In order to achieve our goals of making the conference widely accessible to interested communities, and to create an environment which supports and generates Pacific and more broadly Indigenous research collaborations, we were guided by values of relationality deeply held in the Pacific, Aotearoa, and Indigenous communities in particular.
Shawn Wilson (Opaskwayak Cree) writes that for Indigenous people, research is ceremony:
In our cultures an integral part of any ceremony is setting the stage properly. When ceremonies take place, everyone who is participating needs to be ready to step beyond the everyday and to accept a raised state of consciousness. You could say that the specific rituals that make up the ceremony are designed to get the participants into a state of mind that will allow for the extraordinary to take place. As one Elder explained it to me: if it is possible to get every single person in a room thinking about the exact same thing for only two seconds, then a miracle will happen. […] For me, putting ideas in a circle or wheel indicates that they are interrelated and that each blends into the next. It also implies that the ideas flow from one to the next in a cyclical fashion. A change in one affects the others, which in turn effects new change in the original. All parts of the circle are equal; no part can claim superiority over, or even exist without, the rest of the circle.
Shawn Wilson (2008) Research is ceremony. pp. 69-70.
In a very similar spirit, when we conceived of the conference, we thought of research as wānanga (collective pursuit of knowledge) or as talanoa (collaborative group discussion) — as research endeavours where (like in Wilson’s circle) interactions are inclusive, participatory and proactive. It was not to be about dissecting competing ideas but about building things up to see how they work — in often experiential and experimental ways. COVID-19 has tied our hands somewhat, but we have always wanted to translate these values, which were generated in face-to-face situations, into an online environment. This conference was the beginning of our collective translation and we welcomed attendees to participate and help us adapt and tweak the technology to our goals.
Our wero and challenge was that we – the Vā Moana - Pacific Spaces team – wanted attendees to contribute to and support a safe, welcoming and respectful conference experience for everyone. As a team we want to promote and foster kindness, respect, and patience when engaging in onsite and online talanoa panel discussions. Vā Moana values the opportunity to share and learn from all of the participants present. We invited attendees to help us to provide a safe space for forms of difference that have been marginalised or excluded on the basis of gender, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, race or socioeconomic status (and others) in mainstream Western institutions.