Award boosts credibility of Pacific Studies - Academic
A Pacific Studies lecturer in New Zealand says an award for teaching excellence will boost the subject's academic credibility.
A Pacific Studies academic in New Zealand says an award for teaching excellence will boost the subject's academic credibility.
The Victoria University of Wellington lecturer, Teresia Teaiwa, has received an Ako Aotearoa award from the New Zealand Government for her work on developing the first undergraduate Pacific Studies major in the world.
Teresia Teaiwa spoke to Daniela Maoate-Cox about the challenges of proving Pacific Studies is a worthy subject and teaching about such a diverse area.
TERESIA TEAIWA: A lot of people don't know what Pacific Studies is and when I first started here I got really strong vibes that people thought 'this won't be academically rigorous' and students even come in and say 'yeah I thought this was going to be an easy pass'. And the students who do Akamai, one of the things they always say is 'you know if I did the essay it would have been the easier option'.
DANIELA MAOATE-COX: So can you tell me about these concepts of Etak and Akamai?
TT: So Etak is a Micronesian concept of wayfinding and it's the idea that rather than trying to navigate somewhere and conceive of yourself as moving to a stationary destination, the idea is that you bring the destination to you. So in navigation, it's the idea that the canoe stays stationary and the navigator brings the island to him. There isn't that much literature that's been published on how to teach Pacific Studies, how to teach about the Pacific. So I liked the concept of Etak which helped me think through how I could bring the islands to my location here in Wellington. It's not feasible for us to take the students out to the islands but we can bring the islands to us.
DM-C: How do you do that?
TT: You do that through your readings, you do that through your DVDs, documentaries. You also do it through guest speakers and then of course we have to do some travelling sometimes, so we make full use of the evidence of the islands that are here in Wellington. So we go to Te Papa, we go to the Turnball Library, we go to Archives New Zealand, our students go out to exhibitions at Pataka, Wellington City Gallery, so in a lot of ways the islands are coming to us here in Wellington all the time.
DM-C: Now tell me about Akamai.
TT: The version that we borrowed here is from Hawai'i, and Akamai has layers and layers of meaning but one refers to intelligence and of course, unfortunately in this country our students get a lot of messages that they're not smart, that they don't have an intellectual heritage at all. So this idea that 'you don't have a written history, you have to rely on outsiders for your written history, your culture's just oral', that idea, sometimes unfortunately makes students think 'oh then we're not smart'.
DM-C: So how do you use that information and teach that to Pasifika students who want to learn about where they've come from when their narratives that we've got on paper aren't necessarily written by them?
TT: Yeah well that's a big issue for our students. We rely so much on written, on documented, archivally based sources and of course the research and the publications of mostly non-Pacific people. The Pacific is per capita, the most studied place and so it's challenging and it's really easy to try to dismiss outsiders' perspectives and the work outsiders have done. But what we try to do in Pacific Studies is encourage all our students to think critically about all sources.
DM-C: You are receiving an award, that's got to be setting an example for some of the students and the other Pasifika people out there, how does that feel for you?
TT: It's exciting and overwhelming, it's also humbling and in terms of putting Pacific Studies on the map, for me that's the most important thing.
DM-C: Tell me about the process that you have to go through to put yourself forward for one of these awards?
TT: It's a lot of work to prepare the portfolio but it is an amazing opportunity to reflect on your practice, to reflect on why you do what you do, so your philosophy. But then what I found really really valuable is the collecting of evidence to show how your teaching has an impact, how it's effective.
DM-C: So the whole process of the application is it worth it?
TT: It's definitely worth it. it's really difficult but nothing good really comes easy and I've found just putting the portfolio together just helps you feel like the work you've been doing has actually been woven into something that's coherent. So I'd really encourage other Pasifika teachers in the tertiary sector to apply because I think we do a lot of work, we give our students a lot of care and that needs to be recognised and documented. That's the important thing, documented. We need to be more deliberate about how we document the things that we're doing. That was the title of my portfolio,Charting Pacific Studies Waters and that's what I feel like I've had to do. Because when I arrived to teach here there were no charts, there were no maps for me and so to be responsible I've tried to leave documentation so that when other people come into this field they will have my maps. They can critique my maps, they can redraw my maps, but at least they've got maps to start with.
Teresia Teaiwa is the second Pasifika recipient to receive the award since they started in 2002.
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