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Emotional welcome as indigenous Canadian students arrive at Ara | Te Pūkenga

23 March, 2023

“We are all connected. We are one.”

The Camosun College group were moved by the warm welcome and strength of te reo

Ara | Te Pūkenga has welcomed the first of two groups from North America for indigenous study tours over the next fortnight.

The first group, made up of students and teachers from Ara’s partner institution Camosun College in Canada, were visibly moved by a warm welcome from the Māori Achievement Team, saying “the sense of connection” was real.

Speaking after the powhiri, student and youth worker Ethan Joseph said deep emotions were stirred.

“A lot of us are from small communities who are struggling,” he said. “You come here and it’s so powerful to see there is another people just like us and they are thriving and striving further.  It’s important to realise what growth is possible. Sometimes it can be tough to find that hope,” he said wiping the tears.

His experience was reinforced by immersion Senćoŧen language teacher Meneŧiye Elliot from Wsáneć territory who said she was looking forward to learning more about teaching methods and the transition from immersion learning to the tertiary environment.

“I’ve been here only one day and witnessed so much language compared to what we have in the broad community at home,” she said. “Seeing Māori in television commercials on mainstream TV and then observing a channel totally in Māori has blown my mind.”

The manuhiri (visitors) shared their own acknowledgments, songs and customs during the powhiri including a smudging ceremony common to First Nations which involves the burning of medicines, gathered from the earth – in this case sage and sweetgrass.

“For us this is a way to cleanse the mind and thoughts and it’s something we do often,” Joseph said. “Working through issues surrounding colonisation mean our classes involve trauma, so it’s important to make sure you have a healthy mind,” he added.

Stan Tawa, Manager Te Puna Wānaka, said Ara was very much looking forward to sharing and exchanging knowledge with the group from Camosun College.

“The team from Camosun will share their revitalisation journey with us, and we’ll share ours with them. They’re especially interested in learning about how they might reinvigorate their reo – how to keep, grow and ensure it prospers. They’ll sit in on several classes here at Te Puna Wānaka to see what we do,” Tawa said.

Over the course of two weeks the group will learn more about Māori history and traditions as well as experience performing arts, hangi and noho marae – and explore the Waitaha (Canterbury) region.

Heperi Harris, Kaiārahi Kaupapa Māori Lead – Academic, explained the importance of indigenous study exchanges. “These exchanges help us build cross-cultural bridges and vibrant partnerships with other indigenous peoples. We’ll share our traditions, customs, languages, and ways of life, which helps to strengthen and preserve these important aspects of our unique cultures,” he said.

“We hope the connections and relationships created through these exchanges can help to strengthen our respective indigenous cultures and communities, promote solidarity and cooperation and provide support when addressing common challenges and issues,” he concluded.

Beth Knowles, Ara’s Director – International, said the two exchanges support the International Education Strategy of Te Pūkenga and aim improve relationships with the world.

“We have a unique bicultural nation. We want to share that with others and we want the opportunity to experience theirs. By doing so we’ll equip ākonga from around the globe with indigenous knowledge, and the skills and cultural competence needed to succeed anywhere in the world,” she said.

A second group of ākonga arrive mid-April from Appalachian State University (ASU), a visit made possible by funding provided by the United States Embassy in Aotearoa.