By Sylvia Marcos
The National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement, through their project: Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, held an international meeting on "Matauranga Taketake: Traditional Knowledge" from 14-17th June 2006. It was held in the capital city of Wellington, Aotearoa-New Zealand.
For years now, this Institute has been fostering research and teaching with an emphasis not only on knowledge but on the particular epistemological characteristics of the Maori way of "grasping the world" (ways of knowing).One of their aims is creating indigenous spaces in the academy. Their vision is the transformation of New Zealand society such that Maori participate fully in all aspects of the society and the economy. Their mission statement reads: "To provide excellent research, capability-building and knowledge exchange so as to support achievement of our vision."
Working in a "horizontal" manner, the meeting was organized by a collective headed by Dr. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Maori woman scholar who published her "Decolonizing Methodologies" in 1998 (Zed Books). It is now on its sixth edition and has become a classical reference for this type of analysis. Other members of the organizing committee included Dr.Clive Aspin, a specialist on HIV/Aids and its implications for indigenous people´s health, and Mere Kepam who has a PhD in higher education with an emphasis in Maori particularities as subjects who are building a knowledge that does not betray their cultural roots.
One of the objectives of this first international meeting was to start to share their awareness with diverse indigenous scholarship from other parts of the world.
I was invited as a keynote speaker to speak on "Traditional Knowledges and Spirituality in Mesoamerica".
Among other keynote speakers were indigenous scholars from Africa: Diery Seck and Holly Dublin; from the Phillipines: Vicky Corpuz; from the U.S Native Americans: Karina Walter; from Australia: the elder and tribal authority, Erykah Kyle. The Hourable Nanaia Mahuta was the closing speaker. Although there was no particular emphasis on gender, the keynote speakers were mostly women. This was noteworthy aspect of the whole conference, as strong Maori women headed and directed the parallel sessions, the collective research reports, and chaired the Keynote presentations.
As I was participating I kept an internal note book to signal the particularities - if any - of indigenous way of organizing conferences. I discovered that this was evident - among other characteristics - in the many organized workshops that preceded the international meeting. These workshops - also focused on the issues of the Conference - took place in the many Maori communities across the North and South Island of Aotearoa. Representatives of these meetings were selected to participate in the meeting in Wellington. A total of almost 400 Maori from all over the country were there participating.
What was most appreciated was the largesse and generosity of the funding for us, the invited scholars in the collective daily sharing of food drinks and of books and publications. These were also a sign of another symbolic way of dealing with expenses. "Green stone" (jade) objects were offered ceremonially to us after our keynote addresses. A Maori "kiss" - rubbing of noses - followed.
The conference as a whole, was a success, given the objectives set by the organizing committee. There was a very large and representative participation of Maori. They were actively involved in the workshops and the final proceedings /declaration; in the sharing of strategies and methodologies for research excellence. This achievement witnessed to their growing visibility, with its epistemological particularity, in the scholarly and political landscape of New Zealand. All of these results were joined by the international participants that came to share their own experiences and to learn from a very actively successful ethnic "minority" that has made significant advances in the political and academic world.