Hui Fono 2018

By Chanel Philips (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine), University of Otago
Hui Fono is a professional development space by and for Māori and Pasifika adult educators.

This year the event was held in late Huitanguru (February) at the Korou Kore Marae in Ahipara Te Taitokerau, Northland.

One of the long serving members of Hui Fono said ‘make do, won’t do anymore’: Education sector underperformance for Māori and Pasifika is not acceptable. Hui Fono was started as one way of addressing this and 11 years later continues to decolonise concepts of education, and (this year’s theme), rethink the learning space.

The Hui Fono is unique because it provides essential refuge and exclusive access for Māori and Pasifika educators and staff working in tertiary and community education. Intentionally designed, Hui Fono is centred on improving learning for Māori and Pasifika learners, by lifting the capability of the biggest reach that currently exists into Māori and Pasifika communities – families, organisations/providers and educators.

Annalise Robertson the Professional Development and Networks Manager for ACE Aotearoa says: “Participants don’t just attend Hui Fono, they live and go home to it. When our traditional and youth leaders attend, our instinct tells us that they will be the transformers when they get home. Aside from the profession, Māori and Pasifika Hui Fono 2018 By Chanel Philips (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine), University of Otago inherently have a personal relationship that can often empathise with a learner experience. What makes this environment so powerful is that many who attend are reaching from the heart and soul, determined to make a difference.

“The event is building a growing ground-swell within the Māori and Pasifika workforce. Participants come from both formal and informal contexts. There is now increased engagement with academics and youth. Since it began over 1000 participants nationwide have benefited from this professional development experience.”


The theme for Hui Fono 2018 was Te Ao Mātauranga, Our World, Our Wisdom. Ana Heremaia and Ruby Watson from  KAU, a design and architectural organisation in Kaikohe, set the scene by facilitating our discussion, using an old photo of wāhine Māori weaving – with children beside them. They encouraged us to see the different learning that was taking place in this image – observational, practical, hands on, intergenerational, traditional, local – contextualised to the world around them.

We explored what makes an effective learning space and how these have changed in recent years – increasingly becoming flexible and networked, bringing together formal and informal activities in a seamless environment that acknowledges that learning can occur any place, at any time.

Ana and Ruby drew on experiences that demonstrate that design is a process, not a product, involving all stakeholders – particularly learners.

We learned about applying the principle of ako and a strong learner-centric philosophy involving mutual respect and emphasising interchangeable roles, shared learning and embedded literacy.

Keynote Speakers

Hekenukumai Busby
Hekenukumai, known as Hec, is a master waka carver, a tribal leader and an authority on Polynesian and Māori celestial navigation. He’s crafted more than 30 waka, and was awarded an MBE in recognition of his role in the revival of ocean voyaging and navigation using traditional Polynesian double-hull canoes. From humble beginnings in the Far North, Hec was inspired to build waka after a childhood visit to Waitangi. At 84 years of age, he’s the subject of a new book by Jeff Evans, called Heke-nuku-mai-nga-iwi Busby: Not Here by Chance.

Our place of learning was Hec’s home in Aurere, an inspirational and spiritual place in itself. The kōrero took place within a great star compass that he has built, using the traditional navigation systems that allowed Māori and Pasifika to undertake great journeys of exploration across the Pacific. Hec told us that love and passion have been the doorway into his work: love for his people and the land and passion to reclaim what has been lost. He spoke of vibrations – the feelings and energy people put out, and what draws others in. It was through feeling such connection that he was gifted with, and taught the traditional knowledge that set him on his pathway.

His message to us was – you are not here by chance. Māori did not drift to Aotearoa as the sceptics suggest, they arrived here through careful navigation and a deep and intimate connection with the natural world around them – reading the ocean and measuring the stars. His also told us – you are here for a reason. You are on a mission. So we understood that each one of us at Hui Fono has a special purpose, one that we might not yet fully realise.

Apulu Mary Autagavaia
Mary Autagavaia is the founder and one of the lead facilitators for the Aganu’u Fa’asamoa 101 programme delivered by the Epiphany Trust. Mary has developed a way of delivering ACE that is turning learners into trainers and highly efficient marketers. Along with Michael Tanoa’i, Mary established Aganu’u Fa’asamoa 101 to make learning the Sāmoan culture accessible. They have delivered across New Zealand, Australia, and most recently in America. They are currently building augmented (technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world) and virtual reality (computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person) content to enhance the delivery and access for their learners.

Mary’s kōrero was about reconnecting Pasifika with their culture and language – the importance of doing this, and what it means to people. The work that she and her small team have done proves that just a few incredible people can make significant changes to many lives. They were funded to provide education to 400 people in two years. In fact they provided it for 3000! Mary spoke about the use of technology in her work, and how by using social media and videoing Aganu’u Fa’asamoa 101 has reached people from as far away as Alaska and Samoan rugby players working in France. Samoans in Europe are now asking for her workshops.

The challenge to ACE practitioners, she said, is to embrace technology. She noted that although it may be this freaky thing to begin with, the possibilities it opens are endless. If we want to reach our communities living outside of New Zealand, and appeal to the learning needs of our youth, then technology is key.


A special feature of the programme was a full day haerenga (learning journey) to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga). For that day the bus was transformed into a moving classroom. Local kaumatua became guides, our educators, as they shared the whakapapa and stories of the various areas we drove through and the significance of these places for their people. We learned about the significant places of the hau kāinga, their stories and the messages embedded in those stories.

There was also time out of the bus to get some fresh air and have some fun together. A physical exercise, using a boogy board to slide down steep sand dunes, was about helping people face a challenge, engage in healthy competition, move out of their comfort zone and maybe confront fear. The time at Te Rerenga Wairua was a place for reflection on what has been learned. These are both processes that are intrinsic to effective Māori and Pasifika ACE.

Ako – learning exchange

The Ako learning exchange was an opportunity to teach and learn from the hau kāinga, learning about their wisdom and their world. There were five learning exchanges that participants chose from, reflecting the theme of Our World, Our Wisdom. They were: Rongoā Māori (traditional healing); Moana (ocean) literacy; Tā moko (traditional tattoo); Rāranga (weaving); and Kai Ora Honey.

Each participant chose one workshop to attend and we were taken into the environment where we learned first-hand the knowledge and skills involved in these activities – all valuable pathways for adults learning and empowering communities.

Panel of generations

Peter Jackson and Tessa Temata led the panel discussion where they shared their reflections and perspectives on the theme, Our World, Our Wisdom.

Peter is National Kaumātua and Council Member Māori for Te Rito Maioha, Early Childhood New Zealand. He spoke about the importance of ‘the game of life’ and knowing how to play the financial game. He encouraged ACE practitioners to challenge their learners and their own children to learn about money and how to make money work for them.

Tessa is Deputy Divisional Manager of Pacific Thematic Issues, Pacific and Development group of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade. She challenged us to think beyond New Zealand, and out to the Pacific. She spoke of the different challenges that the Pacific is facing, and that these challenges are happening right now. Tessa reminded us that we are custodians of important wisdom, heritage, culture and integrity. How we take that out to the world is the next step.

The main message of the three days was: We learn best from our taiao, our environment, when learning is contextualised within our own worldview. Learning in a classroom with a teacher talking at you is not always the best way for Māori and Pasifika. When we go to our mountain, or our beach, or onto our marae – that is where our learning flourishes. The Hui Fono was a validation of our learning pathway. Intentional and meaningful.

Article from ACE Aotearoa Autumn Newsletter 2018.