Ngā tāngata moemoea … that has to be my favourite descriptor of a people … Dream people. And through my work with the Higher Education Academy and invitations from Associate Professor Beth Beckmann at the Australian National University in Canberra, my world was opened to an international indigenous space within the university.
It all started with the creation of the Ako Aronui framework, the story of that can be read in our team’s article Challenging a measured university from an indigenous perspective: placing ‘manaaki’ at the heart of our professional development programme. The eye-opening and exciting parts of this work are listening not only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island academics’ challenges as they try and indigenise the university, but non-indigenous peoples wanting to be inclusive.
Since presenting at ANU at the Professional Recognition Symposiums in 2016 and 2017 I have been blessed to talk with indigenous academics working to weave their knowledge, culture, and values into their universities. It ain’t no easy mission that’s for sure! Hearing of the many indigenous languages within Australia is amazing but then talking with a team from Swinburne University I heard how in some mobs what remains of their language are the phrases used in ritual and ceremony. Boom! My head exploded! I rely very much on te reo Māori as a key to engage and navigate our academics into te ao Māori. This was not an option to our colleagues across the sea.
Once the fragments of my mind had settled, I sat and listened. As I listened I tried to connect as I recalled my time living in Perth, studying fine arts, and my own research. LIGHTBULB! Their arts, their storytelling, their Dreamtime, their Walkabouts, their land, their animals so rich with knowledge, so rich with language, so rich with energy and beauty. For a visual artist, as myself, the opportunity to work with non-verbal communication is exciting.
Those who come to engage me I always leave them with a final comment. “Be gentle and take care. Softly, softly”. Bicultural and multicultural work needs to be heart-to-heart, it is not the space for logic and rationale. Going head-to-head causes divide and frustration. Communication and language are important and powerful tools to how we shift from corporate and militant tone of language, ie defensive reactive language, used in universities to vulnerable language used in communicating with and to the heart.
An example of this is seen in the evolution of ‘appropriate’ cultural practices in this bi- and multi-cultural space; cultural awareness, cultural competence, culturally responsive, then from another angle cultural capital (yuk! I’ve never liked that term), I preferred saying cultural richness so seeing the term “cultural enrichment” being used so there’s an improvement in my opinion. However, I have come across one term that I absolutely love, in terms of awareness, competence and responsive, and that’s “cultural humility“. I came across it when researching indigenous researchers that had used heuristic inquiry – It was Sarah Bell’s MA thesis that revealed this little gem. The strength of humility is in its ability to build open and inclusive communities.
Finally ngā mihi nui to our whānau across the Tasman Sea, both indigenous and non-indigenous you and in particular those who shared at the Professional Development Symposiums at ANU and those who have connected with me through other means.