Native American and Indigenous Studies Association

The premiere international & interdisciplinary professional organization for scholars, graduate students, independent researchers, and community members interested in all aspects of Indigenous Studies.


Yesterday 27 people gathered at the University of Auckland for a symposium, 'Teaching Pacific Literature,' organised by Selina Tusitala Marsh and myself in response to what we understand as a 'crisis' in the teaching of Pacific Lit.

Yes, I think Pacific Lit is in crisis. Pacific Lit is still marginalised in the depts in which it is taught, is taught in fewer institutions in the region than those in which it is *not* taught, is hamstrung by a racist and narrow publishing machine which means the region is littered with unpublished writers and undistributed books, and all of this means that Pacific lit is - as the demographics shift in the region and in this country - becoming more rather than less out of sync with students as time goes on.

Now, not everyone thinks this field is in crisis. Some people are very excited about what they percieve is happening: these people tend to have been in the game for longer and travel around the region a lot. Perhaps they are in the habit of accentuating the positive. Perhaps they can remember far leaner times. Perhaps their wisdom means their view of a bigger picture enables a more longterm view. Perhaps they are invested in believing their own work to have paid off more than *this*. Perhaps all of these is true.

Interestingly, though, it seems that the people who think the field *is* in crisis are younger, female, PhD-trained, Indigenous and (importantly) the people who are actually teaching in the field on a day to day basis. Perhaps we're spoilt and whiney. Perhaps we're exhausted. Perhaps we are speaking truth to power. Perhaps we spend more of our awake hours with students than with any other people in our lives. Perhaps all of these is true.

Surely this is a yes or no question: it's in crisis or it isn't. Or is 'depends' a possible answer here instead? Relativism is great but it gets in the way of being able to whip up enthusiasm over responding to a set of urgent pressures (yes, even if those pressures are a matter of perception) - so is a 'strategic' yes okay here too?

The symposium was fantastic: we covered a lot of ground, student voices were literally central (speaking for themselves, first up and throughout the day, as opposed to existing in paraphrased form by their teachers), high school teachers and students were present, and there was a good buzz around the topic. The field is in a crisis, but those who think it's in a crisis are alarmed by the state of things and committed to setting things right. Rather than being a morose dissection of a series of things that are wrong, by the end of the day we were all buzzing with the possibilities of what could go right. We left with a keen sense of what we could each do in order to get the teaching of Pacific Lit back on its feet.

The question, then, becomes one of loyalty: to whom are we loyal? Our disciplines (even when they believe we don't belong)? Our scholarly elders (even when their view of things is so radically different to ours)? Our own universities and schools (even though this can only come at the expense of other kinds of configurations and collaborations)? Our communities (even if they are not sure what we're up to or how this gets to count as a 'crisis' compared to other crises we may be facing)? Our training and our own teachers? Ourselves?

Yesterday I ended up with an addition to this list: our students. We are loyal to our students. 'Our' students. Yep, mine in my classrooms and the student sitting in my office while I write this and the ones in other institutions and the ones who haven't made it to uni and the ones who may never get here.

It's idealistic but it's another angle: an angle I've found to be - to borrow a word used by several of the teachers and students yesterday as they talked about their interactions with Pacific literature - liberarting.

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From all accounts, our online submission system worked OK in spite of the paces we put it through in the frenzy to get proposals for the 2010 meeting in. Tsianina Lomawaima left the site open for over a day past the deadline to accommodate some of the people who were having trouble submitting.

The NAISA Council will meet next weekend in Tucson to consider the proposals, which means we all have a lot of reading to do between now and then. We received about 325 proposals, including nearly 80 proposals for panels, over 20 for roundtables, and well over 200 for individual papers. This is more than last year, which is remarkable given the fact that many scholarly associations are seeing declining interest in their annual meetings.

So, a sincere thanks to everyone for submitting your work. Good luck!

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kia ora naisa whanau

he uri au o te atiawa - i'm alice te punga somerville and i'm a member of the naisa council. i live and teach in aotearoa and, like chris, have committed to blogging on this site. after agreeing to blog i found i had uncharacteristic writer's block, and found that marking a gigantic pile of exams was a great way both to procrastinate and to make better use of my time than staring at the screen of my computer.

luckily, in indigenous studies the stories come to us: for better or worse, there's always something going down.
i wanted to blog today to bring a specific nz-based situation to wider attention, and to ask some questions (all rhetorical, which is code for 'i don't know what the answers might be') at the end.

a couple of weeks ago witi ihimaera, one of our most prominent maori writers, was publicly found to have plagiarised passages from a range of texts in his most recent (his 12th) novel 'the trowenna sea' -

i won't provide too much detail - google 'ihimaera' and 'plagiarism' and see what there is to see.

(in case you don't recognise his name, he wrote a book 'the whale rider' in the mid-1980s on which the film 'whale rider' is loosely based. if you buy me a beer in tucson i promise to describe in mind numbing and potentially very boring detail some of the finer nuances of the departures from the original novella to the film to the 'international' version of the novella published after the film - hehe now isn't that tempting?)

the upshot of the situation here is that a book reviewer found the plagiarism, the reviewer reported on it, witi publicly apologised, witi's employer the university of auckland dismissed the case of plagiarism because it believed the unattributed copying was unintentional, the story died down, one week later witi received a nz arts laureate award (worth $50K), and suddenly many prominent figures (as well as plenty of rednecks, if you google too much or listen to talkback radio) are expounding on either the horror of witi's plagiarism or the horror of akld uni's disinterest in taking an accusation of plagiarism seriously.

meanwhile, witi's most recent response is to offer to buy back stock and to work on a new version of the novel, to be released early next year.

i bring this case to your attention not in order to shame witi, or in order to inspire or demand any kind of explicit response of either the defensive or the offensive variety.

i bring it to you because i find that being an indigenous scholar in indigenous studies can be a tricky place, and this place is made more tricky in cases like these.

my first instinct is to say the opposite of 'the mainstream' which, while feeling emotionally comfortable to be swimming upstream, actually amounts to allowing dominant voices to shape my own. indeed, if those dominant voices had decided it was a storm in a teacup i would have felt an urge to argue that we should be able to have highger expectations of our writer than this and that when one works at a university in a professorial position one should be even more sensitive to the complexities of academic integrity. on the other hand, if they had decided that this is a giant issue and witi has singularly wronged the world of literature (and perhaps the nation) as we know it, i would have called for a 'reality check' about the relative lack of harm than has been inflicted and about the way that plenty of non-Indigenous writers are enaged in these sorts of scandals and this is another example of (what we call here in Aotearoa) 'Maori bashing' in a clear and reprehensible form.

but as i have said, either of those responses is as un-complex and reactive as the voices to which i would believe myself to be responding.

what i crave - and this is where indigenous studies comes in - is space to think this matter through. space to throw around the various strands that are connected in this single case. space to try out ideas and have them critiqued and have the chance to advance better ones.

witi has claimed, in the most recent flurry of media attention, that he was trying to push the boundaries of how indigenous people engage with history and to expand the formal possibilities of the historical novel (or at least that's what i think he was saying) - and i would like to be able to have space to be able to think about such claims about indigenous uses of history in the company of other people who have shared political and intellectual commitments but whose knowledge of various other indigenous literatures and histories will enable me to think better, think harder, think more carefully about this one situation.

my 'home' discipline of literary studies is not up to the task of providing this kind of space, or at least not here in aotearoa. while it is tempting to weigh in on debates being held at the level of mainstream media, these are not in fact debates but energetically flung soundbites which must not interrupt the important work of selling advertising space or gaining votes, depending on who is funding a particular news outlet.

i think indigenous studies is that space i am craving this week, and i think this situation raises, at least for me, a question about what kind of space we are committed to creating in our own work, our own communities, our own institutions and this organisation.

witi ihimaera is the person who taught me for my first ever course at university, and he showed me this world of indigenous literature which i fell in love with and broke up with my law degree in order to pursue. i say this because there are always so many layers of connection and disconnection and these are necessarily difficult conversations. i am not being naive or romantic about a space of indigenous studies which is uncritical, ever-loving and more concerned with either loving or demonising people. indeed, i believe indigenous studies is the space - the place - where we can find the room to do the more difficult thing: to recognise the temptations and genealogies of simplistic thinking which define things and people as all good or all bad, and to explore all of the vast space in between.

yes, this is a bit like a sermon. sorry about that. what i wanted to do was to tease out a few ideas about how indigenous studies might enable us - enable me - to do better thinking and teaching and writing than if it didn't exist.

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Hi folks,

My name is Chris Andersen, I'm a faculty member at the Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta. I've been asked to do some blogging here but with no specific guidelines (which is both nice and somewhat headscratching). Anyway, since this is my first blog (sorry, Robert!) I thought I'd get into a question that I've been thinking a lot about on our campus, recently. My question is this:

What is the role of Native Studies academic units to the discipline of Native Studies?

I would imagine that almost all attendees of NAISA conferences see ourselves as Native Studies practitioners, regardless of whether we are located in Native Studies departments. And yet, the critical (both in terms of analytical rigour and importance) work we undertake exists in a hierarchical academic field: for example, larger departments (such as History, Anthropology, English Studies, Sociology, to name a few) often provide their faculty with far more resources than those accorded to Native Studies departments. In effect, Native Studies departments can get lost in the wash of larger and more prestigious departments whose faculty members nonetheless undertake valuable research and analysis. The irony is that the greater the sophistication or rigour of the research (which, all other things being equal, will likely get undertaken in larger and/or older departments with less disciplinary administrative duties and less stated commitment to 'community'), the more sustained is the hierarchy between Native Studies and other departments on campus.

Let me be clear: I'm not suggesting that those of us not in Native Studies departments undertake research any less valuable or critical than those of us in these departments. My point is merely that the latter are often required to do so under conditions the former do not experience. My thinking isn't fully developed on this issue (obviously, given the scattered character of my comments) but I'd really like to hear/read some discussion on this issue.


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