Native Studies Dean Resigns: Hokowhitu accepts position at University of Waikato in New Zealand

For Brendan Hokowhitu, the decision to resign as Dean of Native Studies and take a job in New Zealand came down to family matters.

“My wife and I have two young children,” Hokowhitu said. “We want to give them the opportunity to speak the Maori language and be immersed in their culture.”

Hokowhitu, who came to the faculty of Native Studies in 2012 from the University of Otago in New Zealand, is a member of the Ngäti Pukenga Maori tribe. His new role as Dean of Maori and Pacific Advancement at the University of Waikato will commence in January, 2015. The new position sees him return to Hamilton, New Zealand, as well as the ancestral area he left at 18 years old to pursue an education.

The cold climate wasn’t the only major change for Hokowhitu when he took post at the U of A. He points to the complexities of provincial politics as a major challenge he had to work through.

“New Zealand has a population of four million people,” Hokowhitu said. “That’s essentially the same as Alberta, so we only had to deal with politics on the national level.”

These concerns with provincial politics came early for Hokowhitu, who had to deal with significant budget cuts throughout his term. Despite the challenges, Hokowhitu said that community engagement and increasing the number of students in Native Studies were main priorities in his tenure. In addition, Hokowhitu points the intellectual capital of the faculty and new courses as reasons to be excited for the future.

“I led the creation of the Indigenous 101 Massive Open Online Course, and I’m stoked about that,” Hokowhitu said. “We also have the MA Native Studies program going online, which is going to give even more study opportunities.”

Though he said he is excited for the future of the faculty, especially what changes may occur in partnership with the new Alberta government, Hokowhitu is looking forward to his new role.

“The place I’m going to has been a hub of the Maori renaissance since the 1970s,” Hokowhitu said. “It has a strong history of leading the revival of indigenous language and culture in New Zealand.”

For Hokowhitu, who has done everything from teach secondary school to supervise the Junior Rugby program at the University of Victoria, there are more parallels than differences between his current role and new position. Hokowhitu points to student makeups as the way in which Waikato and the U of A differ primarily.

“At Waikato, I would guess that the Maori student population is about 30 to 40 per cent,” he said. “Whereas the indigenous population is two to three per cent at the U of A.”

And though he is moving to the opposite end of the globe, Hokowhitu said he plans on maintaining strong ties to Edmonton.
“I don’t think this is the end of me and the U of A,” Hokowhitu said. “I have a good relationship with the faculty, and I hope to foster some kind of exchange between the two schools.”

One Comment

  1. This is exciting! Though it might seem that their big “returns” to and for Hamilton is also a big “loss” for Alberta, Brendan and Nalani’s decision to return to Hamilton offers great possibilities for faculty and students at both places and for faculty and students elsewhere. I know I’m excited for me and my students, as Tina and I ourselves prepare to take our part of Oceania to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Surely, in Brendan and Nalani’s decision to return to Oceania, and to Waikato in particular, we are also seeing an ancient practice replaying itself in the ever expanding worlds of voyaging natives albeit in the uncharted waters comparative and global native studies. It wasn’t that long ago, at the 2009 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference in Minnesota that Nalani presented at a panel on embodied practices of Hawaiian voyaging, lo’i, and auwai restoration. In her paper on wa’a in particular, Nalani oriented the ground of these embodied projects of nation rebuilding in Hawai’i to yet other indigenous places, which for her genealogy (at the time) ranged from what she called “the prairies of Minnesota across Turtle Island (where she grew up and has relations) to the Pacific Ocean (spanning Hawai’i, Aotearoa, and Rapa Nui).” As it turned out, it wasn’t too long after, that Brendan and Nalani would relocate and include Edmonton in that reach. Moreover, much in the same way that many Oceanians before us included in their portable notions of home many more points within and beyond the stretch from Oceania to North America’s northern plains, Brendan and Nalani now also find it is time to return home but with a bit of those other places in tow. As Brendan assures us, his return to Waikato “is not the end of me and the U of A…” on account of good relations he has built with U of A faculty (now in good hands with interim Dean Chris Andersen, and boosted big time with the addition of Kim Tallbear). With this, he looks to build “some kind of exchange between the two schools.” Indeed in such kinds of “returns” home do we find the possibilities of even greater returns, as for instance, in the promises of expanding Maori and First Peoples worlds in the mutual and exciting interests of enhanced native
    scholarship for native purposes (as when we find Mohawk scholars like Taiaiake Alfred and Cherokee Jeff Corntassel and their students working lo’i and auwai in Hawai’i alongside those of Noe Goodyear-Ka’opua, Hoku Aikau, and Noenoe Silva at UH Manoa, or when Auckland’s Te Whare Kura routinely collaborates with UH’s Ty Tengan and Keawe Kaholokula ). As Tina and I make headways into the waters and prairies of the Anishinabe and Dakota of Minnesota, (to work with the likes of Jeani O’Brien, Brenda Child, David Wilkins, and Šišóka Dúta among others) we look forward to also triangulating the new relationship between Waikato and Alberta with new ones now being forged between our own part of Oceania and American Indian Studies at Minnesota! In that sense, this is but a continuation of the relations with other faculty and staff at Waikato — Haki Tuaupiki and Krista Henare, Nepia and Rangimarie Mahuika, Hine-iti moana, Maui Hudson, Leonie Pihama, and of course Linda Tuhiwai Smith, or with colleagues at the Auckland like Mike Walker, Tracey McIntosh, Damon Salesa, Aroha Harris. Or, the great folks at Vic … you get the picture here. Great move, you guys. Looking forward to a new chapter!

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