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Turia: Māori Association of Social Scientists

Critical Mass - Māori Association of Social Scientists

Te Herenga Waka Marae, Kelburn Parade, Wellington

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Hon Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Māori Party

'MASS at Matariki'

It must be Matariki.

Over this last week in Whanganui, we have been celebrating the rising of Puanga, which signals the advent of the Māori New Year.

The hukarere has started to fall on Ruapehu, the juicy red berries of the miro tree are becoming plump, the new moon is a-rising.

It is the time to bring new energy and new ideas together, to share with each other our aspirations for a new direction.

Our horizons are, as they always have been, global.

Our gaze extends northwards to celebrate the long-awaited resolution of the Japanese Parliament, that for the first time formally acknowledges the Ainu as an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture.

In the west, we celebrate Australia’s long-overdue apology to its Aboriginal peoples.

To the east, our imagination is ignited by the story of Barack Obama - who is moving fast on the pathway towards being the first African-American President of the United States.

But while we think globally, we act locally.

And so here, today, we celebrate the arrival of MASS - the Māori Association of Social Scientists - another world first.

It is indeed our moment.

Matariki is the moment in which we herald new beginnings, while at the same time pausing to reflect on the legacy gifted us from our whakapapa, the journey that has brought us to this point.

I pay tribute to Victoria’s School of Māori Studies; the Māori Association of Social Scientists Interim Steering Group and the Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences Network for their vision and their initiative in creating this moment for collaboration.

And of course, as is the way with all academics, I am sure that hours of analysis and indepth discussion took place before settling on Te Tumu Herenga Waka marae for this inaugural conference.

We know Te Herenga Waka as the first marae on any university campus in the country.

And so it is a good time to acknowledge Professor Hirini Moko Mead for the leadership he exhibited back in the 80s to establish this marae, as the centre of tikanga, te reo and manaakitanga Māori for all who came to this campus.

But it is not just the symbolic importance of forging something new, the history of innovation that brings us here today.

Te Tumu Herenga Waka, literally the tree stump to which the waka are tied when they land, is also an apt metaphor in which to place the journey of Māori social scientists and your pathway in fostering tangata whenua development.

Many of our iwi have in their oral traditions, the narratives round the journey from Hawaiki.

A journey which required the construction of robust canoes, waka which could withstand the roughest storm.

A journey which demanded excellent organization, communication and mediation skills from all participants; the expectation that traditional knowledge and stories could be shared to make sense of new experiences.

A journey which assumed its members would be equipped with the specialist expertise in calculating time and seasons, the knowledge in the navigation of oceans, the gold standard of celestial astronomy.

The development of a national network of Māori social scientists must learn from these customary practices, the rituals and institutions of indigenous discovery; and bring this knowledge to bear in the journey that you will all now embark upon.

But before we commence this journey, I cannot resist referring to some research that hit the airwaves last week from Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.

I’m thinking about the research findings from the radiocarbon dating of old bones from kiore, and specifically, the seeds gnawed by these rats hundreds of years ago.

According to press reports, this finding was now “compelling new evidence” that the first Maori in New Zealand may have arrived nearly 1500 years later than once thought - around 1280AD and not 200BC.

Well that’s all very good, but where I’m from - our people of Ngā Wairiki, Ngāti Rangi, Ngā Paerangi, Ngā Rauru - know that we are all originals peoples.

So who is right? Who is wrong? Who is speaking out? Who is silent? Which truth do we understand?

Someone who writes a lot about such questions as these is the Vietnamese poet, Trinh Minh-ha. It is the theme of being ‘Other”

The humiliation of falsifying your own reality, your voice. And often you cannot say it. You try to keep on trying to say it, for if you don’t they will not fail to fill in the blanks on your behalf.

I have been thinking about this comment in our political climate; as the National Party seeks to abolish the Māori seats; the United Future Party calls for a referendum on them, and the Green Party is directing all Māori Party supporters to take their party vote.

It is a bizarre circumstance in the extreme, when tangata whenua ourselves are being rendered as ‘other’ by parties who seek to fill in the blanks on our behalf.

Except what we all know here, and we are so utterly proud to know, is that our reality, our voice, is here to stay.

And if one has any doubt at all of the veracity of this claim, we just need to ponder the programme of this hui.

And, just as the fires of occupation were already burning for Te Kahui Maunga, the journey of the Māori Social Science network must be one which starts from the premise that we can live fearlessly within the differences and diversities of our tribal nations.

Our ability to celebrate those differences is already evident through the wealth of agencies in which Māori social science is being created.

There’s Te Matahauariki Research Institute which explores ways in which our kawa and tikanga can be reflected in our legal system.

The Māori Development Research Centre operates as a virtual organization, while was born out of collaboration between Te Whare Wānanga o Awānuirangi, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga and IRI (Māori and Indigenous Research Institute).

One of their projects which I thought was fantastic was the Rangahau website which demonstrates the application of tikanga, kawa and mātauranga Māori in undertaking kaupapa Māori research.

As an example, you can download a one minute video of Taina Pohatu describing the value of ‘hoa haere’ - the strength of working together, of engaging in shared research.

There are other companies, such as Aatea, which are quite upfront about staying that they do not presume or wish to offer “the Māori perspective” - their desire is to increase awareness and understanding of Maori concepts and philosophies within the contexts of the business or community groups that seek their advice.

Or there are other groups such as Whariki at the University of Auckland, that focus in on specific sectors, in their case, Māori health research.

I wanted to highlight just a few of the multitudes represented here at this conference on critical mass, really to celebrate our strength and our distinctiveness.

Building Critical Mass must as its starting point, acknowledge the breadth and depth of tangata whenua voice being expressed right across the academy. And the MASS must indeed be critical, in the sense of applying critical thinking before you speak.

Central to this voice, must surely be how whanau, hapu and iwi knowledge are being extended by Māori social scientists.

Is the research being undertaken by our networks, consistent with the tikanga and ritenga of iwi or hapu Maori?

How will that same research serve to affirm whanau, hapu and iwi rangatiratanga?

In the electronic journal, MAI Review, there is a paper by Jillian Tipene which describes her experiences in interpreting Ngā Pakanga o Ngāpuhi, 1820-1840’, a manuscript written by Ngakuru Pene Haare of the Te Rarawa iwi.

Haare has been described as a Ngāpuhi scholar; an authority on Taitokerau Māori history and traditions; a historian; and a contributor to Sir Apirana Ngata’s ‘Ngā Mōteatea’.

What was so exciting about this paper, was that the manuscript was dated 1923, but only submitted to Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao at Waikato University just last year.

I think it makes the whole area of Māori Social Science profoundly exciting, when we can look to our own tūpuna to guide us in tangata whenua intellectual traditions and experiences. And who knows what information is still out there, what knowledge exists within our whānau, hapū and iwi which can be drawn on to take us forward?

Of course Māori worldviews existed well before 1923 or 1840 for that matter.

How do we learn from our pre-colonial methods of enquiry? How will you work to denaturalize that which has been deemed natural, to question the theories, methods and research tools that take their origins from sources other than our own?

The critical question facing the Māori social science fraternity is not so much about what is holding you back, but whether the learning is liberatory, whether it is education for emancipation.

As Bob Marley says, none but ourselves can free our minds.

And so, I pose the question as to why it is that Pākehā economic and social forces are highlighted in the theme around ‘constraints’; when for so many of you, the orientations and knowledges of the Western academia have been part of your journey too.

As the great black writer Audre Lorde reminds us, the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

In building sufficient Māori social science capability to serve the needs of positive Māori development, surely our focus must be on building the tangata whenua knowledge base from tangata whenua worldviews and thoughts. What role does te reo o nga tupuna play in your studies?

When does our focus shift from the coloniser to the colonised? When do we trust in ourselves, to learn our own lessons, to build on our own discoveries, to celebrate and express our own voices.

My cousin, Cheryl Waerea-i-te-rangi Smith, has issued the challenge to Maori academics to stop leaving their culture ‘at the door’ in order to participate in the academy.

Her whakaaro was that instead of making Māori knowledge and beliefs palatable for Pākehā consumption, we should have the courage to write in ways which connect the seen and unseen, to speak about the mauri of all things, to respect and act in ways which acknowledge our spirituality as the essence of who we are.

It reminds me of another quote from Audre Lorde:

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”.

There is so much more to be said, so many questions to ask, silences to interrogate, stories to share.

And that, ultimately, is what these next few days, and the years and networks to come will explore.

I congratulate all of you in having the courage, to use your strength in the service of your vision.

The ways of knowing that we cherish as tangata whenua, the voices we express, the knowledge we treasure, are truly all the tools we need for transformation to take place.

Be not afraid. We can dare to be powerful, we can dare to be brilliant, we can dare to be tangata whenua in all our shapes and forms imaginable.

I now declare this journey, the waka of the Māori Association of Social Scientists, well and truly launched.


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