In Aotearoa we have a proverb (or whakataukī) that goes, “He aha te mea nui o te Ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata” which translates to, “What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.” During my short stay at Stanford I have met so many wonderful people, and that proverb has certainly rung true for me. A large number of these people that I have been lucky enough to meet and get to know have been those within the Native American community here on campus, both staff and students.
Being an indigenous person from outside of the U.S., I was curious to enter a space like Stanford. Beforehand, I had no real knowledge of the Indigenous spaces on campus. I assumed that there would be something, but I didn’t know what form it would take. Unless you go searching for information in Aotearoa, we see and hear very little about Indigenous culture within U.S. campuses and the wider U.S. society — that is, unless it’s negative. Native Americans protesting this, Native Americans against that. A frustratingly repetitive, willingly naïve narrative about Indigenous Peoples that almost always portrays us in a negative light: often “getting in the way” and causing unnecessary trouble. Something Māori get accused of back home as well.
Now I obviously can’t speak to the experience of growing up and living in this society as a Native American. It’s not my place to do so. But it seems relatively clear that there are still a large number of systemic, institutional and societal changes that need to happen to recognize the history of this land (I’m talking about the entire country here) and prioritize Native American culture in the way that it should be. I can however offer my perspective of my personal experiences since I’ve been here. I think is best summarized in my first experience with the Stanford Native American Cultural Centre (NACC).
My first week on campus, I got invited to the NACC for a welcome back barbeque. I didn’t really know anybody on campus at that point, so I was a bit nervous heading along. I was unsure where the NACC even was. This was best highlighted by the fact that I accidentally stood in line at the Chicano/a and Latino/a Community Centre barbeque that was happening on the same day just across the lawn at the Old Union Complex. When I embarrassingly realised that I was in the wrong place I quickly rushed across to the NACC.
The first thing that struck me was how similar it felt to being home at the Māori Centre at my university in Aotearoa. It’s hard to explain, but it just did. In regard to having a lot of food, drinks and eating outside it was just like any other barbeque, but something felt like home. I think it was the people — not just the NACC staff either, but everyone: the students, their guests and everyone else who was there.
Trying to describe the “vibe” of something is so difficult and abstract, like trying to describe a color. But the people there represented many of the same core values that we champion in Māori culture in Aotearoa. Most notably, Manaakitanga (hospitality), whanaungatanga (family-like relationships) and kotahitanga (unity). Not only were they all present that day, they were unspoken. I believe that is key. If you force those values and make them explicit then they lose much of what they are. They happen because they are important, not because someone forces you to do them.
Since that day I have had the privilege of many more experiences with the Native American community on campus, such as the Indigenous Peoples day paddle around Alcatraz, the First Nations Futures program and performing with the Kaorihiva dance group. Throughout them all I have felt those strong indigenous values permeate. To paraphrase the prominent Māori academic Linda Smith, the values and forms of contemporary western knowledge are not the same as traditional values and ways of knowing that indigenous peoples speak of. She is right. They are different, and often hard to describe unless you can experience them. But being surrounded by people who embrace them as well, even 10,000 kilometers from home, is familiar and comfortable. Thank you to all those who have made my stay here so great. Ngā mihi nui i tāku Stanford whānau (a massive thanks to my Stanford family).
— Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle, visiting Māori graduate student to Stanford on a Fulbright Scholarship from Aotearoa New Zealand