Research vs Re-search
University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand
Part of the Queen Elizabeth II scholarship Establishing Right Relations Program
Air New Zealand has discovered that most people have learned how to secure their seat belts and don’t require a live demonstration on how to buckle up. So, instead of having a flight attendant stand at the front of the plane with a seatbelt, the airline has a swanky safety video. Seven weeks ago as I settled into my seat for a 14 hour flight, I watched a group of men in black suits dance their way through an entertaining safety briefing on the screen in front of me:
It took me until the end of the video when Air New Zealand thanked the All Blacks rugby team to realize the “men in black” in the video were the members of New Zealand’s rugby team (something that I haven’t confessed to anyone here). Rugby in New Zealand is the equivalent of hockey in Canada. I quickly learned one of the most patriotic things you can do as a New Zealander is watch an All Blacks game. Not into sports? Never watched a rugby match before? That’s ok. I figured out that if you scream at the TV when everyone else in the room does you’ll fit right in.
There was one part of the game that caught my attention. After both teams had sung their national anthems, the All Blacks stood facing their opponents and performed a haka (see below). The haka is a Māori war dance which displays a tribe’s pride and strength. The All Blacks team has been taught how to perform the haka with precision and intensity. This is one instance of the vibrancy of Māori culture that I have experienced during my time in Wellington.
I am part of the Establishing Right Relations stream of the Queen Elizabeth II Scholars program. Most of the projects in this stream are concerned with Indigenous development and policy. I am reluctant to use the word “research,” especially as a non-Indigenous researcher. One of the first things that I was given to read at work was Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Smith. Smith explains how the word “research” “is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.” Research can be considered an extension of European colonialism, as settlers often studied Indigenous people as if they were sub-human, stole their knowledge without giving them recognition, and regarded Indigenous ways of knowledge production as amateur.
My supervisor, Dr. Fiona Cram, is a Māori woman and works under a Kaupapa Māori research paradigm which literally means by Māori for Māori. The methodology used in Kaupapa Māori is different from the research methods used within the Western academy. For the vast majority of my assignments during undergrad, I have been told to use MLA, APA, footnotes, endnotes, academic sources, etc., and that discussion about my lived experience and knowledge produced through discussion with friends are considered inappropriate. However, during my time here I have been encouraged to do my research by going out into the community and talking to people. These discussions are considered to be more valuable than academic articles written by scholars who have no lived experience in the area of study.
I have been on a steep learning curve since watching that safety video. I have learned that only a tourist uses an umbrella in Wellington because the wind will probably break it before you get it up, the term “yield to pedestrians” doesn’t exist here which makes crossing the road quite an experience, and if you decide to go to one of the few Starbucks in the city instead of the hundreds of independent coffee shops you will be judged. The most challenging part has been learning that research is not about the number of academic sources you can cite; rather it should be understood as “re-search” which, Fiona explains, is walking familiar paths with more formal questions.
July 15, 2016