Māori and First Nations students strengthen indigenous bonds

By Mare Haimona-Riki

A group of indigenous students from the University of Victoria in Canada have set foot on New Zealand soil with this week.  They spent three nights with Māori students to exchange knowledge and wisdom about real-world issues.

The main purpose of their visit is to attend the annual NAISA (Native American Indigenous Studies Assocciation) conference being held at the University of Waikato, Hamilton.

Prior to the conference, the students had the opportunity to gather with students from Auckland Universities on Waiheke Island.  They sang songs, shared stories and simply conversed with one another about some of the real-world issues that both groups are facing.

University of Auckland student, Kahukiwi Piripi (Te Rarawa) says many of the issues they face are one in the same.

"Healthcare issues, homelessness issues- also drug and alcohol addiction ... just overall the way that indigenous people are treated by the state and treated by the system.  They suffer the same oppression and the same struggles so I think we are able to feel that mamae for them and they can feel that same mamae for us," she says. 

For Yvonne Houssin (Métis Nation) the solution to such problems could be as simple as revisiting important values through the revitalisation of native languages. 

"A lot of our nations [tribes] have languages that are dying out, there are only like less than ten fluent speakers left ... because with the language comes the stories and comes the culture and the values that we have for ourselves- and its the best way, the only way that you can articulate those values," she says.

The students concluded their gathering by sharing of pounamu, an expression of gratitude and an emblem to remember this special time together, perhaps a reminder of the lessons they have learned.

For Kolin Sutherland-Wilson (Gitxsan tribe) it has been an experience that he is looking forward to taking back to his home community.  

"What I have learned so far is the recognition of the spirit, the strength of the people here, the beauty they hold, the language, the efforts that people are making to keep your way of life strong, to keep it beautiful, to keep it going for future generations ... those are the types of thing that I hope I can take back home with me."

The NAISA conference concludes on Saturday.