Simpa as a model of partnership

Posted on August 18, 2008


Last month Khyla Russell presented a paper at the Oxford Round Table. The basis of the paper is an examination of the interaction of cultures, with our Simpa project as the main case study.

Here’s a working version of the paper. It may eventually form a formal publication (in part or whole), so please contact me or Khyla for citation.

Two Cultures: Balances, Choices and Effects Between Traditional and Mainstream Education

For most of us, there is a typical or usual conceptualisation of how we might use either traditional or mainstream education as a choice. The typical experience then would often see a choice in the singular that may exclude one form of learning from informing another. Opposing aspects within education and learning may be that a singular engagement with learning is the only proposition but one that which ought to debunked by some. For others of us though, it may be cemented into the belief systems and epistemological understandings we hold; that all forms of knowledge are given validation alongside agency and accreditation (governmentally bestowed or Iwi acknowledged). For Kai Tahu [1](and possibly most Iwi Māori, [2]) “ako” as an educational concept in te reo Māori [3] means to teach and learn. Therefore, we do not as Iwi Kai Tahu see “ako” in opposition to the ways in which the majority of New Zealanders engage in mainstream or alternative compulsory education systems; not even tertiary education. We are fortunate to have Māori pre-schools, compulsory education schools that can be puna or kura reo [4] and equivalent university or polytechnic tertiary accredited educational providers. Many view it as a point of complementarity between traditional knowledge and its associated tikaka [5] or systems of learning with what might for us be described as Western learning or education.[6] I would like to suggest to this gathering that we now begin to view these as non-competitive and instead consider how they might be viewed as either cooperative or collaborative and how we may come to think of them as complementary.

This discussion will posit the idea that for Kai Tahu both systems of “ako” are viewed as being parts of a whole. In this way one of the Kai Tahu developed methods and epistemological thought processes referred to as the “three Cs” can be adopted as a model for teaching and learning in a Treaty partnership model: one which we as Kai Tahu and as Te Kura Matatini ki Otago (Otago Polytechnic) [7] have chosen to enter into and adopt as our modus operandi .

For Iwi (Tribes), Treaty partnership operational models require several aspects and considerations but in this instance the three Cs as we have developed our model are connectedness, co-operation (or collaboration) and complementarity. Using these as the basis for my conversation today I shall endeavour to demonstrate one way in which Kai Tahu ki Otago (local Rūnaka or sub-tribal councils) and Te Kura Matatini ki Otago have entered into one such Treaty CPR acronym in which the three Cs arrangement in contained. Each of the three letters within the acronym spells out the means we have created to engage in ‘ako’ and rakahau (research) which we hope have benefited both partners in new and innovative ways. In order to place all of this within a context of why both parties might wish to engage in such an arrangement, a brief history of the relationship between the two partners needs narration and explains in some small measure how this has come about largely as a consequence of several aspirations by both the partners.

Te Kura Matatini through a former Chief executive Officer (CEO) and her Council aspired to full membership to Te Tapuae o Rēhua. [8]. Te Tapuae o Rēhua (TToR) is a tertiary company that sits under the umbrella of Kai Tahu Iwi in its Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu (TRoNT) [9] format. This is somewhat likened to our tribal Parliament and is a Crown acknowledged and legally constituted body for the purposes of commercial activity, educational, health, justice and social service arrangements through iwi Crown relationships in the form of Memoranda of Understanding. One of the requirements for any external member seeking partnership to this tertiary company is to have a formal relationship at either a TRoNT (whole of Iwi ) when a University which may have multiple campuses external to a local region; or, a regional Rūnaka level if the entity seeking partnership is a Polytechnic /Institute of technology since most of these at present are regionally focussed as tertiary providers. In order to develop a Memorandum of Understanding [10] between the Arai-Te-Uru Rūnaka (Otago District Councils) and Otago Polytechnic Council representatives, a two year engagement in regular discussions on terms of reference and the requirements of external Acts of Parliament which govern the two bodies needed to occur. The content of these discussions was informed by these various Acts of Parliament, Government’s Māori Tertiary Education strategies for pre-school, compulsory and tertiary outcomes for Māori and the Kai Tahu Iwi ones. Though our MoU was localised to the Otago region, the overall educational aspirations of the region and its polytechnic in education were similar to Kai Tahu specific educational aspirations. The Kura Matatini also had its Council regulations as well as its own educational outcomes which it wished to align with those of its Treaty Partner, Kai Tahu ki Otago. One particular clause spoke of collaboration in research and engaging with Kai Tahu in ways that were educationally and culturally meaningful for them as well as being beneficial to the Kura Matatini as a tertiary provider. Thus was born amongst a number of other practical agreed to matters, SimPā [11]. That precipitated and necessitated another round of engagement at a much deeper and more specific level and included knowledge and its ownership; intellectual property rights for both partners; and, how as a tertiary provider to best engage with an Iwi partner. Even though from time to time this has proven more than a little trying, Te Kura Matatini and Rūnaka have been clear about processes, procedures and how to maximise benefits. Consequently we have now arrived at a point of potential.

What also makes this historically significant for Te Kura Matatini ki Otago and kā Rūnaka is the physical location upon which Te Kura sits.

In ancient times this site was part of a larger group of sites in which arts , technology and esoterical learning were undertaken in what we term, “wānaka”.[12] There were quite specific types of mātauraka learned within the different houses and where te Kura Matatini is geographically placed is where technological skills including tool making, weaponry production; fishing implements and every day tools were manufactured. Ink and dyes were also tested and then produced on this site in ancient times.

Where the former College of Teacher training sits (now incorporated within the University of Otago (te Whare Wānaka ki Otago) was where the assocuted knowledge in terms of preparation for use of these tool or applied forms or art and tā moko (tattooing) were also learned here and once expertise was achieved, there were other sites at which these were undertaken.

Navigation was learned across the stream from while different types waka construction (canoe building) was at this site.

Up where the larger University campus is sited, were learned the deeped or upper jaw knowledge such as karakia (incantation) kawa (forms of ritual), cosmology and whakapapa (genealogical knowledge) and mātauraka hohonu (deeper or more specific knowledge) was studied and committed to memory. Thus we have centuries of knowledge acquisition and “ako” in continuum on this site and the sites at which the new technology assists the reproduction of ancient landscapes and learning. In times past, food and its associated resources were plentiful in this area and knowledge and teaching around the use of gathering times, method of production or preparation and cooking were learned here. It was all these supporting aspects which this a perfect site for whare wānaka and kura o kā mata tini . We continue to train people in the hospitality industry, in engineering and art and design; so history of land and resource use remains and integral part of what continues to be accessed in this geographical place at this time in history.

The concept of entering into a formal relationship arose as a possibility, because one of the areas in which Iwi Māori generally underachieve is in compulsory (and therefore), tertiary education. This paper is not about to discuss the root cause of these as issues; it is looking at a collaboration that is having positive outcomes, great ongoing potential for the two parties engaged in it. Since the local media and countless commissioned pieces of research continue to tell us of our ongoing failures while they fail to address its causes, we have taken positive and affirmative action in an attempt to make some small but significant inroads into the addressing of this issue..

Initial discussions between Associate Professor Samuel Mann and me, eventually saw him arrive with an idea of how to involve young and older Kai Tahu in education and learning about themselves. A new and possibly more engaging way of interesting our young was through the concept of SimPā and depending on what Rūnaka, their individual members or collective members might wish to attain or retain, the end product of the discussion would be a resource that the partners could be co-developers of while learning new ways of imparting their knowledge and new ways of recreating it in virtual reality.

The knowledge to which we referred when first engaging with Rūnaka was of the kind that with generations of urbanisation, different uses of land and altered landscapes meant kōrero neherā (ancient histories and specific knowledge) was either lost or in danger of being as lost. This state of affairs that created such a need has arisen for us (as with countless thousands of indigenous groups worldwide) as the landscape of our tūpuna (ancestors) was lost into new ownership. Sam’s idea was of recreating virtual landscapes and their histories using information technology and marrying that with our kōrero neherā. And so began a serious consideration by both Te Kura Matatini ki Otago and Arai-te-Uru Rūnaka. The idea also needed to be discussed with Iwi members who knew the kōrero neherā, who might be interested in collaboration and who had time, commitment and energy to help drive this. We have those with two of the three but much less of the time is freely available. Sam has two of these in copious amounts and seems to create time to visit sites, people, take photographs and share such times with his children whilst doing the out of paid work time work. Software developers and Iwi experts worked together in the first instance to create a model to be offered to iwi by the running a tester hui (a gathering on the marae) [13] to have a wānaka [14] (intensive weekend/week long learning/workshop sessions) and to consider offering, through a series of weekend workshop hui a qualification when a resource was completed. Despite the absolute success of the tester, the group whom we thought or had hoped would show an interest were not those who attended the tester hui.[15] In fact the hui interested people like we were; people who travelled huge distances in some cases who saw its potential as a teaching and learning tool. And so SimPā became, again with Sam’s enthusiasm, a research collaboration through a successful funding application which helped to make it a reality.

Early on, Sam, his programmer and at that time a potential Kai Tahu lecturer visited with Rūnaka, attended their quarterly combined meetings, presented the tester to them and did the same at the Iwi head office Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (TRoNT) where each time it was received with enthusiasm.

We now have a .8 research project person in position, have begun making the resources in collaboration with whānau (families) hapū (groups of whānau) and those interested in sharing their knowledge whilst engaged in the work of acquiring new knowledge and resource production. What follows is a list of what is now being undertaken in various ways between the partners in this project.

One Rūnaka is involved in telling migrations histories, and as they hold series of wānaka over a number of months , the stories are being filmed, landscapes recreated, whānau members and wānaka participants have the potential to learn the additional aspects of video and film making; simulating landscapes to adorn their histories and partaking as a group of learners in cultural activities which teach Te Kura Matatini staff, new histories of the places they know but not from a tribal historical perspective. Between wānaka, editing and further meetings happen to ensure that appropriate processes are engaged in and transparency of behaviour, knowledge transition and intellectual properties are protected and acknowledged. One whānau is involved in replanting and re-establishing a wetland on their wakawaka (whānau block of land). Some of our SimPā staff are attending these wānaka which include cultural, traditional and botanical education; kai Māori (traditional food) and karakia (old incantations somewhat like but also very different from Christian prayers) and tikaka that are appropriate to planting, knowledge and food gathering.

Another whānau in an adjacent wakawaka is involved in recording their oral histories, their mahika kai (food gathering and production) knowledge, their whakapapa (genealogical connections with other whānau, Rūnaka and places) and re-creating aspects of all of these within whakairo (carvings). The second whakairo is a memorial work begun by one of their members to honour his father and a younger brother who was drowned while the brothers were fishing. The brother carver who was making the carving himself died unexpectedly, so his master carver finally completed the work and incorporated the original kai whakairo (carver) into the work to honour all three. Accompanying karakia, kōrero, kaupapa (ideas) and whakaaro (thinking behind) what is tika are incorporated into the learning by both partners in the collaboration. As each set of these resources is made, it is edited and produced in an agreed to format, while those whose stories these are, decide how they may be distributed and to whom. Some have appeared on BEBO, some on uTube and others are made in DVD formats.

Another Rūnaka has begun to use the test case software as an education tool when the winter weather makes physically undertaking this on the landscape unsafe and unwise to participate in doing.

When gatherings and wānaka such as these occur, there is always a huge exchange of knowledge, information gathering and sharing of expertise in traditional knowledge using those systems. Now we have what once might (and still is) seen as art history. Anthropology, pre history, navigation, food production and gathering, lunar and environmental knowledge and teaching and learning as ‘ako”, have been placed within information technology and research as a project. All of this requires ongoing collaboration, to achieve co-operation, connectedness and complementarity between local Iwi and our tertiary institution as treaty partners.

There have been a number of other tertiary and related institutions nationally and internally and Iwi at home and abroad interested in how they may be able to access this knowledge. Most are keen to know about the processes in which we engaged prior to the project beginning. This was never more evident that last October, when Sam and I presented a seminar on our progress to date at London University on our way to a conference in Toronto. In both London and Toronto different audiences were keen for ongoing or more contact, more presentations and more interest in how the agreement between nations might come to fruition from a research perspective; or, as a means of engagement with their first nations people.

Besides the educational and cultural learning and teaching, each partner has begun to become more expert in during this process. Both Sam and I are learning about how others institutions locally, nationally and internationally engage or fail to engage appropriately with their indigenous people. Meanwhile we continue to experience new ways of coming together to make new resources using a new means of receiving education and giving or offering it to our own Iwi who live in far off places.

Information technology in this example is the essential tool that sits alongside programming expertise, indigenous knowledge to create, then broadcast this information. For Kai Tahu ki Otago it has provided another means of being able to work with Te Kura Matatini, and its rich resources technical and human, in order to produce entry for our people through accessibility to learning. We now see computer scientists, computer programmers, their students and our Iwi members at whānau, hapū and Rūnaka levels in those places engaged in educational pursuits, in some or all of the above ways. Film makers/editors and video operators teach our member to use these tool and we in turn teach Kai Tahu our landscape histories as told by our older members to our younger ones. We now have an option as a means to access our kōrero neherā in a new and innovative way.

This interaction is always precipitated by our long practiced rituals of encounter and add deeper dimensions to our histories and pre-histories. Knowing the ways we continue to engage formally on the marae atea,[16] attending hui and accessing traditional as well as contemporary learning means we can begin to experiment and more accurately guess how these ancient landscapes might have looked. We do so using ancient waiata (chants) and their accompanying stories in which this type of information is stored and we have the means to unlocking these stories and making them into virtual reality and creation of new teaching and learning tools. In this way cultural practices can be experienced in a virtual space in a more meaningful way than merely reading an anthropological or historical account, which is not to denigrate these forms of learning and education in any way. Doing this interacting in a Māori way means it is surrounded in tikaka [17] and kawa [18]. From there the programming experts help the participants who are the in whom are stored these stories, to understand how to create digital images, games, DVD presentations. We see virtual realities of people and places of our tūpuna acting and interacting in these virtually created spaces. Our people far from home can access these histories and te reo of their places; of ancestors and their deeds; of how to give this new knowledge to their children, many of whom have never set foot on these landscapes. Now our people are able to access all of this as they visit homeplaces on line where they may travel at will to homescapes of their tūpuna without adding further pollution to Papatūanuku each time they wish to ‘come home”. From first contact to present times, Iwi Māori have sought and embraced new technologies while retain and commiting to memory those rituals of encounter that keep them appropriately connected to their tūpuna and the landscapes of neherā (ancient times).

There are then only three Cs, and none of these includes competition. As Kai Tahu, there is no conundrum about how or whether to engage in education and learning. For us the application of the three Cs has given us access to two cultures, where we have found balances, made choices and had positive effects between traditional and mainstream education. It has further enabled te Kura Matatini staff to engage in a more personal way with Rūnaka members, their stories and gain some insight into the concept of “ako” as Kai Tahu and Iwi Māori apply it and its methodology within our teaching and learning. Overarching all of this is the willingness to engage by the present CEO and his Leadership team and the former Acting CEO , now Deputy CEO to continue that which was begun by another.

As colleagues they are without equal in any other place in which I have been employed. As friends they are likewise valued and as a whānau kaimahi (a workplace family) I express my gratitude for their ongoing support of me, this ‘take’ (idea) and mātauraka and ako (teaching and learning).


Russell, K. (2005). A Kai Tahu’s perception of Landscape: (Re)Defining Those Understandings From an Indigenous Perspective. Indigenous Knowledges Conference,Victoria University of Wellington.
Link to web publication

Russell, K. (2006). Landscape: perceptions of Kai Tahu I Mua, Āianei, A Muri Ake. Plenary Session, International Federation of Landscape Architects Eastern Region Conference, Sydney, Australia, 25 – 27 May.
Link to web publication

Conference Contribution – Poster presentation

Crook, M., Camp., J., Russell, K., & Mann, S. (2006). Telling the story of telling the story. Poster presentation at the 19th Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications, Wellington, ISSN 1176-8053. 7 -10 July. 317.

Mann, S., Russell, K., Camp, J., Crook, M., & Wikaira, J. (2006). Maori Game Design. In Mann, S., & Bridgeman, N. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications, ISSN 1176-8053. 7-10 July. 165-174.

Oral Presentation (Other than Conference Contribution)

Seminar series February to June 2007 .The Centre for New Zealand Studies is pleased to announce its first season of fortnightly seminars. Any enquiries to Dr Ian Conrich

Speakers: Khyla Russell (Otago Polytechnic), Precious Clark (Ngati Ranana), and Kateia Burrows (Manaia).Taha Maori:
A Focus on Contemporary Maori Culture and Maori Education In association with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies..8 February 2007
Institute of Commonwealth Studies,
Menzies Room, 28 Russell Square, London WC1

Russell, K., Mann, S. & Bragg, C. (2007). The Virtual Marae: Iwi Research and Collaboration. Centre for New Zealand Studies, Birkbeck College, London, 18 October.
Link to web publication

Conference Contribution – Full conference paper

Russell, K. (2006). Connections and Connectedness: He aha te rereketaka ai?. 13th New Zealand Studies Association Conference, University of Dauphine, Paris, France,

Russell, K. & Mann, S. (2007) Worlds Colliding: participatory storytelling and indigenous culture in building interactive games. ICHM Conference, Toronto, Canada. 24 – 26 October.

Russell, K. (2006). Te rerekētaka ki a Identity and Connection:. Māori Culture Seminar. University of London February 2007,

Pictures of the first Wanaka held at Otakou Marae are available at

[1] A major South Island Tribe Also view website Ngai Tahu – Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu – Welcome to Ngāi Tahu
[2] Other Tribal groups in the North of the South island and the North Island of New Zealand.
[3] The Māori language.
[4] Puna is one word for language learning within compulsory education; kura reo is another for a similar place.
[5] Tika is to be right or correct. Tikaka is acting in such a manner and/or the practice of iwi, hapū and whānau behavioural expectations.
[6] That whose content and outcomes are determined by the State and at compulsory educational level, is mostly state funded or assisted with state funds for school with special character (such as those founded on religious backgrounds)
[8] Their website can be viewed on Te Tapuae o Rehua
[9] Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu is the legally constituted Iwi (tribal) body which has commercial, cultural, investment and property parts to it. It also umbrellas a number of subsidiary companies, one of which is Te Tapuae o Rēhua.
[10]A copy of this can be viewed on
[11] Simpa Blogs, Pictures, and more on WordPressSimPa connecting stories and landscape — 1 comment … of the exciting things about the SimPa project is that we don’t really … SimPa graphic — 2 comments … – Cached
[12]Whare Wānaka (or wānanga in Northern dialect) were houses of learning.
[13] Complex which usually includes a wharenui (large building in which people learn, eat and sleep); often ornately carved but not always; has a cemetery as part of the complex and is used for hui (gatherings) such as learning, celebrations, graduations, and taki aue (funeral rites and burials).
[14] Wānaka or wānanga in the northern dialect are either sessions of intense learning on the marae or can be a place of learning somewhat like a university or polytechnic but which teaches either Iwi specific knowledge; rituals or teaches iwi/Māori based knowledge in a format aligned with a university of polytechnic
[15] When offered for view at Kai Tahu hui-a tau (annual gathering) the group of young people were very interested in the end result not so interested in how one might begin to learn how to produce such a resource.
[16] The space out in front of the wharenui or meeting house where rituals of encounter called pōwhiri occur. [17] Tikaka ensures appropriate cultural and interpersonal behavioural are adhered to.
[18] Whilst tikaka may be very adaptable, kawa is grounded in protocols which never alter and which govern the order of this. My way of explaining this and placing in a context we all understand here in Oxford would be the dress codes and expected attire we are asked to wear at dinner, knowing this will not be breached.