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Every 9th of August, the world celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous to raise our voices for the rights of the indigenous communities in the world. Ahead of this special occasion, we hear from CHL PhD alumnus Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman, who in 2021 was awarded the prestigious 2021 Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Scholar Award in New Zealand, supporting him to work on a comparative study of Indigenous experiences of settler colonialism in Aotearoa and the United States.
Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Wairere, Ngāti Apakura, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Tarāwhai, Te Arawa, Ngāti Uenukukōpako
Tell us about yourself, and your association with ANU and CHL.
I was born in Melbourne and grew up in Aotearoa, and did my undergraduate and Master’s degrees at the University of Otago (in Māori Studies and Social Anthropology respectively). Some of my professors there suggested the ANU for my PhD, and so I got in touch with Margaret Jolly and Katerina Teaiwa, who, along with Asmi Wood, became my superstar supervisors!
Your PhD thesis explored the relationship between Indigenous sovereignty and state violence in the New Zealand context. Tell us more.
After learning of a violent police raid upon a close Ngāi Tūhoe (a sovereign Indigenous nation in the Bay of Plenty) friend’s family, I wanted to unpack what had happened, and reveal the bigger insights for what this meant in terms of colonisation today. In doing so, I unravelled a history of colonial encounter between Ngāi Tūhoe and the Crown, where the settler desire for land and resources eventually came to outweigh Ngāi Tūhoe’s mana motuhake (autonomy, sovereignty). For me, the raid on Waitangi’s (my friend) home showed how colonisation lives and breathes in the present, and isn’t some historically isolated phenomenon.
9 August is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. What does this signify to you, in the Australian context, and also globally?
I am wary of ceremonial days of recognition. I understand the importance of them, how hard our people fought for them, and how pivotal their celebration is for innumerable Indigenous peoples. However, colonisation was a process of land and resource dispossession on the global stage, and for me, the best way to protect and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples (the mandate of IDWIP) is to restore their lands and resources back to them – in the Australian, Aotearoa, Canadian, Hawaiian, and United States’ contexts. ‘Land back’ is the ultimate expression of decolonisation.
What are you currently doing? How is this related to your PhD and your exploration of Indigenous cultures?
My current Fulbright project with Harvard and the University of Hawai’i is broadly exploring Indigenous relationships to land, and Indigenous practices of stewardship over land. In particular, I’m looking at ways Native American and Hawaiian protectors are defending Indigenous lands that are subject to mining or other exploitation, such as Apache resistance to the Resolution Copper Mine at Oak Flat in Arizona, and Kanaka ‘Ōiwi protests to the development of telescopes upon Mauna Kea. In this, I’m examining how Indigenous sovereignty is undermined (literally, in the case of Oak Flat) for corporate benefit, an extension of the focus in my PhD.
What, according to you, are the highlights of your academic experience so far?
Making connections across other Indigenous landscapes outside of Aotearoa: in Australia, the United States, and Hawai’i. Research, for me, is grounded in relationships built on trust, and seeing those relationships prosper over years is exciting and rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone who may want to tread the same academic pathway as yours?
Work to your passions, for it’s that passion that drives you even when things seem overwhelming. Part of this means learning local – Indigenous – histories of where you’re based, because the land we exist on is inevitably the ancestral land of another.
Can you share any fun or memorable anecdote(s) from your time at ANU or currently?
A defining memory of my time at ANU was arriving on campus and having to attend the ‘what can kill you in Australia’ workshop. I turned slightly pale when I learned of red bellied black snakes and funnel web spiders, especially given that wildlife in Aotearoa has all evolved to be flightless and fancy-free, where no such predators exist!
Pounamu encourages current students at CAP to learn the histories of First Nations peoples as well, because, as actors of the future, students are uniquely placed in effecting positive change.
“Come to know and study the histories of colonisation in Australia, as told by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, academics and activists – regardless of what programme you’re doing. Effecting change in the present means appreciating the injustices of the past.”