Taking Te Reo from the Coast to the South



Māori language educationalist Arni Wainui’s first reaction when she heard she had been named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit on Queens Birthday for Services to the Māori Language was “who is responsible for putting my name forward?” 

“It was a surprise to be honoured. I just did the work that needed to be done and didn’t expect any recognition for it.” 

Arni was instrumental in revitalising the language and establishing the first kura kaupapa Māori in Southland. Te Wharekura o Arowhenua started out at Murihiku marae in 1990 and gained legal status in 1992. Arni served as the Principal for twenty years before stepping down in 2017. It was the current Principal at Te Wharekura o Arowhenua, Gary Davis who put her name forward for Honours. 

“Arni has been a great mentor to me and I thought it was time that her commitment to education, to Southland and to the country was acknowledged. The local rūnaka and other organisations also supported the application for honours. She has been at the forefront of Māori education down here and she made huge sacrifices spending time away from her whānau while teaching and running this school. It has been a lifelong commitment. She loves this kura, teaching and the students. Having her still with us as a specialist teacher and on hand advisor has been great,” says Gary. 

Born in Waipiro Bay 78 years ago and schooled at Whangaparaoa Native School, Arni was raised for the first 11 years of her life by her grandmother and grand aunts where she was immersed in te reo Māori and tikanga Māori. 

“When we were at primary school we spoke Māori all the time and it didn’t seem to be an issue. I wasnt strapped for it. Many of the Pākeha people in the area spoke Māori too. It was just the norm.” 

“I had bad asthma as a child and I wouldn’t have been able to handle the daily travel to the local high school in Te Kaha because of the dusty roads so my mother sent me to Hukarere Native School for Girls in Napier.” 

“It was the first time I came across other Māori, from other iwi. I thought everyone was Whānau a Apanui or Ngāti Porou! It was an eye opener for me to meet and live with other people not from my tribe. Boarding school life helped me become independent. Our Māori teacher at the time was Anita Moke and I’d have lots of debates with her about Māori words and phrases not realising that actually, there were lots of dialects.” 

Arni wasnt sure what she wanted to do when she left Hukarere – and in those days girls were often sent nursing or teaching - so Arni went to Dunedin to train as a nurse. However nursing wasnt for her so she went to work at Woolworths for about six months. She became involved with some of the local students and that made her decide to apply for teaching and she ended up at Ardmore Teachers’ Training College in Auckland. 

“I married Sam Wainui from Mangatū in 1965. That year we went to Southland for a holiday and never came back. Sam was a shearer and I was a relief teacher inbetween having our children. We have five children and currently 15 mokopuna.” 

Her teaching career also includes being an itinerant teacher of Māori promoting and encouraging the introduction of Māori in mainstream primary schools in the 1970’s, a secondary school teacher, Tūmuaki for Te Rūnanga Nui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori o Aotearoa and a commissioner as well as working in career development. Arni is also a Justice of the Peace and an Archdeacon for Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa. Two Māori eductionalists who influenced her were the late Whare Te Moana and Monty Ohia who were both Māori Advisors in education and travelled around the country to support Māori teachers. 

“It was the excitement and the challenge of creating an educational te reo Māori option that made us decide to set up a kura kaupapa Māori. I had taken a year off teaching to attend a bilingual course in the Waikato and there I witnessed first hand kura kaupapa Māori in action.” 

Arni and others Māori kept their children out of mainstream education and set up their own kura at Murihiku Marae with support from kaumātua including George Te Au and Robert Whaitiri. Arni’s sister – also fluent in te reo Māori became their first teacher as well as the bus driver. 

“My other four oldest children were grown up and my youngest was four at the time. I wanted her to be educated in the language. It was a big challenge. People kept shifting the goals post for us in our development. Some of it was a lot of nonsense and there were objections. For example some said that a kura kaupapa Māori would become a breeding place for the gangs,” says Arni. 

“Kura kaupapa Māori was established by Māori education leaders in the early days, who did the research and held wānanga to develop the Te Aho Matua philosophy. People like the late Dr Katarina Mataira. Our philosophy is now legislated and over the years we have built a great advocacy and support network for kura kaupapa Māori. I didnt set up Arowhenua on my own. There were many of us involved. Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini. We just wanted a better way to educate our kids – an educational option by Māori and for Māori.” 

Te Wharekura o Arowhenua is a state funded composite kura kaupapa Māori based in Invercargill. 

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