Rēnata White (Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Kahungunu, Patuharakeke), Nkhaya Paulsen-More (Ngāti Maru-ki-Hauraki, Ngāruahine, Ngāti Pūkenga), and Josh Wainui (Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Te Whakatōhea, Te Uri o Hau) are Te Tari Whakahaere (the Executive Committee) of Te Mana Ākonga | National Māori Tertiary Students’ Assocation. Here, White, Paulsen-More and Wainui reflect on the year that’s been and discuss how members of Te Mana Ākonga will be celebrating Matariki.

Matariki is a time to celebrate with friends and whānau; to break bread and share kai with each other. It’s a time to gather someplace warm to kōrero about your dreams, your aspirations, and the things that you’re grateful for. This exercise in gratitude during Matariki allows us to enter the new year with our loved ones fresh, invigorated, and blessed.

In 2021, and especially in Aotearoa, we have much to be thankful for. The fact that we are able to celebrate Matariki with very few restrictions this year is an obvious one. Last year was the first we celebrated underneath the stars in a COVID-restricted world. In that year we shared the mamae and the mokemoke with our friends and whānau. Some of us spent Matariki remembering those who passed away. Perhaps we still will this year—and that’s kei te pai. Matariki is also a time to reflect on the ones who have passed on to watch us from another realm.

Te Mana Ākonga, and our member associations, will be celebrating Matariki this year with our partner associations across the country. This year, Te Mana Ākonga, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, Tauira Pasifika, and the National Disabled Students’ Association will be coming together for the first time ever to co-host Te Hononga. The name signifies the convergence of rivers into one river—bringing tauira to work together, instead of constantly working in parallel and sometimes against each other. Kotahitanga has never been more important than now as the government overhauls ITPs into Te Pūkenga, introduces a new Code for Learner Safety and Wellbeing, and the sector starts to see knock-on effects from the final report of the Inquiry into Student Accommodation.

The power of student voices has kept our national and local associations running for more than four decades. Te Mana Ākonga is grateful that we are still here to advocate for tauira Māori and proud to tautoko them on their journeys through tertiary education. Our associations have seen great growth over the past year and a half. They’ve all made sure that their tauira Māori are taken care of, they’ve all given up precious time to give their expertise to other students (and organisations), and they’re still thriving in their own studies. It is heartening, as we meet again during Matariki, to see just how resilient tauira Māori continue to be in a sector that has traditionally underserved them.

This year for Matariki, we hope that you, your whānau, your friends, and your community are able to come together to celebrate all the good that has happened in the past year. We hope that you have a safe community to spend time with if you need to retreat from the world this year. Most importantly, we wish you a happy new year, with aroha and kotahitanga in abundance. Mauri ora!