Reflections on Matariki and Indigenous Models of Social Work

Kia ora, ngā mihi ki a koutou


Over recent weeks Matariki was celebrated in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Association has produced a short film that celebrates Matariki while reflecting on the development of indigenous models of social work practice and the experience of Tangata Whenua members over their careers. We have tried to present an honest, critically-minded kōrero about the problems of the past which feed into the present, such as colonisation, institutional racism and pākehā domination of the sector, while also acknowledging the progress that has been achieved.

We are also pleased to share a written piece by ANZASW Life Member, Emma Webber-Dreadon showcasing her reflections on Matariki and some additional commentary by Dr Leland Ruwhiu and Kuia Miriama Scott, also ANZASW members.

The Social Work World of Matariki
by Emma Webber-Dreadon

Matariki, is a star cluster also known as Pleiades, and for Māori, it foretells the ‘coming’ of the season’s crops.

In my Māori world, Matariki indicates the beginning of a ‘new year’, and it is with optimism, that I see the promise of a valuable and productive year, with the advancement of knowledge in social work to promote Māori excellence in social work development.

As Māori, we need to consider Māori frameworks within social work as having common themes influenced by Māori values, Māori philosophies and Māori aspirations.  These starting points are from Māori cultural theories and paradigms, supported by Māori cultural traditions that our tipuna have passed down to us, and Matariki is just one of those many gifts handed down through time, by our tipuna.

In considering Māori social work development, we must align them with a Māori worldview, that shifts the focus from the past to the present, to the future.   But to progress this, there is a need to capture and recognize the value of kaupapa Māori advancement.  With the resurgence of Māori language and having a heightening knowledge of one’s own self and tribal identity are important for Māori social workers, and for the people we serve as social workers.  But, while this work may well be undertaken for philosophical reasons, there is also an obligation to move from ‘theory to applied practice’, if we as Māori want to positively shape our destiny, and that of those we serve.  Māori worldviews reveal many traditional values and concepts that can be translated into practical tools for social workers, when working with those we serve.  It is these that will ensure positive development if Māori social workers’ potentials are to be realised.

However, the process of looking forward to provide for the future, involves the righting of past injustices, and having visionary aspirations, if we are to progress forward, but, there is a continued lack of insight into our Māori world, Māori systems, Māori aspirations, Māori philosophies and Māori processes by Pakeha, who continue to think that Māori philosophies cannot change social issues and problems, but how we solve that and why, is the question, as there has not been a lot of change within the social work world for Māori and Māori social workers, in my social work experience of 50 years.

Matariki – Social Work Role Reflections:

Here, I will reflect on the roles of Matariki and her daughters and their roles within a social work world.

Firstly, Matariki is the mother of six daughters.  Her role is to do what all ‘loving mothers’ should do – (kaitiakitanga) watch over, guide, supervise, support, help and encourage the children to do the best that they can do.

In the social work world, Matariki is a mother of all mothers

Each year, Matariki and her daughters’ journey across Ranginui (sky father) to visit their great grandmother, Papatūānuku (Mother Earth).  During their visit, each star assists Papatūānuku to prepare for the year to come, using their own unique abilities to bring the ‘mauri’ or a life force energy to her different worlds.  Each time they spend time with their kuia, they also learn additional skills and gain new wisdom and knowledge from her, which they protect and then eventually pass it on to others.

Tupu-ā-nuku, is the eldest daughter of Matariki and she spends her time with Papatūānuku, taking care of the plants.  Her role is to make sure that the plants have everything they needed to grow big and strong, so that they could produce kai (food), rongoā (medicine), and kākahu (clothing materials).

In the social work world, when we see her shining, we are reminded that we all have our own special time, space and place, so that we can grow our own pūkenga (strengths), to support our whānau, hapū, iwi, and those we serve as social workers.

Tupu-ā-rangi, loves to sing.  Her Grandmother takes her to the forest of Tāne Mahuta (God of the forest) to sing for him and all his children.  Her beautiful voice revitalizes the forest and all the creatures within, especially the manu (birds), and they share their waiata (song), which fills the world with joy.

In the social work world, Tupu-ā-rangi learns and shares these songs to bring about joy to the world, and we learn from her, the importance of sharing our gifts with others and appreciating those that are shared with us.

 Waipunarangi, and her grandmother, Papatūānuku journey to the waters of the oceans, lakes and rivers, where she prepares the children of Tangaroa (god of the sea), to feed the people.   Papatūānuku teaches her about the raindrops from Ranginui (Sky Father) and how to collect it, to provide drinking water for the people, animals and plants.  She also teaches her, how the water is turned to vapor by the heat of Tama-nui-te-rā (the sun), into the clouds, so that it may rain again.

In the social work world, Waipunarangi knows that if you give kindness to others, it will be returned.

Waitī and Waitā, are Matariki’s twins.  Papatūānuku knew that they would be able to look after and nurture the smallest and fastest of creatures – because they knew about ‘being a team’.  When insects work together, they can do amazing things.  Bee’s for example, pollinate all the flowers, so that the plants can grow, and we have air to breathe.  Ants build tunnels underneath the ground and carry many times their body weight doing this.

In the social work world
, when we see Waitī and Waitā in the sky, we are encouraged to join in and always give support to each other.

Ururangi, (the youngest) loves racing all her sisters to get to her kuia Papatūānuku first.  She likes to claim the best spot on her grandmother’s lap and wraps herself in her arms.  Her determination and excitement, along with the awhi (hug) and her aroha (love), helps Papatūānuku to get into a more pleasurable mood, after the cold and darkness of takurua (winter), and to help prepare, her mokopuna (grandchildren) for their return journey.

In a social work world, Ururangi reminds us that having determination, and a positive attitude, is the key to success.

‘Matariki, in a modern and social work time, reminds us of the ‘cycle of life’ and the ‘passing of time’, to reflect on the past and learn from it, to move on into the future with more learned knowledge to provide ‘best practice’ to those that we serve as social workers.

Miriama Scott

This time always reminds of me of when we all stood on the beach at Porangahau and karanga to Matariki, as the small cluster stars rose gracefully above the horizon ahead of Tamanuiterā,, symbolising the time of remembrance, fertility and celebration.

The remembrance is not only of those who have passed but the richness of taonga tuku iho such as the practice of manaakitanga reflected most specifically in the poukai marae of the Kīngitanga. This concept and others are integral to the practices of tangata whenua, social work in content but not in name.

Fertility is about growing and learning from the past, remembering such documents as Puao-te-Ata-tu and the struggles we continually have to ensure fiscal and organisational management do not stunt the potential to grow and expand the knowledge and practices of the tipuna.

The celebration is that the rays of Sun warm the IFSW Global Definition of Social Work; grow the persistence of indigenous knowledges and give strength to tangata whenua social work practitioners who continue to progress frameworks and practices that emanate from the past but forge the future, despite perceptions of relevancy and application. Mauriora!

Reflections on some of the themes in the film:

Dr Leland Ruwhiu

“While you’ve indeed captured candidly reflections of our profession by Māori in Aotearoa . . . Probably what was missing for me were sights into the struggles, battles and successes we’ve had, in validating our voice within this profession. We don’t need anyone to give us permission to contribute . . . That is our right as Māori to engage as tangata whenua in this space, especially when it comes to working effectively with tamariki/mokopuna Māori and their whānau. But I also realise that you can’t put everything into this production.”