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Māori teachers who fought school over te reo honorifics laud Education Ministry's support

Two Māori educators who fought for the right to use te reo honorifics say their victory is "a win for the whole of Aotearoa".

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Arihi Raiha Hutana and Rangi Mitchell say they were shocked and surprised, but pleased the Ministry of Education has shifted its stance. Source: Breakfast

Last month, Breakfast talked to Hawke's Bay student teachers Arihi Raiha Hutana and Rangi Mitchell, who during their school placements were both told they could not use the Māori titles matua and whaea in the classroom.

The direct translation of the titles mean uncle and aunty, however they also have a greater significance and are a mark of respect to their culture and heritage.

The pair were instead left with two options — to change their titles to Mr and Mrs or leave to train at a different school.

However, in a statement to 1 NEWS yesterday, the Ministry of Education's deputy secretary of education system policy Andrea Schöllmann said Māori now have a right to use matua and whaea titles.

"The Education & Training Act 2020 requires schools to be good employers, provide a physically and emotionally safe space for students and staff and to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi," she said.

"We would expect that to meet these obligations schools would embrace Te Reo Māori in the classroom and allow teachers to use matua and whaea titles."

This morning on Breakfast, Hutana and Mitchell said they were surprised but pleased with the outcome.

"For Arihi and myself, it wasn't about us, so it's a win for the whole of Aotearoa, it's a win for Te Reo Māori, it's a win for us as a whole," Mitchell said.

"For myself it's important because it connects us to our tūpuna. It's who we are.

"To be called matua and whaea, it just normalises it. It's to bring us up on the same level with every other teacher and it just feels right to be called matua because of my whakapapa instead of Mr Mitchell.

"It's brings us up on that level with Mr and Mrs and all the other titles that can be used and are used in schools.

"As Māori trying to get ahead in life, we want to be on the same path as other teachers at other schools."

Hutana added that while she was "astounded" to hear yesterday's news of a turnaround, it was "definitely the beginning of a win".

They'd heard nothing back from the school who barred them from using the titles since the policy change.

"When we were in office that day getting told that there was no way that we were going to be called matau and whaea and then for them to completely change that, that was a surprise to me because we had to go through all of that for them to finally change what their policy is at their school," Hutana said.

"To be told, 'It will never happen,' and then for this to come out the way it had, yeah, I'm absolutely surprised. I'm shocked, but in the best way ever."