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 Linda Tuhiwai Smith CNZM, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou.


Associate Professor Sana Nakata, Associate Dean, Indigenous, Faculty of Arts and co-director of the Indigenous Settler Relations Collaboration, the University of Melbourne.

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