Ali Leota, ACE Aotearoa Hui Fono Coordinator

Today I was in a room in Alexandra, Central Otago with a group of local adult educators sitting in a circle around a kava bowl. This seems normal until you see that one of the attendees in the circle is a large TV with a webcam perched below it. Sadly, the matāpule of our kava circle, Dr Edmond Fehoko, was unable to attend due to the current Covid-19 alert levels in Auckland. After a year of canceled workshops, we decided we would try the hybrid-model, learners in the room together with the facilitator attending virtually.

When we asked Dr Fehoko if we could try this approach he replied, “yes, and this is possibly the first time this has been done with a kava circle – ever!” Our new learning and teaching environment leads us to facilitate traditional practices using modern tools. Our matāpule virtual while I am there with the group helping to prepare the kava and follow the guidance of Dr Fehoko.

Following this workshop, we start our second workshop on the sacred space, vā. Once again, our facilitator, Aiono Manu Fa’aea, is digitally joining us to lead the session. Another session where it feels like the facilitator is in the room with us through their skills and approach. This workshop involved the real life “breakout rooms” which include the traditional medium of flip chart paper and felt tip pens. This live demonstration of le vā once again modeled how digital technology can be used to support local learning. It actually felt like Edmond and Aiono were physically there with us as they had superbly captivated the audience and allowed for a free-flowing reciprocal learning experience.

It has been a bit of a journey to deliver this hybrid-model approach – which is entirely in response to the current education environment we find ourselves in. Since Hui Fono’s inception in 2008, this year was the first to ever be cancelled. Though it was one of the hardest decisions to make, it did however open the opportunity to be versatile and adapt.

Rather than bringing Māori and Pacific educators together, this year ACE Aotearoa took Hui Fono to the people, inviting the wider ACE network to experience a taste of Hui Fono.

And more importantly it gave communities who have the least amount of access to professional development an opportunity to build their cultural capabilities.

So, over the course of the year, we were able to take a slice of the planned Hui Fono 2021 programme to communities from the Far North to Central Otago. Initially there were eight scheduled Hui Fono Regional workshops to take place in Kaitaia (twice), Napier, New Plymouth, Hastings, Christchurch, Oamaru and Alexandra. The impacts of Covid-19 limited the Hui Fono delivery to only four in-person workshops. So, another first for Hui Fono, the regional workshops went virtual on three occasions to continue the Hui Fono spirit.

We have delivered Hui Fono Regional Workshops based on four topics:

Cook Islands Pedagogy – Learning through Ura
Te Hau Winitana
Te Hau Winitana is a performing artist, dance teacher and choreographer of Pacific dance based in Lower Hutt. Her workshop is founded on ancestral knowledge that connects back to Polynesia, contributing to building a body of knowledge for participants to explore the art of ura.

Weaving cultural practices to understand western frameworks: A community perspective
Dr. Edmond Fehoko
Dr. Edmond Fehoko, is an award-winning educator across tertiary education and a local Tongan community leader based in Auckland. His workshop weaves the Tongan cultural practices of faikava and kakala to help communities reframe narratives to better understand and navigate western frameworks.

Aiono Manu Fa’aea
Aiono Manu Fa’aea is a practising ethnomusicologist, educator, and a champion of life-long learning. Her workshop on the cultural concept of vā allowed participants to critically think of vā or relational space to convey how we connect and nurture relationships.

The Land. The Sea. The People. Civics Education (through a Pacific Lens)
Peter Foaese and Melissa Lama
This workshop is designed for adult educators working with learners in the civics education space. Peter and Melissa helped explore the concept of citizenship, from individual, local, and global identities. How do we participate? What informs our participation? How do we participate in civics education, in Aotearoa?

Despite numerous challenges the Hui Fono regional workshops attracted over 200 people from across the country.

Each of the facilitators for these workshops supported individuals and communities to not just learn new cultural concepts, but to learn how to apply their learning in their communities.

In their feedback, many of the participants said that each workshop exceeded their expectations: they had learned the value and impact of cultural practices in learning spaces – and that these same practices can mobilise and build communities.

Debbie Grundy (Central Otago REAP) shared her hopes to apply what she had learned about vā, kakala and ura – in the classroom and with learners across the community.

Natasha Jeffery (Wesley College) said she was “inspired by the cultural knowledge and practices she learned about, and that it reminded her to embrace her own students’ cultures in the classroom as a way to carry and celebrate their educational success.”

Te Hau Winitana said that it was her “responsibility as an artist to share the ethos and epistemology of ura with someone else,” as this has shaped who she is as a community educator.

Workshop facilitator Dr. Edmond Fehoko felt the Hui Fono Regional workshops “allowed individuals and organisations to understand cultural and traditional methods of engaging with Pacific peoples.” For him it also “demonstrated that such cultural practices and methods can enable people to feel culturally competent to engage with communities.”

From Dr. Edmond Fehoko to Aiono Manu Fa’aea to Te Hau Winitana to Peter Foaese and Melissa Lama – they each encouraged workshop participants to be intentional in creating and maintaining safe spaces to allow learners to grow and be innovative.

From the heartbreak of cancelling Hui Fono 2021 to navigating new territory that was unfortunately interrupted by Covid-19, to finishing the year strongly in Alexandra, Hui Fono 2021 has been a learning journey in itself.

We are now excited to bring Hui Fono Regional workshops back next year with a bit more hui to help communities across Aotearoa continue to build their cultural capabilities.

Over the last 14 years Hui Fono has been a powerhouse for Adult and Community Education. It is one of the few opportunities where Māori and Pacific educators can come together as one to be fully immersed in an environment that celebrates their learning and teaching practices.

Māori and Pacific ACE Professional Development Hui Fono

Nā Hauiti Hakopa.

Hui Fono is a space and philosophy underpinned by our connectedness to our families, communities and to our culture. It is a sacred space where both Māori and Pasifika experience a sense of belonging and connectedness to the elements that make up their culture; it is a philosophy underpinned by shared values, cultural knowledge and mutual respect. It imbues confidence in identity, courage in practice and cultural competence and awareness that will encourage and inspire Māori and Pasifika to affect change in the communities they work with.

Hui Fono is a sacred space imbued and protected by ritual (tikanga). In this regard, the role of Tāngata Whenua (people of the land) is explicit; they instill the Hui Fono space with rituals including pōhiri (traditional welcome), karakia (traditional incantation), whaikōrero (speech making) and poroporoaki (traditional farewell). It is the framework of these rituals that create a culturally safe and warm space for Māori and Pasifika to Hui and Fono. This allows for whanaungatanga (development of relationships) to take place.

The most important facet of Hui Fono is whanaungatanga; it strengthens everything about who we are. Whanaungatanga occurs on three different levels at Hui Fono: first, in terms of professional development, whanaungatanga is about networking with other professionals and knowledgeable people in your field; second, in terms of cultural development, whanaungatanga is about finding connections with your own culture and; third, in terms of cultural awareness, whanaungatanga is about making the connection and engagement to each other’s culture.