MASS Conference 2016 Report - Nui te Kōrero: Rewriting national narratives

Event Date: 
Friday, November 11, 2016

We are happy to report on the success of our fifth MASS Conference, which was held 9-11 November at Te Herenga Waka marae, Victoria University of Wellington.  Over 60 people attended the conference, and enjoyed our three keynotes and 24 conference presentations, workshops and panels. We were delighted by how much our conference theme, Nui te Kōrero: Rewriting National Narratives, really struck a chord with the participants and were impressed with their high levels of engagement.

Our first keynote, Dr Aroha Harris from the University of Auckland, did a superb job of unpacking the conference theme with her clever comparison of Tuki and Cook’s maps of Aotearoa New Zealand. She reminded us of how the writing of history has been one of the most powerful tools of the coloniser, describing how Māori have often been “folded in”. She explained how the two maps represent the perspectives of the mappers; Tuki’s is relational, it centres his home in the north, yet charts his connections with land features and other iwi in the surrounding areas. She invited us to reflect on our own ‘maps’, our own rewriting (or writing) in our various social science arenas, and this metaphor became a thread that ran through many presenters over the three days of the conference.

Our second keynote, Professor John Maynard from the Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle, also asked us to cast our minds back to Yuraki, long ago, the past, and described his passion and urgency to find (and write) the missing puzzle pieces of the “jigsaw” that is Aboriginal political, social and race relations history. His drive to share stories of Aboriginal heroes and heroines with his people was palpable – and his personal story of academic career progression and writing the stories of his father and grandfather was truly inspirational.

Our third keynote, Dr Jo Smith from Victoria University of Wellington, brought a more contemporary topic to the conference theme by highlighting the “wicked complexity” surrounding the first 10 years of Māori Television. She reminded us of the power of the media, which “may not tell us what to think but does tell us what to think about”, and shared findings from her research project (and forthcoming book) Onscreen Indigeneity, which investigated what makes it Māori TV, not just TV in Māori.

In addition to the keynotes, the MASS Conference attracted a variety of other speakers and presentations. Topics ranged from Māori politics to Māori environmental management, from Māori education to issues of gender, culture and criminology. Despite their diversity, common themes around the challenge and opportunity of working in Māori social science spaces shone through.

Part of the reason for holding a MASS conference is to strengthen the networks amongst Māori social scientists. The delicious Conference dinner, held at Dockside restaurant on the Wellington waterfront, provided an informal, social occasion to further develop those friendships. Another new initiative at the conference was the introduction of regular timeslots for discussion. Each conference participant was allocated to a group, with its own facilitator and venue, and groups met throughout the programme to discuss the keynotes and other presentations, to reflect, to build on ideas and to create and consolidate connections with one another. Feedback about these discussion groups was overwhelmingly positive, so we are hopeful that they will become a feature of future MASS conferences too.

Finally, we are grateful for all of our sponsors and the many people who worked to make this conference possible. To our major sponsors, Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga and the DVC Māori at Victoria University of Wellington, Professor Rawinia Higgins, kei te mihi. To Bridget Williams Books and Victoria University Press for the generous donations of a selection of their recent publications, our heartfelt thanks. To all of the staff and student helpers at Te Herenga Waka marae, a huge thank you for the wonderful kai and manaakitanga. To our MASS kaiawhina, the fabulous Tayla, Jesseallen and Jacob, thanks for catering to everyone’s needs with professionalism and good humour. Thanks also to our local conference organising committee, to our discussion group facilitators and all our session chairs – we couldn’t have done it without you.

We hope that all of the participants found the conference informative, inspiring and enjoyable – and we look forward to doing it all again at the next MASS Conference in 2018!