UQ hosts world-leading Indigenous academics for regional conference

17 June 2022

The University of Queensland hosted 80 world-leading academics from New Zealand, America, Canada and Australia for the Brisbane regional conference of the Native American Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).

UQ academic leadership integral to the conference ... Top: NAISA President, Professor Brendan Hokowhitu, and NAISA President-elect, Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Below: Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) Professor Bronwyn Fredericks and Professor Tracey Bunda.

The conference was the first event of its type hosted in Australia and complements other NAISA regional events being held this year in Mexico, America, Taiwan, Canada and Norway. NAISA is the largest scholarly global organisation devoted to Critical Indigenous Studies.

Some of the delegates gather for a group photo.

In addition to hosting the Brisbane conference from 29-31 May, UQ is the home institution of both the NAISA President, Professor Brendan Hokowhitu, and NAISA President-elect, Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson.

The conference theme focussed on Indigenous Futures and Sustaining Liveliness in the context of Critical Indigenous Studies and related disciplines and featured 60 papers across the two days (both in-person and on-line).

All the delegates gathered for the heavily-anticipated final session, for which Distinguished Professor Moreton-Robinson galvanised years of research into a presentation on Quandamooka Women: Gender and Sovereignty on the 19th Century Colonial Frontier.

Macquarie University HDR presenters Tetei Bakic and Souksavanh T. Keovorabouth

Her talk challenged western enlightenment perspectives which “underplay the gendered nature of Quandamooka people’s agency by over-stating the agency of white males”.

“Native women have been silenced in the colonial project while colonial power and domination continue to structure gender relations and nation building,” she said.

“This paper challenges this view by providing a more nuanced and complicated understanding of Quandamooka women as leaders, negotiators, and warriors.”

Another well-received paper considered how colonial monuments such as James Cook statues attempt to portray narratives of history that assert white sovereignty via the shrouding of Indigenous voices and agencies.

Professor Leonie Pihama, Aotearoa delegates and Aunty Maggie Walsh.

UQ academics Professor Bronwyn Fredericks and Dr Abraham Bradfield argued that protesting monuments that deny Indigenous sovereignty ensures greater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice and involvement in historic accounts.

“Indigenous peoples are reasserting their agency and reflecting a shared history based on colonial truths and pathways to meaningful conciliation,” Professor Fredericks said.

Delegates heard from Hinekura Smith about reclaiming traditions of taking up moko kauwae (skin markings on the chin) in New Zealand, and how cultural skin markings continue to be reclaimed by Indigenous peoples around the world.

Dr Toni McPherson considered the role of grandmothers in promoting integrity and cohesiveness of Aboriginal families and Kathleen Clapham discussed how to sustain Indigenous youth futures in urban and regional places through culturally-based programs.

Professor Gracelyn Smallwood AM.

Another paper by Whitiao Paul and Irene Farnham described a Maori-led community-based intervention to homelessness experienced in Auckland.

Asmi Wood examined aspects of the ‘bad faith’ interpretations of treaties in New Zealand and North America as a lesson for possible treaty development by Indigenous peoples in Australia.

Riley Yesno took a critical look at how Indigenous-led social movements situated the still-burgeoning Land Back movement within the long history of Indigenous contestation in Canada— critically evaluating both its promise and precarity.