Evidence Centre seminar: June 2021
Published: June 24, 2021
This seminar featured Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, one of the world's leading scholars of Indigenous Studies, presenting on 'seeking transformational change'.
Seeking Transformational Change: Some reflections from a decolonising and Kaupapa Māori lens
Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith is one of the world's leading scholars and founding thought leaders of Indigenous Studies, Indigenous Education and Kaupapa Māori research. Professor Smith presented on ‘seeking transformational change’ at the Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre seminar on 10 June.
Professor Smith’s book “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples” is considered one of the most influential texts on Indigenous research. Her work demonstrates a commitment to Māori and indigenous well-being and self-determination.
Professor Smith’s numerous awards and recognition acknowledge the national and international significance of her research, her contribution to knowledge and the impact of her expertise on the global Indigenous society.
In her presentation, she discussed a decolonising approach, which included:
- Grappling with the past
- Envisioning futures
- Dismantling colonising paradigms
- Drawing from Māori knowledge, values and languages
- Shifting relations of power
- De-centering whiteness, patriarchy, hetero-normativity,
- Working with concepts of relationality, connectedness, inter-generational change
- Investing in capacity building
- Creating and implementing meaningful healing processes
She also discussed some the important principles and practices of a Kaupapa Māori approach.
PROFESSOR SMITH: Tēnā koutou katoa. Āe, ko Linda Tuhiwai Smith tōku ingoa. Ko Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou, Tūhourangi ōku iwi. Nō reira, tēnā tātou katoa.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak today, it's kind of daunting to have a live audience because I've been in Zoom world for months and in any day, like yesterday, I was in Zoom world in Australia, Zoom world in UK, Germany, and now I'm in the real world in Pōneke, so it's good to see real faces not sort of framed by a box.
So, I was asked to talk about transformational change and to -- and I come at that kaupapa from a decolonising and Kaupapa Māori lens and I'm going to talk a little bit about what that means and along the way I'm going to throw some other thoughts out.
So, firstly, there's some caveats in terms of what I talk about. So, I'm not here to talk about change management or what that means, but also I come really from a particular platform of understanding transformation and I would say it's a big picture platform, I'm a child of Ngā Tamatoa, I was a member of Ngā Tamatoa. For those of you who don't know Ngā Tamatoa, you are living partly in a world that Ngā Tamatoa tried to create in terms of honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi and revitalising our reo.
So, in that era which was really the 1970s, there were these dreams that things were possible, that just because someone said our language was dead didn’t mean we had to accept that and that change was possible, that we could change that. Just because someone said the Tiriti or the Treaty was a nullity didn't mean that we had to accept that, that we could change that.
I'm also a parent who happened to have a child in 1982 which was the beginning of Kohanga Reo and so I was part of a whānau that created a Kohanga Reo. It was in Auckland at the time, we would go to Māori Affairs at the time and argue for five thousand dollars to get started and we would be on this side of the room with our babies and on this side of the room would be social workers who are arguing for money to look after kids who are glue sniffers sleeping under bridges in Auckland and we were asked to basically debate amongst ourselves who deserved five thousand dollars. A piddly five thousand dollars to get started. And Kohanga Reo at that time was the fastest growing early childhood movement in the world, it was a rapid uptake, driven, not by rules, not by government policies, not by processes, but by our kaupapa, a vision that we could save our language, that mummies and babies could save the Māori language. That's what that vision was about or that parents, that whānau, that if we got together and if we believed in our strengths, we could do something to save our language, the most practical thing we could do was live our language by immersing our babies in Te Reo Māori.
That was the vision of Kohanga Reo, it was pre the National Trust, it was pre-rules, it was pre the Ministry of Education, it was a kaupapa that was driven at the community level, primarily by parents and primarily by Māori women. That's Kohanga Reo.
I'm also part of the group who started Kura Kaupapa Māori, I was in the meetings where we decided that was the term because we took immense pleasure in watching Ministry or Department of Education bureaucrats try to say that word. And we wanted to see it in the legislation: Kura Kaupapa Māori. And we deliberately wanted that because we didn't want to be framed as bilingual schools, right, we were not a bilingual schooling movement, we understood that very much in terms of all the research at the time was about French bilingual education in Canada or some other European model. It was not about indigenous language. It was not about understanding the relationship between the theft of a language and colonisation. Not language loss, wasn't the losing of a language, it was the taking of the language in the same way that land was taken, and so we wanted to change and reframe the debate about the medium of education and to reframe it in our terms as a Kaupapa Māori initiative, not a bilingual initiative.
So, I come out of that as well. And then I also come out of the Wai Manga movement, so this week I started at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi in Whakatane which was founded essentially by my father and a couple of other old men and a iwi who similarly believed that you could transform tertiary education so that it educates an iwi, not just about the past but for the future.
So, all these things that I've been a part of have given me a particular view about change, about transformation, about dreaming the impossible and striving to make it happen but understanding intergenerational responsibilities and understanding the sort of length of time it takes to struggle for an idea and understanding what it means to play a long game, part of which is patience, part of which is impatience, part of which is about seizing opportunities, part of which is building a vision from the ground upwards and so that's really the context that I speak about transformation, so it's not really about organisational change at a unitary level, although I've been part of those changes as well in terms of reviewing this department and that faculty and this institution and sort of getting them into particular places, I do have that sort of side of me as well.
These are my two mokopuna and you will see they really love having their photos taken. This was some time ago, and I'll be using mostly whānau images in this talk.
All right, so this is the latest edition of the Decolonizing Methodologies book, you know, the first one is a blue one and everybody used to ask me, "Who are those women on the front cover?" And I used to get into trouble because of the images on the front cover because when I travel around the world, people would expect one of those women to turn up and, you know, I remember chasing two guys down an airport in San Diego, the airport was closing, they were my last chance to be picked up and I just happened to see the top of the book outside his back pocket and I chased after him saying, "Are you looking for me?" and he sort of looked at me and he pulled the book out and he said, "Are you Linda? You're not this woman", I go, "'Course I'm not this woman, and you don't look like an Indian", cause I was at the end of my tether, it was like going on night-time having arrived from New Zealand.
So then the next book was a pink one I think and it had a footprint on and the first thing my mother said is, "Is that your footprint?" No. I have no idea whose footprint it is, but anyway, this has just come out, I spent lockdown just finishing it off and tidying it up and I guess what it represents is the sort of thinking over a number of decades about the sort of decolonising journey that indigenous peoples have been on and what that means. So not the -- necessarily just the political event of a country going through decolonisation after World War II but what it means in terms of a mindset, in terms of the way we think about ourselves, in terms of the way that work is done, life is lived, the languaging of how we talk in a society that's on a decolonising journey, and so in a sense in this book there is a range of projects that I sort of posited which are really about research and knowledge, not necessarily anything wider, but having said that, it has been applied really widely.
So, this image is about a recent survey about racism that was done by Te Atawhai o Te Ao, based in Whanganui, an independent research institute and I'm on the board and my sister-in-law, Cherryl Smith, started that institute.
So, some of the things that I think we have to do in thinking about our colonial past is understand a few fundamentals. Firstly, the Māori world did not start with the arrival of Tasman or with the arrival of Cook. So when we're talking about Te Ao Māori or we're talking about mātauranga, we're talking about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years and the accumulation of knowledge and language and insight and if you put it in that scale, colonisation is like this in terms of our journey as a people across the vast Pacific Ocean to here.
We were not a bunch of dummies, basically, who floated from island to island and landed up here by accident. It takes knowledge to do that and it takes a certain drive, a certain attitude. Nor were we, like, just having so many babies on an island that we had to move because we were overpopulating it, which is one theory, that we were driven because of overpopulation. Nor that we drift here. I mean, it's really important to understand that. It's important to understand the deliberate journey that Māori took to arrive here. How do we know it's deliberate? Because women came on our waka. And in the pacific, women generally don't go on waka if you're on a fishing expedition. In many parts of the pacific, that's the role only of men.
So, to have a deliberate journey, you have men and women. You have women who are child-bearing, that means young women. That's a long journey. That's a whānau journey, and it's a deliberate journey that takes a lot of confidence.
So that scale, I think, is really important to stretch it out, to understand for Māori that we can't just be defined by our oppression. We can't just be defined by colonialism. We can't let our minds be limited and constrained by that, it's really important to understand this bigger potential that we lived because I think that's where I would want to set the kind of mindset we need for imagining the future. Not this, but out here.
So, we do have to grapple with this past of colonialism, and that's not like we can do it today. It is constantly coming up and reminding ourselves all the time about how powerful that colonial experience has been. How destructive, how traumatic, how fragmenting it has been and we do have to come to terms with that and recognise not just what it destroyed but also the kinds of things it also created. New things, difficult things, the new ways that we had to constitute ourselves. The new ways we had to organise. The new institutions that we had to build. A Kohanga Reo is a new institution. A kura is a new institution. So there's constant need to build entities and institutions within which we can flourish and without them we can't flourish because the institutions that used to be there have gone.
And so at the same time, I think we have to grapple with that past. We also constantly have to think about futures, you know, so one of the criticisms often is that Māori are stuck in the past. We can't get over the past. I just think that's wrong. We're not stuck in the past. I think we understand, we use the past to understand the future and while I'm talking about, "This is our past", and we've got to get past this to get to that to imagine the future, all right? So that's often where I think there is this tendency to be stuck, as if you just get stuck in the trauma, if you just get stuck in the negative, it's really hard to dream, because you need hope in that space, and there's no hope in it. There's hope in this space. There's hope when you cast a wider lens and you go back further in time to a world in which Māori did govern that world. Māori did exercise mana motuhake and in that world, Māori were creative. They were really creative, they were very technological, they invented technologies, all right, they were very complicated human beings like what you would expect in any autonomous society. I think that's really the past we have to get back to, not to recreate it and live like that, but because that opens up futures, that allows us to imagine a future in which our mātauranga thrives again, which are real thrives and our imagination's thrive.
So, I think it's also a process of dismantling particular paradigms, understanding issues around racism and working really hard to pull those apart and anyone who's worked in that space will tell you it's really challenging because what we're up against -- and not just the mindset, we've got to change public discourse, public attitudes, public education and not just the public out there, it's the public in here and the public in here, all right, it's layers and layers of a way of thinking, knowing, being and acting that is embedded in racism, embedded in racist ideas and we've got to move out of that, but that's just one paradigm. There's a whole lot of others and I'll talk about some of those.
I think drawing from Māori knowledge values and language has been really important for me and those of us who work in the same space to see that as the platform of strength that enables us to imagine something different, all right, that it's really important that we take for granted, in a sense, as natural, that we had knowledge. It's not like a, "Oh, you people had knowledge" kind of thing. It's like, well, of course we did, and we -- not only did we have knowledge before Cook arrived, or Tasman arrived, we've had knowledge and we've been making knowledge since they arrived. We didn't stop knowing when Europeans arrived. We didn't stop learning. We've continued to learn and will continue to build our knowledge. This time it's knowledge of the Crown, it's knowledge of colonialism, it's knowledge of religion, it's knowledge of change, it's knowledge of trauma, it's knowledge of being made landless, it's knowledge of negotiating with the Crown. It's a whole lot of things that we've learnt because we've been forced to in some cases, but because we've also had the opportunity to think about these things and to talk about them within our own communities.
I think the real deep thing about, the real challenging thing maybe for government, for institutions definitely, is that next point of, "What does it mean to change power relations?" What does it mean to shift power, to move power, to decentre power? I think that's one of the most challenging is to, you know, people kind of grapple with the idea of, "Can you give up power?" Is that something you give up, or is it something someone takes from you, like they -- it's not for you to give, because you just inherently have it. So, what, do you just give your arm part of the power, or your head part of the power, or is it for someone to take? It's kind of quite a critical idea, what does it mean to share power and to share it in genuine ways, and there are lots of words that imply this, eh? Like partnership. That's a cool word. It implies some sort of partnering up, sharing of power, and most people sort of -- their analogy for thinking about that word, partnership, is to think about marriage. Bad model. Bad. Don't go there. Not a good model. Not marriage in a western paradigm sense, all right, because it's imbued with property rights, or the word I've been -- I put out on Facebook the other day, the principal of coverture. Coverture is the medieval doctrine that when a women married, she became part of the husband, indivisible from the husband, so she had no rights at all. That's imbedded in the concept of marriage.
Not a good model for thinking about partnership, you have to think about partnership in, I think, institutional ways, in collective ways, rather than in what it means for two individuals to join up and try and survive together and have babies and be nannies and korus and things.
So that shifting relations of powers is probably one area that I think you would be grappling with, universities are grappling with it, other institutions in terms of setting up whether they call it bicultural partnership, Tiriti partnership, so we'll come back to that shortly.
Embedded in all this, then, is this idea of decentering whiteness, Pakehatanga, colonialism, patriarchy and heteronormativity. I mean, those are big ideas and terms which sort of start to get at the kind of power that we really -- or relations of power that we embed it in, that there's idea of this sort of normative nature of whiteness and normative nature of patriarchy and heterosexuality, that those are really powerful ideas that strike for some people at the core of a value system and anything that strikes at a value system is hard to challenge, is very hard to kind of -- even though you don't think you have the value, you do have the value when someone puts up something else. Suddenly, you identify that that's a value.
And then I think kind of working with different concepts across the indigenous world, really this idea of relationality is really powerful. We talk about, here in Aotearoa, in terms of relationships, whanaungatanga, whakapapa, all -- you know, those senses of the ideas. I know in Canada they use the term "all my relations" which is a term which is not just about people but all my relations is about animals and all the other entities in the environment. So it's a philosophical or epistemological idea of humans not being the be all of the world, of planet earth. That humans are important in it, but humans need to interrelate with the world and in Māori ideas, it means we whakapapa to everything in the world. We descend from the sky father and mother earth. Every entity in Aotearoa has an atua from which it descends, so these are big genealogies and basically what they say is humans are not the be all of earth. They have responsibilities but they don't have the right to exploit the earth to nothingness. They don't have the right to destroy the earth, because if they're doing that, they're destroying their relations. When you destroy forests, you destroy your relations. When you upset the balance between the forest, the water, the whenua, you destroy relations and relationships, so that idea is a really powerful idea. It is in western philosophy as well, but it's actually central to indigenous philosophy.
That then links to ideas about connectedness and then this intergenerational sense of time, of being and understanding change as being intergenerational. Not necessarily fast food takeaway models of change. I think another key idea is about investing in capacity building, and I was just talking to someone earlier. For most of my career, I've focused on building the capacity of Māori. I've been quite explicit about that and of other indigenous peoples, but we are in an interesting time now where we also have to build the capacity of institutions and that includes Crown institutions, who clearly don't have the capacity to do this new work with Māori, to understand what it means to partner with Māori, so there's a different kind of capacity building. It's not a kind -- just making sure everyone's educated and skilled, that's not necessarily the capacity that we're needing to build, it's the capacity to work in these new spaces, work with new knowledge, work with Māori ideas, work with Māori concepts, work with iwi, form different kinds of relationships and understand what it is to go on a journey together, because actually in some of this space, you don't really know the long -- what it's going to look like long term. You have a view, but in order to get there, you need each other to go on the journey together to get there. If one of you gets there at the end, fail. Big failure, all right? And that's the kind of nature of the journey that we're on. It's not a race. It's just not a race. It's not that kind of journey.
And then I think the final point, really, I've just summarised quite a few ideas that are in here, it's just these sort of healing processes, other countries are more explicit about healing. I don't know if you saw -- it would have been hard to avoid the news about the identifying of human remains at a residential school in British Columbia in Kamloops. It's a place I visited, my husband, Graham, worked over in British Columbia for a number of years, so immediately I saw the news, I thought, "I know exactly how my friends and colleagues and students will be feeling", just re-traumatising them, really, but I also know it's been purposeful identifying remains. And it's not the only country where they're doing this work. I also know they're doing it in Ireland in mothers and babies homes, looking for the remains of babies that just disappeared. I also know they've been doing it in Latin American countries and in Spain there have been this huge sort of disappearance of people, they've disappeared. So this journey to have to go there to find the remains to get closure, people talk about it as closure, to be satisfied that what you suspected was actually true, those sorts of ideas.
In the colonial mythology it's like, you should just get over all of that. The fact of the matter is, these big, traumatic events are not things that people get over with. They live intergenerationally, and I think there's a lot of lack of understanding of how the powerful impact those stories have even down the line intergenerationally. Some families have been able to bury that, but they've done it in very purposeful ways. They've just tried to close the door, it's meant they've often run away, changed country, changed context, changed name, changed identity, but those who refuse to do that can't run away. It's in them to find out.
And that then leads to these ideas about healing processes, how do you then, understanding that, kind of go through a process of healing? And I thought about this in the negotiations, I was a negotiator for the Ngāti Porou Settlement, representing probably the most difficult hapū in the iwi, the one that constantly did not agree with Uncle Api Mahuika and I remember talking to aunties and that about what they wanted because what they wanted, they weren't going to get. We kind of knew that. It didn't stop them from wanting it, so how do you kind of reconcile when you're just not going to get it? Well, a) it's gone totally, b) it's not on the menu, you're not going to get access to that and even if we got it, it's not going to come back in the form that you might want. So how do we deal with that?
One of the reasons I like looking at other indigenous places is that they have put more work into healing and healing ceremonies and thinking creatively about these ceremonies that you -- you basically design them. You're not plucking them out of the past and trying to kind of regenerate -- "Did we have a ceremony for colonisers losing our shit, taking our shit?" No. We didn't. We have to invent it. And why shouldn't we? That's the point about having rangatiratanga is to continually create and think about things for the new circumstances and so healing I think is really important and underdone in New Zealand. It's underdone because New Zealanders are really pragmatic, it's like, "Oh, yeah, okay, let's just get on with it, we're going there, come on, you're all on board". Well, no, there's going to be a group not on board because they're stuck, and they're stuck because we need these healing processes to go through.
What do they look like? Well, I've been to some. Now, I'm someone who does not like sitting in a circle doing get-to-know-each-other activities. It's like, that's not me. So there have to be a range of different ceremonies. Some of which involves karakia, clearly. But some of which involves whanaunga, some of which involves korero, some of which involves understanding our history, but part of that is also a healing journey. I think it does mean understanding language and learning a new language for communicating, for talking about things. An alternative way to express ideas. I think language is really important for how we think about each other.
In a way, I've talked about some of these ideas here and they're just four that I think are important because the other thing I hear a lot in our community is the term, "Oh, just get real". Well, I'm someone who likes to ask, "Well, what is real? What is reality?" Because reality is framed by language and discourse, philosophies, ideas, common sense, often, and a lot of what we have to do is reframe that. That's what we did in Kohanga Reo is, you just reframe what the challenge is and to think about doing it in a new way. It just opens up different ways of seeing and different possibilities. The reclaiming thing is not just about claiming physical material things like repatriating Tonga from museums or something or reclaiming land and treaty settlements. I think it's also about reclaiming important ideas about who we want to be and who we are, reclaiming these kind of adversity of identities, reclaiming imagination. Reclaiming knowledge. Reclaiming a past. That those are important.
It's important to write, I mean, I've always thought it was important to write, to write these things down and to think about, in writing, what does it mean to write in decolonial ways? Because I can tell you it's really hard. Our language, our English language is very much framed in a particular way of writing, of understanding the world, and it's hard to get away from that, there's a hierarchy, there are classification systems, there are categories that we use that are taken for granted and in that then I think is this, how do you write the world? How do you write our position? How do you write our identity and a consciousness about that?
So, Graham Smith, that's my husband, he's there with the two mokos, he talks a lot about praxis, it's an ideal, Paulo Freire who is a Brazilian educator also -- well, who kind of began this idea. I think in a Freireian sense and the way Graham talks about it is it's sort of conscientisation or consciousness, action, theory, reflection, that it's a cycle of change. I've just kind of broken those down into four ideas around thinking and theorising, I don't see theorising as necessarily just an elite academic exercise, I think all of you theorise - everyone theorises, it's how we make sense of what is real. It is how our view of reality is actually reinforced by theorising. But ultimately it's about thinking quite deeply and then about acting and changing and doing the things, if you like, implementing our ideas, reflecting and evaluating them and then using that reflection to refine, re-examine, think, theorise and carry on.
And I think organisations have to embed that as a culture, especially knowledge institutions because in knowledge institutions -- and I see Oranga Tamariki, Crown agencies are knowledge institutions in similar ways to universities, in similar ways to museums, you work from a base of knowledge, you produce knowledge, you reproduce knowledge, you practice knowledge, you learn new knowledge, you're in the business of knowledge which means you’re also in the business of learning and learning institutions have to actively learn, not get stuck in concrete and stop learning. So that cycle's important for us as individuals, but it’s also important for us as collectives and embedding it kind of in practice, I think, is really important.
Right, so this in the middle was a haphazard reunion of Ngā Tamatoa that we held in Hamilton a few years back and we're in the business of organising our -- what we think is our fifty-something anniversary this year and my basic message is, "Who says change can't happen?" If we lived with this belief that change can't happen, that you can't dream a dream and make it happen, then you just may as well die, really. Because humans believe in change. Humans are equipped to change and I think in our world shifting from the sense of being stuck in oppression, if you like, and believing that in order to change, you have to act, you have to challenge the status quo, not just of government, not just of pākehā society, but of our own communities, was very powerful.
Some of our biggest enemies when we were in Ngā Tamatoa were our own people. They thought we were disrespectful, which we were, which we had to be, which we knew consciously that we had to push even our own people out of their victimhood mode because we just thought that was a trap.
But at the same time, we're all getting old and we're getting forgetful and so our children are organising this reunion and then they're asking us for things, like, "When did you start?" and we're like, "Oh, I think it was at a hui …" I've got a version, that person's got a version and it's like, "And when did you do this?" and I think, "What do you think was that?" What -- were you at Waitangi? And, you know, so this was not an era where there were cellphones, where you could take photos of yourself, where there was this documentary record in moment by moment of what you did, this was pre all of that. This was polaroid camera day. We had polaroid photos which didn't last very long. In other words, there was no consciousness of documenting, in a sense, what we were doing, and so we're trying to build it out of bits and pieces of broken memories.
Three quarters of our group have died, have passed on, so it's an interesting journey, but I think what I want to really go back to, we were just one group in that era of many. There were many interesting anti-war groups, there were feminist groups, gay liberation groups, you name it, socials were fabulous when were at university, it was just -- the diversity of political viewpoints was really good, but the struggle for our reo has not gone away. It's taken into new places but it would not be where it is now if it weren't for the intervention of a generation who did not speak Te Reo. Who understood immediately what that meant to know that your parents spoke Te Reo but you didn't and to see the consequences of that and to try and overt that, to try and do something to overt it, and that is essentially a political act that was about why that happened, the language, the death of our language, but also to understand that for a language to live, it had to be spoken by real people, and then how do you make that happen.
So there's these two things that go on and, in a way, they would represent the decolonising and the Kaupapa Māori relationship, you're kind of reaching out to wider society, to the world, to government, that this change has to be supported, you have to stop doing these things, you have to support doing these things, but also to work in our own world, to say you've got to believe that our reo has value, you've got to believe that our ideas have value, you have to re-believe that and you've got to make it happen because this side can't do it all by itself, all right? We have to do it too.
So that's why that journey is important and that's why the relationship is important.
So, once again, this is like a synthesis of a whole lot of ideas into just a few bullet points and I've emphasised some which is really around value and our identity. Now, you might think, "Well, you know, all Māoris value their identity now". Well, they do now, but they didn't in 1970, and I grew up with people who honestly worked hard to be pākehā and you might -- there's a point you can look at it and it's ridiculous because they're brown. You think, "How can you pretend to be a pākehā and you're brown?"
I remember talking to a kind of cousin of mine in a delicatessen in Auckland and we turned up and go, "Hey, cuz", and she said, "I'm working here", you know, like, "Don't bother me". And then she said something to us like, "Would you like some pâté?" and we're like, "What the hell?" Well, we didn't really say 'what the hell' in those days but, "Why are you working so hard to pretend you don't know us?" Because that's a very cognitively violent thing to do is to disappear in identity. But there was a generation in the 50s and the 60s who did that, who actively brought into the assimilation agenda and genuinely believed that they could assimilate and I -- in my family we've got lots of stories about people trying to do that which, of course, we always thought was funny. It wasn't really funny for them but we always thought it was ridiculous, and it's the power of hegemony, the concept of hegemony, that a brown person can look in a mirror and see a white person looking back. Which is what some people psychologically see and for those of you who know the term hegemony, it's a good example of how hegemony works, is that you don't see yourself, you see this other image.
Seeing the strength. This is a real challenge in some cases, it's getting easier now to see strength in these constructs. It's hard to see strength when all you see is something broken and damaged. When you look at something broken and damaged, you think there's no strength. There's no strength in this. It's destroyed. So it takes a lot of courage to see through the brokenness, through the damage to the core of a beauty that's potentially there, to see strength, to see beauty, to see this amazing ancestry, to see Te Puna who created heaven and earth or sky and earth, to see in a damaged person this world that's beautiful or to see in a damaged context and yet a lot of what we've had to do to rebuild ourselves is to see strength in ourselves and to do that takes love, takes courage, takes hard work, it takes patience, takes commitment, takes energy and it takes guts, all right, cause it's easier to do the opposite. It's easier to turn away than to invest in that work.
So it's really important to recognise the potential of those structures but also the potential to mediate a lot of the other things that are happening. I see that a lot and I've experienced, throughout my life, some of the most generous people are often the most impoverished. They're most generous with their spirit, generous with the food that they have in their cupboard, and that's how I grew up, I grew up in families who, when manuhiri came, the best food in the cupboard and literally we did, we had cupboards, not fridges, or meat lockers, we had meat lockers, but the best food was always given to visitors, even if it meant there was no food left or you just had bread and jam the next day. Always this generosity of spirit, it's really powerful.
I think also understanding why Māori engagement in agency is so important. It's not just about engaging Māori in whatever the issue is, it's having them have a sense of agency in that engagement. There's no point them coming to a hui, sitting around the room and because we're all good at doing this, we sit around the room, we smile and we're like, you know, like we've got these invisible mind connecting strategies where we know what everyone in the room is thinking without even communicating, all right, and we know that they're thinking, "What's this? One more consultation", and that's one of the aunties and another one is going, "Here we go again, but one of us has to stay in the room". So we kind of -- well, I go to lots of those kind of hui and you just sit there and you think, okay, yes, this is important, this process is important, it's important for us to be in the room but I'm not really in it, you know, because you haven't turned me on, you haven't flicked that "I have a sense of agency" switch, you haven't inspired it, you haven't reached it, you haven't sort of penetrated all these other barriers going on.
So engaging the agency of Māori to participate, that's what's hard, not having a hui with Māori. Most of you can probably organise a hui with Māori. Engaging Māori is much deeper.
And then the final point is really this sort of shifting away and really examining things for the sort of implicit deficit approach that's embedded in it, an implicit blame culture that comes with that. So this is Robyn Kahukiwa, which I bought for myself and then I got shamed in giving it to my daughter for Christmas to give her something really beautiful.
So just four ideas then: being Māori is normal, okay, and I say that as a just taken for granted thing, cause I certainly grew up in a world where being Māori in Aotearoa was to be different, to be the other, and I think we're still partly in that world.
Our language, knowledge and culture is valid, legitimate. Actually, it's awesome. It's beautiful; our language, knowledge and culture. It's what makes you and us unique in this country, it comes from here. We can design and lead our own solutions and, man, we can do that. Kohanga Reo is a great example. Not saying it comes purely from us, but we're really good at adapting other ideas and putting them together and suddenly we have what's called Kohanga Reo which is a nest of language, you know, the concept that brings it together. It is what we're also good at.
And our collective ways of working are a strength. They often require patience because they require communication and with communication across a collective, that can be time consuming, but what we learn in our ways of doing things is if you don't communicate, you're in trouble. If you don't operate collectively, things can fail, right, not because some people are anti the idea but because the bit of the idea they've got third party meant they went off in that direction, not this direction, so it is a collective way of working, it is a way of working. For those of us growing up in this way, it's kind of second nature and intuitive but to learn to work in this way I think is much more challenging.
So, Graham talks about this praxis cycle which comes out of the Freireian model as well around conscisouness raising, action, reflection, and I've just sort of turned this into a Kaupapa Māori sort of idea where whānau really are at the centre, but when I say whānau, they're different concepts of whānau.
So every time the Crown takes one of our words, then it creates a whole different concept. So when the Crown uses the word "whānau", and there's a specific document that used whānau in education, it was the tomorrow schools, the Tomorrow's Schools policy was the first time, I think, in education that we saw this word but it was so devoid of what we meant by whānau that it became kind of meaningless. It was just a word plopped in the middle of a sentence that stripped away its actual meaning. So words are also relational, all right, they live in relation to or exist in relation to other ideas, and sort of borrowing bits and pieces of Māori language, it irritates me because I think it needs to be more thoughtful, used carefully, these aren't translations of things, they're quite deep concepts.
So whānau at one level is one of our deepest institutional ideas, a social institution, all right, so it's -- you can't get smaller than that. We have these other relationships like tuakana-teina, tane-wahine, you can get those sort of relationships but they're not really an institution in a social sense of lots of people who do things together. Whānau is the smallest unit, I think, of what you might call a deeply Māori institution that survived over time. It's got very strong principles that keep it together.
Then you have other institutions that might build from that until you get iwi which is a completely different institution to maybe the idea of whānau. And remember, the word whānau is linked to birth and then when you get into birth, you get into whenua which is linked to afterbirth, right, so our concepts are really amazing and they're very interconnected but they're the driving force, then, of what change for us means.
I think all these things are really important in the cycle of how we think about things but also how we think ultimately about transformation, because if it doesn't do anything transformational at the whānau level, it doesn't change, nothing changes.
So, I think that's it. What I believe -- there's more mokopunas, same mokopunas, they're just littler, cause they'd be really embarrassed if I showed them now.
The other thing to remember is we don't look alike anymore. One of the unique things in New Zealand is you can't use colour to determine who's Māori, all right, so issues around colour for us just don't make sense. We have blue eyed, blonde haired, Māori speaking Māori. The colour range in one whānau, I know in my mother's whānau we've got green eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, black eyes, dark skin, middle-coloured skin, white skin, all in one whānau. So it's really important when people are talking around issues of race and racism that for us, colour is not the issue. All right? The kind of racism is about our culture, is about our language, it's about the collective of our people and our history and that. There is the casual racism that's associated with how individuals are treated, all my friends who have moko kauae are just constantly offended and insulted by the way people think they can go up and touch them or say outrageous things to them, that sort of casual racism clearly exists in New Zealand as being given permission to thrive but a lot of the systemic issues that we have to deal with are very nuanced to our circumstance here, very subtle, I think, when you're reading international literature, you do have to bring them back to Aotearoa to our specific context and, in the end, our solutions come out of our context. Can't important a program from Minnesota to here and expect it to work because that's not how things work here. It comes back to the sense of agency and engagement, connection, all those sorts of things.
So, thank you very much, ka pai, that's it from me.