Doing Indigenous Work in the Academy or Living with the virus in an imperfect world

Education institutions in settler colonial countries are contradictory and challenging places for Indigenous peoples. Whilst they have largely excluded Indigenous peoples’ language, knowledge, culture and values until recently, they are also seen as having transforming potential. In Aotearoa New Zealand we identified education systems early in our resurgence as sites to create meaningful spaces for Māori. The strategies used have been multilayered, working from early childhood and schools to higher education, and including the associated institutions through which universities work (such as research and funding organisations).

Overall, we have employed innovative and positive strategies in an attempt to make space within the academy and across education systems in pursuit of transforming outcomes that reflect Māori aspirations. At the same time a lifetime of work in the field has shown us that we live in a constant state of precarity. The recent pandemic has exposed unstable and insecure ‘successes’ one might have thought we had made over the years. Important in all this work has been Māori educational leaders critically reviewing our own assumptions and ideas and developing an understanding of why strategies and interventions have failed. In this conversation Professors Smith and McKinley reflected on the experience of more than 40 years of Indigenous work in education systems in Aotearoa New Zealand has looked like, with a focus on the academy. In looking back we discussed the successes, identified what we think we have learned, and discussed how we see some pathways forward.


Professor Elizabeth McKinley ONZM, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāi Tahu. Professor Elizabeth McKinley is both the Executive Director of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity (AFSE) and Professor of Indigenous Education at the University of Melbourne. She is known for her work exploring the interaction between science, education and Indigenous culture.  She has a strong research and publication record in the field of sociology of education, Indigenous science education, Indigenous curriculum, and the capability of mainstream education systems to meet the complex challenges of transforming educational outcomes for Indigenous and other students from underserved communities.

Before moving to Melbourne in 2014 she was Professor of Māori Education and Director of the Starpath Project for Tertiary Participation and Success at the University of Auckland. She is also well known for her capacity building and mentoring work with doctoral students and early career researchers. Professor McKinley has served on a number of panels and committees that have influenced public policy, including the Ministerial Cross Sector Forum on Raising Achievement, and that have assessed research proposals for funding, including New Zealand’s Endeavour Fund Impact Panel and Science Challenges Review.  She has also served on several panels for the New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit. She has received a New Zealand Honour as an Officer to the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith CNZM, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou. Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith is currently Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand.  Considered one of the world's leading scholars and founding thought leaders of Indigenous Studies, Indigenous Education and Kaupapa Māori research, Prof Smith’s work demonstrates her commitment to the well-being and intellectual and political self-determination of Indigenous peoples. Along with her book “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples”, considered one of the most influential texts in Indigenous research, her articles and YouTube lectures are prescribed reading and viewing in Universities around the world.

Prof Tuhiwai-Smith is one of the first Māori women to become a Fellow of the New Zealand Royal Society, she has received an Honorary Doctorate in Canada, and has been awarded the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Her appointments to many organisations, including the Marsden Fund, the Waitangi Tribunal, and Māori Economic Development Board, are a reflection of her expertise, contributions to the New Zealand research community and to Māori/iwi development. In the last six years she has been awarded more than $4m in research grants.

Professors McKinley and Smith have drawn together more than 120 Indigenous scholars for the first ever “Handbook of Indigenous Education” (2019, Springer).


Associate Professor Sana Nakata Associate Dean (Indigenous), Senior Lecturer in Political Science and co-founder of the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration, the University of Melbourne. Sana trained as a lawyer and political theorist, Sana’s research is centred upon developing an approach for thinking politically about childhood in ways that improve the capacity of adult decision-makers to act in their interests. Sana has recently completed an ARC Discovery Indigenous Research Fellowship examining Representations of Children in Australian Political Controversies (2016-2019). She is the author of Childhood Citizenship, Governance and Policy (2015), and along with Professor Sarah Maddison, edits the Springer book series: Indigenous Settler Relations in Australia and the World.

The presenters have granted permission for this recording to be used for personal viewing and educational purposes.