The Tīpuna Project, ongoing

With Dr Teah Carlson

Coloniality is structured by a hierarchy of knowers, knowing and knowledge that violently denigrates Indigenous ways of being in the world. This ‘kkk’ hierarchy is premised on a figure-cum-standard of the ‘human’ as one who is separate from flesh, past and cosmos. Countering it therefore requires counter-practices that open-up multiple other forms of being human – including in research, which largely assumes and reproduces the colonial figure of the human even when done in the name of ‘decolonisation’.

Two areas of contemporary kaupapa Maori (KM) scholarship hold promise for such counter-practices: (1) an inspirited ‘wairua approach’ that attends to expressions of the unseen, including ancestors, in research; and (2) ‘intergenerational trauma’ praxes that approach the harms caused to colonised or enslaved ancestors as inheritable ‘soul wounds’ healable through inspirited and embodied practices. The successful uptake of these latter praxes within specialist services and international social movements points also to their potential for people with settler ancestors – often either bypassed in decolonial initiatives or engaged through a cognitive approach that again assumes a colonial figure of the ‘human’ that simply reproduces the ‘kkk’ hierarchy or triggers White fragility.

The Tipuna (‘Ancestor’) Project (TTP) is Māori and Pākehā (White settler) collaboration based in Aotearoa to innovate and evaluate research practices that include Indigenous and settler ancestors in order to counter (1) the denigration of Indigenous ways of knowing/being, (2) the historically traumatic nature of the research space for Indigenous peoples and (3) low settler accountability, before translating these counter-practices for local and international decolonising initiatives more broadly. Using participatory action research (PAR) as both a methodology and a case study, we ask overall: What are the decolonial possibilities and complexities of including ancestors as co-researchers in PAR?

Co-designed through three and half years of dialogue with Māori and Pākehā scholars/activists, TTP is shaped by a central value of KM, structured by the vision of Matike Mai (a nationwide Indigenous-led movement), and supported by six Indigenous networks (representing over 5000 Māori). A co-researcher collective of five Indigenous and five non-Indigenous decolonial practitioners and their ancestors will conduct a three year, three-phase project to: (1) Titiro (‘Look’), innovate ancestral research practices through participant observation with three ancestral experts (a Māori matakite, a Gaelic elder and a Somatics practitioner from racial/healing justice movements); (2) Whakarongo (‘Listen’), evaluate these counter-practices through one Indigenous and one non-Indigenous bespoke PAR project; and (3) Kōrero (‘Speak’), translate these for decolonial initiatives more broadly through a seven-day multimedia co-creative laboratory of public experimentation. This partnership of Indigenous and non-Indigenous methods will be grounded in the KM methodology of wānanga and woven with the KM method of whitiwhiti kōrero, ensuring the project itself enacts commitments to Indigenous sovereignty, community accountability and global struggles.