If you haven’t watched Native Affairs this week, I advise you do this first:
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.