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New Book Celebrates Connecting Indigenous And Western Knowledge

Published by Canterbury University Press, He Awa Whiria: Braiding the knowledge streams in research, policy and practice explores a groundbreaking bicultural approach.

A view of the unique braided rivers of Waitaha Canterbury from the window of a plane was to prove pivotal for Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Rangiwewehi).

A Professor in the Child Well-being Research Institute at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC), Macfarlane is highly respected for research and teaching that brings an Indigenous, sociocultural lens to the fields of psychology and education. However, in his earlier career as an advisor in these fields he was frequently frustrated by the way tokenistic attitudes towards mātauranga Māori and kaupapa Māori undermined the process and outcomes of the projects he contributed to.

In that view of the braided river, he saw the perfect metaphor for integrating streams of knowledge without privileging one source over another.

He Awa Whiria — which translates as Braided Rivers — is the first publication to explore the resulting framework in depth. Its contributing authors — including many UC academics — offer reflections drawn from a wide range of contexts, such as tertiary institutions, iwi, community development, private sector corporations, and government ministries.

The book is co-edited by Dr Melissa Derby (Ngāti Ranginui), Senior Lecturer at Waikato University and co-director of the Early Years Research Centre, and Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Waewae) from the Institute of Education at Massey University.

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Its editors believe the framework’s successful application across such diverse disciplines pays testament to its inclusive, adaptable approach.

“It’s a unifying framework, in that it allows people to draw from multiple streams of knowledge, to create solutions that work for everyone,” says Dr Derby. “It’s not combative or divisive.”

Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane adds that the framework prompts innovative enquiry by critiquing assumptions and testing whether existing evidence holds true across cultures.

“Evidence-based and effective are not synonymous terms,” she says. “He Awa Whiria encourages us to ask whether a system or process really works for all groups involved – and if it doesn’t, what other threads of knowledge can be brought in to enrich and enhance it.”

The editors have chosen to use accessible language that eschews academic jargon to enable the book to be widely read and utilised. They say its strong bicultural foundation makes it applicable to Māori and non-Māori alike.

“The focus is always on mana-enhancing, bridge-building, and partnership,” says Dr Derby. “It’s about our shared humanity — not about us and them.”

Associate Professor Macfarlane and Dr Derby see the book’s publication as timely, given current challenges to the value of bicultural partnership. They believe the process of evolution and change detailed in the book offers grounds for optimism.

“When there’s a rainstorm, the awa changes shape,” says Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane. “It’s adaptive and versatile and that gives it strength.”

He Awa Whiria: Braiding the knowledge streams in research, policy and practice, edited by Angus Macfarlane, Melissa Derby and Sonja Macfarlane, published by Canterbury University Press, February 2024, RRP $50, Softback, 228 x 152mm, 260pp, ISBN: 978-1-98-850339-4. Also available as an Open Access pdf file, ISBN: 978-1-98-850337-0, published with assistance from the Council of New Zealand University Libraries (CONZUL).

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