Tērā ko Matariki e ārau mai ana ki runga ake o Taupiri maunga, e karanga atu nei ki ngā iwi taketake o te ao, haere mai ki te riu o Waikato, haere mai ki tō tātau kīngi a Tūheitia Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Te Tua Whitu, haere mai ki Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, haere mai, haere mai, haere mai.
The beginning of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s (NAISA) 2019 Annual Conference in Hamilton coincided with the helical rise of the star cluster Matariki in the eastern sky. This most auspicious day in the Māori calendar was traditionally a time of celebration, festivities, debate, feasting, entertainment; a period when people would gather to share and learn. The sighting of Matariki in the predawn sky, in the correct lunar phase of the correct lunar month, opened ‘te mātahi o te tau,’ the Māori new-year.
As the sun rose on the first day of NAISA 2019, granular clarity was given to the singular hues in the Waikato mist that lingered in the vibrantly cold morning air. The karanga rang out to call in a multitude of Indigenous Studies scholars, their families and communities from around the world, who had gathered at the Claudelands Event Centre. By 11am, the pōwhiri had concluded, masterfully conducted by our very own Professor Pou Temara, guests had been fed, the majority of conference goers had been registered, and 900 of the attendees had been bundled into a cavalcade of buses awaiting to go out to 13 different Community Day Activities, including to Whāingaroa, Rangiriri, Waitomo, Pōhara marae, Ōhinemutu, and Te Puia.
The team of amazing University of Waikato students and staff took a communal breath of relief as the overjoyed and spiritually uplifted crowd dispersed and the sun shone bright above us; a sun that was to remain for the entire four days of the conference demonstrating its symbiosis with Matariki, and the strength of Indigenous epistemologies, willing the collective success of Indigenous intelligence. The sun shone.
In terms of sheer numbers and logistics, the hosting of the NAISA Annual Conference by the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies and the University of Waikato has been a resounding success, with conference registrations reaching 2000, including 900 presenters in 240 breakout sessions. The gathering was the largest Indigenous Studies conference ever in the world, doubling the 1000 registrations in the past two NAISAs held at the UBC in 2017 and UCLA in 2018.
The logistics of leading such a huge event called on the entire University to collectively pitch-in, including 150 student and staff volunteers, the events and conferences team, IT, FMD, cleaning services, parking, security, Comms and Marketing, Academy staff, and the DVC Māori Office. Moreover, with manaakitanga a responsibility as opposed to an option, providing kai for this many people demanded another level of organisation, expertly provided for by Kahurangi, including a hāngī catering for 1500 people; a culinary delight that is still being talked about by registrants all around the world. The sun collectively fed us.
The number of international participants had a major impact in Hamilton with guests booked into hotels, motels and Air BNBs across the city. In the evenings the CBD was alive with many different accents and languages as groups of delegates headed off to restaurants and bars. Hamilton and WaikatoTourism Convention Bureau Manager, Amanda Graham, says that early indications suggest the event could be worth $4m in economic benefit to the region: “We were initially expecting 700 delegates, so the unprecedented higher than expected numbers meant that accommodation was full. The city was bustling with colour and culture.”
Even before NAISA began there were pre-conference events that brought delegates to Hamilton and to other parts of the country. After NAISA our international guests fanned out in all directions taking a few extra days to see as much of Aotearoa as they could. Amusingly, ‘Decolonising Middle Earth’ became a virally shared Facebook post as international NAISA delegates posed in the Shire, and in other iconic tourist spots.
The feedback we have received from all those who attended has been overwhelmingly positive and focussed on the manaakitanga; not only the kai but also the seamlessness and ease of the conference itself; Wi-Fi access named ‘NAISA’, free parking, IT support at every turn, continuous busses rotating between downtown and the University, printing and computer access, the ease of getting around campus, the Village Green marquees, and our beaming student volunteers exuberantly willing to help any attendee who looked even slightly awry. This seamlessness has been nearly three years in the planning, led by a core group of staff who have selflessly dedicated their own time to enable this amazing collective gathering of minds.
Why was manaaki so important in the NAISA context? Indigenous intelligence is never the issue; we have it in abundance; it has warmth, strength, courage, vitality, memory and vision but for its collective wisdom to emanate it needs to be nurtured, fed, and given mana. Explicitly, since its inception one of the aims of NAISA has been to facilitate a consciousness and space that fosters and enables discussion surrounding what a transcultural ‘Indigenous Studies’ discipline might resemble and what multiple Indigenous truths might reveal.
In coming to Aotearoa, thus, NAISA has in part realised one of its dreams and potentialities; it has empowered a transcultural space where locally indigenised truths are tabled for analyses that go beyond ‘discovery’ to an imaginative realm that recognises the multiplicity of Indigenous subjectivities. The sun shines on the collective, refracting its multiple hues.
In less lofty terms, this simply refers to the radiating looks of amazement on our students’ faces as they engaged both knowingly and unknowingly with the material presented at the conference by the multitude of remarkable Indigenous scholars. This knowledge, old and new, allows us to both nod in agreement and shake our heads in belief and disbelief; to both recognise ourselves and draw inspiration in the experiences of others; NAISA 2019 made possible a collective Indigenous breath.
It also refers to the knowledge that whilst NAISA Council took a risk allowing its annual gathering to be hosted for the first time outside of Canada, the US and Hawai‘i, as the sun set on NAISA, as the poroporoaki took place and as we bid farewell in celebration, the University of Waikato can take heart that we warmed our visitors intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually; that our reflection shone bright.
-- Professor Brendan Hokowhitu. Dean Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao -- Faculty of Māori and Indigenous studies