For Shyra Barberstock, a master’s student at Queen’s University, the recently held Matariki Network Indigenous Student Mobility Program offered her some amazing opportunities. First it was a chance to travel to New Zealand and learn firsthand about the Maori culture. Just as important, however, it was a chance to meet with Indigenous people from around the world and learn about their cultures.
“I love the whole idea of Indigenous people coming together from different countries to share knowledge,” she says. “I thought that was really powerful.”
Ms. Barberstock, an Anishinaabe from the Kabaowek First Nation in Quebec who grew up in Ontario, attended the program along with fellow Queen’s graduate students Colin Baillie and Natasha Stirrett, as well as Kelsey Wrightson, a post-doctoral fellow in Indigenous Studies.
A three-year pilot program, the inaugural two-week event was hosted by the University of Otago, starting on June 27, bringing together students from four member institutions of the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) – Queen’s, University of Western Australia, England’s Durham University and Dartmouth College in the United States – to foster cultural exchanges and the understanding of issues affecting Indigenous communities. During the two weeks, participants heard from Maori scholars how geography, economics and politics influenced the social, cultural and economic development of the Maori. They were also encouraged to think critically about what being Indigenous means, and about how to address issues in their own communities – whether First Nations or Australian Aboriginal. The learning experience also took place outside the classroom and the group visited a pair of maraes, meeting places that are a vital part of Maori life.
“That was really special, getting the teachings from them and learning more about their stories, and what’s important to them,” Ms. Barberstock says. “What I found really interesting is that the Maori people definitely have a very different history than the First Nations here in Canada. But there are synergies in the values of First Nations people and Maori people, that community mindedness, wanting to do things for the good of the community.”
In her master’s thesis, Ms. Barberstock is exploring if there can be a connection between innovation and reconciliation. Through this she is connecting with Indigenous entrepreneurs and finding out the narrative behind their business and seeing if social innovation can contribute to reconciliation in Canada. An entrepreneur herself, the trip allowed her to gain a deeper understanding of her connections with Maori partners.
At the same time she also says that she was impressed by the work being done to preserve the Maori language. At Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti, a Māori immersion elementary school, the Matariki participants were welcomed by a group of schoolchildren who sang in the Maori language and were well-versed in the cultural protocols of their people.
“That was really interesting because it really inspired me and really got me thinking about things that we could do over here because loss of Indigenous languages is a big deal here in Canada,” she says. “A lot of Indigenous languages are going extinct and we really need a revival of Indigenous languages here. I was really inspired by their immersion.”
Next year the Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Programme will be hosted at the University of Western Australia, with Dartmouth College following up in 2018.
The Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) is an international group of leading, like-minded universities, each amongst the most historic in its own country, and recognized as being: a premier place of advanced learning; research-intensive across a broad subject base; focused on providing a high-quality student experience; flexible, modern, innovative, comprehensive and globally oriented. To learn more about the opportunities available visit the international page of the Queen’s website and theMNU website.