Associate Professor Leonie Pihama, University of Waikato
I was asked if I could share how I write blogs with a class of Māori and Indigenous students. I enjoy the sessions where I am invited to join other Māori Faculty to work alongside students. I don’t get to teach often outside of the Kaupapa Māori and Indigenous methodologies workshops that we run as a part of our capacity building and research support work that we do at Te Kotahi Research Institute. So I said ‘yes I would love to’. But, then I had to think more about how and why I chose to write blogs and what inspires me to do so.
I have seen blogs on how to write blogs. They come across twitter and facebook feeds regularly. They appear like those ads for travel when you have just booked a flight somewhere or searched for a hotel. Usually followed by something that tells you ‘7 Best ways to lose weight’ or ‘the 10 tips on being emotionally stable’ or the ‘20 things that all successful people do’ or ‘the 12 tips on being a good parent’. Things like that just piss me off. Most have absolutely no link to being Indigenous. None take into any consideration the impact of colonial invasion, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, class oppression. You never see the ’10 best tips to return stolen land to Indigenous nations’.
I was asked recently how can Māori women have a voice in raising issues through blogs without the risk of losing their jobs or experiencing backlash in their institutions. That is always a difficult place to be in. For many of our people there are both people and systems that actively seek to silence us. Many live with the impact or consequences that come with challenging dominant groups and those that benefit from colonisation. For those that feel threatened as individual voices then a collective approach to blogs is one way of standing together in your collective voice and strength. Taking a collective position is a powerful cultural way of being that we have as a people. It is a way to voice concerns that are raised by the groups that we are a part of and is a way to ensure the wellbeing of the members of the collective. Writing a blog collectively is considered to be appropriate for a ‘weblog’ from which the term ‘blog’ originates. Building a collective blog that works is reliant on having a clear kaupapa that provides the foundation for all that contribute to the online collective voice. Kaupapa in this context refers to a philosophy or an approach to the content and analysis used by all involved. Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) states that kaupapa “implies a way of framing and structuring how we think about those ideas and practices.” (p.188).
My first blogs I wrote with Te Wharepora Hou, a Māori women’s activist network. We are all active across a wide range of contexts seeking social justice for our people, and for all marginalised groups in Aotearoa. We have a clear view that we need to be a part of getting information out quickly with clarity and from a Kaupapa Māori analysis. That underpins all of our blogs. We blog as individuals and we blog as a collective. We provide space for Māori and Indigenous women to guest blog on issues that are important for our whānau, hapū, iwi and communities. We lay down challenges and we have been known to call out those that contribute to sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist and classist discourses and practices. We also work to support Indigenous global issues, as much as we are able to do from a distance, in the way that good relatives do.
The kaupapa for Te Wharepora Hou is clear, it is a Kaupapa Māori approach that affirms Mana Wahine. All voices on Te Wharepora Hou are wahine, including Māori and Pacific Nations women. It is a women’s blog that prioritises analysis of issues that impact on Māori and Indigenous Peoples and provides a space for sharing with Pacific and Indigenous wahine. As noted on the site:
“Our collective strives to be a pro-active wahine voice on relevant issues and through any channels available to us. Our primary concern is the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and our planet. We reflect on our responsibility to protect Papatūānuku and to sustain our living systems. We see ourselves as part of a global indigenous network particularly of women who are reasserting the place of women as leaders of change. We speak on a platform of indigenous solidarity worldwide.”
Marama Davidson created the blog space in 2010 and has been a critical writer within the collective. Since then a number of key writers have continued voicing issues including Marama, Sina Brown Davis, Helen Te Hira, Mera Lee-Penehira and myself alongside a number of ‘guest’ writers including Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Paora Joass Moyle, Tina Ngata and Tuiloma Lina Samu.
I consider myself to be a writer. It is a key part of what I do and how I contribute to the wider aspiration for tino rangatiratanga (self-determination/sovereignty). I would like to think that I have some kind of process when I write, but that is more about my flawed assumption that I have some control over what comes. Rather I have come to realise that for me words, like thoughts, come in bursts or flashes and without any particular sense of order or structure. I have moments where words emerge in dreams, driving, while I am watching my tamariki (children) and mokopuna (grandchildren) or when I see or hear something that sparks a response. All kinds of responses. Some more controllable than others. Some more reflective than others. Some more inspirational than others. Then there are some that never emerge in my writing because they are best kept some place in my mind or heart or spleen or liver, all those places where our tupuna (ancestors) have told us we keep memories, thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
I have been working on a ‘book-to-be’. It has been in process for some time. I write and clear and weave some leaves that become pages, and clear again. In writing a ‘book-to-be’ I find myself constantly asking myself what it is I am wanting to create. Part of it is decolonising my own understandings of what constitutes a book. I love books. Truly. I collect them. Teach my children and grandchildren that our stories are precious and to be careful with them. I read them in the sunshine and spend a small fortune on purchasing them, mainly from international sites. Book sellers here in Aotearoa don’t appear to have any idea how incredible Indigenous writers are. In fact, most barely notice or support Māori authors. University Libraries here also tend to have a limited knowledge of the vast amount of Indigenous literature that is available. I encourage us all to request that our libraries purchase Indigenous writers.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by Māori artists. Sometimes when sitting with kairaranga (traditional weavers) as they speak of weaving the natural materials of our lands I make a ‘note to self’ that perhaps I am a weaver of words. Sometimes, like the weavers of harakeke that I am privileged to know, the lines are clear and precise and patterned exactly how I imagined them to be. Most of the time they need working and re-working, patterning and re-patterning. Like the harakeke plant that graces us with those immaculate long leaves that gift themselves for kete (baskets) and whāriki (woven mats) and that needs clearing and nurturing, so to do the lines and pages of what I write. A weaver would, I expect, encourage me to let the work take its shape, to begin and to have faith in the process. To use the processes of weaving that I understand as mine as I weave words and to let the tupuna do the rest. It will emerge is what I often hear.
That is in essence how I write a blog. How I wrote this blog. I hold to the kaupapa. In this context I take kaupapa to mean the take, the political issue of the moment. I position myself as a Māori woman in a Kaupapa Māori framework and I have come to trust that what I need to say will come. Our tupuna have left us understandings that we must use words carefully and one way to do that is allow ourselves to be guided in the writing. I am reminded that words have power. That our tupuna have always recognised and articulated the power of words. That there is mana and tapu, deep power and sacredness in our words. We have the power to use words in whatever form to make change and to transform our understandings and practices. Writing Kaupapa Māori blogs contributes to that wider transformative agenda in that they place into the world thoughts, critique and analysis that are distinctly ours.
This post originally appeared on Leonie’s personal blog here. It is reproduced by permission.
Associate Professor Leonie Pihama is a mother of six and a grandmother of three. Leonie is Director of Te Kotahi Research Institute at the University of Waikato, and Director of Māori and Indigenous Analysis Ltd, a Kaupapa Māori research company. Leonie is a leading kaupapa Māori educator and researcher who has been featured in the ‘100 Māori leaders’ collection. She has been working in the intersecting fields of education, health, whānau wellbeing and Maori immersion education for a number of decades.