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Jones, Carwyn --- "Papatuanuku and the University" [2005] IndigLawB 58; (2005) 6(14) Indigenous Law Bulletin 23

Papatuanuku and the University

by Carwyn Jones

When Kahu was at university, he once spent a whole term working on a re-conceptualisation of environmental rights. When he finally thought he had crafted something interesting, he took it to show Maui. Maui was not as stunned and amazed as Kahu had anticipated.

‘How long did you say you worked on this?’

‘All term.’

‘All term? And you still didn’t find time to mention Papatuanuku?’

‘Our Earth Mother? What’s she got to do with anything?’

‘How can you even begin to think about environmental rights without her?’

‘But this is a law paper. I mean, if I was writing a paper for a Mäori studies course, or a course on Indigenous mythologies, it might be appropriate to include a section on Papatuanuku.’

‘Do you think that’s how our ancestors divided up the world? They decided that knowledge should be compartmentalised; put into different boxes that must never touch?’

‘Well, I guess they must have organised their knowledge system somehow.’

‘So obviously they would reach for the system of disciplines that is steeped in classical Western thought?’

‘I didn’t quite get as far as thinking about...’

‘Actually, it is no wonder that you might think that. The academy presents itself as the only way of organising knowledge. The Western university has established itself in every corner of the globe.’

‘Really? I thought that was just in London, Ontario.’

‘Not the University of Western Ontario. I mean the Western concept of the university and the organisation of knowledge that goes along with it.’

‘Oh, well, as I said, I didn’t really get as far as thinking about what my Mäori ancestors would have thought anyway, so...’

‘But that should be the first thing you consider. You must always start from a Mäori base; put Mäori values first. Otherwise you’ll certainly end up in a place that isn’t Mäori, and we need you to be a Mäori researcher for us. There are plenty of other folk who are worrying about Western research and advancing Western priorities.’

‘I suppose that makes sense. How do you know all this stuff anyway?’

‘Well, I am older than I look you know.’[1]

Kahu thought about all these things Maui had said, and remarkably it seemed to make sense. Then Kahu looked around at the university and wondered why it was divided up into departments and faculties. Who decided that? Why weren’t there other options, different choices for learning and teaching and thinking? In fact, it occurred to Kahu that all this must have a real effect on how people think about the world. It’s no wonder that it is so hard to get people to think differently about the environment or about indigenous peoples’ knowledge systems. Actually, Kahu got quite worked up about this. It was unfair. He decided he was going to do something about it. He decided he was going to make a difference. He decided he was going to change the world.

Maui said he’d stay home and watch the game. He’d tried changing the world a few times already and he wasn’t quite sure that it was worth the effort.[2]

Carwyn Jones is a New Zealand Maöri 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.

[1] Maui is a demi-god from nga ra o mua – ‘the days gone by’ or Maöri pre-history.

[2] The Maui of Maöri mythology, fished up the North Island of New Zealand, slowed the sun to a 24-hour cycle, brought fire into the world, and established the mortality of humans. Further details of his extraordinary deeds are recounted in A Alpers, Maori Myths & Tribal Legends (1964).

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