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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 4. Kia Aroha College


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Kia Aroha College is located in the suburb of Clover Park, in the wider community of Otara, a southern suburb of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. In the immediate school community, 91.1% of the population is either Māori (17.4%) or Pasifika (73.7%),1 0.7% are Asian, and 10.2% are Pākehā (European/White). The community has a median age of 26.9 years, 11 years lower than the national median (Statistics NZ, 2015).

This local concentration of Māori and Pasifika families is a significant factor for Otara schools where less than 1% of students in all 18 schools in the community are Pākehā. In Otara schools, approximately one third of students are Māori and two thirds are Pasifika—predominantly Samoan (34.6%), Cook Islands Māori 16.3%), and Tongan (16.1%). The only schools that break this pattern are Kia Aroha College, where the 49% Māori roll is drawn to the Māori bilingual program, named Te Whānau o Tupuranga, and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Piripono where all 59 students are Māori (Ministry of Education, 2015).

The continual negative media spotlight on “South Auckland” is a fact of life for our young people and their families, and those who have worked in the community for many years. However, all would attest that Otara is nonetheless a rich, diverse, vibrant and proud community with assets that are rarely recognized or publicized....

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