I was fortunate enough to get to most of the first day of Kei Tua o te Pae last week. This was a hui hosted by Te Wāhanga looking at the challenges of kaupapa Māori research in the 21st century. Much of the kōrero I caught was about complacency and comfortableness. These are great take to talk about, and we were lucky to have such awesome kaikōrero reflecting on that challenge in their own work. I could only make it to two of the key note speakers, but they gave me a heap to think about.
Jessica Hutchings laid it out in the opening session. To her, an important theme of kaupapa Māori research is staying on the margins, remaining critical and resistant.
Linda Smith talked about how kaupapa Māori developed out of struggle, the struggle for Māori ways of thinking to drive Māori education. She also stressed margins—working at the institutional edges to make spaces where kaupapa Māori can flourish. And the benefits of being irritable, keeping us passionate about this work.
Ani Mikaere reminded us that the creation of those spaces is just a starting point. We have research groups like Te Wāhanga, and institutions like Te Wānanga o Raukawa. The challenges now are to look critically at how we do scholarship, and to look critically at our understandings of tikanga and mātauranga.
Literature reviews are one example of a scholarship practice that we might want to abandon—because so much of the published literature about mātauranga Māori is dominated by Pākehā (or built from writings by Pākehā), it may be the worst place to start. By starting with a literature review we may actually be led away from the really interesting questions. This comes back to Linda Smith’s kōrero—we need to think about what counts as knowledge and what counts as a reliable source. She described a process where understanding develops from dialogue and relationships, rather than as a nugget that can be plucked from books or informants. It reminds me of a challenge Moana Jackson laid during a class discussion at Te Wānanga o Raukawa—to privilege indigenous sources, even if it means not citing ‘original’ sources (because much indigenous knowledge has been published by others, privileging original sources means continuing to ignore the contributions of indigenous peoples to knowledge).
Examples of tikanga that we might want to question and confront are those that have come to reflect the values of patriarchy and hierarchy, rather than the values of whakapapa, which Ani Mikaere describes as “intrinsically non-hierarchical”.
Although I missed most of the hui, what l saw of it made me happy. I am lucky enough to work at a wānanga in a research group with colleagues who aren’t afraid to question and confront conventional wisdom. What I saw at Kei Tua o te Pae confirms that there are many groups who are more afraid of complacency than they are of feeling uncomfortable. Whatever kaupapa Māori research is or will be, it is certainly flourishing.