16 Nov 2018

Māori academics look at placing research in cultural context

7:54 pm on 16 November 2018

Indigenous research must reach those people on the ground to have the most impact, Māori academics say.

Professor Rawinia Higgins.

Professor Rawinia Higgins. Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

The eighth Bi-ennial World Indigenous Forum was held at Auckland University this week - and it brought hundreds of indigenous researchers from around the world.

Manu Pohatu and Te Aroha Hiko from NZEI Te Riu Roa were attending the conference for the first time.

Ms Pohatu said the speakers at the conference highlighted the importance of cultural context in indigenous research.

"Even though they're from overseas they re-affirm what we do.

"I think we have to take the wero [challenge] and we have to actually step up and do the mahi - we shouldn't be relying on data or cases from overseas."

Ms Hiko said she wanted to see researchers focusing on social issues.

"That's what I want to see our researchers doing and using that data to lobby the kawana [government] - because that data is what's going to get our issues adressed."

Ensuring the language in research projects was relevant to community was also key, Ms Hiko said.

"We're academics, we can understand what they're saying - but the people down on the ground on the grass-root levels who will get the benefits - it's well over their heads."

One of the keynote speakers at this year's conference was Hawaiian social scientist Aulani Wilhelm who works in the field of ocean conservation.

Hawaiian social scientist Aulani Wilhelm.

Hawaiian social scientist Aulani Wilhelm. Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

Māori academics helped to set up a pathway many in the Pacific looked up to, Ms Wilhelm said.

"I'm grateful to all of the work and the courage and leadership of Māori in pretty much every discipline."

Indigenous researchers had to walk in many worlds and this was often a challenging balance, Ms Wilhelm said.

"We have to be conscious that we all grew up colonised right - so how do we go through our life debunking some of those things.

"We pick and choose some of the stuff that we think is the great stuff - we kind of put on the side the things we don't fully understand yet or we're not comfortable with."

Professor Rawinia Higgins is the deputy vice chancellor of Māori at Victoria University and is on the board of the Māori research group Ngā Pae o Te Maramatanga.

"Since the inception of Ngā Pae o Te Maramatanga there has been 500 Māori PHD students," Prof Higgins said.

Ngā Pae o Te Maramatanga, she said was now focusing on deep-dive research into the economy, environment, health and reo and tikanga.

It was vital for indigenous researchers to continue to take the lead in reclaiming research platforms, Ms Higgins said.

"As minorities within our own countries it will serve as challenge to ensure our voices are heard.

"When you're pioneering [as Māori researchers] sometimes you kind of lose sight of how far we've come - and then you get reminded by others who are still behind.

"We have come so far - but there's still so much further to go."

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