11 July 19: Waikato hosts record-breaking Indigenous scholars conference

Hamilton has hosted a historic NAISA conference, in what has been hailed as a recordbreaking meeting for Indigenous scholars from around the world.

The Native American & Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) Conference was held at the University of Waikato in Hamilton from 26-29 June, the first time the conference has been held outside the United States, Canada and Hawai’i. It attracted a record 1,872 registrations from many different countries including the US, Canada, Hawai’i, Taiwan, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Aotearoa/New Zealand. The last conference in Los Angeles hosted 1,000 delegates.

Tourism New Zealand Business Events supported the conference from bidding stage through to execution through the Conference Assistance Programme. Tourism New Zealand Business Events Global Manager, Anna Fennessy, says: “New Zealand’s rich history and culture provided a unique experience for NAISA conference delegates. New Zealand was extremely proud to host the renowned event and benefited greatly from the knowledge exchange and networking it provided our experts.”

Professor Brendan Hokowhitu, Dean of the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, was instrumental in securing the event. He says: “The size and success of the conference has been beyond my wildest dreams. The conference, the excitement and buzz generated around campus and the city has been amazing, with nothing but overwhelmingly positive feedback coming back to us about the registrants' experiences at the conference, the University, the city, the Waikato and more broadly Aotearoa.”

The event incorporated a community day, followed by 257 sessions from 900 presenters over three days. Themes included Indigenous leadership, sovereignty, justice, health, biosecurity, and the State removal of Indigenous children from their families. Hokowhitu said the strong reputation of Māori in the Indigenous Studies space, the strength of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s Indigenous culture and the ability to incorporate the local Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) and Waikato Tainui made this conference a standout.

“The pōwhiri (welcome) was extremely emotional and simply beautiful. The karanga to begin, followed by whaikōrero and waiata from Indigenous peoples from all over the world was so powerful and beyond words. The conference was unique because of the manaaki (hospitality) we as hosts demonstrated, which was as simple as providing kai (food), food for thought, laughter and song, through to the poroporoaki (farewell) dinner which was a wonderful showcase of Māori talent.” He added that having thousands of international visitors come to a conference and bring their families was also extremely fruitful for all of Aotearoa New Zealand, but particularly for the Waikato and for Hamilton city.

Hamilton and Waikato Tourism Convention Bureau Manager Amanda Graham says that early indications suggest the event could be worth $4m in economic benefit to the region. “We were initially expecting 700 delegates, so the unprecedented higher than expected numbers meant that accommodation was full. The city was bustling with culture.

“Attendees took advantage of a wide variety of local activities during their preconference community day. Local operators rose to the occasion warmly welcoming delegates and their families. Tourism operators reported being busy. Participants remarked on the welcoming spirit of our people and the value of the Indigenous connections.”

She adds: “As Indigenous worldviews become increasingly important to society, this conference has drawn attention to the high esteem in which The University of Waikato’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies is held internationally.” Hokowhitu agrees that the event placed the University on the world stage. Some 115 students and 40 staff from the university were involved across the event.

“Our amazing University of Waikato students provided critical volunteer work and in turn, I hope they have been inspired by the amazing Indigenous scholars who they were lucky enough to meet, share their company and watch their presentations.”