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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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The design was initially inspired by the black and white image of a classroom scene in which the faces of two pupils were colored in brown shade. It reminds me of how over time we as tangata whenua (indigenous people) have had to fit in and conform to the structure and values of foreign interests. This design reflects the cultural diversity of the students within Kia Aroha College. I focused on artistic symbols from throughout Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the Pacific region from which many of the students descend. These symbols also refer to their proud and noble ancestors through whose authority we were successful in developing thriving and effective societies throughout these regions—until the arrogant establishment of foreign interests within these borders, which is still perpetuated today. This situation is not unique to Aotearoa.

The circle represents the importance of these pre-colonial societal structures viz.; education, language, culture, theology, and environmental resources. The break in the circle represents the disruption and the white spaces incurred, and the difficulty of re-completing the circle with pieces or structures that just don’t fit. The name, Papahueke (to be relentless or unyielding), represents our resistance. (Blaine Te Rito, 2013)

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