Te Toka Whakaea: Co-governance Education in Aotearoa-New Zealand
An interface of settler colonial governance relationships with Indigenous peoples is never neutral. Nations subjected to the expansion of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries continue to respond to ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism that persist in the design and delivery of public and private services. These are a dynamic form of politics that are relational, structural and always in flux. Debates are on-going about the recognition of Indigenous authority and self-determination and shifts towards collaborative and integrated decision-making with settler institutions. Adaptive governance approaches have strengthened the basis of potential power-sharing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples over areas of common concern, especially during times of environmental, social, and economic crises.
In Aotearoa Te Tiriti o Waitangi – a political power-sharing agreement between Māori chiefs and the British Crown – has long been advocated for as a vessel to mitigate and disrupt the intergenerational negative impacts of colonisation. Te Tiriti is positioned as a foundational agreement that holds the potential to (re)create politically, culturally and economically just relations that are mutually beneficial and reinforcing for Māori and settler groups. Based on the foundations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, “co-governance” is currently being framed as a way to interrupt asymmetrical power relations, and restore relational and structural justice between Māori and non-Māori. However, public questions and debates remain about how Te Tiriti-based co-governance is conceptualised and put into practice.
I suggest co-governance is an expression of relational power-sharing, and therefore a distinguishing feature of political theory in settler colonised lands. Co-governance can be described as a set of situated theories and practices that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people draw on in order to (re)negotiate, implement, and test their relational and structural capacities and capabilities. It is a profoundly adaptive way of addressing complex relational and structural questions of concern.
My research explores why and how a Te Tiriti-based co-governance secondary school is organised and to what effect. I use a case study method to explore the “why, what, and how” of a co-governance approach in Western Springs College - Ngā Puna o Waiōrea. This setting was the first secondary school in Aotearoa with a Te Tiriti o Waitangi co-governance and co-curricular arrangement. Based on the diverse narratives of Māori and non-Māori educational leaders, teachers and families this study inquires into the expected and unexpected obstructions, tensions, and positive potential that can arise when two forms of authority are conceptualised and imperfectly put into practice. I examine the systemic and relational conditions required to create and sustain and change these relations. I discuss what a potential vision of Te Tiriti-honouring co-governance could “look and feel like” in similar educational settings.
My research applies four related ontological and epistemological bodies of theory and practice to guide my qualitative interpretative approach: 1. Indigenisation; 2. settler-colonial change; 3. institutional change and praxis; and 4. relational justice. This study contributes to knowledge and experience on why and how adaptive and shared-governance formations, of which co-governance is apart, can challenge asymmetrical power relations between individuals and groups. It illustrates creative responses to the ongoing impacts of colonialism and racism, and the search to develop – albeit imperfect – relations that are autonomous and partnered between Indigenous and settler groups and institutions. This research is significant because it extends why and how Te Tiriti o Waitangi-based leadership theory is contemplated and put into practice in education.