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Coloring in the White Spaces

Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools

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Ann Milne

This book examines the struggle against racial and cultural inequity in educational systems, presenting the case study of a New Zealand school and its community’s determination to resist alienating environments. If we look at an untouched child’s coloring book, for instance, we think of the pages as blank. But they’re not actually blank – each page is uniformly white, with lines established to dictate where color is allowed to go. Children by this are taught about the place of color and the importance of staying within pre-determined boundaries and expectations, reinforcing a system where the white background is considered the norm. To challenge such whitestreaming, this book offers the example of a community that defied and rejected this environment in favor of a culturally-located, bilingual learning model of education based on secure cultural identity, stable positive relationships, and aroha (authentic caring and love). This journey is juxtaposed against pervasive deficit-driven, whitestream explanations of inequity and purported «achievement gaps» of indigenous Māori and Pasifika students. This story chronicles the efforts of the Kia Aroha College community on its quest to step outside education’s «White spaces» to create a new space for learning and to reclaim educational sovereignty – where individuals have the absolute right to «be Māori,» to be who they are, in school.

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I am often asked who am I to tell this story? It is a legitimate question. Hotere-Barnes (2015) highlights, “the enduring challenges from Māori scholars and communities about the ethics of Pākehā educational researcher involvement in Māori communities.” As a White woman working in a Māori/Pasifika community I believe I have a responsibility to regularly check that I never take this position for granted. I am very aware I am in this position by invitation, due to my three decades of involvement in this community, and as a member of the Kia Aroha College whānau, but I never assume I am involved as of right.

I grew up in a tiny, coastal, Māori community in New Zealand where my family was one of the very few White families in the community. With hindsight I realized that my Pākehā family had status in that community that we didn’t understand. At Māori community celebrations and events we were treated as honored guests, but I never questioned this or thought about why. I absorbed the richness of a Māori community from a position of White privilege.

At the age of 16, I left the security of home and the beach, to be thrown into the world of study and teacher training in Auckland, and where again, no one ever challenged me to think about inequity or injustice. That ← 215 | 216 → conscientization did not happen for another two decades,...

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