Investigating prosperous indigenous groups

30 June 2017

Robert Joesph

Dr Robert Joseph (centre) with Candy Green from the US Embassy and Tertiary Minister Hon Paul Goldsmith.

University of Waikato senior law lecturer Dr Robert Joseph is heading to the US next month to study prosperous indigenous groups’ governance and their culture.

Dr Joseph (Tainui, Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne, Ngāi Tahu) researches indigenous law and is the recipient of a Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Scholarship which will see him spend five months based at Harvard University, Boston and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

“I’ll be researching the governance of different indigenous tribal groups, the place of culture within indigenous tribes, their governance practices and how culture enhances economic performance and increases productivity,” he says.

Dr Joseph is no stranger to the US and Canada. He has visited several times and studied models of business and good governance in North America with First Nation tribes, where many of the challenges and issues are similar to Māori and where they are running billion dollar businesses, including casinos.

He says research out of Harvard University has shown that economically successful tribes in Canada and the US have a strong and vibrant culture.  “People take responsibility for their own decisions, have robust management systems, have good dispute resolution – indigenous mediation – and a strong governance and leadership structure that is culturally appropriate and agreed to by the tribe.”

Many tribes and groups trade with other indigenous groups, inter-tribally and internationally says Dr Joseph. “Many are resource- and cash-rich, and recently I visited a group that manufactured helicopters and weapons for the US military. I’m not advocating that approach for Māori, but there will be good opportunities to explore possibilities, for them and us.”

Dr Joseph also says indigenous groups in North America can also learn from Māori governance and Treaty experiences. “I have already spoken in the US about reconciliation, the things that we have learnt through direct negotiations and Treaty settlements and the good that can come from them.”

Dr Joseph leaves for the US in late July with his wife and five children.

The Fulbright programme offers a range of exchange awards for New Zealand and American graduate students, academics, artists and professionals to study, research, teach or present their work in each other’s countries. Dr Joseph says he has already noticed that being a Fulbright Scholar opens doors, helping him to make helpful contacts before he begins his scholarship proper.