This blogpost is inspired by my colleagues Rosalie Reiri, Te Mako Orzecki and Patariki Grace. I had the privilege of attending their CORE Breakfast on Friday. I believe the session was recorded, and will become available for purchase should you wish to be inspired also. Mauri ora!
As someone who has moved quite a bit, both nationally and internationally, I have a complicated relationship with the idea of place. I have called many places home, from Dublin to Norwich, from Germany to New Zealand. For me, home has been rooted in people (and occasionally cats), rather than a physical location. Also caught up in this mix is not having a clear sense of whakapapa – not knowing exactly who my ancestors were, nor from whence they came.
I may have been born in Hamilton and spent a great deal of my life there, but I don’t feel especially connected to it. The location was a result of my father’s job at the time, rather than being there for any ancestral reasons. In many respects I feel a greater affinity for Ireland. We lived in Dublin from when I was 20 months to when I was five years old. I started school there. I had an Irish accent. My understanding is that my great-grandfather was a school teacher in Cork for a time. But I would feel fraudulent if I laid any claim to being Irish.
So attending a seminar and workshop on ‘place-based education’ presents an interesting dilemma for me. Intellectually, and from a social justice lens, I fully embrace the concept that a school’s curriculum should be embedded and intertwined with the geographical area as this supports all learners, including our Māori learners, in their quest for personal identity and belonging.
I’ve written previously about growing in my understanding of whenua, that Māori identity is more than genealogy, more than knowing one’s corporal ancestors, but also outlining kinship to the land. But if you don’t have a connection to particular landmarks, or, as is perhaps the case for me, to multiple landmarks, how are you supposed to really embrace the journey of place-based education?
Luckily Rosalie, Te Mako and Patariki offered me some real food for thought on this very question. Rosalie quoted Wally Penetito: begin where your feet are. Perhaps I don’t need to wrestle with my whakapapa just yet. What are the stories of the places about me? Why is the street I live on now named what it is? How did this suburb come to be? Who was here before the colonial settlers arrived? What stories did these people tell of these hills, these trees, these streams?
Because the power of a story is that it is never finished. There’s another version, a further chapter, a prequel, a sequel, a digression, a tangent. Stories spread in every direction and across dimensions. As Rosalie said, again quoting Penetito: you begin where your feet are, but you don’t stop there; you move outwards.