Indigenous Knowledges: transforming higher education, transforming society

Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith
15 December 2009

Professor Graham Smith

Why you should listen

Indigenous people the world over know the value of their knowledges in sustaining the natural environment of the earth and human relationships, keeping all alive well. The growing crises within our Westernised world can be ameliorated by engaging with the development of Indigenous Knowledges. These knowledges and the people that carry and develop them are, at the same time, deeply engaged with the local, and mindful of the role of the universe in the lives of all of us.

Higher education teaching and research programs hold the key to bringing about substantial change to meet the challenges of climate change and growing social, political and economic crises. However, Indigenous Knowledges academics face seemingly insurmountable challenges within higher education. A particular site of struggle is related to Indigenous theorizing, such as that exemplified in the presentations in the Indigenous Knowledges symposium, and the resistance within many conventional universities to this innovative and decolonizing activity that holds potential for all.

Indigenous theorizing confronts hierarchies of knowledge that are a fundamental, ‘taken for granted’ premise within the Western academy that leads to deep disregard for what is being offered. This is despite universities claiming the egalitarian principle of academic freedom, adopting the role of critic and conscience of society and carrying the responsibility for developing a research base for knowledge production for social, political and economic developments into the future, including Indigenous futures.

This presentation examines different issues related to Indigenous knowledge production within a ‘conventional’ university institution, compared with an Indigenous-tribal institution, and highlights the sites of struggle for Indigenous Knowledges scholars working within the western academy. Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi: indigenous-university is an interesting site of study with respect to how to critically engage and position around the Western academy.

What might be learned from this context that has relevance to other Indigenous peoples struggle, in particular the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia?

Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith is currently the Vice Chancellor/ CEO of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi: indigenous-university, in Whakatane, New Zealand.

Professor Smith, of Ngati Apa, Ngati Kahungunu, Kai Tahu and Ngati Porou tribal descent, is a prominent Maori educationalist who has been at the forefront of many alternative Maori initiatives both within education and in Maori affairs generally. He recently retired from the position of Foundation Chairperson of Te Whare Wananga O Awanuiarangi Council to take up the position of Vice Chancellor. He is also the former Pro Vice Chancellor (Maori) of the University of Auckland where he was responsible for developing a Maori University ‘structure’ within the University of Auckland.

His theoretical leadership has developed a wide-ranging academic discussion centred on Kaupapa Maori Theory, Critical Theory and Transformative Praxis. His recent academic work has centred on developing theoretically informed transformative strategies related to intervening in disproportionate levels of Maori cultural, political, social, educational and economic disadvantage and crises.

He has had a high level involvement in the development of Indigenous programs within Universities and Indigenous Universities, in New Zealand, and with other Indigenous, First Nation’s peoples, across the world, including Canada, Hawaii, US mainland, Taiwan, Chile, Australia and the Pacific nations. In Canada he held a Distinguished Professorial position in Indigenous education at the University of British Columbia (2004-2009).

Professor Graham Smith was in Sydney to participate in the Indigenous Knowledges Symposium Into the Academy: Indigenous protocols, ethics, philosophies and methodologies in higher education at the University of Sydney, 14-15 December 2009.