Monthly Archives: August 2017

Matt Knutson

Hello! My name is Matt Knutson and I am going to be a senior at UW Seattle in the fall. I was born in Tacoma, WA and currently call Gig Harbor home while I’m not studying. Both of my parents attended UW and my younger sister just completed her freshman year there as well, so we are quite the Husky family! I am a psychology major and am also working on minors in ELS (Education, Learning, and Society) and diversity. I am also a volunteer for UW Dream Project, which works with high school students in the greater Seattle area to promote social justice and college access. During the 2017-2018 academic year, I will be a member of the 9/10th grade outreach program of the Dream Project, which specifically works with underclassmen. I am very excited to coordinate events and create material that will hopefully make a difference in student lives. After I complete my senior year, I plan to go to graduate school for Educational Psychology and would love to work as a school psychologist upon completion of that degree. I enjoy both playing and watching sports; I am a diehard Husky football fan and love the Seahawks and Mariners too. I also enjoy running and playing golf, especially with my dad, as it allows us to spend valuable time together while also doing something active and healthy. Both of my parents grew up in Bellingham, WA and many members of their family still reside there, so I consider the town my second home.

Photo of me at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia.

In my studies of psychology and education, and through my time in Dream Project, I have developed a specific and unique way of viewing the world. I spend many of my days pondering social injustice and how it affects people, especially in the world of education. Many problems in the classroom stem from a lack of understanding between teacher and student, which can lead to countless negative outcomes for students who are left feeling marginalized and forgotten. I am passionate about fighting against this historical tendency, which is one of the main reasons I was so interested in this study abroad opportunity. I am so excited for the complete cultural immersion into Maori culture that will take up my next few weeks, and I cannot wait to incorporate what I learn abroad into my academic life at UW and into my future career!

Kamaka’ike Bruecher

Aloha mai kākou, o Kamaka‘ike koʻu inoa. Hello, my name is Kamaka‘ike. I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. I am of Kanaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiian), Cantonese, and German heritage.

This fall quarter I will be beginning my third year at University of Washington, Seattle campus. I am currently working towards my Bachelor of Arts. My majors are Public Health and Medical Anthropology & Global Health. I am going into my second term as Vice President of External Affairs for the Polynesian Student Alliance on campus. I am currently employed as a student ambassador of Multicultural Outreach & Recruitment and a student assistant for Intellectual House. I am also a student researcher for the Research Family, a Pacific Islander research group based at the Burke Museum. Our work includes using our resources at the museum to educate our campus and each other about our cultures, as well as use our position in higher education to support our local Islander diasporas. It is important for us to help better museums’ treatment of heritage communities of the objects it houses as well as bring our communities in to maintain relationships to objects.

I am thankful to be a part of this study abroad experience because it connects back to the kind of work I hope to do within my own community. As Pacific Island cultures, the Māori community has many similarities to Hawaiians. Due to our common heritage, our cultures share many aspects and values. Our colonial experiences also have many parallels. It is important that communities share with and draw ideas from each other so we can best strengthen our respective efforts. During this journey I hope to learn more about Māori culture, environmental policies, and community efforts. My main passion is agricultural and environmental work, so I am looking forward to learning from my relations on this topic. I look forward to the adventures, lessons, experiences, and connections to come on this beautiful, vast indigenous land.

Holding my uncle’s
chicken in Kāne’ohe, O’ahu


Danni’s Bio

Kia Ora!

My name is Danni. I’ve been a University of Washington student at the Tacoma Campus for nearly a year. I’m headed into my senior year, working towards a degree in Communications and hopefully a bright future as a journalist. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamed of becoming a journalist. I’ve always been interested in the power of writing and the media in controlling the perceptions, opinions, and subsequently, lives of individuals. From my perspective, much of Western media has taken advantage of its influence, systemically portraying minorities such as people of color, women, and certainly indigenous peoples in a negative light, thus solidifying the oppression they face every day of their lives. Throughout my adolescence my mother always told me that if you didn’t like the way something was, do your part in trying to change it. Her words combined with my love for writing became the main motivations behind my aspiration to do my part in challenging the mainstream media’s often misleading representations, and assist in producing progressive, truthful media content.

Danni and her cat, Jasmine.

Moreover, I come from an incredibly culturally diverse background, being a descendant of black, white, Native American, and Filipino genealogies. However, despite my diversified genetic makeup, I’ve spent the majority of my life confused about where I fit in. Ever since I can remember, I’ve attempted to redefine myself in order to fit into the arbitrary definitions of what it means to be a descendant of these various identities, however to this day I’ve yet to fully understand myself and the cultures of my ancestors. This was one of the greatest motivators in my choosing this study abroad exploration in Aoteroa. I’ve always been both inspired and internally jealous of the ability and resilience of indigenous peoples, such as the Maori, to not only revitalize their cultures from its attempted decimation, but also to know so wholly who they are. Not only has it inspired me to look deeper into my own ancestry and personal connection to indigeneity, but also to further understand the plight of these systemically ignored peoples.

Thus far, I’ve been so humbled by the experiences of this trip, and the strength of the Maori people in keeping their culture alive. I’m still unsure of where I fit in the world, or who I am. But in everything I do I’m attempting to piece together my own identity, just like the countless cultures across the world attempting to do the exact same thing. I’m curious for what else this study abroad exploration has to offer, but I can’t wait to find out!


Thanks so much,


Danni Derrickson

Steve Guardi

August 28, 2017

After completing an associates degree in my home state of Illinois at McHenry County College, I chose to serve for three year with Americorps. AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in public service work with a goal of “helping others and meeting critical needs in the community.” First as a tutor and mentor for eight grade students in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles with City Year, second as an environmental restoration crew member working alongside a diverse cohort from around the globe, and finally as a volunteer specialist with Earthcorps in Seattle where my team lead over 10,000 volunteers in Puget Sound parks and natural areas.

Here I can be seen leading a youth group at a special event where the 51st United States Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel serving in the administration of President Barack Obama, was digging in the dirt alongside us.

Currently, I am completing my first bachelors degree in Conservation Science and Resource Management and this study abroad course will allow me to see how environmental justice and Sovereignty is managed with indigenous cultures in another part of the world. The Maori people of New Zealand have produced environmentally charged and intimately mystical novels that had inspired me to visit their world for many years. So far, I cannot formulate words to express the deep gratitude and sense of awe as I participate in culturally immersive events both ancient and inspiring.

I hope to bring the knowledge I gain back to North America where I will be better equipped to build bridges between the US government and tribal nations, ultimately protecting human rights and preserving functional ecosystems and sacred ground. Following this experience, I will act as a UW Bothell Study Abroad Ambassador.

In my spare time I enjoy riding my bike, hiking, and playing video games. I am also a musician with roots in the Chicago-land underground music scene where basements, roller rinks, and youth centers were venues for expression, community building, and hearing loss in the sprawling rural/suburban McHenry County.

Senita Lavulavu

A photo taken during my study abroad trip in Papeete, Tahiti.

A Tongan American senior at the University of Washington, I am majoring in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. My academic interests revolve mainly around indigenous culture studies along with health research studies. My most recent studies have been involved within the South Pacific region, specifically within the Polynesian, Micronesian, and Melanesian islands. For the past few years, I have been involved with Research Sisters with Professor Holly Barker at the University of Washington, doing extensive research on indigenous artifacts within the Burke Museum. During my years at the University of Washington, I have also been a member of the Polynesian Student Alliance Club on campus. Polynesian Student Alliance (PSA) has become my tight knit community within University of Washington’s large campus. Overall, I am excited to use the knowledge I’ve gained at the University of Washington to give back to those who have given so much of themselves to others.

My first study abroad trip consisted of studying abroad to Papeete, Tahiti. During this study abroad trip, we compared and contrasted indigenous Tahitian knowledge about medicine with Western ways of medicine. This New Zealand study abroad trip focuses on sovereignty, environment, and representation within Maori culture.  I hope to learn a lot more about the environment from the indigenous Maori culture perspective versus the Western society perspective. The land is a very important aspect amongst all of Oceania. Although most of our Pacific Islands have been colonized, the mana amongst Oceania remains constant and strong.  The land and ocean make up a large piece of what Oceania is as an identity. Thus far, we have already learned so much during this trip. We have already been exposed to so many traditional Maori customs and traditions. I’m excited to see what the rest of this trip has in store. I know this experience will be life changing for each and every one of us students. I am honored to have this privilege!


A window into Kapahaka

August 28th, 2017


All of us, practicing Maori songs in the Kapahaka class.

Monday we had our first, sit down, class session as we returned to the Waipapa Marae at the University of Auckland. At this point, we reflected on and discussed the underlying connections of our experiences as a group.

After our class, the group had the privilege to attend a Stage 2 Kapahaka (Preforming Arts) class with University of Auckland. It was very exciting to take part in their culture’s revitalization in a university setting. We started by breaking the ice through Pukana (a game where you practice your own intimidating facial expression) before singing practice. Historically, the Maori use intimidating facial expressions along with their booming voices to strike fear into their opponent before a physical contact. Before each song Poura Sharples (the instructor) would translate the song’s meaning for us, it was like being told many stories. These stories highlighted and showcased the value of the Moari community at specific time periods and therefore weaving the past and present together. This method of teaching and sharing keeps the students engaged in their culture while keeping their history relevant and known.

Me (yellow sweater) learning poi from a University of Auckland student.

The environment of the class held an intoxicating amount of energy: it cultivated the students to be proud and bold with their culture, by making engagement the norm. It was incredible to see students as living embodiment of what we are studying here. Seeing indigenous people representing themselves through breathing live into their culture was refreshing and reassuring as a native woman, passionate about indigenous expression.

After the class we were able to individually interact with the students. Our group split into two, males to learn a Haka and females to observe and learn poi. It was pretty incredible to physically interact with the learning aspect of these arts. Seeing the learning process of these types of representation of the Maori culture was was a wonderful and fulfilling learning experience.

-Birdie Harvey

Nikki Rise

Originally from Kirkland, Washington, and a graduate of Seattle Preparatory School, I am currently a Senior at the University of Washington. My declared major is Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management, or ESRM, and I am also pursuing a minor in Quantitative Science. My specific interests within Environmental Science are marine biology and conservation, as well as renewable energy and renewable resource sciences.  My hope is to take my degree in Environmental Science and go into the fields of sustainable business and renewable energy. With a Quantitative Science minor, I hope to gain a broader understanding of statistics and quantitative analysis, and be able to merge that knowledge with my knowledge of environmental science to become a more successful sustainable businessperson. At the UW, I am also a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, where I served for a time as our Green Greek Representative, working with other members of the Greek community to improve our community’s carbon footprint and environmental impact.

Me at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy this summer

Earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Europe on a month-long backpacking trip with a close friend. Over the course of about 33 days, we visited various parts of Greece, Italy, and Spain. This was my first time traveling any great distance without my family, and I learned quite a lot both about myself and about the differences in cultures around the world. During this time, I was able to visit numerous sites of cultural and historical significance, enjoy delicious food, and truly immerse myself in a new way of life. My time traveling in these places helped me prepare a great deal for this study abroad trip in New Zealand.

As my first true study abroad experience, I am very excited for our trip in Aotearoa, New Zealand. This will be my first time taking a college course about indigenous peoples, and I am interested to learn how issues of sovereignty, representation, and environment affect indigenous communities. I am especially eager to hear from Māori leaders and community members about how climate change has been affecting their ways of life, and listen to their fears or hopes for the future regarding the environment. I am also very excited to experience the cultural traditions of the Māori people, especially through art, religion, and storytelling. At the end of this trip, I hope to truly understand the struggles of the Māori peoples and connect with their communities to help bring the issues they face to light and address the challenges they face today, as well as for the future.

Nathan Vallejos

Me with the greatest of the birds: The Chicken.

Hi there! My name is Nathan and I am a current student at the University of Washington Bothell Campus, where I am working towards a degree in both Public Policy and Environmental Studies.  Along with going to school, I currently am a supervisor and trainer for Ezell’s Famous Chicken, a favorite local restaurant in Seattle. In my spare time, I like to volunteer at a homeless shelter in Downtown Seattle as a public relations and technological intern. I am super excited to be a part of this adventure and learn more about the Maori culture while I explore the wonderful country of New Zealand!

For me, this program is a way to look into how other indigenous peoples have dealt with colonization, and how they currently are represented in their country and throughout the world. New Zealand is of particular interest due to the unique way that the country’s government and native populace have addressed the issues that occurred in the past: through the Waitangi Tribunal, which hears cases where the Treaty of Waitangi was broken. I take a great interest in the Waitangi Tribunal as a potential way to address the United States own issues regarding treatment of the indigenous populations. My plans beyond college will likely lead me into a governmental agency, so I’m looking at bringing new ideas to help create policy that will be beneficial to the indigenous peoples of the United States.

Furthermore, this is an excellent travel opportunity for me to explore and experience new cultures as well. New Zealand will be the 14th country that I’ve gotten a chance to experience, and I look forward to the adventures that it will bring. I enjoy comparing and contrasting the various countries to see the cultural differences and to gain a better understanding of the world around me.

I am happy to be apart of this trip, and I am looking forward to the adventures that will be occurring on the trip!

Leaving the Bay, Arriving in Auckland

A view of the Downtown of Auckland

Sunday, August 27th,

Today we found ourselves leaving the beautiful and inspirational Bay of Islands. Being a four hour bus ride from Paihia (where we stayed) to Auckland gave me time to reflect on the vast amount of knowledge that I already learned about the Maori in the Bay of Islands.

While reflecting on the bus watching the terrain shift between rolling grasslands and mountainous pine forests, I started to  think more upon something that we got to learn only a little bit about about while we visited the Bay of Islands: the environment, particularly resource management. On the bus, I definitely noticed that vast portions of the region were grazing fields for various animals, with sheep being the most prevalent. As we learned from the various Maori marae and people we visited over the past few days, these grazing fields are not an original part of the environment. These lands were once forested abodes populated by various species like the great tree, whose sheer size allowed for the Maori to build massive canoes used to travel and go to war with other Iwi (clans). These forests, especially the large trees don’t exist anymore, and I find it disheartening to see the level of environmental destruction that has taken place in New Zealand. It may not seem like it, as these lands are a beautiful shade of green and sheep frolic around but the forests, and thus the biodiversity has left the area as well.

Upon arriving in Auckland, the extensive urbanization of the region was quite evident. It reminds me a lot of how towns and cities in the United States are built versus those in Europe: out instead of up. Despite there being over a million people in Auckland, you won’t find many large skyscrapers in the city, even in downtown. The city is built outwards, taking up a lot of space. Similar to Seattle, the city lacks large scale infrastructure for transportation other than cars, and with large scale traffic this turns into unhealthy pollution.

Notice the lack of tall buildings in Auckland

It’s hard to look at these lands and think about how much they have changed, especially for the Maori people. The forests  that used to cover their lands aren’t there anymore, and that doesn’t let the Maori carve new meeting houses, build canoes and create tools and other items of cultural significance to them. But as we’ve seen in the Bay of Islands, the Maori continue to fight on, and I plan to join them to protect our environment for future generations to enjoy.

–Nathan Vallejos

Te Ara Wairua (The Spirits Pathway)

August 26, 2017

The group awoke to the gentle knocking of Rihari, our Māori guide, upon the inner wall of the carved house’s facade. As the eyelids peeled open, the sounding of sleeping bag zippers bounced off the walls where framed photographs of ancestors oversaw our slumber. As is customary within the Marae, Rihari lead us in prayer spoken in his native tongue of Te Reo. Though I could not understand the spoken words, I felt the weight of its meaning like gravity turned upside down within me. The energy brought me briskly to my feet, and I exited the house to bask in the glow of the new rising sun.

Sunrise at Roma Marae.

One of my main priorities of engagement for this program is to interact as often as possible with our Māori hosts, and I was pleased to be met with openness and enthusiasm by Rihari as we discussed matters of farmland conservation, youth engagement, and his 25 year career serving in the military alongside US troops in Vietnam and elsewhere. We spoke for close to twenty minutes, before he ushered us in for our communal breakfast.

Now, these meals are not simply people running through city streets with paper cups and egg mcmuffins as Americans have normalized within the rat race of capitalism; the vibe was that of ceremony and community. Our hosts included the Queen of the tribe, and they had been preparing for what I can only assume as long as an entire UW class period to fill our bellies with subsistence and WONDERFUL taste. And can you guess who was first to Eat? Of course, us. The guests are expected to serve themselves first from a 30 foot table brimming with something for everyone until their wrists give way beneath the weight upon the plates. After we’ve seated, the Queen, Rihari, and others members of the tribe follow, organizing their plates with humble portions.

I greatly value these meals. It is in those times when I bond with my UW classmates. Three days ago we were nearly strangers. Today, I could tell of their own tribal affiliations, genealogical makeup, and top five favorite movies of all-time. Following the meal, Rihari lead us once again in prayer, where we responded with a Māori song we have committed to memory in the interest of cultural immersion.

After packing up our gear and putting away the bedding provided to us, I once again had the privilege of sharing conversation with a Māori host – this time with Haami who is the chairman of the tribe consisting of 30,000+ members. All I had to do was ask him to tell a bit of his life’s story, and his response was a thoughtful oral history of where he began, where he’s been, and where he currently finds himself. I am choosing to keep that gift for myself.

Following a visit to their art center, Te Whare Whiri Toi, and a dizzying bus ride through the Northland countryside, we found ourselves atop what is considered to be the most spiritually significant place for Māori. This place is Te Rerenga Wairua, or Cape Reinga.

This northernmost point of the island is where Māori peoples spirits leave the material world to descend into the underworld (reinga) by sliding down a root into the sea below. The spirits then travel underwater to the Three Kings Islands where they climb out onto Ohaua, the highest point of the islands and bid their last farewell before returning to the land of their ancestors, Hawaiiki-A-Nui. Haami shared an anecdote where those who came to say their final farewells to the deceased had observed footprints in the sand where the dead walk. The path that they travel is distinct, even mapped out precisely by chief orators.

Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) is the beginning of the spirit’s pathway, leading to the ancestral home of Hawaiki.

Through an ecological lens, this landscape fascinates me. The soil, formed from underlying serpentine rock, has toxic levels of saline elements. It lacks others like calcium and phosphorus, which help plants grow. So the Cape is a strange heartland of dwarf plants, many found only there. This is also a meeting point for the Tasman Sea (to the west) and the Pacific Ocean. The result of their meeting is a unique swirling of currents, or the creation of life, between the male sea Te Moana Tāpokopoko a Tāwhaki and the female sea Te Tai of Whitirela – the beginning of it all.

The rest of the day was spent connecting with more amazing folks. Professor Chris Teuton and I spoke of our backgrounds, interests, literature, and how to improve memorizing ability with the “memory palace”. Dani, Racquel, Nathan, and I discussed racial and gender injustices. A group of us played a game. Some of us took advantage of the trampoline overlooking the bay, imagining what it is to fly. I hadn’t finally laid down to rest until 1:30am after extensive talks with Eunice, Dani, David, and Matt about our lives, dreams, and how or heritage influences our world views. And here I sit in our rental house, listening to the laughter of blooming friendship, the howling of the wind, and a very full dishwashing machine.

–Steve Guardi