Inspired by New Zealand’s approach to cultural diversity

A week ago I gave the keynote speech on the opening day of New Zealand’s national music education MENZA conference. I’ll write more about what I shared in a podcast later this year but I wanted to share a quick thought in a blog this morning.

Duncan Ferguson
Duncan Ferguson giving the day 3 keynote at the MENZA conference

Before the keynote they were the usual opening bits and bobs that you get it every conference. In Australian conferences we should always acknowledge the traditional (Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander) owners of the land on which we meet, something I’ve noticed we’re getting better at over the last decade. Personally speaking, I also acknowledge country at the start of every Unit of Study that I teach at the University of Sydney.

But in New Zealand they go so much deeper. Every single talk that I attended began with a friendly “kia ora”, and then an introduction to the session entirely in te reo Māori. It just seemed such a warm, inclusive and respectful way to begin a class.

When I mentioned this to my Kiwi colleagues they replied “oh, but we are not so good. We still have so much to fix for the Maori people”. And I think that’s part of it too. Having raised the bar to demand knowledge, understanding and respect from our leaders (and in case you don’t realise it, educators are leaders of their communities), there is now a shared ownership of the issues. Shared responsibility, too. People care because they have a stake in it.

What what a great model for Australia. We could start by taking all of the best bits of their treaty and adding our own Australian flavour. We could look how it is expressed in education and nurture a generation of Australians empowered to care and actually enact change.

I’m going to look for ways I can make this happen with my pre-service music education students.

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