IMN@UCBerkeley meeting: Simon Lambert

Note: IMN@UCBerkeley convened mapping practitioners, indigenous community members, indigenous rights organizations, researchers, and technology professionals to discuss current issues in indigenous mapping.  Our meetings were intended to create a platform for supporting indigenous mapping collaborations and linking communities with emerging technologies. We organized a series of invited talks hosted on campus; I wrote articles about these talks which were posted on the IMN website to share with other members of the group who weren’t able to attend. Below I have reproduced the article with permission.

“Whakairo te whenua, Whakairo te tangata: Carve the land, Carve the People ” Dr. Simon J. Lambert, Lincoln University, New Zealand

Article by Melissa Eitzel

On October 16th, 2009, we had the good fortune to have Dr. Simon Lambert come down from Davis to talk to us about Maori culture, history, socio-economics and horticulture.  We had some 20 people in attendance, with a few all the way from Stanford, one from Davis, and here at Berkeley we had some geography students and public policy students as well as environmental science students. The audience included both grads and undergrads as well as some community members/tribal GIS professionals.  The talk was quite wonderful and went by so fast with so much information that I will do my best to recreate some of what Simon shared with us.  He spoke casually and with great humor, while conveying a great deal about the situations facing his people and some of the larger context in which New Zealand finds itself.  I’ll try to mention some of his slides as I go. Rosemarie will post his presentation for you to see on the website.

Simon began and ended with greetings in Maori, translating as he went. He explained that the word “whakairo” means “to cause wonderment” – so perhaps the interpretation “carve” refers to shaping or creating; he suggests that it is related to the carving in Maori architecture as well.  So the question is partly, “how shall we shape the land, and how shall we shape the people?” – inherently recognizing that the two are inextricably linked.  Throughout the talk, Simon used Maori words and interpreted them for us, and mentioned various creation stories. He remarked that there are a lot of mixed families in New Zealand, commenting “we’re all mongrels here…never trust a purebred dog.”  He discussed some of the geography and place-names of the islands; showed examples of Maori art (a particularly beautiful and unusual stained glass window in a meeting hall depicts what colonization could have been – a partnership).  He talked briefly about colonization and the importance of land and surveying (an example of a harvesting basket woven from surveyor’s tape).  The Maori have parliamentary representation, and there is even a Maori party (of course, Simon adds, not all Maori agree with the Maori party… but that’s politics for you).

The Maori ‘economy’ is growing – but so are the issues facing the people (child poverty, alcoholism, etc).  Simon explained some Maori environmental concepts (all of which are really social concepts as well): whakapapa – genealogy, from gods through ancestors through family; papatunaku – earth mother; whanaungatanga – relatedness, kinship, family – the world is family; and kaitiakitanga – guardianship (this concept is mentioned frequently in environmental contexts).  In reviewing Maori horticulture, he made the observation that it is all necessarily globally minded because all crops grown are originally from somewhere else – whether brought by the Polynesians or by the Europeans.  So Maori farmers have always needed to look abroad for information on how to manage these crops.  He reflected that the Maori have always been challenged by the things other people were bringing into their world; but were always curious and engaged with it.  In some ways, Maori have adjusted to the larger world with the same active engagement that they had with their pre-colonization world.  He comments that indigenous people are not always good for the land – many bird species went extinct and the charcoal record shows a rapid increase in burning since people came to the islands.

Along with representation in government, there is a Maori tribal college which is quite active and the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act keeps land for Maori (though the best land is in the hands of the bigger agricultural producers, and especially the dairy industry is using a great deal of water and produces a great deal of pollution in groundwater).  Maori began growing crops for the large influx of settlers, supplying Auckland with the results of the labors as well as exporting to Australia. Recently a rejuvenated Te Ahuwhenua Trophy, awarded to the ‘Maori Farmer of the Year’, has received a great deal of attention.  Maori have a great deal of capital available in all categories: financial, cultural, natural, human, social… but there are still many challenges.

Simon then related three projects to us: the first was the work to protect the endangered kiwi bird (he commented that it’s the way of the world to have an iconic national bird which is of course totally endangered). He points out that much of the labor for this project is either volunteer or underpaid! Here they are relying on human capital where the financial capital comes and goes.  He talked about bringing his children to see the kiwi birds, and the importance of education and learning.  The second project related to eco-toxicity risks from the pesticide 1080 (used to control the opossum, introduced from Australia, which devastates native forests).  There is a database created by two Maori researchers based at Lincoln University, Christchurch, Shaun Ogilve and Jamie Ataria, to help communities in their awareness and understanding of 1080 in their own environments, a great example of participatory mapping by the people and for the people.  Finally, Simon reports on a project involving customary fisheries.  The project has not achieved milestones set according to the government, but the fishers and the scientists are together, talking, and learning from each other, so it is not a complete failure.

Finally, Simon asked the provocative question, “Have native peoples failed the world?”  In an age where western culture is realizing the flaws in its view of the environment and the earth, people turn more and more to indigenous peoples for models of how to live in better harmony with nature; what Canadian First Nations researcher, Dan Longboat, calls “reindigenising humanity.”  Simon finished his talk by saying that the first thing is to “hold up the mirror” or to use another of Dan’s wonderful phrases, “revitalize the indigenous mind” – indigenous cultures must first look inside and see how they are coping with the world and the challenges that they face.

All throughout his talk, Simon also shared personal anecdotes about his family and life in New Zealand as well as the balance between what is traditional and what is practical.  It was a delightful talk and we are deeply grateful that he was able to come and speak with us.

I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t able to attend the question-and-answer period, but perhaps another member of our network can report on the discussion which followed the talk.