Honouring a culture of care: a spotlight on Whānau Pūkenga

Friday 15 March 2024

For this year's World Social Work Day, we caught up with Whānau Pūkenga who are passionate about keeping tikanga and mātauranga Māori at the heart of social work.

Whānau Pūkenga members: Deacon Fisher, Dr Paul'e Ruwhiu, Ange Watson and Hannah Mooney.

The theme for World Social Work Day 2024 is ‘Buen Vivir: Shared Future for Transformative Change’, which focuses on the importance of social workers embracing innovative, community-driven strategies grounded in indigenous wisdom and a harmonious coexistence with nature.

Describe the team and what it does at Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University

Whānau Pūkenga are the tangata whenua staff within the School of Social Work at Massey who ensure the school is advocating for tangata whenua students, while also supporting the Head of School, facilitating noho marae and building te ao Māori capacity among our colleagues.

Who is in the team?

There are currently four members within the team. Three are completing their PhD studies, one has already completed their PhD, and one member is on six-month leave. The members of Whānau Pūkenga are Ange (Andrea Makere) Watson, Te Āti Awa, Taranaki Tūturu, Ngāti Mutunga, Deacon Fisher, Ngāpuhi, Dr Paul'e Ruwhiu, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou and Hannah Mooney, Ngāti Raukawa ki te tonga, Te Āti Awa, Ngā Rauru, Te Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi, Pākehā.

When was Whānau Pūkenga formed and how does it operate?

There has always been a space for tangata whenua staff to support each other, to be kaitiaki of our tikanga processes and ensure Māori content is correct and being delivered well to our students.

In 1993, a group of Māori academics teaching in the social work programme came together to establish what they called the ‘Whānau Group’. It was a mutual support group that offered leadership and advice to the school regarding Māori content in the curriculum, along with other concerns and needs. The group offered support to, and focused on, the retention of tauira Māori. Key members of the Whānau Group over time included John Bradley, Vapi Kupenga, Rachael Selby, Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata, Dr Leland Ruwhiu, Hayley Bell, Justina Webster and Gail Bosmann-Watene.

Now known as Whānau Pūkenga, the group works as a team and meet regularly with an agenda. While there is a lead person, we do not give thought to anyone being of higher status to anyone else, which fits well with our beliefs of what Whānau Pūkenga is about. There is emphasis on the ‘whānau’ – our tangata Tiriti colleagues know how we work and know that everything goes back to Whānau Pūkenga to discuss first.

How does the team support the integration of Māori perspectives and practices into social work students’ education and fieldwork experiences?

We have a dedicated series of Māori papers throughout the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), as well as integrating the Social Workers Registration Board Core Competence Standard 1 throughout our theoretical papers. We are fortunate to have exemplar tangata Tiriti within our fieldwork education team who work to create space for tangata whenua interests to advance.

Another aspect of both degree programmes, BSW and Master of Applied Social Work (MAppSW), is noho marae, where students get to stay on a marae and sit in the space of te ao Māori. We have grown the number of noho marae offered in both the third year of BSW and in MAppSW. Currently, we offer five noho marae through the year – three in Palmerston North and two in Auckland.

We have an excellent relationship with Rangitāne iwi and have been advocating for our students to go to Te Rangimarie marae when they first arrive to study in the area, and we are building this capacity in Tāmaki Makaurau.

How can social work students incorporate innovative, community-led approaches grounded in Māori wisdom and nature, and how does Whānau Pūkenga support these efforts?

At our noho marae, our students are taught about Te Paa Harakeke as a model and metaphor for working alongside whānau. As a teaching tool, Te Paa Harakeke is grounded in te ao Māori wisdom and learning and comes from te taiao (the natural world). Our students often resonate with Te Paa Harakeke and often contact us when they are out in practice to inform us of how they utilise the model in their social work practice.

We also work to ensure our students are comfortable to go onto a marae, that their experiences are positive and they are experiencing a full experiential stay.

What initiatives has the team undertaken to advance Māori perspectives within the field of social work?

We have been involved in setting up a kaupapa Māori supervision policy in the School of Social Work for tauira Māori out in placements, alongside our field education staff. This provides additional supervision for our tauira Māori by tangata whenua supervisors to discuss issues pertinent to Māori social work practice. While it is not a requirement in social work for Māori social workers to attend kaupapa Māori supervision, there are definite advantages for kaimahi (Māori social workers) in having access to tangata whenua supervisors as their needs are unique.

What role do you see tikanga and mātauranga Māori having in addressing contemporary social issues and challenges in Aotearoa?

The kōrero ‘what is good for Māori is good for everyone’ resonates with this question. We find ourselves in an ever-increasing cost of living crisis (arguably a social rebrand of poverty), our waters continue to be polluted and we are caged in an alien system of justice. As Māori are indigenous to Aotearoa, they hold unique relationships with the whenua in a reciprocal system of balance built over centuries. Although we can only hypothesise, it’s fair to say that the tikanga and mātauranga Māori which guides indigenous social and environmental thought and interaction would resolve a multitude of the current contemporary social issues and challenges, if given the opportunity to flourish once again.

What does the team enjoy most about their role in Whānau Pūkenga?

Paul’e: I really love that we get to ensure that tikanga is adhered to when anyone comes into the folds of our school, whether it’s students, visitors, our Social Work Registration Board or whānau and family of our colleagues. We pay attention to the finer details and we are building the capacity for our colleagues to learn as well.

Deacon: Following in the footsteps of pioneers of indigenous social work, to now belonging to Whānau Pūkenga and adding to our evolving wisdom of tomorrow will always be where I find the greatest enjoyment.

Ange: I am passionate about our tauira Māori and that they are well supported on their journeys within this mainstream tertiary education institution and that we as Māori staff are aiding, supporting and helping them along their study journey. I also love supporting students’ learning in the noho marae environment, which is very different to learning that takes place in a lecture room or online.

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