Family Court v Māori: removing a Māori girl from her kura to please her Pākehā father

If you haven’t watched Native Affairs this week, I advise you do this first:–judgement-part-1–judgement-part-2

In case you’ve not the time or inclination, the crux of the story is that the Family Court has recently ruled that a young girl enrolled by her Māori mother in a kura kaupapa Māori after kōhanga reo be removed from any Māori immersion environment because her Pākehā father (who has shared custody) does not support her attending kura and feels excluded as he can’t speak Māori.

The judge’s ruling apparently was a balance between the preference to have both parents involved in her education and the need to meet the cultural and identity needs of the girl. The seven year old girl articulated that she didn’t want to move, which the judge noted, alongside noting that she is only seven. The mother is appealing to the High Court.

Let’s put the obvious to bed first: the kura were disorganised so didn’t meet the timeline to provide evidence to a Pākehā institution, the Family Court. The people in the kura were likely deeply suspicious of the motives of the court, and indeed their likely suspicions that the court is a tool of colonisation have proven well-founded in this instance. Also, the father’s motives are questionable. It seems to me he couldn’t separate his relationship breakdown from his ex-partner from what is good for his daughter, and it strikes as narcissistic to regards your daughter’s Māori heritage as an imposition on you. If you know him, if you are him, don’t come at me with it’s more complicated, you couldn’t meet someone less racist, he was treated badly. Cry me a river. This is Solomon’s judgement in 1 Kings 3:16-28 all over, but the judge failed to live up to their role as Solomon in this instance.

If the judge stuffed up in a matter of law, I am relatively confident that will be uncovered at the High Court, and this is not my area of expertise. But being unable to speak te reo Māori, having no connection with your Māori community and the impact on your educational achievement; yeah, I have a few things to say about that.

The judge was completely out of her depth in understanding educational achievement, and clearly too lazy to even Google to find out a few things. If she had, she may have discovered that she has condemned a seven year old to struggling to succeed in education. You need seven years or so immersed in one language to attain literacy in it, which this girl has not had. When you swap out of immersion in one language to immersion in another at that early point, the child’s experience becomes one of failure because they are starting behind their cohort and are labelled as in need of remedial action. Failure discourages exploration and innovation, which has long term effects. So, a little girl who was happy, therefore we can ascertain she felt like an education success, has been removed to an environment with a different language and a different religious structure.

If this judge had even a passing knowledge of Aotearoa New Zealand history, she would have realised that the choice of education in kura Māori is not just a matter of consumer preference, but an act of reclaiming a language that the Crown, of which she is a representative, actively sought to stamp out. In other words, she has not just removed a little girl from a kura, she has severed the fragile and recently reconnected whakapapa ties of that whānau from her community and robbed an iwi and Māori nation of one more thread of hope. She would understand that she has unwittingly become an agent of the ongoing colonisation of tāngata whenua.

Had the judge taken any notice of Susan Devoy’s rather strident statements calling for an inquiry into state care, she may have heard a little term ‘casual racism.’ It might have given her pause to think about the father’s statements as reported above, particularly around his assumption that all things should be delivered to him in English on a platter and that Māori identity and culture is an outlier in education. She might have questioned her own tacit agreement with someone who I suspect looked a little like her over the brown woman at the other desk.

I look forward to finding out this judge’s name and case name, because it will be a footnote in every Te Tiriti o Waitangi and biculturalism course from now on, alongside Sir James Prendergast for Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington; a shocking example of the attitudes and racism of a bygone era. She has wiped the slate of any good she may have done on the bench in the Family Court through one paternalistic, ethnocentric act of astounding stupidity.


32 thoughts on “Family Court v Māori: removing a Māori girl from her kura to please her Pākehā father

  1. Why are we as Maori even entertaining going into a Pakeha realm of inequity where rules can be changed by the stroke of a pen, laws created to satisfy ‘imports’ ? Why are Tangata Whenua subjected to rules in regard to how we bring our kids up? If we went to England and started imposing the Maori language on them or pulled them out of the school because I couldn’t understand English…. there would be an outrage!!! ‘Imports’ call themselves New Zealanders…..however…. if you put a cat in a banana box it’s still a cat!!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Pari. Outside of the serious content, can I just say it is always exciting to come across a new analogy: if you put a cat in a banana box it’s still a cat!

      In the main, diversity is incredibly beneficial to us as tāngata whenua and to our society. However, instances like this one come up every now and then and demonstrate how expectations of cultural intelligence only flow in one direction. The Crown and its agents are too often blind to their own assumptions.

  2. to place the child into mainstream education at this time is abuse. she has obviously been raised in Te Reo Rangatira from birth only to have it all ripped away from her due to the selfishness of her pakeha father. her life is now set up for even greater struggles as she attempts to understand the complex education system and policies of the pakeha.

  3. No different from recent years when Maori children were strapped at school for speaking their language. This child is penalised by a screwed up court system obviously not qualified and an ignorant selfish father for denying her her rights to embrace her Maori language. She will grow up silly man and be a powerful Maori woman rich in her language and culture whether you like it or not. Just wait and see!

  4. As someone who is both Pakeha and Maori (I call myself a New Zealander), I find this so disturbing. If there was something wrong with the school and it’s quality of education or the childs happiness then yes – but the reasoning just been a lack of understanding on the fathers part is shocking why cant he take Te Reo classes to get a greater understanding of his child or better yet let her teach him. To use the child as a way to get back at the mother is abuse, and affects the innocent child. My mother used to use me to get at my dad and take her frustrations out on me and this is wrong and affects you for your lifetime. I feel for this kid, why isnt there other agencies supporting her? Proving there is no harm for her in the “Maori” school compared to the disadvantage she would receive attending the “Pakeha” school. We as a country should be moving away from this segregation by now 😦

    1. Kia ora Tarsha, it certainly shines a harsh light on the inability of our agencies, courts in this instance, to understand the centrality of identity and culture.

  5. I have so may questions…

    Why didn’t they settle on a Rumaki Reo (Bi Lingual) instead of Kura Kaupapa (Full Immersion)?
    How could this be bought to court, without considering the impact of the court process on their young daughter?
    What kind of father compromises his daughters personal identity to satisfy his own feelings of inadequacy?

    What happened to a cup of tea and a phone call to your baby mama!? This is ludicrous!!!

    There is something awful that I came across recently. It seems that without proper support and consideration, People of Colour in mainstream schools can start oppressing their culture just to fit in.
    Some of my friends had to reclaim their cultural identity in adulthood because their educational environment made them feel like they needed to be white to succeed, or at least be considered relevant in modern society…
    I was educated in a Kohanga Reo, Rumaki Reo in Primary/ Intermediate and studied Te Reo Rangatira whilst being in Mainstream in High school. It took a lot of effort for my Pakeha mother to keep up, but she did it because she wanted to be connected. This man obviously has every intention of warping his daughters cultural identity to satisfy himself :(.
    This is such an incredibly sad verdict to see at during such a dark time.

    1. He pai ngā pātai, ngā whakaaro nei. I’m one who has spent my adulthood reclaiming my whakapapa and reo, hence my strong reaction and response. It is a journey I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  6. What a fantastic post! I look forward to reading your writing further. I am of Ngati Porou and Ngati Maru descent, living in Australia. I live now in Australia but I remember standing at assembly as a year 12 or 7th former back home in NZ receiving my position as newly appointed School Captain or Head Girl. I was the first Maori girI School Captain. I could not wait to run home and tell my nana and I remember how proud she was, because as she knew and I knew, this position was for my whanau, for my iwi and our generations to come. That was in 1984. Reading your article today, 2017, I shake my head at this judges ruling, I shake my head at the rose tinted vestiges of empathy, true knowledge, and intellect of which this judge has suffered none.

    1. E mihi ana au ki a koe, Simmon. Your comment reminds us that much as things change, some can stay the same.

    1. Ae rā, kia tika tēnā. Ēngari, nō kōnei tētehi kōrero tumanako: ka ngaro, ka ngaro, ka ea, ka ea te toka tū moana o Tirikawa. Ka hiahia taua mokopono i tōna reo, ka rapua.

  7. So sad that this decision was made. The saddest part is dads inability to see what is right for her daughter. Obviously the fact he has a maori daughter shows he has an attraction to the culture yet doesnt want her immersed in it. Sometimes as parents we need to step back and breathe before we put our children in the line of someone elses fire. What may seem like a victory for him now may in hindsight be the bigge§t stumble in pride he made. Hopefully his daughter gets this decision reversed and alot of support as this is worked thru.

  8. I cannot believe that the Justice Department has allowed such a ruling. It is atrocious to say the least that this kohine has been subjected to the whims of her tauiwi father’s inadequacies in regards to her birthright. 99 percent of my children and mokopuna were schooled in Mainstream and did not do well at all. The 1 percent went through kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and is now in Year 12 at Wharekura, having achieved well above her mainstream brothers and sisters and is heading towards a future as a Doctor. She has already set her pathway towards Otago University in 2019. She is proficient in both English and Te Reo Rangatira and walks in both worlds with confidence. So to see this is totally backward for this kohine. Aue! Aue! To be ripped away from the arms of her whanau, her whakapapa, her birthright, is a criminal act. I hope the High Court is better informed than the Judge who has destroyed this mokopuna life.

  9. I was denied my opportunity to learn my Heritage, I left NZ and Lived 45 years in Australia, Ive had a good
    Life there. Returning 2 years ago to learn about my Whakapapa, To know about our Tupuna, I am nearing 70 and completed my first year of Te Reo Ive started my journey so I can tell my Moko’s.
    So sad for that Little girl, and hope that her family support her Culture and enable her to become strong
    in both languages to become a Strong young woman,.

  10. Like one person said why can’t the girl be in a school that teaches both Maori and English so she is getting the best of both worlds having these segregated schools is the first problem we have been a multicultural country for how many years people need to get over themselves. I am Pakeha I learnt Maori at college from form 1 to 4 I have friends whom are Maori also my 3 nephews live with us whom are Maori I talk to them in what Te Reo I know they also go to a school with my kids which teaches Maori and English and my little boy who’s blonde and blue eyed is in the haka group and I could not be any prouder . We as a nation need to come together just get rid of all the bad eggs.

    Kia Ora

    1. Kia ora Dave, I think the possibilities for creative solutions here have been largely ignored, to the detriment of all. Thanks for your comment.

  11. The future for this girl would be endless when she becomes an adult,Speaking two languages fluently,the job opportunities,Being a translator,working in the police force,maori land courts,any courts,being an air hostess emirates have people on board who speak 15 different languages bet one was’nt maori.Lol.government, jobs.Hope they win this case for future tamariki’s that could end up in court like this.I wish the whanau all the luck and aroha in this case.Kia kaha Whanau.

    1. Kia ora Millie, I have four tamariki in this situation, and for our eldest an international world of opportunity is indeed unfolding. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks.

  12. E te hoa, pai ana tenei tuhinga,
    Moved but not surprised to learn about the cultural divide perpetuated by kawanatanga.

    The notion that a Court has the right to control and manage te reo me ona tikanga is beyond offensive and is a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

    A new step proposed by Kawanatanga to manage the rights of our tamariki is captured in Social Development Minister Anne Tolley’s decision to remove the priority of CYF to place tamariki with whanau or wider hapu.

    Since when did we concede our authority to kawanatanga to determine whakapapa.

    1. I think this may genuinely constitute a contemporary breach of Article 2; it’d be interesting to have it tested in the Tribunal!

  13. Appeal the case, get the kura and all the whanau together to submit the evidence needed to support this child from being removed to a main stream school. Call on Maori Academics from the universities to help. They have the evidence and influence. Do not give up! The father is just being vindictive.

    1. I was pleased to see Te Runanganui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa have moved to support the mother. I hope there’s some kiko to that support.

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