Understanding one’s background is key to self-discovery and fruition, so it is no surprise that Indigenous peoples are intent on the separation of their pedagogies and theories from those of the Western societies that colonized them. Instead of accepting a one-lifestyle-fits-all approach, they are determined to reconnect with their roots by studying the influence of their culture and historical background and the impression it leaves on social movements and the personal development of others. Using feminism as an example, Māori women believe that the Western definition of feminism is too broad and assumptive, and quick to leave out traces of historical and cultural impact. Māori people argue that those factors are crucial to developing new theories and defining movements, and Māori women state that sexual oppression is tied together with historical and culture oppression caused by colonization. Essentially, Indigenous peoples approach theory and pedagogy with a firm grasp on their background and the effect it has on the present movements, and this can contrast with Western views of feminism.
One primary issue Māori women have with Western feminism is the connotation of feminism in Indigenous cultures versus Western society; this is, perhaps, best described as the Indigenous abrasion to the conventional meaning associated with feminism coined by said cultures due to the obligation of white matriarchy. Dr. Leonie Pihama, a Māori scholar and activist states that “we [Māori women] are forever trying to see ourselves in the images created by the colonisers.” (4). The opinions and traditions of Indigenous peoples, especially women, have been diluted at best and erased at worst in terms of various movements started by Western culture. Instead of immediately discussing theory and change under the predetermined Western definitions, Indigenous people first must combat the adverse effects of colonialism and build a cornerstone for the development of theory and eventual pedagogy. Western societies fail to address the cultural and historical struggles of Indigenous people, therefore not starting with the underlying problem, and consequently having a weak foundation for mutuality in social movements.
This leads to another point of contrast: the assumption by Western and white cultures that one stance or classification fits all, thereby assuming positions for multitudes of diverse peoples without acknowledging the cultural and historical struggles of Indigenous peoples. Awatere argues that the “ability to control definitions is a consequence of white power and privilege.” (Pihama 5). While Western mainstream feminism focuses on sexual oppression, Indigenous feminism believes sexual oppression is rooted in cultural and historical oppression, arguing that the concepts are inseparable. This suggests that the best ally for Indigenous feminists is not Western feminists, but instead the men of their culture and background who have struggled with similar injustices. “It is Māori women and Māori men,” Pihama states, “who are more likely to be working alongside each other.” (8). This is contradictive to standard Western feminism, which often drives a wedge even further between men and women. If women across the world are to unite together for a form of global feminism and justice, it is vital that the Western feminists acknowledge the struggles unique to Indigenous women.
To combat the effects of colonization and its ties to feminism, many Māori women have reinvented their original place in society per the Mana Wahine theory. Pihama defines Mana Wahine theory as “a particular form of Māori theory that affirms the position and status of Māori women.” (10). Mana, loosely translated, means being simultaneously of the earth and ethereal, while Wahine means everything that is female and feminine in the Māori culture. This theory challenges the current view of Māori women and encourages people to study and hypothesize what happens at the juncture of being both Māori and female. It also directly addresses the impact of colonization and vocalizes what it has done and will continue to do unless changed. When lived out, this theory exemplifies the rediscovery of the position of Māori women in their culture as one of strength in a system that currently lessens their status. Through it people are reminded of the critical role Māori women play in society, and it reaffirms their worth in both cultural and historical practices.
Mana Wahine lays the groundwork for a cultural framework that can begin to withhold the pedagogical chains that impede growth for Māori children in the education system. Colonial ideologies of race, culture, and gender must be addressed and separated from the hoard of Western teachings thrust upon indigenous societies. Western theoretical frameworks are often generalized and assume all-inclusiveness without assessing the impact of colonization on historical and cultural issues. Indigenous peoples must break that mold and contend with the current system, showing that the history and culture of a people are crucial to the education of their youth. Indigenous peoples do not want history, culture, and tradition forgotten, creating generations of people brainwashed by Western culture. By equipping the Māori people with a rediscovered understanding of the cultural and historical impact colonization has had, their decedents can address social issues and lay the foreground for political change.
Pihama, Dr. Leonie. “Mana Wahine: Positioning Māori Women’s Theory.” (2015).