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Decolonizing Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies through Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being – Peace and Justice Studies Association

Inā kei te mohio keo ko wai koe, I anga mai koe i hea, kei te mohio koe, kei te anga atu ki hea (If you know who you are and where you are from, then you will know where you are going).

Indigenous cultures worldwide have survived the challenges of land alienation and multiple waves of colonization through the preservation of ancient ways of knowing and being, continually adapting to these ever changing conditions. Indigenous epistemology is concerned with how philosophical questioning, assumptions and forward approaches are formulated to gain a broader understanding of the Indigenous world. Indigenous epistemologies formulate the central philosophical, socio-cultural and political understandings of Indigenous Peoples and the decolonial practices which seek to critique and challenge Western knowledge.

Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies can gain a wider understanding of Indigenous worldviews, experiences and knowledge systems through re-positioning power structures within this discipline to uphold the mana (prestige) of Indigenous people. Within academia, Indigenous epistemologies, methodologies and methods offer insights into how Indigenous Peoples efforts have responded to colonization and as a response, refocused on issues that affect Indigenous communities such as human rights, freedom, power, race, economics and privilege. As a Māori woman, I grew up within the Indigenous renaissance of the 1970-80’s which created a platform for social, cultural and political change within Aotearoa New Zealand. My formal education was in an era where Māori and non-Māori advocates were challenging institutional racism and structural violence in an effort to advance Māori aspirations and preferences.

One of the theoretical underpinnings of decolonization in Aotearoa is kaupapa Māori, which was developed to advance Māori principles, values and practices. Kaupapa Māori, or Māori ways of thinking and being (Smith, 2003) developed as a response to address Treaty breaches and loss of Māori rights. The philosophical shift away from reactive responses and deficit theorizing towards tino rangatiratanga, Māori self determination, repositioned Māori to transform their own realities (Smith, 2003; Bishop, 2005; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999; ). It relocates the responsibilities agreed within the founding 1840 Māori – Crown Treaty partnership, and holds the Crown accountable responsible for the systemic institutional failure of health, education and justice for Māori. This pro-active movement away from ‘the politics of distractions’ (Smith, 2003) is an Indigenous response towards rebuilding the colonial disruption to Māori society at every level.

What does this mean for peace and social justice academics and advocates? It is at least a two pronged affair, sometimes involving multiple Indigenous stakeholders, but must involve the dismantling of power structures that have kept Indigenous people out of the future decision making processes. It requires a cultural mindshift to acknowledge the First Nations People of the land that we stand on, the gift of life on this land, and the resources that have flowed from her. There can be no peace without justice. Healing begins when colonizers understand their own histories, the devastating impact of land and cultural alienation on Indigenous Peoples and the role of non-Indigenous People in creating a more equitable future. Colonization shackled both parties together in an unbalanced and unhealthy relationship, where only one party prospered and benefitted at the expense of the other.

At a structural level, decolonization within Peace, Conflict and Justice studies, involves the movement towards true partnerships and the sharing of power and resources with Indigenous People who have been forced into a position of constantly trying to re-build their lives after many centuries of loss and trauma. It demands a heightened political consciousness to not only elevate Indigenous people to positions of influence, but actively support and encourage Indigenous voices and perspectives, as the previous dominant cultural ways have failed to advance the wellbeing of Indigenous People. This requires a committed mind shift away from Western scientific views towards Indigenous world views, which have been historically devalued, minimized, misconstrued or ignored (Brown & Strega, 2005). Privileging and affirming Indigenous perspectives creates authentic partnerships and relationships of trust, which can subsequently serve as alternative models for other communities (Denzin & Lincoln, 2014; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999).

Resistance against the hegemonic dominant discourse within the field of Peace, Conflict and Justice can be realized through the regeneration of Indigenous Peoples preferences and practices. As expressed previously, in order to decolonize these domains, it requires powershifting and sharing. One way this can be achieved is by reviewing the ethnicity ratio within academic institutions, creating spaces for Indigenous academics and students through tagging forth coming recruitment positions. Through the recruitment of Indigenous academic staff, this creates a sense of belonging for Indigenous students, and develops a wider community of bi/multi cultural peace practitioners. It also empowers Indigenous People to share their ancestral stories and contemporary realities, as a source of inspiration for future generations. Indigenous People need culturally safe spaces to tell these stories of pain, love, loss and hope, so that these histories are not forgotten and lessons are learnt from these mis-takes. Colonial amnesia has served to uphold historic ignorance and bias against Indigenous peacemaking customs and traditions. Decolonization invites us to reconsider who has had the power to teach the histories and herstories to date, and do they start with the stories and experiences of the first Peoples of the land?

Teachers can support and encourage Indigenous students to explore research methods that are a more appropriate ‘cultural fit’ for their communities and empower them to make the changes that they want in their world. Create spaces and opportunities for Indigenous students to share their narratives that may have been historically suppressed by colonizers or contemporary power brokers (Tuso & Flaherty, 2016). Step up as leaders in the decolonization space to sit and feel the stories shared. For some it may be an uncomfortable setting – explore what is behind these feelings and support Indigenous People to share stories from the colonial past and dream of a self determined future. There is healing in these spaces, where others can recognize a piece of themselves or develop a deeper sense of empathy for another. The overarching question for me is, what kind of world do we want to create? We can respond to the past with bitterness and hatred, or we can recreate a more equitable future for all. We are only as strong as our most vulnerable member in society. Whose agenda is advanced through our peace work and who is profiting? Exploring and developing an empathic understanding of such narratives can be a painful process, but until societies can accept the realities of Indigenous People past, present and future, the energy and resources needed to rebuild Indigenous lives, will be superficial. Self determination can be realized through our combined collective efforts. Keep rising.

He aha te mean nui o te ao? He takata! He takata! He takata! (What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!)

Original Article Posted Here


Bishop, R. (2005). Freeing ourselves from neo-colonial domination in research. A Kaupapa Māori approach to creating knowledge. In Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.) The SAGE Handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., p. 109-138). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Brown, L. & Strega, S. (2005). Reserch as Resistance: Critical, Indigneous and Anti-oppressive Approaches. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press.

Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (2014). Introduction: Critical Methodologies and Indigenous Inquiry. In: Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodlogies (Eds.). Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. SAGE Publications: Thousand Oaks.

Smith, G. (2003). Kaupapa Māori Theory: Theorising Indigenous Transformation of Education and Schooling. Kaupapa Māori Symposium. NZARE/AARE Joint Conference, Hyatt Hotel. Auckland, New Zealand.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Tuso, H. & Flaherty, M. (eds.) (2016). Creating the Third Force: Indigenous Processes of Peacemaking. Lanham: Lexington Books.