Wednesday 12 August 2015

Be(com)ing a Responsible Māori Researcher - Reflecting on Fieldwork with Ngāti Rakaipaaka

Hi anthfriends! The following is a paper reflecting on the fieldwork I did with my iwi, Ngāti Rakaipaaka, for my thesis. I presented it last year at the International Competing Responsibilities Conference held in Wellington. Happy reading – Hollie :)

Tane-Nui-A-Rangi Marae. Photo by Moemoea Collective.
Tēnā koutou katoa, 

Ko Moumoukai tōku maunga

Ko Ngā Nuhaka tōku awa
Ko Tākitimu tōku waka
Ko Tāne Nui A Rangi tōku marae
Ko Ngāti Rakaipaaka tōku iwi
Ko Hira Patio Raroa rāua ko Kiriwera Pani ōku tīpuna
Ko Jackie Pani rāua ko Bob Russell ōku mātua
Nō reira ka puta mai ahau
Ā ko Hollie Russell tōku ingoa

Today my talk will focus on being and becoming a responsible Māori researcher. The being part is mostly what I've learnt from others, from what I've read, and from workshops I've been to. The becoming part is my experience of learning about and attempting to carry out Kaupapa Māori research for my thesis which considers Ngāti Rakaipaaka identity - discussing the past, present and future.

Ngati Rakaipaaka is a sub-tribe of Ngāti Kahungunu, Rakaipaaka being Kahungunu’s grandson, and the iwi member’s whakapapa back to the Takitimu Waka. Through interviews and participant observation with self-identified Rakaipaaka members my project aims to bring together understandings, experiences, and stories to create a rich ethnographic account of what it means to be, and become Rakaipaaka. I am not aiming to arrive at a singular truth about what or who Rakaipaaka is but instead I want to use my contributor’s personal stories and experiences to ‘weave’ rich ethnographic understandings of the different relationships that make up the material, social and spiritual identity of Rakaipaaka.

The iwi is based in the Nuhaka region of the Wairoa District. If you’ve ever been to Nuhaka you’ll know this store, it one of about three with the fish and chip shop next door and a gas station across the road. The Rakaipaaka rohe stretches from the Opoho Stream and Te Kaha O Turei in the west, northward adjoining HereHeretau, then north to the Maraetaha blocks, then in an easterly direction to the Paritu block, in a southerly direction bounding the Kopuawhara lands to the coast to Waikokopu, then running along the coast to Te Ngutu Awa o Nuhaka. According to the 2006 Census approximately 1500 Māori affiliate to Rakaipaaka. 

My interviews so far have been with individuals or pairs, men and women. I’ve conducted 9 semi-structured, and in-depth interviews with 12 people, 1 who resides in Wellington, 1 in Hamilton and 10 who reside in Rakaipaaka traditional boundaries and who I interviewed on a recent fieldwork trip. I made contact with all of them through whānau connections with the hope that my fieldwork could be based on an already established relationship with existing trust. This isn’t that different from many anthropologists who have usually gained access to participants through mutual contacts. However, what distinguishes Kaupapa Māori research is that that mutual contact is not a supervisor or an associate; it’s a trusted family member. My lecturer Lorena helped me with this distinction when she pointed out that during her fieldwork in India no one asked her who her Nan was. On the flipside, I only had one contributor ask who my supervisors were, and all of them either ask or know who my Nan was.

Learning and using Kaupapa Māori has been an eye-opening experience to say the least. It’s been confusing, and hard, and scary at times but it’s also been really beautiful, and empowering and important, and I realised on the bus the other day that without even knowing it I’ve signed up for this lifelong hikoi into Te Ao Māori (the Māori world), and it’s a hikoi I’m very privileged and honoured to be on.

When I first started thinking about what I was going to talk about today I did a brainstorm and set up a plan that began with a brief outline of what Kaupapa Māori research was. I was feeling great, confident, excited about speaking and sharing my experiences. But then it came to writing it and perhaps like some of us here today, that’s when I freaked out. It was about 10 o’clock one night last week and me and Tarapuhi were still at uni and I went into her office and I said to her ‘I don’t know what Kaupapa Māori is’.

And she said ‘yes you do’.

‘But I haven’t read enough books’ I said.

‘Yes you have’ she said.

‘But people are going to ask me really hard questions and what am I going to say?'

She replied, ‘You’re going to say your still learning, you have to remember that we’ve had to learn a whole new research paradigm this year’.

She was right, of course, she usually is. And that’s something that I think needs to be addressed in a conference about responsibility. The fact I have to learn about Kaupapa Māori in my fifth year of study, my third with the anthropology department, is ridiculous. I’m not blaming anyone, I wouldn’t even know who to blame if I was. University Management? Lecturers? Myself? John Key seems like a pretty popular person to blame at the moment?

But this isn’t about blame, this is about change and I understand, it's a complicated situation, especially for an Anthropology Department. You see anthropology and Māori don’t have the best history and like Rachel Fabish has recently written - "By challenging the epistemology, practices and identity of researchers, Kaupapa Māori researchers essentially pulled the foundations out from under anthropology in Aotearoa New Zealand". However, the disappointing thing is that this shake-up didn't result in new ways of engaging with Māori and Māori research responding to critiques but with what Fabish and Martin Tolich call 'Pākehā paralysis' referring to the withdrawal of non-Māori researchers from Māori research because of its 'too hard' or 'too political' nature. I understand that there can be a fear of trampling others mana, stepping on toes, but that shouldn't paralyse a department, it should encourage it to pursue kaupapa Māori teaching with respect, guidance and commitment even when it may be uncomfortable. It's about engaging with and responding to critiques rather than disengaging because of them.

I do want to acknowledge that things are changing and that's really cool - connections are being made and strengthened between Anthropology and Te Kaua a Maui (Māori Studies) and the anthropology lecturers in my experience have been open, helpful and active in pursuing change but there’s still a long way to go. With that in mind, I want to tell you a little about my journey so far as a way of reminding everyone of how important it is that we provide Māori students, that are studying anthropology, with the tools, resources and encouragement, with the opportunity, to learn about using and doing Kaupapa Māori research, a lot earlier than I did. 

So I'm going to give you a brief outline what Kaupapa Māori research is with the help of some very excellent wahine and tane that have gone before me – Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Leonie Pihama, Kathy Irwin, Christina Gonazalez, Tuakana Nepe, Graham Hingangaroa-Smith, and Russell Bishop. In doing so I hope to illuminate some of the responsibilities Kaupapa Māori researchers can encounter.

Kaupapa Māori research is based on a Māori worldview, rejecting outside controls over what constitutes authority and truth. It validates, privileges, and locates power within Māori ways of knowing, being, and doing. It is research done with (not on) Māori, by Māori, for Māori. Here we can see Tino Rangatiratanga shining through - the principle of self-determination which asserts and reinforces the goal of allowing Māori to control their own culture, aspirations and destiny. At the same time it recognises our knowledges and realities as distinctive and vital to our existence.

It is also research which is culturally safe, relevant and appropriate according to the research community, and should be undertaken by a Māori researcher not just a researcher that happens to be Māori (Irwin 1994: 27). It should use tools and methods that are inherent and unique to Māori, as well as practices that may not be traditionally derived from, but are preferred by, Māori, and which allow for the uninhibited expression of their self-determination.

Furthermore, kaupapa Māori research should aim to make a difference, contributing positively to Māori development and validating Māori ways of being and doing whilst assisting in the alleviation of negative pressures and disadvantages experienced by Māori communities. For this to occur, the use, usefulness and ownership of the research is of paramount importance.

So now I thought I could tell you about a very awkward phone call to show you my reality of the kaupapa Māori learning process because even though I might have just sounded on to it it doesn’t always come that naturally. Said phonecall was made to a potential contributor, Mrs. Whaanga, during which my mind decided to forget everything I had learnt about Kaupapa Māori, and apparently my own research.

The night before the phone call I had been talking to my aunty over, and long after, dinner. She had been telling me stories about Nuhaka, Rakaipaaka and the tangata whenua, listing off names and phone numbers as she went - only ever four digits because all phone numbers in Nuhaka start with the same three. Whilst on the topic of Nuhaka school - an important part of the Rakaipaaka community, she mentioned Mrs. Whaanga. I remembered the name from my mum talking about her. She had been my mum's teacher in Primmer 1, over 50 years ago and had taught all my uncles as well. Mrs. Whaanga was now retired, known now as Hana, and lived just around the corner from where I was staying. Before moving onto her next story my aunty repeated their four-digit number insisting that Hana and her husband Ted should be on my list of potential contributors. 

The next day after working myself up a bit I pulled out the list of phone numbers and reached for the phone. Hana was the first person I called, and after a few rings she answered –


'Kia ora, is this Hana Whaanga?' I said.
'Kia ora Hana, my name is Hollie Russell and I'm a Masters student from Victoria University. I’m in Nuhaka at the moment and was wondering if I could please interview you for my research project which is about Rakaipaaka identity?'
‘What part of identity?’

Shit. What part of identity am I talking about?

'Ahhhh well I'm talking about the past, present, and future of Rakaipaaka and what it means to be Rakaipaaka'
'Ok. Well I don't think I can help you, I don't know much about identity'
‘Oh, you don’t have to know much about identity, I just want to hear stories about when you were growing up, your experiences, that kind of thing’
'Hmm well I don't think I can help you with that but let me talk to my husband and see if he knows and I will call you back'
‘Okay that would be great. Thanks’

I hung up the phone cringing at my awkwardness thinking to myself that I really should have made a script for this phone-calling business. I hadn't told her who I was, at least not in the sense I know I should of, I didn’t mention my mum, my nan, I didn’t even say who I was staying with, and like my supervisor Maria pointed out I didn't even say I was Māori. Without any relationships to situate me in Hana didn’t know who I was, and whether I could be trusted. 

Skip forward a few hours and Hana called back asking me to come over. After being welcomed in to her home by her husband Ted, they sat me down on the couch and asked me how I was connected to Rakaipaaka and Nuhaka. Up until that point they had been friendly and welcoming but a little stand-offish (understandably so) but as soon as I explained who my Mum and my Nan were and how I whakapapa back to Rakaipaaka they were immediately open books. Hana remembered teaching my mum, and my apparently cheeky uncles, and Ted remembered my dad from his visits to Nuhaka rugby club. The talking finished about an hour later with Hana and Ted telling me to come back before I went back to Wellington (an offer which I happily took them up on).

For me, this experience alongside highlighting my awkward nature really emphasised the importance of whanaungatanga. Now the thing about Te Reo Māori is that certain kupu, or words are like ZIP files and can mean a lot of different things, however for this presentation when I say whanaungatanga I'm referring to kinship relations, a sense a family connection and belonging and the establishing of these relationships. It can be compared to relationality – the idea that "relationships do not merely shape reality, relationships are reality" (Shawn Wilson 2008).

Whanaungatanga sits at the core of Kaupapa Māori acknowledging the relationships that Māori have to one another and to the world around them and the importance of these relationships. Aileen Moreton-Robinson and Maggie Walter support this arguing that “connectivity is integral to knowledge production” in Indigenous research, and “knowledge cannot exist outside social relations”. The idea of whanaungatanga is one of the reasons I performed my mihi at the beginning of my talk today, I was aiming to situate myself in a set of relationships – with my ancestors, the environment, my research, and my family. I did this because my journey so far has allowed me to understand the importance of these relationships when using any indigenous research paradigm, not just Kaupapa Māori.

Furthermore, the principles of whanaungatanga don’t only shape how you see your research but also how you do it. As a researcher you become accountable to the relationships that your research is based upon, which means that bad research doesn’t only make you look bad, it also reflects on your family, and any others who have helped you form relationships. Whanaungatanga acknowledges the responsibility and obligations of the researcher to nurture and care for the relationships involved in their research.

I would like to end with a whakatauki. For me this whakatauki embodies the whanaungatanga I’ve been describing –

Ko te whānau ko au, Ko au ko te whanau
I am the whanau, And the whānau is me (Jude Roberts 2006).

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, ngā mihi ki a koutou katoa.


  1. This is great! I love how honest and raw this post is, including the awkwardness- I think it is so important. Love the conversation with Tarapuhi too.

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