The Ahunga Tikanga programme is premised upon the understanding that tikanga is the first law of Aotearoa.(Mikaere, 2012)
If tikanga is the law, then kaupapa is the philosophy from which that law or ethics develops. Working in both Ahunga Tikanga and Whakatupu Mātauranga gives me the opportunity to explore kaupapa as a philosophical framework—does it align with my values? Does it provide an antidote to the problems caused by the effects of colonisation? Where does it take me when I use it to examine issues that are affecting us now? So far, the conclusions kaupapa take me to have always been fantastic—consistently humane and sensible, and often unexpected. This is both a relief, and very exciting.
The next challenge is living up to these conclusions, finding ways to implement them under the pressure of an imperialistic system based on a very different philosophical framework. In lots of cases, acting according to kaupapa requires us to do things differently to the way our tūpuna would have, because the environment and problems we face are different to those of our tūpuna. Sexual diversity is an example that I’ve written about before on this blog (Sexuality and Tikanga Māori). There is no evidence that our tūpuna cared about same-sex sexual behaviour; it was accepted, and there is evidence that it was occasionally celebrated. Because we now live in a homophobic dominant culture, where the most common messages about homosexual behaviour are negative, we need to talk about sexuality differently—we need to actively celebrate sexual diversity to counteract the poison of homophobia.
Another example is how we value each other’s skills and contributions to the community. Our tūpuna didn’t live in a dehumanising market that attaches value to people based on what they do, that creates workers and bosses whose goals will always be in opposition to each other. According to kaupapa, all work is important and we do it together—some may be cleaning toilets, some growing food, some fixing sick people, but it is all necessary work, without which we can’t function as a community. How can we live up to this when our land and resources have been taken? There are many pathways to reasserting our rangatiratanga, and kaupapa provide a test of their appropriateness.
There are several things I love about my work. There are the people who I learn from, who are fearless at looking to the past, knowing that their tūpuna have an academic tradition as worthy as anyone else’s. There is the exploration of kaupapa. And there is sharing with and learning from students. Exploring what kaupapa mean and how to apply the philosophy in our work is so fun, fascinating and meaningful, I can hardly believe I’m getting paid for it. My confidence in kaupapa as a political framework is growing. It is accessible and relevant in a way a lot of western political theory is not—there is no kudos in making it seem more complicated than it is, nor in abstracting it from our reality. The value is in our ability to use kaupapa to think about our lives and the futures we want, and to work out what we need to do to get there.