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Maori scholar sees commonalities between diverse communities

Brendan Hokowhitu is the University of Alberta's new dean of the faculty of native studies.

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | February 6, 2013
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Brendan Hokowhitu, a native Maori of New Zealand, joined U of Alberta from New Zealand’s University of Otago. Photo: Daniel Wood.

Brendan Hokowhitu has reflected quite a bit on what it means to be indigenous. “It seems like an easy question, but it’s quite complex,” says Dr. Hokowhitu, who was recently appointed dean of the faculty of Native studies at the University of Alberta.

Dr. Hokowhitu is a member of an indigenous people, but not from Canada – he is a native Maori of New Zealand. There are some commonalities between the Aboriginal Peoples of the two countries, he observes, but “as I get to understand the cultures here [in Canada], I see how diverse they are and how different we are.” Nevertheless, “the land is the common denominator in terms of how we define indigeneity – the connection to and spirituality with the land.” In the political context, “that notion has transformed into being first of these lands, and that kind of holds political weight.”

Global interactions among indigenous peoples have created a political force that is based on similar challenges all coming out of colonization, he adds, such as the reclamation of land, language and culture. “When we get to conferences, we are all saying similar things and trying to understand similar methods of improving things for our peoples.”

Dr. Hokowhitu comes to Alberta from New Zealand’s University of Otago, where he built a strong research reputation in areas such as indigenous culture and theory, indigenous sport and ideas of masculinity. He is also known for his educational outreach, having developed an online indigenous studies program leading to a master’s degree.

He sees his appointment at the faculty of Native studies as a great opportunity; he already has connections with several U of A colleagues with whom he co-edited a book. “It’s going to be challenging for me – I’ve only been here for a few months. But by the same token it’s going to be good, too. There is this kind of instant recognition of what both our peoples are trying to achieve, and a lot of people are excited that I’m here.”

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  1. david / February 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    It is interesting how certain ethnic groups claim to be “indigenous” and demand certain rights based on blood lines, yet the history of the human race is one of continual immigration, conquest, and settlement. The Maori were colonizers and are no more “indigenous” to New Zealand than the British who arrived centuries later. This is also true for “First Nation Peoples”, some of whom have lived in the territory now known as Canada no longer than the British or French. None of us are truly “indegenous”, so we should instead abandon the concept and its racialist implications.

  2. John / February 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Hulo, hulo fellow indigenous leader! You exemplify the virtues as an indigenous person; a) the search for intellectual excellence for the betterment of the whole and not self (migrated/not), b) Respect to the Land as a family member and not as a conquest and 3) the preservation of Our Tupuna’s legacy of Kindness and not respond w/ judgement. We carry our indigenous heritage w/ honor as many would w/ their name!

  3. Ruha / September 23, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Some governments recognise their first nations peoples through treaties and while the definition of the terminoloy ‘indigenous’ is debatable the collective name for my people is tangata whenua- people of the land. The collective name for the others who came bearing the treaty is tangata tiriti- people of the treaty. No need to ‘prove’ we were here first, we were here already and we are sovereign nations in our own right. The treaty just affirmed our rights and we continue to assert those rights.

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