Kia ora. I am writing to my Te Rōpū Whakahau whanau to thank you all for your support and manaaki during the International Indigenous Librarians Forum this past February; including the generous granting of a Toiroa scholarship to assist in my attendance from Raleigh, North Carolina. While I hesitate to call this item important enough to deem “pānui”, I think it is important to express the impact that attending IILF has had on me.
To briefly declare my positionality: I am a member of the Ngāti Paoa iwi, who was raised in a Pakeha household and actively discouraged from learning about Tikanga, Te Reo, or other forms of whanau learning in my youth. I spent a few years providing administrative support for Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero (the-then Auckland City Libraries), before relocating to the United States a decade ago. After earning my Master of Library & Information Science at the University of Washington in 2017, I began my first official librarian role as an NCSU Libraries Fellow at North Carolina State University.
North Carolina has the largest population of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River, and is home to eight state-recognized tribes; only one of which is recognized by the Federal government. NC State University enrolled over 35,000 students in 2018, only 128 of which identified as Native American, and 19 as Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. While I have conducted outreach with the Native American Student Association and other affinity groups during my time here, working with Indigenous students or materials is not something I often do in an official capacity. So, thanks also to my supervisors in supporting my attendance.
IILF 2019 was my first time attending the forum, and represented both a homecoming and a time to deepen existing relationships and create new ones. To attend IILF during its 20th anniversary, in my home of Tāmaki Makaurau, as a newly-credentialed and practicing librarian was an enormous honour. I am further grateful that I had the opportunity to present in two sessions, one on my attempt to identify a collection of Māori Taonga at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture; and a second on the differences in credentialing and professional registration between Aotearoa and North America. In one session, I was joined by Ann Balto; and in both cases I was joined by my mentor Sandy Littletree, adding another layer of appreciation and pride for this opportunity.
I think that it is accurate to say that IILF 2019 supported my learning in two main ways. Both tangents of learning require a lot of critical self-reflection, actively tending to relationships, and being open to change and opportunity. The first of these tangents was exposure to ways in which Indigenous peoples are leading global conversations on the future of of the GLAMMI sector, and the significant impact Indigenous library and information professionals have in supporting their local communities. These conversations ranged from Chris Cormack’s treatise on Open Data, to Hinerangi Himiona’s discussion on the process behind the He Tohu exhibition, and Samantha Callaghan’s presentation on how taonga are handled and cared for abroad. With around 95 attendees, IILF 2019 was on the smaller side compared to other conferences I have been to, but the scholars and practitioners who had traveled from around the globe had no shortage of rich conversations, whether during an official conference session, or talking into the night from Waipapa Marae.
The second way that IILF 2019 has challenged and supported me is probably more personally meaningful, but more difficult to quantify. My journey towards a nuanced Māori identity is intertwined with my journey through librarianship; for example, my time at Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero represents a time when I was first actively encouraged to learn Te Reo, and first presented with a pounamu.
In addition to learning from participating in IILF 2019, I was also able to undertake learning as a member of Te Rōpū Whakahau and participant in the hui-a-tau. While tikanga such as pōwhiri, karakia whakapai kai, and sleeping on the marae are run-of-the-mill procedures for most members of Te Rōpū Whakahau, they are experiences which I have largely not participated in – due both to my upbringing, and my internalized sense of whakamaa or difference as an adult. To be able to participate without judgement and to be expected to welcome IILF 2019 guests through pōwhiri, practice karakia in advance of the kai hakari, and to generally be able to show guests my home of Tāmaki Makaurau was a genuine privilege, and one that empowered me to be confident in my own journey and sense of belonging. The conference was an opportunity for me to connect with family members, former coworkers, American conference buddies, Twitter friends, and leadership who I’d heard of back in my very first library job but never met before – thank you to everyone who made time to talk with me!
Again, one might consider participation in such tikanga to be a small thing. But concurrent to this empowerment comes the dismantling of internalized low-worth; or letting go of toxic narratives such as deficit thinking or thinking of my own disconnection as being unique or an individual fault. The pre-conference trip to Waitangi on Waitangi day was also a powerful way to see how whanau embrace Māoridom through celebration, expression, and darn good kai; and this experience also challenged narratives spread through popular colonial media.
A theme I have encountered within my career is the debate around professionalism and “whole-person-librarianship”, and seeing Indigeneity and Indigenous Peoples centred in a professional setting was something I suspect was healing or rejuvenating for many. To have space to be ourselves, bring family (including children) to the conference, share food, speak our native languages, find similarities and celebrate differences – these are all reasons why the International Indigenous Librarians Forum is a vital point of connection throughout our professions. I have attended other conferences such as the National Diversity in Libraries Conference (now known as IDEAL) where attendees expressed a need for ethnic caucusing, which was met with much defensiveness. For IILF 2019 to include a day specifically for Indigenous peoples only is a way to hold space for Indigenous peoples and their non-Indigenous allies, and signals respect and maturity.
My learning continued beyond the conference, with my cousin Anahera Sadler taking us to our family marae in Kaiaua. Once again my ingrained narratives were challenged – although this was the first time I was allowed inside the Wharekawa marae, I was far from the only person at our whanau hui for whom this was the case. Among other things, Anahera and I were able to present some ideas to our iwi about records management, preservation, digitization, and online pedagogy – it’s an exciting time for our iwi. I also experienced great manaaki from conference friends new-and-old, who were very kind in providing personal tours of their institutions throughout Tāmaki Makaurau and Wellington. While I have not shared everything with my colleagues in the United States, they have been very impressed by the various library and exhibition spaces I have been able to show to them.
Although a few months have passed since I attended IILF 2019, the opportunity to reflect on its deeper meaning for me has left me feeling re-energized, and excited for the next phase of my career. Whether my focus will be supporting a school of Indigenous studies in an official capacity, or whether I will continue to carve out time for side projects and my own research through the University of Otago, I know that I have support and potential for collaboration throughout the profession, and my Te Rōpū Whakahau whanau. Ngā mihi. Nicola Andrews, Ngāti Paoa, University of Washington MLIS 2017 NCSU LIbraries Fellow, NOrth Carolina State University