Category Archives: Our Experiences

The Journey of Sovereignty

September 8, 2017

The New Zealand Parliament Building

Today we were given a tour of parliament by Māori member of parliament Meka Whaitiri. Our tour began by entering a whare-like room, with walls adorned by wood carvings and portraits of past, historically significant Māori parliament members. We were welcomed by a traditional pōwhiri, or protocol, exchanging a song between our class and Meka. Following the welcome ceremony, we toured the speaking chambers from both past and present, ending our visit in the Māori committee chamber. We sat around the table asking Meka a variety of questions, eventually ending our afternoon over tea.

Original copy of Treaty of Waitangi

Overall, our last few days in Wellington have completely unhinged all of the preconceived beliefs I held about the state of existence for the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa. I came into this study of Māori peoples with a skewed perception that in terms of Indigenous rights, Māori were so much better off than the natives from my home country. With both the Waitangi Tribunal, a governmental entity dedicated to looking into both contemporary and historical breeches of the Treaty of Waitangi on the part of the Crown, and the illusion of fast-pace progress in the settlement processes, it would seem that while there is still so much work to be done, Māori are far advanced in their pursuit for sovereignty in comparison to Native Americans. I tread carefully, because I don’t want to give off the impression that there has been no progression at all. Time and time again I’ve been left awe-struck by the resiliency of Aotearoa’s first peoples, and their unwavering commitment to their own autonomy. I’ve been so humbled in witnessing cultural performances, speeches delivered completely in Te Reo, and the historic strength of the people.

Yet, in examining the detailed processes of how Māori must fight for sovereignty, it becomes so clear how easy it is to get caught up in a false idea that the New Zealand is edging towards a world “post” colonization. That they, unlike America, have successfully begun to amend the sins committed during colonialism. However, in understanding colonization as a process, rather than an event, it is evident that we will never truthfully live in a world rid of colonization. For this reason, it is imperative not to allow ourselves to get caught up in the idea that we’ve made strides immense enough to rectify the scars colonization has left on indigenous populations. As stated in Patricia Grace’s Potiki, “[As Indigenous peoples], we haven’t come a long way at all…  we’ve been all left out of it in the end. We’ve helped build a country… Worked in the factories, helped build the roads, helped educate its kids… We’ve committed our crimes, done our good deeds, sat in Parliament, got educated, sung our hymns, scored our ties, fought in wars, splashed our money about…”, and yet despite all of this, Indigenous peoples must continue to struggle every day to receive the rights entitled to them for centuries (93-94).

In this way, while the tour left me feeling both encouraged and frustrated, I think it revealed for me the heart of what it means to be indigenous in all parts of the world. To be indigenous is to be limited. It is being allowed an illusion of sovereignty at the cost of your autonomy not only as an individual, but as a tribe. However, it is also challenging this notion every day. It is not only seeing your limitations, but also the paths you’ll take to overcome them. Even more, in light of this, it is my hope that the Waitangi Tribunal never reaches an end. Not only because it is instrumental in dealing with contemporary breeches on the part of the crown, but also because there is no end point. Sovereignty is not a destination, but a journey. In operating under the false pretense that we’ve been ushered into an era post-colonization, we fall victim to seeing Indigenous peoples, such as the Māori, as monolithic, trapped by the notion that there is no growth left to be had. The fact of the matter is colonization will never cease to perverse our mindset, and in order for indigenous populations to continue their journeys towards sovereignty, they must be allowed the capacity and space to evolve.

— Danni

Indigenous Involvement in Institutions

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Our class’s time spent in Wellington has given us a view into the roles Māori have in the major institutions based here. Our visits on Thursday, September 7 included the Waitangi Tribunal office, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, and a meeting with Justice Joe Williams. A major theme that occurred in our conversations with our hosts was the different ways Māori represent their culture and community in the colonial spaces they have worked their way into.

From our morning meeting with the Waitangi Tribunal we had the privilege of hearing about all the different steps in the settlement process from team members of many responsibilities. The tribunal is a committee that was established in 1975 to uphold the word of the Treaty of Waitangi in making recommendations to the Land Court in how to settle Māori land cases. One of the employees we talked to says she started off with her business degree wanting to focus on entrepreneur work, but found herself instead at the Waitangi Tribunal office. She said that she is thankful to be involved because she ended up with an outlet for her education that benefits the Māori community.

When our class arrived later at Te Papa, we were greeted by Senior Curator Māori, Puawai Cairns. The tour started with a discussion in the wharenui (Te Hau-ki-Tūranga) and ended up in the archives of taonga Māori, the cultural treasures that are now under the museums’s care. We learned about not only material culture but the wisdom and value within, the meaning in the language of taonga, the protocols around them, and how the museum and communities interact. Highlighting the complicated relationships the museum has built with its heritage communities helped us understand the goal that the Māori team there had for future interactions. Puawai explained her role as both an indigenous person and a curator. “Sometimes I have to wear the museum hat, sometimes the Māori hat,” she explained, “the Māori hat always wins.” By working our way into institutions that are founded upon the reframing of our heritages and narratives, it is vital for native people to rewrite the rules and make spaces for our cultural framework.

Examples of the tradition and revitalization of waka hourua (voyaging canoes) in Aotearoa

When our class wrapped up the day with a visit to the High Court, Justice Joe Williams was very passionate in his conversation. He drew out a brief history of colonization in Aotearoa and how it has affected the demographics of Māori as well as their treatment by the many systems. When describing momentum that was built by Māori empowerment in the last century he said “we needed to institutionalize that energy,” hence the foundation of programs like the Waitangi Tribunal. The concept of building cultural values and community efforts into the same systems that have caused the issues to arise is a strong example of how to work within a system to change for the better. Justice Williams did look at the different layers of outcomes more critically and acknowledged the drawbacks of every strategy. However the overall message he gave our class is that the Māori community may not have any guarantee of improvement with each new effort dreamed up but at least they have the foresight to try and pave their own future.

“Māori are just like Hawaiians, but cold” -Justice Joe Williams

When we think of the role that museums, governments, and laws have played in settler colonialism often times what is capitalized on is what has been taken away. The role of indigenous communities in these institutions has been one of exclusion and witnessing unequal relations, and seeing how our values are not compatible with the processes that go on daily. However seeing the work of the Māori professionals in Wellington showed our class what can be accomplished if a community continues to fight from both outside and within the very institutions that have held our people back.

-Kamaka’ike Bruecher


Integrate to Perpetuate


A mural of a Māori deity located in the Waitangi Tribunal lobby. This piece shapes the atmosphere of the Tribunal’s space.

September 7th 2017,

What does sovereignty actually mean? Before touring the Te Papa national museum, I believed the concept needed to be bound to legislation. However, our guide, Puawai Cairns, explained that sovereignty isn’t an event or destination, but rather, a process. This statement forced me to rethink my understanding of sovereignty, jurisdiction, and self-determination. If sovereignty was not an end point but was potentially a means of obtaining something, then what were the Māori people trying to obtain?

I began reflecting on what I’d learned since arriving in Aotearoa. Earlier in the trip, we saw how the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi shaped Māori’s claim to sovereignty; as the new nation tried to create a partnership between the indigenous peoples and settlers, institutional biases and privileges marginalized and displaced the Māori peoples. Today, we met with the Waitangi Tribunal, which is the government institution employed to review how Parliament should respond to Māori claims regarding breaches in the Treaty of Waitangi. The Tribunal explained their goals and the processes to produce these reports. It seemed incredibly complex, strict, and limiting, especially due to how these claims are categorized. Māori can only make claims regarding injustices made after 1840, the year the Treaty was signed. In theory, this makes sense. Why would the Crown (a term for the New Zealand government) compensate for transgressions made before the partnership was declared? However, while this may appear logical, the historical injustices do not always follow this timeline, which complicates the Tribunal settlement process. Along with this, it was interesting to see a government program made to research Māori claims, which could support and give legitimacy to the Māori, have no legal power over the Crown. I left the meeting impressed with the Tribunal’s work, but feeling confused on how to perceive sovereignty.

For the last event of the day, we met with High Court Judge Williams. Throughout our discussion, Judge Williams highlighted the idea that Māori needed to “integrate to perpetuate” in regard to establishing their sovereignty to protect and foster their culture and identity. Manuhuia Barcham addressed a similar idea in his paper titled ‘Politics of Indigeneity’ concerning proper acknowledgement, stating that problems arise because “the fact that the atemporality of difference predicated on the maintenance of a prior identity implicitly, and perhaps unintentionally, reduces group identity to a dichotomy of being or ‘non-being’, thereby effectively excluding recognition of the possibility of becoming” (139).  To perpetuate sovereignty as a process, a marginalized community must continue in a state of ‘becoming’ as a form of adaption, while striving to continuously achieve, display, and receive recognition for their self-determination and rights. Judge Williams emphasized that Māori identity is “to be related, to embody something.” This “something” not only represents their community, but also the space needed to foster their culture that the community derives from. Therefore, sovereignty for the Māori is possibly a mode of exercising power over, while existing within, the land that the people belong to. As I ended the day back at our hostel, I remembered a quote from Patricia Grace’s novel Potiki that explains how the environment embodies the Māori, their culture, and ultimately, their sovereignty, proving the importance of the Tribunal: “Remember that land does not belong to people, but that people belong to the land,” (110).




A look back on the state of Matiu/Somes Island in 2017

September 6, 2017

This morning we woke up to a chorus of trees whipping in an intense breeze. The wind was so strong it dominated not only the conversation, but most aspects of the first half of the day. The whole group bundled up and headed down to the docks. I was very grateful for the hospitality that was shown to us by the people there, and the opportunity to spend two nights on such a special place. As we walked one last time through the Maori wood-carved gate that serves as Matiu/Somes entrance, I could not help but look back on how the history of the island has shaped the landscape we were able to take in. There is a dichotomy here, between the Department of Conservation’s efforts in environmental action and the Maori people’s history here. The power of decision making lies with the DoC, a body of the crown, but they operate under the guise of respect for the Maori culture on land they lost to the crown years ago. While on the island I took a walk through the building that was used to ensure the animals coming in to the island were disease free. Seeing the pens where the animals stayed before being shipped to the mainland was nothing short of haunting, an up close reminder of the long story Matiu/Somes has to tell. This building is not going anywhere anytime soon, it’s concrete walls housing metal machines leave a permanent scar on an otherwise beautiful piece of land. All that stands on the island to represent the Maori is a simple carved gate, the entrance to the island. So as we braved 40+ mph winds by the dock it became tough to see where the balance on this island lays currently. Clearly there is more Maori influence here than 50 years ago but is it enough? Is it even close to enough? Only one thing I can claim for sure, is that no one can take away the views this island gave us those two days.

-Tyler Myers

A panorama of the Matiu/Somes Island lighthouse looking out on Wellington Bay.

The Te Taiwhakaea: Treaty Settlement Stories project

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Kia ora!

We came back from Matiu/Somes Island early this afternoon. After settling back into our hostels at the Dwellington, we had the privilege of meeting Leanne Tamaki with the Treaty Settlements Stories project.

The Te Taiwhakaea: Treaty Settlement Stories is a project developed by Manatu Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The ministry identified this project to be important and historically significant. This project “will produce a comprehensive account of recent history of Treaty of Waitangi settlements from all perspectives.”

(From left to right) Treaty Settlement Story Team Members Anaru Dalziel, Hine Parata-Walker, Leanne Tamaki, and Lynette Townshend

Their plan is to collaborate with leading historians, other Ministries, research institutions, and universities to bring forth the stories of iwi and hapu (maori people and family). The project aims to produce multimedia and multiplatform publications accessible to the mass population that will amplify the unheard voices and silenced stories of Maori people in regards to the treaty settlement. One of the slides that Leanne shared with us was a statement from former Prime Minister “…we absolutely must teach an honest history of the settlement period… that’s the only way you can get acceptance of what still has to be done to correct some of those errors in the past.” One of the objectives of this project is to better inform the Maori people about the treaty – Maori people know a little about the treaty but don’t completely understand what exactly happened or the details of it. The content of this project can be used in public education and contribute to a better informed and understanding New Zealand public. The tragedy for New Zealand was not only having their land unfairly confiscated but also that they had no idea.


I found this project empowering and of vital importance to the people of New Zealand – it is absolutely necessary for them to recognize the errors of their history and hear the voices of Maori people in regard to the treaty settlement. I wasn’t surprised to learn that a project like this was rising – this is a land of resilient indigenous people. The objectives of the Te Taiwhakaea: Treaty Settlement Stories project intersects with our course’s themes of sovereignty and representation – it creates space where the team can produce and control content that will project the voices and stories of from all perspectives, educate their youth of their true history, and distribute information that will reach the mass population. With this project, they are able to represent all voices of their people that were unheard.

Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories Project team with UW class!

– Aleila Alefaio


Mysteries of Matiu Island

Tuesday, September 5th,

Today our class found ourselves on the glorious island of Matiu, or as some call it Somes island as well. Being owned by the Maori but operated by the Department of Conservation I was curious to see how these ideas came together on the island. While the previous day the rest of the group and myself went off exploring the island and interacting with its environment, today we got to see the Maori portion, or lack thereof in Matiu Island’s case and how it intersects with the environment.

A view of the island’s edges.

After our class session and some down time on the island, we got to meet with one of the rangers who provided our group with a lot more information on the Kaitiaki Plan and the Maori representation on the island, which other than the carved gate we saw at the wharf of the island was simply non-existent. From the ranger, we learned of the reason for this: despite the lower down rangers wanting to get the local Iwi’s (tribes) who owned the island involved more heavily, their efforts got consistently bogged down by the bureaucracy. The rapid turnover that takes place on the trust board that deals with Matiu Island makes things incredibly slow to move forward on the island. Furthermore, there is a lot of other Taonga (treasures) that this trust board has to deal with which take up time as well, and without proper resources to be able to address these areas, Matiu Island then lacks the proper cultural representation. Sadly this is many times a fact in democracies and with the bureaucracy, the wheels turn at a snail’s pace, and it is quite frustrating to deal with.

The carved gate to Matiu Island.

In a bit brighter spot from the lack of the Maori representation on the island, the environmental preservation and conservation programs seem to be doing quite well. The island’s had recent successes with several endangered species, including the Tuatara, a lizard native to only New Zealand, and the Kakariki, another endangered parakeet as well. Coming from what was once a barren island that was a quarantine station for Wellington and the surrounding area, now it is a verdant green island that is predator free and well protected. Though, as an environmentalist, the tree situation here was amusing and irritating; most trees aren’t from the area, or even New Zealand. I understand why this is though, back when the trees were planted, they put whatever they could get on the island, and are working on changing it now.

All in all, I was really interested in being able to explore and experience Matiu/Somes Island. I think that the island was a good look at how the Maori and Environment intersect, and the various issues relating to these themes. Also, I’m interested to see further into the government’s perspective in Wellington after getting a glimpse of it on the island. The trip out was a wonderful experience and I look forward to what Wellington will bring us in our knowledge.

–Nathan Vallejos


September 4, 2017

The day started like most on this trip. I woke to an incessant alarm and the rhythmic thud of footsteps outside my room, but that familiarity wouldn’t last long. Today we set off to Matiu/Somes Island in the Wellington Harbor.  The island takes bio-security very seriously, but the ranger conducted quarantine and luggage search was much less painful than expected. Along with the quarantine the ranger informed us that the island was actually owned by a group of local Iwi (tribes) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) was just managing it under the Board of Kaitiaki. The Ranger also managed to incorporate much more Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) into his speech than I was expecting. Both of these came as pleasant surprises especially after the many examples our class has come across regarding pakēha, (non-Māori) mistreatment of Māori people.

Professor Chris Teuton walking through the waharoa on Matiu/Somes Island.

The pleasant surprises seemed to continue as we walked under a waharoa (gateway), but then I remembered the ranger mentioning that it was put up only a few months ago. This got me thinking. Maybe all these harmonious relations between the Māori and the Crown aren’t as equal as they seem, or maybe they are just recent efforts to reconcile the countless wrongs committed over centuries. As we approached the top of the island, seeing the dated western structures for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice the differences between this island and the Māori spaces we had previously visited.

After lunch the class started to wander around the island, taking in the sights and history. We learned about the Māori people’s exclusion from the island for 150 years and the Crown’s free reign during that time, leading to disrespect of the island that has been longstanding and without bounds. A few of the many wrongs include using the island as a quarantine site for both humans and animals, along with an internment camp during the World Wars. Until recently in 2009 when several local Iwi known as the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust (PNSBT) won a settlement and thus ownership of the island due to claims made on the Treaty of Waitangi. Despite this change made eight years ago signs of Māori culture have still been rare with pakēha influence being unmistakable. The notion that this island is truly equally managed came further into question with each turn I took on the hiking trails.

However, after speaking with a ranger stationed on Matiu/Somes Island my own ideas about the governance of the island were turned upside down. He spoke of the Kaitiaki Board who rules over several islands in the Wellington Harbor including Matiu/Somes. On this board three of the six seats belong to the PNBST, two to the DOC, and one to a member of the community. The local Iwi clearly has the board stacked in their favor, so why the lack of Māori culture and influence on the island? In short, the PNSBT does not have the capacity to manage this island along with their many other properties and interests. They also do not have the funding nor the man-power to take on a task like managing the island by themselves, so they must give some managing power to the DOC. The issues continue from there with the problems of both funding and capacity coming up time and time again between the PNBST and the Crown.

Now the Iwi of the area finally have some control over the governance of their land, but that is all. The same people that have been systematically shut out of higher education and well-paying jobs are now expected to step away from their already busy daily lives to care for a tiny island most of them have never been to. That’s a tall order for anyone and it’s nearly impossible for a family that’s already struggling to make ends meet. The Crown has finally given this group of Iwi representation, but no tools to make themselves effective, essentially killing any chance they had to restore their version of Aotearoa. While the situation may be more fair and harmonious than it appears at first glance the historic wrongs committed by the Crown are inhibiting Māori peoples to effectively use their new representative power.


(Mis)representation in Wellington

3 September 2017

After a stimulating class discussion about representation of Maori culture and identity in Aotearoa, I was itching to explore Wellington on our first full day in the city. I particularly wanted to see Te Aro Park, which according to a landmark map in our hostel, was the site of one of the largest Maori settlements in the Wellington area. Our class has had a lot of exposure to modern Maori culture and spent time on modern maraes, but I was excited to learn about what a Maori settlement looked and felt like hundreds of years ago, prior to the presence of large cities here. Racquel, David, and I bundled ourselves up in coats and hats and began our trek across town.

Te Aro Park, the former site of one of the largest Maori settlements in the Wellington area.

After 25 minutes of fighting the wind—Wellington is known as the windy city of New Zealand—we arrived at the park. The space was filled with murals and sculpture, pools of water, and small trees. However, I saw no obvious evidence of any remains of a large Maori settlement and I began to wonder whether or not I was in the correct place. After a few minutes of searching the park, the three of us found a small plaque that confirmed we had not mistaken the location, stating that the area had been settled as recently as the 1890s by as many as 200 Maori. The plaque went on to say that since then, the space had also been a Mission House, several public service stations (police, fire, and electrical), and a Turkish bath, among other things, until the park as we found it opened in 1992. The surprise between the three of us was palpable; how could a place of such important cultural heritage so often be repurposed?

The three of us went on to see and do several other things throughout the day, but I remained mentally present at Te Aro Park. I thought a lot about the park in relation to Maori representation, and the place that Maori people occupy in the overall representation of Aotearoa. In our class discussion from earlier that day, we talked about how native peoples tend to lose land and resources because they lack the power to represent their interests. In our travels across the country, we have seen and heard numerous examples of this loss of land and resources. What was a thriving Maori settlement as recently as 120 years ago, Te Aro Park—now situated between two busy streets lined with shops and restaurants—is yet another example of the constant struggle for representation and relevance that the Maori face.


— Matt

Sheep and Settler Colonialism

September 2, 2017

Today, we took the scenic route to Wellington aboard the Northern Express for a ten-hour train ride. We traveled through tunnels, in the shadow of a mountain, and beside small industrial towns; all the while, we ate, listened to music, talked, and most importantly, slept. The lengthy trip was used for rest, bonding, and reflection as we looked onto Aotearoa’s beautiful countryside.

A reoccurring feature of this landscape was the green grass used as pastures for grazing cows and sheep. Animal agriculture was so prominent throughout the ride that I was able to comprehend how vastly outnumbered humans are by sheep: 29.5 million to 4.6 million. It began to strike me as odd, how have these non-indigenous animals become such a staple in the country’s geography? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is quite layered involving both the Treaty of Waitangi and Western ideology.

Cows on a pasture next to the railroad tracks

Throughout this trip, we have learned the effects of having two separate founding national documents; the Māori’s version of the Treaty is a completely separate piece of work when compared to the British version, ultimately causing disparities which left the nation, specifically the Māori peoples, with intergenerational traumas. As the country grew off of the British version of the Treaty, the Pākehā’s (non-Māori) needs and values were cemented into the nation’s identity. The Māori peoples became marginalized as the partnership outlined in their version of the Treaty was not upheld. Due to this structure, the Crown was able to “buy” Aotearoa’s lands and level them in order to make space for agrarian traditions and the Pākehā.

The polarity between the grazing fields and natural, thick forests is stark and highlights the settler colonialism—immigrating to embody the space and spatial interaction of a location while imposing a foreign culture—etched into the environment. However, since Aotearoa and its entities were not empty, the Māori were left without the rights detailed in their Treaty. I was reminded of the Māori’s fight for sovereignty as I looked out onto lands that were mostly taken with unjust methods such as confiscation or purchasing land for less than it’s worth.

However, despite the seemingly negative situation, the Māori people have continued to adapt to their circumstances in order to persevere and thrive.  For example, Māori peoples have adopted animal agriculture to take part in this lucrative business. This idea of adaption was discussed while in Auckland at the Tikanga Rangahau Wananga conference we attended. We were able to hear from Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Māori scholar. She gave us a unique experience by giving her lecture through stories. This technique is quite reflective of the culture because “Skills such as weaving and carving, along with a rich tradition of song, dance, whakapapa, tribal histories and creation stories, were passed on through the generations” (6487).  In doing so, she personified her culture’s practices as she spoke of resistance and remaining firm in their identity. One story in particular stuck out in a poem-like tale called “You Can’t Erase Me” that retold a conversation between herself and another scholar. The exchange ended as her colleague stated, “You are here because of race, I’m here because of merit.” Her response silenced the audience and reaffirmed the intensity of Māori determination and unwillingness to be disregarded by settler colonialism: “No, you’re here because of race, I’m here because you can’t erase me.”


Last Thoughts: Education and Maori Culture

September 1, 2017

Today is our last day in Auckland before we head to Wellington for the next week and it’s a free day! Everyone is out exploring and shopping, but I wanted to use this post to really think about my experience here in Auckland. As a student of Polynesian descent, I was intrigued with how the Maori culture intertwined with the education here in Aotearoa.

We had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the classroom setting at both the University level and the elementary level. I was touched and emotional to see students getting their education while also closely in touch with the roots of their culture. We visited Waatea Elementary School and there were kids whose age ranged anywhere between five and twelve. They were all in blue uniforms and came from all Oceanic backgrounds: Samoa, Tonga, Maori, and Hawai’i. We walked into a classroom and I was excited to see things written on the board in Maori. The kids had their projects and assignments up around the classroom written in both English and Maori. As we got settled in after their recess time, we were welcomed with Maori songs sung by the children and teachers! It was beautiful – I could feel the pride in the children’s voices, pride in who they were and where they came from.

Waatea Elementary School students

This week, we also had the privilege to join a Kapahaka Stage 2 class at the University of Auckland and watch them practice. This three-hour practice consisted of singing, chanting, poi ball dancing, and a haka. We were welcomed by students of all different kind of backgrounds but were united by sharing the love of the Maori culture. Students were full of energy – smiling and laughing the whole time during practice. They were eager to help us with the words, dance moves, and share the love of their culture. The boys of my class were taught a haka and the girls were able to learn how to handle poi balls. The students


University of Auckland Students — practicing poi ball dance

The relationship between education and Maori culture in Auckland stood out the most to me. I loved that Maori students and educators are creating space for their youth and younger generations to get their education, learn who they are, and where they came from. This intersects with our course theme sovereignty – the Maori people use their space to control the content of their education and give their students space to learn about the roots of their culture and people.

-Aleila Alefaio