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  • Meegan Hall

Standing On Principle: Keeping The University on its Tiriti Toes

Words by Meegan Hall | Ngāti Ranginui

A university statute may not strike you as the most exciting topic but our Te Tiriti o Waitangi Statute is pretty unique. Adopted in 2019, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington is the only university to have such a statute. Other universities may have branded themselves as Tiriti-led but here, we have used our highest form of policy document to hold ourselves to account. But what is a Te Tiriti o Waitangi Statute, and what difference does it make?

Our Tiriti Statute is short, and relatively simple. It draws on concepts from the actual Te Tiriti o Waitangi document, as well as key Waitangi Tribunal reports, other governance documents from the University such as the Strategic Plan and Mai i te Iho ki te Pae—Māori Strategic Outcomes Framework, and from mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge). This culminates in a set of principles that are listed in the statute—but they are not the ‘Crown Principles’ or the ‘3Ps’ so often referred to (and criticised) in other contexts.

Our eight Tiriti principles were selected with a lot of care and consideration for our distinctive university context and purpose. They are: kāwanatanga (good governance), rangatiratanga (self-determination), kōwhiringa (options), mahi tahi (partnership), kaitiakitanga (protection), whai wāhi (participation), rite tahi (equality), and whakaoranga (redress). The statute includes an explanation of each concept, and gives examples of how they can apply within our university environment.

According to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori, Professor Rawinia Higgins, “our statute sets high and clear expectations for our entire university community to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi in all aspects of our activity”. Of course, setting expectations is one thing, but a challenge remains around how we can encourage and build capacity within our university community to be able to uphold these principles everywhere and in every way.

One of the ways we are trying to do this is through a Te Tiriti o Waitangi Self-Review process. First undertaken between October 2021-March 2022, our Self-Review was essentially a ‘gap analysis’ of what the university was and wasn’t doing to support Māori student and staff success. The Self-Review team looked at university documentation and systems, held interviews and focus groups, and conducted a survey to find out how well we were tracking against giving effect to each of the eight Tiriti principles in our statute.

While a huge amount of Tiriti-related activity was identified and collated in an online Te Tiriti o Waitangi Guide, the Self-Review report identified 32 recommendations for improvement. Since then, work has been underway to plug those gaps, make those changes, and raise the standards of our practice to be more Tiriti compliant.

The recommendations have led to a raft of activities, including the University’s Council and senior leaders engaging in Tiriti training, and more reo Māori training being available for staff. They have also led to changes in our processes—for example, Māori panelists have been added to our Academic Programme Reviews process, and a host of university policies now include specific references that align our practice with our Tiriti principles.

Another of the actions coming out of the Self-Review was the creation of the Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI). Designed to tackle structural and interpersonal racism within the University, the ARI team has been busy drafting anti-racism statements, reviewing policies and complaints processes, and our Student Leaders have developed and hosted BIPOC student wānanga about their lived experiences of racism and ideas for moving the institution towards anti-racism.

The ARI project is ongoing, as is the rest of the implementation of the Tiriti Self-Review recommendations, so keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to support and contribute to this important mahi as we keep the University ‘on its toes’ and continue to embed Te Tiriti o Waitangi into our university practices and community.


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