News & Events


April 11, 2014

Reflections on Indigenous Maori Scholar Visits

The Indigenous Wellness Research Institute was honored to host presentations and visits by several distinguished scholars of Maori and indigenous people’s education and research in early Spring 2014. During their visits, the visiting scholars met with graduate students to discuss research and indigenous methodologies. Here two School of Social Work doctoral students offer their reflections on events and meetings with these international visitors.

DSC_0051From Jessica Hope LePak:

Mr. Adrian Rurawhe, Dr. Paul Reynolds, and Dr. Cherryl Waerea-i-te-rangi Smith, from Te Atawhai o te Ao: Independent Maori Institute for Environment and Health, New Zealand, visited IWRI on Feb 10. The distinguished scholars gave a campus and community wide presentation on “Resiliency and Health Among Maori Communities.”

Our Maori guests brought many gifts for IWRI including “Pineapple Lumps,” a favorite and adored treat that IWRI staff discovered when they visited New Zealand in 2012. Our guests remembered how much the staff loved these candies and loaded their suitcases with them. Our friends also gifted IWRI with a traditional cloak with gorgeous blue, green, and white feathers. Dr. Smith’s kind words during the presentation of the cloak brought tears to listeners eyes as she told the meaning of the cloak, and how it brings protection to the one who wears it and helps one connect to ancestors. Quickly, though, tears turned to laughs as Dr. Smith talked about how an anthropologist once wrote a paper on how Maoris couldn’t see the color blue. Folks chuckled as examples of anthropologists “getting it wrong” were shared among the group.



During their visit to campus, PhD students shared their research and dissertation ideas with the scholars and engaged in a comparative discussion. As a second-year PhD student in the UW School of Social Work, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Reynolds about stress and trauma in Indian Country, and Dr. Reynolds shared information about the qualitative research in the area of trauma and healing that is taking place in New Zealand. We both agreed that more international collaboration is needed in the area of post-traumatic growth and promotion of healing in indigenous communities.

From Angela Fernandez:

From left to right: Cherryl Smith, PhD, Paul Reynolds, PhD, Adrian Rurawhe

From left to right: Cherryl Smith, PhD, Paul Reynolds, PhD, Adrian Rurawhe

Attending Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Smith and Dr. Rurawhe’s presentations about Resilience and Health in Maori Communities reminded me of the great responsibility we take on as Indigenous researchers to honor the life stories that our participants share with us. The speakers remarked on the importance of taking care of ourselves as we work with survivors of trauma, as we are also affected by hearing these stories. Their words reminded me of the balance I continuously tried to maintain in my emotional, spiritual, mental and physical health when I was working in direct practice mental health, so that I could offer my full, grounded presence to my former clients as I accompanied them on their healing journeys. Listening to Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Smith and Dr. Rurawhe’s words reminded me of the self-care and balance I must now learn an Indigenous scholar, given the demands of academia in a Western-based educational system.

Reflection on Dr. Linda Smith’s visit:


Linda T. Smith

Linda T. Smith, PhD

Attending several small groups and the larger campus-wide presentation with Dr. Smith gave me very practical, hands-on examples about being mindful of the research we do with our communities. She gave examples of how to respect and honor the participants’ time and contributions with thoughtful questions and useful gifts to show our appreciation. She reminded us to first ask if the audience to which we are speaking is worthy of hearing the participants’ words, and if so to tailor our presentation of the work to these different audiences, whether we are speaking to policy makers, educators or community members. We must know our roles as both insiders and outsiders in our Indigenous communities, and be mindful of our limits within these roles. Dr. Smith’s larger evening presentation helped me think about the importance of how I frame and name my research, and how “most of the research is done before it is written.” Her words of wisdom leave me with insights overall about the importance of grounding and strengthening myself with humility, accountability and preparation as an Indigenous scholar, as well as being fully present, responsive and practical in my every day work with communities. The work of Indigenous research is ongoing before, during and after our projects are “done.” She reminds us that we must stay grounded in the legacies of our ancestors, and make a pathway for the future generations ahead. As I learn what it means to be an Indigenous scholar, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to hear concrete examples of how I can do research in a good way that honors our ancestors, ourselves, and future generations to come.

Author bios:

    —Angela Fernandez is a first year doctoral student from the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin. She has served in the Peace Corps and worked as a social worker and psychotherapist prior to returning to UW for doctoral studies. She is interested in researching land-based practices as moderators between stress and health and mental health outcomes, and the role of sustainability and globalization in human rights, social and environmental justice of Indigenous peoples.  
    —Jessica completed her MSW years at UC Berkeley in 2009 and is now a second year PhD student in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington. She is a citizen of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin and her grandmother is from the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans.  Her research interests include: examining traumatic, chronic, and environmental stressors within a life-course and intergenerational framework; the mechanisms by which  these stressors lead to health inequities within American Indian, Alaska Native, and Two-Spirit communities; and how individuals from these communities recover from trauma and move on to live healthy lives.