Lawyer creates online platform to teach tamariki history of Aotearoa

By Jessica Tyson

She’s one of the nation's leading legal minds on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, spending her days representing tangata whenua at the Waitangi Tribunal but lawyer Roimata Smail has also turned her hand to the classroom.

Currently representing Ngāti Pāhauwera in the Takutai Moana hearings at the Waitangi Tribunal, Smail teamed up with her teacher husband to create Wai Ako, which has launched an online learning resource to teach primary students about New Zealand history, as it relates to Te Tiriti.

Smail says the resource is a subscription website and it was originally started around te reo.

“It was based on 22 original waiata and we developed those into videos, cartoons with a cartoon teacher. The video basically leads the lesson, not just for the students but also for the teacher.”

Over the past year Smail and her husband Sam, who is a primary school teacher, realised Wai Ako shouldn’t just be about the basics of te reo.

“We should use what I’ve been learning as a lawyer and try to share that with children throughout New Zealand.”

She says the teacher can be sitting with the class and the students don’t need to know that the teacher is learning it for the first time as well.

“If you’re a teacher, especially if you didn’t learn this stuff yourself when you were at school, you really need some support. That’s what we thought. There’s a huge gap there. We need to help teachers.”

She says the video teaches basic information about the treaty.

“It prompts discussion and then it encourages the class to do an activity together and then embed that learning,” she says.

The launch comes almost a year before New Zealand history will be introduced into the curriculum at schools and kura across Aotearoa. The arrival of Māori to Aotearoa and Te Tiriti o Waitangi will be included in the curriculum.

“I felt really excited about the next generation leapfrogging us and learning some of these really important things about being a New Zealander that we didn’t get the chance to learn,” Smail says.

Wai Ako is available online and has a Facebook page.