am thinking about how I can utilise Te Wharehou o Tuhoe for my students next year. I said 'yes' to this dinner on a whim, not really knowing what it would be all about, and it has turned into a hugely valuable experience for myself and my fellow colleagues who attended. One is a graphics teacher and will now take students to Taneatua so that they can discuss the design of the building. Another runs Gateway and has already contacted Kirsty about a work placement for one of our Y13 students. A third is a Social Studies teacher from another school who intends to re-write a unit that involves looking at Te Wharehou. He would also like to see departments from all around the area create a cross-curricular range of programs that Tuhoe could use with visiting classes. There is the maths in quantity surveying, art in the sculpture, drama to be done in the amphitheater, science in the water treatment facility...

What are some surprising ways that you have connected with your students' world?

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

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