Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Carwyn Jones
This extract forms part of an exploration of some of the issues related to pursuing environmental research and action with Indigenous peoples. The issues are explored within a narrative form which aims to present ideas for discussion in a way which is widely accessible and also reflects the importance of storytelling within many Indigenous communities. One of the central characters is named after and loosely based on Maui, an important figure in Maori mythology whose exploits are many and varied. Most of the main themes presented are drawn from Kaupapa Maori research methodology, and particularly Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999). The ideas discussed and the style of presentation also owe a great deal to the thought-provoking classes led by Dr Pat O’Riley at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education in which I was fortunate enough to participate in 2001-2002.
Kahu found it very hard working with Maui. Maui always had to make things so difficult. It wasn’t that Kahu didn’t like Maui. Quite the opposite. Things were always lively with Maui around; that was for sure. It just seemed that everything got so complicated whenever Maui was involved. And for some reason they kept getting paired up. What was it with demi-gods? Why couldn’t they just let things be and get on with the straightforward task at hand?
Like today; Kahu wanted to find out about some of the old Mâori ways. He was just going to ask Koro and note down what he said. Simple as that. But then Maui turned up, and nothing is ever simple where Maui is concerned.
‘Do you think asking Koro is a good idea?’ said Maui.
‘Why wouldn’t it be?’ Kahu replied.
‘Well,’ Maui said, ‘What if he doesn’t want to talk to you? What if he has other things he wants to talk to you about? What if he doesn’t feel like talking at all?’
‘Never known Koro not to feel like talking. But okay, what if I asked Koro if he felt like talking to me, and what he felt like talking about – would that make you happy?’
‘It’s not my happiness you should be concerned about here’ yelled Maui as he went running off to pester someone else.
So Kahu talked to Koro. Well, mostly he listened to Koro. Koro said he was glad Kahu was interested and that he thought Kahu was ready for some of this knowledge now. Finally, when Koro seemed to be all talked out, Kahu managed to get a few words in and they discussed what Kahu was going to do next. Kahu was just about to tell Koro how he was going to write it all down in a book and become a famous author, when Maui stuck his head in the window.
‘Wow, looks like you got some good stories there’ said Maui looking at Kahu’s full notepad. ‘What do you think Kahu should do with these Koro?’
‘Well, I was hoping he would take them and think about them and use them to help his children understand the world’ said the old man.
‘Sounds like a good idea to me’ said Maui ducking out and away again.
So Kahu had to abandon his idea of becoming a famous author. At least he now knew what the world was all about; or so he thought, until Maui turned up and put a stop to even that comfortable notion.
‘But Koro told me’, complained Kahu.
‘Koro told you more than one story. And he told you they would help you to understand the world, not that they were an exact explanation of the world. Don’t you think other people have stories too?’
‘Why do you always have to have so many questions?’
‘Because there are so many answers’, replied Maui, and then he casually strolled away, leaving Kahu scratching his head and trying desperately to make sense of it all.
Carwyn Jones is a New Zealand Maori of Ngati Kahungunu descent. He completed Bachelor degrees in Law and History at Victoria University of Wellington before undertaking an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (combining Law, Environmental Studies, and Indigenous Peoples' Studies) at York University, Toronto. He has worked as a policy analyst at the Office of Treaty Settlements and in various roles at the Waitangi Tribunal, where he is currently the Judicial Support Manager in the Chairperson's chambers.