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Coloring in the White Spaces

Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools


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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Chapter 1. The Whitestream


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It is an honor and a privilege to be standing here today to offer some reflective thoughts and speak on behalf of those who are leaving today for the big wide world.

I came to Kia Aroha College, wearing a red shirt like the teina (junior students) sitting in front of me. I was a little intimidated by the journey ahead of me. I’d like to think that in the seven years I have been a student at Kia Aroha College, I have learnt what it means to be Māori and how to question the dominant discourse. I have learnt that the marginalization of Māori and Pasifika people is more about our dominant society being unwilling to share power and authority than it is about us not deserving better. My challenge to all the younger students at Kia Aroha College is to open your minds to the teachings of the school that will make you understand that you deserve a life that honors your cultural heritage.

To those students who will be returning in 2016, Whāia te iti kahurangi. Ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei.1 Continue to work hard to meet the goals you, your families, and the school have set for you. Be proud of your cultural knowledge and understand that it has value beyond measure.

My final acknowledgement is to my brothers and sisters...

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