The power of writing our own stories and telling our own history, pieces that help us create our own sense of whole

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November 9, 2022

Blog written by Global Atlantic Fellow, Katrina Smit

“The power of writing our own stories and telling our own history, pieces that help us create our own sense of whole”. Global Atlantic Fellow, Katrina Smit, on last month’s ground breaking Māori Study Tour of Oxford.

Being a Global Atlantic Fellow means being in a constant state of gratitude. We are afforded opportunities to meet the most incredible people and visit the most amazing places. We are supported to build relationships across continents and explore the potential of working together to address inequities. This is the backdrop against which I came to travel to the UK, with the support of Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity (University of Melbourne) to be part of the inaugural Te Hononga Māori Graduates Study Tour to Oxford.

The morning after I arrived in Oxford, as everyone was getting ready for the day ahead, I was thinking about the late, great, Kahungunu scholar, Moana Jackson. Specifically, I was thinking about his four components of bravery in relation to Kaupapa Māori (the Māori principles and values that are the foundation for action) - the bravery to know who we are, the bravery to know where we are at, the bravery to know what we have to think about and the bravery to know where we need to go*. These seemed to be pretty topical for arōpū (group) who had travelled from Aotearoa to explore the opportunities for Māori students at Oxford.  

Initiated by Atlantic Institute Executive Director, Evie O'Brien, (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Ranginui) and hosted by the Atlantic Institute and Rhodes Trust, the inaugural Te Hononga Māori Graduates Study Tour to Oxford also celebrated 100 years since the matriculation of the first wahine (female) Māori student, and possibly the first Indigenous student at Oxford University, Mākereti Papakura. Evie has lived and worked in Oxford for four years and Te Hononga is part of her vision to hold the door wide open for Māori students to experience Oxford, to walk the same streets that Mākereti had walked a hundred years before us and to connect to the place, people and possibilities of this world-renowned university. 

We started our week with a pōwhiri at Rhodes House, welcomed by current Rhodes Scholar, Rhieve Grey (Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Taupō, NgātiManunui, Ngāti Porou), Sir John Hood (a former vice chancellor and New Zealander), Dr Elizabeth Kiss (the Warden of Rhodes House and the CEO of the Rhodes Trust, the first woman to hold this position) and members of Ngāti Rānana, including the esteemed co-founder Esther Kerr Jessop, QSM. We then spent time whakawhanaungatanga (making introductions and connections) amongst our rōpū. It was exciting to hear where people were from, what their interests were and about their hopes for the week. It was the beginning of an amazing week of access to Oxford that was made possible by the connections, respect and friendships Evie has made in her time there. As well as introductions to institutions such as the Said Business School and the Blavatnik School of Government, we visited several colleges including Wolfson College, the college of the late Tainui leader Sir Robert Mahuta while he attended Oxford and the inspiration for the Waikato-Tainui Endowed College at Hopuhopu in Waikato. Te Hononga translates to 'the connections' and this was a consistent theme of our week. From experiencing the personal collections of Mākereti Papakura at the Pitt Rivers Museum guided by her grand-niece June Grant, connecting to past and present students at Oxford, to building new connections with each other in the rōpū, our time at Oxford was about imagining and exploring the potential opportunities for Māori students there. 

Oxford is surreal and, in many ways, feels like a film set (not surprisingly, it was used as a location for the Harry Potter movies). On our first night we ate in a pub that was four hundred years old and imagined that at some point in its history people sat where we were sitting and discussed what part of the world might be colonised next. As a group we took a tour led by Oxford students called Uncomfortable Oxford. This walking tour raises questions about historical memory, wealth inequality, race, gender, class discrimination and local connections to empire. It was interesting to consider these things in relation to what Oxford could offer us. 

A highlight of the week was Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith delivering the inaugural Mākereti Papakura lecture. Whaea Lindaspoke of the importance of connections for Māori in creating our sense of self. She used the image of a smashed boiled egg to demonstrate the impossible task of faithfully reconstructing our past that colonisation had systematically taken apart. Incomplete but some pieces still intact. One hundred years before, in her writing that would later be published as The Old Time Maori, Mākereti Papkura had written "I want to write something worthwhile". It is incredible to imagine her in Oxford writing about the Māori ways of childrearing and marriage, subjects that Pākeha anthropologists had ignored as they had ignored Māori women's experiences and perspectives. Mākereti was writing at a time when the popular discourse was that Māori were a dying race. Located at Oxford, the world's heart of academia (and named again, while we were in Oxford, the number one university in the world) she was thinking about the power of writing our own stories and telling our own history, pieces that help us create our own sense of whole. She was also faithful to her iwi who she wrote about, seeking their permission and validation before publishing her work. Her collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum are exceptional in that they are named and attributed to her amongst the thousands of objects whose traditional owners are now forgotten. Her presence at Oxford is a connection still tangible and powerful today. 

The week gave all of us so much to think about. Connecting the desire of Māori students to attend Oxford with the appropriate financial support is the work that is yet to be done. The Rhodes Scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship available to New Zealanders to study at Oxford; of the more than 247 Rhodes Scholars selected since 1904, only three have been Māori. The inaugural study tour to Oxford has not only opened the door to the opportunity but also revealed the need for targeted support to keep the door open. The Rhodes Trust describes itself as "an educational charity which brings together and develops exceptional people who are impatient with the way things are and have the courage to act". I hope their support (and the support from other organisations) of Te Hononga is the catalyst for further support of exceptional, impatient, courageous and brave Māori students wanting to realise their dreams and aspirations at Oxford. 

*https://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/Hui_Procedings__v3_Web_1.pdf

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