A Māori CoRE Funded: A Thank You To Our Supporters

On the 10th, 11th and 12th March this year I sent out some thoughts to be distributed ‘far and wide’ drawing to the world’s attention what I thought would be the impact on Māori research for Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga to lose it’s CoRE funding. Along with the concerns expressed by other Māori leaders, researchers and communities our emails and posts did indeed go far and wide eliciting strong reaction and mobilising an amazingly positive response both here at home in Aotearoa and from our colleagues around the world.

The combined, creative and powerful use of social media, hui, formal letters, discussions, meetings and high level advocacy, seasoned with an appropriate dose of cynicism and sprinkled with the occasional outbursts of outrage seemed to have focused the minds of those in Government. So, yesterday it was great to hear that the New Zealand Government’s Budget included funding of $5 million a year for a Māori Centre of Research Excellence. It was good to hear Dr Pita Sharples, the Minister of Māori Affairs talk about it this morning, as of all Ministers I am sure he understood how much it takes to build research capacity.

The Budget did not guarantee that this funding would be ring fenced for Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga but would instead be subject to a contestable process. Quite frankly, I see that as a massive win from what on the 11th March looked like certain doom. It is a win in a very specific space of research and today it gives me hope that Māori scholars will have opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills to meeting the knotty and wicked challenges of our times. The CoREs present but one pathway for research and in the scheme of things they are just one of the many ways that research is funded. I know we need to influence those other processes.

Today I might have a little rest and bask in some rare success. I even have warm and fuzzy feelings about our scholars of the past and am greatly relieved that our generation haven’t messed it up on our watch. Whew!

So, let me thank all of our indigenous and non-indigenous colleagues from around the world, many of whom wrote powerful letters of support. Many thanks to our Māori research communities who have stepped up to offer support and our Pākehā colleagues who have been steadfast behind the scenes. Thank you to our iwi leaders and organisations from whom we have received unequivocal support. I thank those in Government who influenced the budget and responded to our concerns. Tomorrow we start work again as there is much much more that needs to be done for our people.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Pro Vice Chancellor Māori
Dean of Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao The School of Māori and Pacific Development
The University of Waikato, Aotearoa

Racism and Cultural Misappropriation

Over the past month I have been made aware of three clear acts of racist misappropriation of Native American imagery here in Aotearoa. This is not new, we know that, but it is rare to have so many examples here in such a short period of time. All of those actions were engaged directly and raised critical issues about the deep lack of understanding or awareness of the insidious nature of cultural misappropriation.

Around a month ago a Māori woman student indicated that the Waikato Law Students Association was have an event within which a section was themed ‘Cowboys and Indians’, after complaints this was changed to a theme that it is said related to the University colours ‘I See Red’ and explanation for the initial theme seems to never have been given. The question must be asked how a Law Students Association who should, theoretically at least, have some understanding of oppression and cultural misappropriation and commodification of Indigenous representation, can in 2014 be still advocating a theme of ‘Cowboys and Indians’.

Then over the last week one of the largest festivals in this country Rhythm and Vines promoted an poster of two young women with costume shop type ‘Native Headdresses’ as a part of promoting the festival. This quickly received a challenging response and within a day the festival organisers removed the image and apologised on twitter.
“We sincerely apologise for the image used and any offence this may have caused. The use of this image was inappropriate and has been removed,” Rhythm and Vines
The challenge to Rhythm and Vines saw a shift in thinking by the organisers and without doubt provided a learning to those involved in the promotion about the need to have more awareness about such issues. The quick removal of the image is a clear indication of that acknowledgement by the organisers and was affirmed by many as a result.
Some have commented that such responses are over the top or question how such actions can or are offensive. Put simply they are offensive because (i) they denigrate sacred symbols and sacred ways of being; (ii) they maintain colonial representations of Native Peoples as ‘savage’ (iii) they reproduce notions that Indigenous cultural symbols and taonga (our treasures) are open and available for anyone who desires them with little or no awareness of their significance. Those are three simple reasons for why such actions are offensive and there are many others.
http://www.bluecorncomics.com/wannabes.htm provides a wide range of analysis of the issue of cultural appropriation of Native American taonga and images and the increasing phenomena of ‘wannabes’ :
In Z Magazine, December 1990, Janet McCloud (Tulalip) explained the basic problem with wannabes:
First they came to take our land and water, then our fish and game….Now they want our religions as well. All of a sudden, we have a lot of unscrupulous idiots running around saying they’re medicine people. And they’ll sell you a sweat lodge ceremony for fifty bucks. It’s not only wrong, its obscene. Indians don’t sell their spirituality to anybody, for any price. This is just another in a very long series of thefts from Indian people and, in some ways, this is the worst one yet.
In his book Red Earth, White Lies, Vine Deloria, Jr. discussed why Americans wish they could be Indians:
They are discontented with their society, their government, their religion, and everything around them and nothing is more appealing than to cast aside all inhibitions and stride back into the wilderness, or at least a wilderness theme park, seeking the nobility of the wily savage who once physically fought civilization and now, symbolically at least, is prepared to do it again.
Critiques and challenges to such racist appropriation has been consistently voiced by Indigenous Peoples for generations however continued ignorance and cultural arrogance continues. This week Stephanie Key, the daughter of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, added her offensive imagery to the many other racist representations through her representation of a image described by the New Zealand Herald as follows:
“But already one of the pop-art style self-portraits — Key wearing an elaborate pink, feathered, war headdress, lacy pink knickers and a pink modesty star over her nipple — has been criticised for being culturally inappropriate.”

A more appropriate description would be that Stephanie Key has indulged her white privilege with soft porn imagery that not only misappropriates Native American imagery and taonga but which demeans and defiles the sacredness of both the Headdress and the Pipe.
These representations and acts of misappropriation are grounded in colonial thinking of Native and Indigenous Peoples more broadly as the ‘savage’ other’. They are racist and ignorant. They highlight white privilege and the ongoing assumption that anything is available to their use and abuse. This is not art. This self indulgent white racist appropriation. The fact that it comes from such a privileged place such as the daughter of the Prime Minister of this country makes it more disgusting.

This is not the first time such arrogance has shown itself by children of white men in power. Christina Fallin, the daughter of the Governor of Oklahoma also used a Headdress to promote herself and her band. This was also responded to directly by a range of commentators. On the Native Appropriations site an open letter to Fallin was penned that informed her of the history of Oklahoma, where Andrew Jackson enforced the Indian Removal Act which brought about genocidal, ethnocidal actions against the Cherokee and many other Native nations around the country:
“Cause here’s the thing. There is nothing about this that is “innocent” or “respectful.”
Let me tell you a story. I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Though I’ve never lived in Oklahoma, I have a lot of family there, and claim it as one of my “homes,” because that’s where my community is based. But here’s the thing: my tribe is not there by chance or by choice, my tribe, and the vast majority of the other Natives peoples in Oklahoma, are there by force and by trauma. In 1830, the US government and Andrew Jackson passed something called the “Indian Removal Act,” which resulted in the removal of thousands and thousands of Native peoples from their homelands in the southeast. You know where those Native peoples were forced to march? Oklahoma. Though it was referred to as “Indian Territory” then. So all that “Native American culture” you’ve been able to come in contact with? It’s thanks to violence, colonialism, and genocidal policies. It’s not an innocent cultural exchange.” (http://nativeappropriations.com/2014/03/dear-christina-fallin.html)

The decontextualisation racism against Indigenous Peoples is what enables such arrogant acts of cultural misappropriation. The removal of taonga, of sacred symbols, of Indigenous representation from an understanding of the historical and cultural context serves only to privilege those in power who believe they have a fundamental colonial white supremacist right to take from our people whatever and whenever they deemed necessary. The implications and the outcome of such colonial imperialist thinking is the ongoing perpetuation of racist oppressive acts against Indigenous Peoples.
“Notice the words I keep using here? Forcibly, stripped, prohibited, assimilated. This is not a happy history. This is a history marked by violence and by trauma. So while you may feel “eternally grateful” for your exposure to our cultures, you’re deliberately ignoring your own history if you think your donning of a headdress is “innocent.” Let’s fast forward to 2014. Now “tribal trends” are totally “in.” You can walk into any store in the mall and see “Native” imagery everywhere. As a Native person, when I look at them, I can’t help but remember the not-so-distant past when my people weren’t allowed, by law, to wear these things. It’s such a constant reminder of the colonial power structures still in place. Back in the day, white people had the power to take away our culture, and now they have the power to wear it however they see fit. These are our images, our cultural symbols, yet we are completely powerless to have control over them. It may seem extreme, but the best way I can say it is that your wearing of the headdress is an act of violence that continues the pain of colonization. “Please forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves with your beautiful things.” The privilege and violence of that statement astounds me. “Please forgive us if we innocently use your beautiful land,” “Please forgive us if we innocently educate your beautiful children,” “Please forgive us if we innocently sexualize your beautiful women.” These actions are not benign.” ((http://nativeappropriations.com/2014/03/dear-christina-fallin.html)

The online discussions provided on sites such as Native Appropriations provide much depth of analysis and are both challenging and informing. It is not difficult for anyone to access such critique if they chose to do so. Clearly those in such privileged positions such as Christina Fallin and Stephanie Key do not see that to be necessary. They clearly do not see that there is need for them to be informed about the cultures that they steal from or denigrate. Their positions of privilege assume a place of dominance for them over Indigenous cultures. So they appropriate and they abuse with no concern for the impact. And there is an impact. Racism has a devastating impact. Racism kills our spirit, our souls, our hearts. Racism also kills our friends, our families, our relations. The perpetuation of racist acts of misappropriation is one part of a wider system of ethnocide that impacts upon Indigenous Peoples minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day… and has so for generations.

For more information please read the following blogs and sites:

An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?


Limited Scope, Limited Vision, Limited Benefit: The Issue of CoRE Funding Decisions and the Marginalisation of Māori Research

This Blog from Associate Professor Leonie Pihama is a response to the announcement of  funding for six Centres of Research Excellence.

Today TEC announced the centres in the new round of Centre of Research Excellence that will be funded from the round initiated in 2013.

The six CoRE announced are:
The Maurice Wilkins Centre, Te Punaha Matatini – The Centre for Complex Systems, and Networks Medical Technologies CoRE, all hosted by the University of Auckland;
Brain Research New Zealand – Rangahau Roro Aotearoa, co-hosted by University of Otago and University of Auckland.
The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, hosted by Victoria University of Wellington,
The Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, hosted by University of Otago.

An interesting and sadly predictable line up. All the CoRE are Science, Biomedical or Clinical based centres. All but one of the CoRE are hosted by either the University of Auckland or the University of Otago. Both these universities also hold dominant positions in many of the upcoming National Science Challenges. A similar picture is being painted in the National Science Challenges with the University of Auckland and the University of Otago have assumed dominant positions in key health related challenges.

Even more significant was the axing of the funding to Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, the only multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary CoRE that provided consistent high quality research in regards to areas of concern to whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori concerns. One has to ask exactly where those concerns may be situated in these current CoRE. Well given the limited focus of each of the CoRE there is little likelihood of much benefit to Māori or to Māori research needs. I am not saying there will be no benefit, but I am saying that any benefit that may come to Māori, from the reductionist approach that clearly has determined what constitutes Research Excellence in this country, will be limited to biomedical or clinical fields. Inside those fields there are significant issues. For example it is clear that in the clinical developments we are more likely to be the ‘tissue samples’ and the ‘objects’ of the research than we will be the beneficiaries. What is also clear is that Māori will not be in control, will not define and will not have any ability to protect ourselves as this current obsession with a reductionist approach to issues in the health sector.

We have to ask why exactly do we need 6 CoRE all focused in these limited areas and hosted primarily by 2 Universities? Why do we need so many CoRE in such limited areas of research? Who determines what research is valuable? Who determined that Māori research has no value or contribution to make in the CoRE arena? Why are the fields funded determined to be more important than the lived social issues that currently face this country?

The absolute denial of Māori research interests, of Māori research needs and aspirations. The total invisibility of Kaupapa Māori, of social sciences, of research areas that provide for engaging with real lived social issues is appalling. Critical issues that face Māori and many other New Zealanders are clearly of no importance in the decision making in regards to these CoRE, Much the same can be said of the National Science Challenges. The obsession that all these initiatives be led by science and scientists (excluding Māori or critical social sciences of course!) mean that this government is committing over $1billion to a privilege select group of researchers. As a part of the decision today there has been comment by the two most awarded host Institutions:

“Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said hosting four CoREs was an “outstanding result” for the university.
“The CoREs are testament to the breadth and depth of research capability at the University of Auckland, and our involvement means we will be contributing to all six of the National Centres of Research Excellence.”
Professor Harlene Hayne, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Otago, saying the new CoREs were a “clear indication” of the university’s research standing.”

What these comments lead us to believe is that the meritocratic myth is alive and well. The meritocratic myth tells us:
Ability + Effort = Merit

Clearly the two universities believe that being awarded the CoRE’s is a merit result from their ability and effort. Where there are clearly highly skilled and excellent researchers involved in these CoRE there are also a range of broader factors that contribute to this decision including such factors as:
1. the focus for selection was clearly limited to the areas of research specialty they are involved in which is highlighted by the limited areas of focus for the 6 CoRE
2. Institutional racism means that there were no Māori on the panels and therefore there was no actual peer decision making in regards to Māori CoRE proposals
3. The marginalisation of Māori knowledge means that the policy of Vision Matauranga Māori is not scored and there were no panel members capable of assessing Vision Matauranga Māori
4. There is no investment in areas of Kaupapa Māori
5. There is no investment in areas of social science or broader societal issues

The list could go on. The point being that this decision is not solely about having proven research excellence or ‘research standing’, as there are key points that indicate that this process and decision making were predetermined by a whole range of beliefs and assumptions around what knowledge is considered important and what knowledge and research investigation would be privileged and prioritised.

This process and these decisions are appalling and reek of racist and neoliberal determinations of what constitutes research, what knowledge is privileged and what researchers interests are served by such decision-making. We should not accept that there are only fundamentally two areas that deserve research support which are basically (1) the biomedical/clinical fields and (2) the development of new technologies. Māori should not accept this. Wider New Zealand society should not accept this. This decision and the current approach to the National Science Challenges must be directly challenged. There are many critical issues facing this country and to be enabling of a narrow research agenda and supporting only a very select privileged group of researchers is the worst reflection of the impact of what is a neoliberal conservative approach to research in Aotearoa.