In 1987, I surprised myself when I discovered the world of research. To that point, my head and heart was firmly in music and the arts (this is still so) and I had yet to consider research as a career. In 1987 Professor Mason Durie invited me to join the Royal Commission on Social Policy as a member of their research team. It was an excellent introduction to social research and to the wider Māori world. At the Commission I worked alongside Dr Mānuka Henare, Te Kohu (Ted) Douglas, Moana Herewini, Wally Penetito, Te Aue Davis, Sir Ivor Richardson, Rosslyn Noonan, Ward Douglas and, of course, Prof Durie himself.
After this, Hekia Parata of the Ministry for the Environment employed me (Hekia then moved to the Prime Minister's Department) and I became part of a team that was to be eventually headed by Shane Jones and became known as Maruwhenua. Our job was to work on the Resource Management Law Reform (leading to the Resource Management Act of 1991) and, again, I was offered a fantastic introduction to Māori communities. We travelled the length of New Zealand seeking the views of Māori communities concerning resource and environmental management. Again, I worked alongside some wonderful people including Hera and Peter Douglas, Tom Mikaere, Morrie Love, Di Cloughley and Tim Fraser. It was an exciting time and through this job I met a large number of important Māori leaders such as Sir James Henare, Dame Whina Cooper, Sir Graham Latimer, Sir Robert Mahuta, Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard, Ngāneko Minhinnick, Hariata Gordon, Betty Williams, Hori Parata, Wātara Black and many more.
My third research position came following an invitation from Dr Wharehuia Hemara of the Alexander Turnbull Library to assist in the development of an exhibition to commemorate the passage of 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. During 1989, I was engaged to research the Library's collections concerning the Treaty and particularly its signatories. Here I worked alongside Wharehuia, Dr Mīria Simpson and Carol O’Biso and together we developed ‘Ngā Kupu Kōrero - The People of the Treaty Speak’. It was during this time that I discovered my love for reading historical Māori language manuscripts. I made many important discoveries – such as Tūreiti Te Heuheu’s account of why Te Heuheu Mananui did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi, Meri Mangakāhia’s petition to the Kotahitanga Parliament to allow women the vote and Renata Kawepō’s letters to the Superintendent of Hawke’s Bay regarding the various conflicts the Government had with iwi communities including the Taranaki war.
Following my time at the Turnbull Library, Dr Jock Phillips, Chief Historian at the Department of Internal Affairs, offered me a contract to write a small guide to researching iwi histories and traditions. I completed this book, Te Haurapa, in 1991. I then compiled a collection of mōteatea of Ngāti Toarangatira and Ngāti Raukawa, again with Jock’s support who appointed me as 1991 Fellow in Māori History at the Department of Internal Affairs. Kāti au i konei was published in 1994. During this period I also worked on the New Zealand Historical Atlas project, alongside Dr Malcolm McKinnon and Dr Mīria Simpson. I wrote entries for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and worked on the Ngāti Raukawa Waitangi Tribunal claim.
Through all these experiences I was introduced to research and Māori communities, particularly iwi histories and traditions (whakapapa), which remains one of my key research interests. Since that time I assisted Taimoana Tūroa in the completion of his major work Te Takoto o te Whenua o Hauraki: Hauraki Landmarks (Reed 2000) and I also completed ‘Native traditions by Hukiki te Ahu Karamu o Otaki Jany 1st 1856’ (Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa 2003).
In 1994, I began doctoral studies - which extended my interest in iwi histories and traditions - this time concerning the whare tapere or iwi based ‘houses’ of storytelling, dance, music, games, puppets and other entertainments. This project brought my musical, artistic and research interests together and I found a way of utilising research to support my creative activities. I completed the doctorate in 1998 and founded Ōrotokare: Art, Story, Motion Trust in 2004 to create a modern whare tapere. We created our first whare tapere in 2010 on our hapū land in Hauraki. Hence, whare tapere performing arts (and related matters) is my second research interest.
My third research interest concerns mātauranga Māori leading to indigenous knowledge and worldviews. Through the Royal Commission on Social Policy, I re-met my granduncle Rev. Māori Marsden in 1987. I was to spend a lot of time with him between 1987 and when he passed away in 1993. It was my great privilege to complete a collection of his writings entitled The Woven Universe: Selected Writings of Rev. Māori Marsden (Estate of Rev. Māori Marsden 2003).
In 1995 I was also appointed by Prof Whatarangi Winiata as Director of Graduate Studies and Research at Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa. My day-to-day responsibility was to convene a masterate programme in mātauranga Māori, a project which catalysed a more formal approach to the study of indigenous knowledge and worldview. In 2001, I was awarded a Fulbright NZ Senior Scholar award and a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travelling scholarship which enabled me to travel to the United States and Canada to study indigenous worldviews. In 2004, I was a resident at Rockefeller Conference and Study Center in Bellagio, Italy. These experiences were all avenues into the study of indigenous knowledge and worldview, my third research interest. This culminated in my 2009 book Te Ngākau (MKTA 2009), a text in Māori about knowledge.
My study of mātauranga Māori and iwi histories and traditions was greatly assisted by the many elders who taught and mentored me. I wish to acknowledge, honour and thank them. They include Pāteriki Te Rei of Ngāti Toarangatira, Dr Tūkawekai Kereama, Rangiamohia Parata, Kerei Mangōnui Roera and Ngārongo Iwikātea Nicholson of Ngāti Raukawa, Huhurere Tukukino and Taimoana Tūroa of Ngāti Tamaterā, Toko Renata Te Taniwha of Ngāti Whanaunga and Rev. Māori Marsden of Te Tai Tokerau. They also included Dr Mīria Simpson of Ngāti Awa.
During all of these experiences, I found that my real interest lies with creativity. I have never been interested in history for history sake but rather how we can use our historical knowledge to enable, inspire and support our creativity today. Secondly, I have also found that my research is really about the stories and narratives we tell ourselves about the world we live in and our experience of it. Whether iwi histories and traditions, or whare tapere performing arts or indigenous knowledge and worldview, all of these are expressions of our thinking and the stories we tell ourselves about life.
I love how research uncovers stories and I love how stories draw me into an experience of life. It is especially powerful when stories uncover and express a truth about ourselves that we had overlooked or perhaps we felt and knew at a deep level but had yet to arrive at the ‘surface’. I love the way stories take me to a different world, a different experience, yet somehow it is something that I already know.
- Iwi histories and traditions, literature, whakapapa
- Māori Performing Arts, particularly the whare tapere
- Philosophy of Mātauranga Māori, indigenous knowledge and world views