Italian student delegation chooses Whanganui

Whanganui’s world-leading Te Awa Tupua legislation has inspired a group of Italian high school students to add the region to their New Zealand itinerary.

The 17 and 18-year-old students will travel from five Italian regions, each representing and speaking on behalf of their own rivers. Their aim is to be ‘the face and voice of nature’ to create a dialogue between their respective rivers in Italy and the Whanganui River. The students hope to face the most important environmental challenges of the future by finding innovative solutions to protect nature and further its fundamental relationship with human beings.

The students have chosen Whanganui after experiencing the Te Awa Tupua exhibition of the New Zealand Pavilion at World Expo 2022 in Dubai. The exhibition was an immersive experience guiding visitors towards an understanding of Te Awa Tupua and the relationship Whanganui iwi hold with the river.

The delegation of 10 Italian students and eight support people will arrive in Whanganui on August 29 as part of their international education programme.

The students will begin their journey with a pōwhiri at Kaiwhaiki Marae. This will allow them to see Te Awa Tupua through the eyes of the hapū and iwi whose values and objectives are intrinsic to the purpose of the legislation.

Gerrard Albert, Principal Advisor for Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, said Te Awa Tupua presented innumerable opportunities for the students to broaden their understanding of the innate connection between the natural environment and people, and it was appropriate that their education began with local iwi.

“The Italian students have an extraordinary opportunity to learn from the iwi and hapū whose values are the foundation for Te Awa Tupua. They will feel, first-hand, the inseparability of the people and Awa.”

As they consider the environmental challenges ‘of the future’, the students will have a chance to reflect on the kawa (indigenous law system) that is inherent to Te Awa Tupua.

Following the pōwhiri, the students will participate in a korero to help them understand the relationship between hapū and the Awa, and the overriding importance of all people recognising their connection to the natural world. They will then be taken onto the river for a paddle guided by young iwi leaders and will have the chance to experience that connection themselves.

On the students’ second day, their ‘Digital Exchange Programme for the Rights of Nature’ will begin with a presentation and interactive session led by Ngā Tāngata Tiaki to extend their understanding of Tupua te Kawa, the innate values of Te Awa Tupua.

“This will mean the theme of the exchange can be explored upon a well-rounded foundation of the purpose of Te Awa Tupua,” Albert said.

The students will also visit Whanganui Regional Museum and see the He Ora Awa exhibition to further support their understanding of Te Awa Tupua history, learning that the legislation took the sustained effort of many generations of iwi and hapū to achieve.

The students will also visit the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy and experience kapa haka practice with Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tupoho and Te Kura o Kokohuia. The students’ visit will culminate in a problem-solving ‘hackathon’ alongside student representatives from Whanganui high schools.

The students’ experience of the New Zealand Pavilion exhibition was a good starting point for their education as the exhibition introduced audiences to a perspective where the natural environment was more than simply a resource to be used and managed. Through a te ao Māori lens, visitors were introduced to an understanding of the river as a living ancestor to be treasured and cared for.

They were inspired by the unique nature of Te Awa Tupua legislation, and the re-introduction of a holistic system in which a river – or any natural resource – is afforded the respect, protection and worth of a living being.

Building on their New Zealand Pavilion experience, it is hoped the students will gain an understanding that Te Awa Tupua is not a one-dimensional concept but rather the embodiment of a set of principles that define our interaction with the awa, with the whenua and with each other.

Te Awa Tupua and its defining principles, Tupua Te Kawa, are unique to Whanganui and New Zealand but the legislation shows the importance of honouring indigenous knowledge and putting indigenous values at the forefront of efforts to see communities prosper.

Economic development agency Whanganui & Partners is joining Ngā Tāngata Tiaki in hosting the students and guiding their learning in Whanganui. Chief Executive Hannah Middleton said the fact the students had specifically chosen Whanganui demonstrated the international importance of Te Awa Tupua and the interest this unique legislation had attracted abroad.

“What is happening in Whanganui is significant far beyond our borders. By embracing Te Awa Tupua, Whanganui is not only recognising the importance of the legislation in law; we have an opportunity to demonstrate how communities benefit from the fundamental importance of indigenous knowledge,” Middleton said.

“What we are seeing overseas, at an educational level, is an acknowledgement of indigenous values and the application or introduction of these principals to governance and decision-making. And that process is already happening in practice here in Whanganui – Te Pūwaha is a good example.”

Middleton said Whanganui’s UNESCO City of Design status was another distinction that would help the students gain an appreciation of Whanganui’s strengths.

The students are supported by the Convitto Nazionale ‘Paolo Diacono’ (which incorporates classical, scientific, linguistic and human sciences focused high schools) and the Italian Ministry of Education, which worked with Education New Zealand to bring the students to Aoteroa. Their trip to New Zealand is part of their international Digital Exchange Program, which forms an integral part of the Italian ministerial strategy for internationalisation.

“The Convitto Nazionale Paolo Diacono has a direct connection to UNESCO as a member of the UNESCO Associated Schools network and Whanganui’s recognition as a City of Design establishes our reputation in a way that is very accessible to these international visitors,” she said.

Middleton said elevating the diverse strengths of our young people and providing opportunities that meet their potential was a value she also hoped the exchange would demonstrate.

“In our preparation for this visit, we have learned that the Italian students typically participate in a very competitive education system. While they are in Whanganui, and engaging with our rangatahi, we hope to show them an approach valuing creative and innovative strategies and diverse measures for success – where the process of learning is given merit along with the results.”

The students will arrive in Whanganui on Monday, August 29, and begin their journey to understand Te Awa Tupua with the Kaiwhaiki pōwhiri on Tuesday morning.


Experience a Virtual Tour of the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai

Read about returning the Mouri of the exhibition to Whanganui here.

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