Te Akatoki Tumuaki resignation from UCSA reveals “underpaid” and “undervalued” Māori student representatives nationwide.
The Tumuaki of Te Akatoki Māori Students Association, Rosa Hibbert-Schooner, has resigned from her ex-officio position on the University of Canterbury Student Associations (UCSA).
In an open letter published on social media on April 27th, Rosa points to the lack of remuneration and institutionalised racism as the reasons for resigning. No other Te Akatoki representative will fill the ex-officio role on UCSA until action is taken to remunerate the role equally to the other roles.
According to Te Akatoki, undervaluing Māori student voices and honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a “national issue”. A challenge is put out to student associations across Aotearoa, to reevaluate their partnerships with Māori student associations and treaty obligations.
The letter draws attention to Māori student leaders across the country who are asked to do extra work for their general student association, support Māori students as well as hold the full mantle of the Tumuaki role for far less pay than their general association counterpart. According to Rosa, the value of Māori in these academic institutions are constantly tokenised.
“We are the ones asked to correct cultural practices and asked for last minute ‘cultural performances’. We are the poster children for the apparent ‘biculturalism’ of your institution”.
As reported by Salient, the UCSA acknowledged their Tiriti o Waitangi obligations and at the request of Te Akatoki, immediately raised the pay for the ex-officio role. UCSA President Kim Fowler said their association “have contacted Kaiarahi for help in setting out a treaty honouring process to understand where the role should be going forward.”
Rosa’s letter garnered widespread social media attention by other Māori students and associations across Aotearoa echoing their support. Some are initiating their own enquiries into equal remuneration.
Te Mana Ākonga (TMĀ), the national Māori student association, believe that general students’ associations “do not understand how hard our tumuaki work.” Tumuaki Takirua (Co-Presidents) Renata White and Nkhaya Paulsen-More recognise that Māori student leaders work tirelessly.
“Tumuaki work holistically after hours, supporting the hauora of our tauira Māori, kanohi kitea, listening to individual issues and providing āwhina when the tertiary sector is not supporting Māori tauira well. They are in positions of equal importance and workload to general association presidents.”
The current funding models undervalue Māori students and fail to support executive members who as a result, provide extensive support to their peers themselves. TMĀ suggested that some Māori student associations only get 4% the funding that larger associations get. The national representatives will be launching a national review into the pay and funding received by Māori student associations. As a part of their campaign, they are currently visiting rōoopū in person to gather stories about institutional racism.
“We recognise racism and funding are intertwined, and look to be releasing our collated data around those issues within the next few months.”
Groups like Te Roopu Māori (TRM) at the University of Otago have heeded the change and have successfully managed to lobby for equal pay for their ex-officio positon on the Otago University Student Association. In solidarity with Te Akatoki, TRM Tumuaki Karamea Pewhairangi expressed that she was “100% behind Rosa Hibbert-Schooner and her bravery”. Speaking to Te Pararē, Karamea said that the issue with Te Akatoki “highlights how undervalued everything that Māori students and Maori in general bring to the table.”
TMĀ recognise the shift in support by general associations in response to issues raised by their Māori student associations and treaty partners, but would like to see these relationships continue to grow.
Turning to Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland University’s Ngā Tauira Māori (NTM) echoed the struggles that Māori student associations go through. Tumuaki Mihiterina Williams shared her support for Te Akatoki and Te Roopū Māori.
“We are in awe of the courage and kaha displayed by our whānau and friends down South. We share the same struggles and they are definitely leading and inspiring movements at other tertiary institutions.”
However, not all Māori student associations face this same problem. At the University of Waikato, the model of representation for Māori on the Waikato Students’ Union (WSU) is different, with a Vice-president Māori role who is an elected member of the WSU and not an ex-officio member.
Current WSU Vice-President Māori, Areta Ranginui Charlton, says the role itself was something Waikato students fought hard for, which has worked well for Māori representation on WSU. The clear benefit of this system is that the Māori representative can dedicate to the one role “rather than pulling from our already overworked rōpū execs for governance roles.”
The Vice-President Māori of WSU receives an honoraria equivalent to the Vice-President. They are elected onto committees within the University of Waikato structure and chair a forum with all the rōpū tumuaki. This forum includes seven faculty affiliated rōpū and one non-affiliated rōpū which is Te Waiora – the Waikato Māori students association.
While the spotlight is on Māori student representation, TMĀ encourages tauira to speak up on inequality they see within their institutions.
“If you feel that your tumuaki deserves to be paid better–voice it. Share your whakaaro on social media, make a fuss at your institutions, hold hui and wānanga with your members, and hold your general students’ associations and institutions accountable for their failures.”
The Tumuaki Takirua have support systems in place and extend their support to legislative change. “We will tautoko you all the way to parliament if that’s what it comes to.”