Megan Pōtiki (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe Waitaha and Te Ātiawa) says she is honoured to have accepted the role of Tumu Whenua ā-Rohe 4 | Executive Director, Region 4 of Te Pūkenga.

Megan began her new role on 22 May, along with co-lead Darren Mitchell (Ngāti Kahungunu).

Te Pūkenga Rohe 4| Region 4 covers Te Tai Poutini West Coast, Waitaha Canterbury, Ōtākou Otago and Murihiku Southland.  

“I am excited to work with Darren (most recently, executive director of Ara | Te Pūkenga) and learn from his breadth of skills. I know we will complement each other well.”

Appointed DCE Partnership and Equity at Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga early in 2022 and previously a member of Otago Polytechnic’s Council, Megan is excited to play a leading role in ensuring that vocational education is relevant and accessible for all people in Aotearoa.

“This role it is about paving a pathway for incoming generations of learners and teachers and the leaders of the future. I am particularly excited about leading and working with kaimahi and akonga within our Region 4 of Te Waipounamu.

“I always consider a succession trajectory in everything I do. There is certainly a need for the two co-leaders to establish and work effectively with 'local' leaders, Te Pūkenga and mana whenua. He waka eke noa; we are all in it together.”

Megan has taught in various institutions over many years, including Queens High School, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (prior to it merging with Aoraki to become Ara), University of Canterbury and University of Otago. She holds a number of governance roles, including at the Dunedin City Council and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

“I'm an Otago girl. My bones are on the land here. I'm passionate about our region and I think there's a uniqueness to each region that needs to be really considered. Kai te hikaka katoa ahau kia mahi tahi me tōku iwi kia eke whakamua tātou mō kā uri ā muri ake nei.

“I have a daily question I put to myself. It is, simply: ‘Have I been useful today?’. And this question becomes even more significant with this new role.

“I want to be useful to the region. I am excited at the opportunity to create a new space and prepare fertile ground to genuinely make a difference to those coming into vocational education in Te Pūkenga.”

Megan Pōtiki: a deeper dive

Growing up

Megan was raised on a farm at Ōtākou, on the Otago Peninsula.

“I was born with a golden spoon in my mouth, grew up next to my marae, with my parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. We ate steak and crayfish and whitebait. So when my pakeha mom married my dad, my Pakeha grandfather was in tears about it and said, 'Thank goodness, my grandchildren are actually going to have a foot on this land.' It was like they had married royalty.

“My family have a whakapapa of going to university and Māori boys’ boarding schools - a lot of success. We kept land in the family.

“In fact, the graveyard or Urepa at Ōtākou is one of only about five in the country that is looked after by the Government because of the people buried in there.

“We had the first southern Māori MPs and lawyers and All Blacks. We had incredible success come out of that community. And there's a whole heap of reasons why, but then the broken promise sort of hit around World Wars 1 and 2, and that's when it nearly crushed us culturally. We lost native speakers, and we lost a lot of momentum, etc. So it wasn't all a bed of roses. 

“But, overall, my ‘normal’, my expectations, were of success. And my kids have grown up like that, too, in that same village. 

“In contrast, my pakeha mom's family were very poor. They ate tripe and tongue and offal - all of which was so unusual to my Māori upbringing. I spent five years living with my pakeha grandmother in South Dunedin, statistically one of the poorest communities in New Zealand.

Career and academic path

Megan has a Bachelor of Education (Otago University), a Master of Education (Canterbury) and recently completed a PhD “on the contributing factors to the death of the Māori language at Ōtākou”.

She has taught in various institutions over many years, including Queens High School, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (prior to it merging with Aoraki to become Ara), University of Canterbury and University of Otago. She holds a number of governance roles, including at the Dunedin City Council and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

“I taught at Queens for three years, and then held tertiary roles. I ended up teaching at CPIT (before it became Ara) for a number of years, teaching te reo Māori.

"I won't say I am fluent in te reo. I'd say I have degree of fluency. Teaching helps the fluency because you're constantly in it and you're constantly unlocking a particular structure and trying to explain it to people.

“I then went to the University of Canterbury, where I got my Master’s before teaching te reo Māori at Te Tumu, School of Maōri, Pacific & Indigenous Studies, University of Otago, for 10 years.

“When an opportunity came up to step on to the Otago Polytechnic council, my late husband Tahu urged me to do so and gain some governance experience.  And he died not long after that. I put a lot of credit back to him. I'll be honest, I am a bit of a geeky academic. I love to write and to read. So it was a challenge for me to come into this space. But it's the best thing I've ever done.”

Confronting experiences

“When I started teaching at Queen's, I was really confronted by poverty,” Megan recalls. “I was at the coalface teaching these kids who had come from terrible situations; Māori kids who hadn't necessarily ever connected to their marae, and were poor and struggling.

“That put a fire in my belly. I was confronted by racism, what it means to be brown.

“I'm white-skinned with blue eyes. So to be confronted by others’ experiences of what it meant to actually look Māori and to butt up against racism . . . it was quite an epiphany.

“I had just walked such an easy life. I just flowed in and out of a pakeha community and a Māori community and no-one ever questioned me. No-one followed me around a shop. No-one stopped me in a car. I've never encountered any difficulty in my life. And it's because I look white.

“So all those experiences shaped where I headed. For me, teaching is this built on this idea that you can do something better for the world.”

Connecting past, present and future

“As a co-lead of Rohe 4 for Te Pūkenga, I am keen to develop a culture where kaimahi feel that Darren and I can be their safety net, that we've got their back, that they understand the culture that we're trying to build,” Megan says.

“I'm confident in my key relationships, tribally. And I'm very lucky in this region that we've got one iwi. And because I've been in the thick of it since I was a child, I know hapu, I know iwi and I can make connections and relationships. I'm not frightened to lean right into that. 

“As Māori, we are connected to all other iwi through our whakapapa. But, from a tribal perspective, Kai Tahu are unique. I mean, there's not one Kai Tahu person alive who’s not descended from a whaler.

“We are a seafaring, wayfinding people. We come from a harsh climate. We are made for long journeys, for going into the bush for weeks, going up to the Dart River to get Greenstone and then gathering weka at Wanaka and coming back down the Clutha to the coast and getting ducks on the Taieri, then returning to our village. That is a long journey.  We have a unique landscape and a unique way of looking at things.

“Tribally, we're different as well. For example, there's not a marae on every corner. There are only 18 in our entire rohe. So in some regards, that makes my job a little easier. That said, it's a big area.”

Carrying others with her

For Megan, reputation is important.

“What I mean by that is that I'm not here just as me -- I'm here with my father and my husband and my iwi. I'm representing a larger group of people. I need to actually ensure I'm doing things in a tikaka and kawa way. Those things are critical to me.”

Megan says she writes lots of lists, even if she doesn’t cross off everything.

“If I was to write a list for the next 50 years, at the top would be to ‘give back’.

“I've reaped a lot from my own whānau and their own personal wealth. And what I mean by wealth is not just money, but culturally and everything.

“I do feel responsibility. It's a constant. It's my duty to give back.”

Published on 30 May 2023

Orderdate: 30 May 2023
Expiry: 30 May 2025