Indigenous conference brings the world to Waikato

By Kawe Roes

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Associations (NAISA) conference regulars are in Aotearoa for the first time. Welcomed by King Tuheitia and Waikato University, the visiting scholars, researchers and students are keen to learn from Māori and exchange ideas. 

One of the world's largest indigenous conferences, NAISA's purpose is to "critique, go beyond, perform and advocate within a number of sub and interdisciplinary Indigenous Studies forums".

The University of Waikato's, professor, Pou Temara says, "They are here to exchange knowledge with people from all over, to see how we can bring together ideas to strengthen indigenous people moving forward."

A common theme throughout the conference is "unpacking colonisation" according to Professor Peter Anderson from the Queensland University of Technology. 

"We unpack colonialism, talking about ways forward for our people collectively ... In terms of indigenous relationships, there's a lot of conversations, catching up, a bit of gossip-sharing work." 

It is these discussions and the similarities in the histories of indigenous language losses that has attracted people such as Allyson Nuesck Franco, a kānaka Māoli student, to the conference.  

Franco is grateful to learn from the Māori nation as Māori and Hawai'ian history is somewhat similar. 

"[From] our language being banned to the erasure of our culture in many ways but ... we're reviving that today in our language and in our history and understanding us as kānaka, understanding our kūpuna again for our future."

And while Māori are at the forefront of language revitalisation, tangata whenua can learn from others' strengths, says Pou Temara.

"We are behind other indigenous people in areas like politics but we [can learn] how to confront the more dominant culture who suppress indigenous cultures around the world."

Other areas of interest include Māori tourism, early childhood, full immersion schools and businesses.

While Hinaikawaihiilei Keala, Kānaka Māoli, says, "I'm super excited to be here in Aotearoa, it's my first time here, I've always wanted to come here.  I've always valued your guy's activism and how you stand up for your people and your culture.

One thing I think we learn when come here, we can learn how to network, unify not only in the struggle of being an indigenous person but also in our strengths." 

The conference wraps up on Saturday.