Celebrating Indigenous Success: Hikawai Te Nahu’s Journey from Kura Kaupapa to Academic Excellence

Celebrating Indigenous Success: Hikawai Te Nahu's Journey from Kura Kaupapa to Academic Excellence

Hikawai Te Nahu, hailing from Rotorua and deeply connected to Te Āo Māori, embarked on a transformative journey when he moved to the University of Auckland’s Waipapa Taumata Rau campus in 2019. Now, after years of dedication, he has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in arts and science, representing not only his academic achievements but also his commitment to Māori culture and environmental stewardship. Celebrating Indigenous Success: Hikawai Te Nahu’s Journey from Kura Kaupapa to Academic Excellence

Celebrating Indigenous Success: Hikawai Te Nahu's Journey from Kura Kaupapa to Academic Excellence

With a lineage spanning several iwi (tribes), including Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Porou, Rongomaiwahine, Te Aitanga ā Hauiti, and Ngāti Te Whatuiāpiti, Hikawai’s educational journey has been deeply rooted in his cultural heritage. During his studies, he focused on rangatiratanga (leadership) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of Aotearoa New Zealand’s freshwater systems, merging his interests in Māori Studies and Environmental Science.

“The core of our curriculum is the health and well-being of the student, their wairua (spirit), and their identity,” Hikawai explained. “This is how success is made – everything else comes second.”

His commitment to his culture is evident in his multifaceted roles, ranging from reo (language) teacher and tikanga (values) adviser at the University to his involvement with Te Arawa Lakes Trust, where he works to enhance the region’s freshwater systems.

Hikawai is not only an academic but also an internationally recognized kaihaka (performer). He achieved second place at Te Matatini 2023, the world’s largest Indigenous performing arts festival, tying with Te Kapa Haka o Ngāti Whakaue. Additionally, he secured victory at the Te Arawa Regionals in March 2024. His dedication to haka and Māori culture earned him the 2023 University of Auckland’s Blues Awards in the Culture category.

Despite challenges, Hikawai attributes his successes to his upbringing in kura kaupapa Māori Aho Matua. “Kura kids are equipped from an early age to understand the value of our identity,” he explained. “Our physical, academic, and spiritual skills are all nurtured. So, when we venture off into the world, we never lose sight of our ahurea, our whakapapa, and our tuakiritanga – this keeps us well grounded, giving us a strong foundation to withstand life’s challenges.”

Reflecting on his university experience, Hikawai noted the contrast in learning approaches and the absence of relationship-building within a Western institution. He recalls his experience of learning te reo Māori through a Western framework, which felt disconnected from his cultural roots.

“This experience marked the beginning of a journey during which he started to explore the advantages of a Māori education system,” he said. Throughout his studies, Hikawai aimed to offer a perspective that enriched te ao Māori learning, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing and being.

“Mātauranga Māori partnered with Western methods of science can create actionable solutions that are important to Māori,” he emphasized. “But the more I dove into my studies, the more it affirmed what Māori have known for generations.”

Hikawai’s journey from kura kaupapa to academic excellence serves as an inspiration, highlighting the importance of cultural identity and indigenous knowledge in education. As he looks towards the future, Hikawai remains dedicated to addressing pressing issues such as climate change and freshwater management, combining his passion for Mātauranga Māori with Western scientific approaches to create actionable solutions for his community and beyond.

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Source: https://nit.com.au/10-05-2024/11309/cultural-preservation-and-environmental-advocacy

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