NAISA Council Letter in Support of Maori Colleagues at the University of Waikato

September 23, 2020

To: University Council and the Chancellor at the University of Waikato, Minister of Education Honorable Chris Hipkins, Associate Minister of Education for Maori Education Honorable Kelvin Davis, Associate Minister of Education and Minister for Ethnic Communities Honorable Jenny Salesa, Associate Minister of Education and Minister for Children Honorable Tracey Martin

From: The Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA Council)

September 23, 2020

Dear University Council and Chancellor Satyananad:

Sgeno – greetings of health and well-being. We are writing to express concern and consternation regarding the treatment by the University of Waikato of highly recognized and influential Maori scholars on your faculty. It has come to our attention that organizational changes resulting in the non-renewal of contracts of these scholars contradict the principles and rights outlined in the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealand human rights laws, in addition to other laws and policies preventing discrimination against specific social groups. We also note that, while there may be institutional changes in the works due to budgetary cuts, these non-renewals also represent a statement of the university’s priorities. We wish to express our dismay that the University of Waikato would make such short-sighted decisions, which inevitably reproduce structures of white supremacy and settler power in your institution.

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association is a member-driven organization that represents thousands of scholars, students, staff, and Indigenous community activists whose research is grounded in Indigenous rights, histories, and philosophies. Since its inception in 2009, NAISA has hosted an annual conference, in which our members share key ideas and research findings. Our members are actively engaged in local, national, and global policy work and agenda setting with regard to Indigenous rights. Our annual conference serves as a venue through which our members learn, network, and collaborate toward the kind of structural changes required to achieve justice, equity, and fairness toward the flourishing of some of the world’s most marginalized peoples.

For many years, the scholarship and leadership of our Maori members has shaped NAISA leadership as well as the research practice of NAISA members in terms of values, practices, and ways of thinking. In particular, Professors Linda Smith, Brendan Hokowhitu, Alice Te Punga Somerville, and Leonie Pihama are long-time NAISA members whose scholarship and leadership have been influential to the association and its network of members. Indeed, through the efforts of these leaders among many others the 2019 NAISA conference at the University of Waikato proved to be one of the most successful and meaningful events in the history of our association. Our colleagues in the Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Studies and across the university worked diligently to host NAISA 2019. We were honored to be invited into the University of Waikato during that time to host the kinds of conversations that are critical to the field of Indigenous Studies and the work of our membership.

We cannot help but be disappointed in and alarmed by recent decisions by the University of Waikato administration that relate to recognizable patterns of structural and systemic racism against our Maori colleagues, staff members, and students. We find it to be our professional responsibility to support our colleagues as they raise awareness of these patterns and work to support the rights of Maori peoples, including rights to education, fair employment, and just representation in decision-making that affects Maori communities. We furthermore demand that the University of Waikato processes of investigation and restitution of systemic and structural racism against Maori employees, students, staff, and allies include the meaningful participation of Maori representatives who can rightly interpret the Treaty of Waitangi for the benefit of Maori present and future generations. We also demand that processes of investigation and restitution include the meaningful representation of professionals who can justly interpret how allegations relate to the human rights of the aggrieved parties and affected communities. As experts in Indigenous Studies, NAISA members are keenly aware of how public institutions and national governments–including universities like the University of Waikato–systematically and covertly disempower and marginalize Indigenous intellectuals under the cover of organizational management and reorganization. We thus challenge the University of Waikato’s defense of divisionalization as a moral ground from which to dismiss or otherwise induce the resignation of Maori colleagues and allies who stand up for human rights, racial justice, and equity in academia. We encourage the University of Waikato administration to take active steps to overcome the colonial logic that warrants invisibilizing, surveilling, silencing, and eliminating Indigenous intellectuals, knowledge and peoples.

We trust that you will consider our concerns with the seriousness that they merit.

Dr. Susan Hill, President
On behalf of NAISA Council