uLearn21 - Thriving individuals and communities


Across two blogs, Janelle Riki-Waaka and Josh Hough share their perspectives on Aotearoa e tōnui nei | Thriving Aotearoa, the theme of uLearn21. In the first blog they discuss Te tangata takitahi e tōnui nei | Thriving individuals and Ngā hapori e tōnui nei | Thriving communities.

This year’s uLearn21 kaupapa has got us talking! As representatives of both tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti, we were interested in understanding where our perspectives and opinions aligned, and where they parted ways. A summary of our kōrero is shared with you all in this blog. We are both really excited about continuing this kōrero at uLearn21 and we look forward to seeing you all there!

Part 2 - uLearn21 - Thriving Cultures and Futures


Janelle: When I think about people thriving as individuals, in the simplest sense, I think about people being happy in their own skin and enjoying a comfortable and fulfilled life. In essence, living happily as who they are, surrounded by people they love and having access to all that they need to thrive. For Māori, this might look like being deeply connected to their language identity and culture, having relationships that fill up their wairua (soul/spirit) and having access to the resources they need to nourish themselves and their whānau.

Image by CORE Education, all rights reserved.

For many Māori it may be challenging to think of themselves in the ‘individual’ sense. Our concept of happiness and wellness is often associated with the happiness and wellness of those we love most. We are descended from tribal people and we tend to think about ourselves as but one part of the greater whole – one drop in the awa (river) that is our hapū. Our social structures and concept of whānau are often roles and responsibilities based. For example, we each have a role to play and associated responsibilities that contribute to the wellbeing of our whānau, hapū and wider community. What we know though is that in order to contribute to the happiness and wellness of our whānau, we need to be connected, fulfilled and healthy. For Māori, the health and wellness of our taiao (environment) also contributes to the happiness and wellness of our people.

Kei te ora te wai, kei te ora te whenua, kei te ora te tangata.
If the water is healthy and the whenua flourishes, so too are the people well. (Nō te awa Manawatū)

A thriving individual is one that can contribute to the communities they serve, supporting them to thrive whilst enjoying happiness and wellness for themselves as individuals. It’s a little like every aspect of a hangi contributing to the overall sweetness of the kai! The sweetness of the kumara is most definitely accentuated by being cooked alongside the chicken and pork, trust me!

Our Māori pūrākau (myths, stories or legends) often contain lessons and guidance from our ancestors on living our best lives so that we may thrive both as individuals and as a whānau. Supporting our tamariki and rangatahi to strengthen their connection to their Māoritanga is a vital part of the hauora of our people and our country.

“Our Māori narratives and pūrakau have some beautiful themes. Themes of love, themes of respect of whakapapa so you know where you come from. The story of Matariki for example, where we teach about the nine stars of Matariki coming down to take care of Papatūānuku or Mother Earth. Who can’t resonate with a story or the theme of taking better care of Mother Earth and for that matter everyone else.”

Jase Te Patu (uLearn21 keynote speaker)

Josh: The Merriam-Webster definition of the word “thrive” is “to grow vigorously”, and the word is often used synonymously with other positive terms like “blossom”, “flourish”, or “succeed”. So what then does it mean to “grow vigorously” in Aotearoa?

As an able-bodied man learning from an unwell disabled partner, my notions of what it means to thrive as an individual have been challenged. The Western paradigm and social media tells us that thriving individually is all about having new experiences, buying flash toys, travelling to destinations, and smashing our goals. But when someone is chronically unwell and they simply cannot do any or many of these things, what then does thriving as an individual look like? For Pākehā in Aotearoa, my answer to this lies in two words; purpose and responsibility.

Living a life of purpose involves living into our identities; being fully who we are and leaning into this to live a life on purpose. A thriving individual is someone who lives by their beliefs and values, yet does the work to continually challenge and grow these beliefs and values. They follow their passions in the ways that they are able, they prioritise balance, and they make a difference – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in grand ways, but consistently with an eye towards their fellow individuals. They rise above the mantras of “survival of the fittest” and “getting after it” and the idea of the constant hustle, and instead see themselves as interconnected – individuals who are meaningful parts of a whole. They are able to accept others as they are, practice gratitude, and be generous in their kindness.

As for responsibility, systems that have led to inequities in this nation were created and sustained by Pākehā, and so it goes to follow that the responsibility to reckon with the injustices caused by them, and the requirement to respond to them with action, falls to us. This is a collective responsibility, and while it can make some uncomfortable, it’s our duty as Treaty partners to learn about our Tiriti responsibilities and uphold them. Being aware of our position, responding to the legacy of colonisation, and doing “the work” is the requirement of Pākehā – both individually and collectively.

Nui Nei | Thriving communities

Josh: To thrive in community requires knowing the communities you connect with and your part in them. Investing time to get to know communities and the people in them means you get to celebrate their expertise, learn from their stories, and work together with purpose. To achieve this, we need to press into and be guided by the shared values of the community – which is hard to do if we don’t have any community relationships!

Applying an equity lens, thriving communities are the drivers of meaningful and lasting change. Root causes of inequity are impacted by system-level changes, not by individual efforts. Narrow-focused programmes and initiatives that benefit individuals rather than the collective have limited success and can actually perpetuate inequity. No one school, early learning service, business, department, organisation or individual, no matter how well respected, funded, located, or resourced, can achieve system-level change alone. In essence, there is strength in numbers.

Image by CORE Education, all rights reserved.


Recently, I had the privilege of engaging in some research with a valued colleague, Lex Davis, who belongs to some communities that I don’t, one of which is the takatāpui community. I’m not Māori or queer, but this does not prevent me from actively partnering with rangatahi takatāpui to work towards the collective goal of equity for young LGBTQIA+ Māori in Aotearoa. I do this through building trusting relationships with takatāpui, and leveraging my position of Pākehā power and privilege to help the voices of takatāpui be heard and learned from. I can’t do this work in isolation – alone, I have no knowledge, no standing, and no right – but together, I can help amplify the call to action in the spaces in which I move. Our work together has resulted in a kaupapa, Ko tātou tēnei, which invites those in other spaces to move their relationships with takatāpui from sympathetic to transformative.

While I’m writing about community here, not myself as an individual, it would be an oversight not to mention the gift this work has been to me personally. I’ve come to know young people whose wisdom, love, and knowledge have taught me much and moved my heart. This is the power of communities thriving – meaningful change for the individuals in them as they partner to enact system-level change

Mā te te tokomaha, ka kā te ahi.
By the many will the fires be kept burning.

Janelle: As I noted earlier in this blog, thriving communities rely on thriving individuals. For many years in Aotearoa’s history, tangata whenua have largely been in survival mode. We are still experiencing daily the aftermath of colonisation and the intergenerational trauma left in its wake.

Many of us are dreaming of the day our journey leads us as a people from ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’. When our marae are warm and bustling with the mauri (life force/essence) of our people. When our language can be heard in everyday conversations at the corner dairy. When tangata Tiriti and tangata whenua are genuinely engaged in equitable partnerships, co-design, co-governance and shared decision making. We have made many inroads on our journey but sadly we are still encountering ignorance at every turn.

Many of you may have read in The Listener about the recent conflicting opinions about Western science and mātauranga Māori. Or have seen appalling comments from some members of our community following the Government’s formal apology to Pacific peoples of Aotearoa for the Dawn Raids. These bumps in the journey are often exhausting for the navigators and the passengers, however they are important reminders for us all of how far we still have to travel. They keep us alert on the journey and often further prepare us for the oncoming potholes!

In giving thought to what a thriving Aotearoa might look like, I consider the growing identity of Aotearoa and our cultural practices as a people. Our Aotearoatanga if you like! NZ Pākehā as a culture has been heavily influenced by the tikanga and kawa (marae protocol) of tangata whenua. Our everyday language use now incorporates many Māori words that have seamlessly integrated into our norm. E.g. whānau, mahi, kai, puku, kia ora, aroha, ka kite.

Our tikanga of manaakitanga and koha are largely practiced in homes and workplaces throughout the motu. I mean who would show up for dinner at someone’s house without taking something! If we traced back the origins of some of our everyday Kiwi-isms, we would see that many have been born and adapted from the tikanga and kawa of Ngāi Māori.

With that in mind, perhaps a thriving community is one that reflects the identity and values of those that inhibit it. In the case of our young and beautiful country, founded by tangata whenua and shared with tangata Tiriti, perhaps we are still defining our Aotearoatanga and in fact the best is yet to come.

Aotearoa is about to re-introduce an indigenous celebration to our calendar of public holidays – Matariki. Our country is at a point in our history where we will all collectively honour and celebrate an aspect of Māori tikanga together as a nation. What an amazing part of our journey to celebrate.

“For me, Matariki is part of the decolonising of our division of time. It’s reclaiming our traditional, environmentally driven, timekeeping systems that allow us to interact with our environment and acknowledge the changing of the year. Matariki is for all New Zealanders. It’s not a Māori celebration any more in my mind. It’s become a national celebration and that’s its future for me and I think that’s a wonderful part about Matariki. It is about the best things of humanity such as being kind to each other, aroha, those are the basic principles. It’s about charity, hope. It’s about promise.”

Dr Rangi Matamua (uLearn21 keynote speaker)


To learn more about Matariki visit the Living by the Stars website.

Part 2 of this blog, sees Janelle and Josh discuss Ngā ahurea e tōnui nei | Thriving cultures and Te tōnuitanga o te āpōpō | Thriving futures. Read Part 2.

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