IDYP: Role of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development

On May 16th, IDYP hosted one of our favourite events to date, “The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Sustainable Development. We were excited to have Pania Newton join us as the event MC, which it turns out was her first time doing so. Pania is a young and passionate advocate heading the SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) campaign.

IDYP were also excited to have three dynamic panelists including:

  • Haze White, Senior research lead & evaluator, Te Whanau o Waipereira

  • Malcom Andrews, Pacific Workforce Development Consultant, WDHB

  • Dr. Wiremu Manaia, Senior Lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology

After gaining an understanding of the audience demographics, Pania proceeded to ask the panel some questions:

What does sustainable development (SD) mean to you in one sentence, considering the current topic?

Haze said SD is about future decision makers. We shouldn’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. Malcolm said a similar thing, in that SD is the love you have for the future, and incorporating knowledge in a way that allows people to look towards future and acknowledge the past. We look forwards by looking backwards.

What indigenous cultural value system do you come from and how do you apply that to sustainable development?

Haze had an interesting answer coming from his experience as a researcher where he has access to a huge knowledge base that has allowed him to expand his value system. Malcom said his indigenous cultural value system is like his “secret weapon”. We need to share these stores to share wisdom, knowledge and past lessons. We also need to encourage young people to color beyond the box, which is what our current culture is telling us to do. Finally, Dr. Wiremu said we all define indigenous knowledge ourselves. If each person defines it, it will give you a level of confidence is all aspects of your life. If you have self-respect, you respect others. And if you don’t have this self-respect, then you don’t respect others and then you try to make everyone like you. Improvements to the world start with ourselves.   

What kind of challenges do you face in own practice in bringing indigenous knowledge systems into work?

Wiremu told the audience about his experience at AUT, where he started to bring staff onto a marae to learn culture and language. We can use this experience to think about how we can apply Maori to everyday teaching. Haze said it beautifully: he lives and breathes the culture. But he is also lucky that workspace is already promoting knowledge of Maori culture. Sometimes though, he said they realise they are in a bubble, and when they go out, realise not everyone has the same mindset. But the growth of and reliance on science feels like the way we can say anything.

Malcolm’s experience wasn’t as positive in that he said he faces it every day to be himself in the DHB. He is often the only black person in the meeting and others don’t even understand it when he brings up indigenous issues. They always question his suggestions saying, “That won’t work”. There is a group for young indigenous/pacifica people working in department, which is helping. They are learning to adapt here, for example, there is never eye contact from pacific individuals, since it is a sign of respect, but this can be misinterpreted. They’ve started cultural competency training for staff, which will have the further impact on the patients.  

Pania provided some input saying that there are so many gaps in the system for indigenous culture. The government needs to include Maori culture in decision making processes. Would we be where we are now if decisions were made in the indigenous way?

Dr. Wiremu, What is the role of international forums and treaties in highlighting our voices in the development process?

When you take concepts out of your country and try to apply it internationally, you can only share “intellectual property” and values. But the audience needs to decide for themselves what they take back and apply to their own cultures. Some indigenous cultures have had much worse experiences than we have in NZ. Maori have been privileged in that they haven’t experienced the same destruction of our culture (though it’s been bad). You want to know how we do things here? Come walk our path, and we show you how we’ve done, but there is a limitation to what we can teach other cultures that have had experience much more hardship.

Haze, how can we bridge the gap between these international treaties (which seem to be lipservice) and what is happening at the grassroots level in Aotearoa?

Haze responded honestly that he was asked to be on our IDYP panel because he has asked some tough questions at our first event. So what is the role of Maori? How do we get whanau on the stage at events/panels? There is a certain profile person who ends up on stage. How can we get whanau onto the stage? I respond to that question with more questions.

Malcolm, how can the knowledge (holistic approach) be transferred to future generations that give effect to their knowledge and culture?

Malcolm: A world without memory is a world without culture. While we may not have the same hard life our parents had, we remember that. We use those experiences and culture in a contemporary context. Must pass down practice of storytelling, which is not as simple as it sounds. There must be a safe space where you can find a sense of belonging. We dive into a space way deeper than what we know. I am here today because of the experiences of my parent’s sacrifices. What lies before you is nothing compared to what lies in you. You must know who you are and where you come from. You can only add on to the knowledge of the western world.

 Questions from audience:

My work is around rights of women in education. Id’ like to hear about the indigenous knowledge of gender roles in terms of progressing education.

 Pania: Based on tradition, we had specific gender roles, but roles were to advance overall. Patriarchy was introduced by colonialism. I draw my strength from the female Maori traditions.

Wiremu: In Maori, women are sacred to us. Women are spiritual beings and the seeds of life sit within them. We want them to know they are sacred to us. It is easy to misinterpret our traditions within a colonised context.

I come from teaching background and try to incorporate indigenous knowledge. How can we support children who don’t want to be identified with their indigenous cultures and actually want to be disassociated?

Malcolm: It’s important to celebrate every culture: through language week; celebrate milestones. But in the end, you cannot force student to choose which identity is better than another, but you can celebrate all identities.

Haze: Our organisation arose out of need for identity expression. Don’t push people into places that they may not want to go. Everyone is in their own place.

Pania: I experienced this too. When I went to college, and there were white people all around me and I stopped attending cultural practices. I advise to celebrate identity. This is what got her back to her culture. We are so diverse. We should be celebrating this.

Wiremu: Don’t push children too far, but embrace diversity. It is imperative that you know the difference between management and leadership. There is a big difference between two – everything you manage is done with your brain. You use your knowledge and experience. When you are leading, there is a shift from your brain to your heart. You know you’re leading when your decisions come from your heart.

A huge thank you to our panelists for sharing their wisdom, to Pania for MCing the event, and to Pattle Delamore Partners for the sponsored space! What a fabulous event, and we look forward to seeing you at the next one.

Danielle Kerchmar