College of Social Sciences and JABSOM signed the Letter of Understanding

Academic units at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa have entered into an international indigenous research partnership with the University of Auckland and Massey University in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Their goal is to connect scholars who are interested in multidisciplinary and collaborative community-based research in the Pacific.

“We have a special obligation as a globally connected research university to foster collaborations throughout our academic disciplines that strive to address indigenous issues, Hawaiian issues, and the issues that affect Hawaiʻi’s communities,” said Denise Konan, dean of the College of Social Sciences, whose Department of Ethnic Studies is named in the research partnership, along with the Department of Native Hawaiian Health of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).

Together the partner institutions have crafted a letter of understanding to describe their motivation. Central to this agreement is the theme, “To Uplift the Mana and Aspirations of Indigenous Peoples,” which expresses the positive and collective aspirations associated with co-operative activities.

“Our draw card is the research work that we do has to benefit the needs of the people; it has to benefit communities,” said Everdina Fuli, business manager for the Te Whare Kura Thematic Research Initiative, a network of more than 250 Māori, Pacific and non-indigenous faculty members across the University of Auckland who carry out Māori and Pacific research.

“Our researchers want to help not only their own communities, but the wider indigenous global community,” Fuli said.

The new partnership has already been fruitful. Researchers have completed a number of exchange visits and investigated opportunities for research, mentoring and idea-sharing. In addition, JABSOM and Te Whare Kura have recently teamed up with the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute at the University of Washington, winning a five-year T37 training grant from the National Institutes of Health that was awarded in December 2013. Their Mahina Project: International Indigenous Health Research Training Program will provide a 12-week health research training opportunity in New Zealand to qualified undergraduate, graduate and medical students at UH Mānoa and the University of Washington. The new training program is slated to start in mid-2015.

“The grant will allow us to focus on indigenous students—undergraduates and a few graduates—in becoming biomedical and behavioral scientists,” said Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula, chair of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at JABSOM.

Indigenous values of respect, generosity, hospitality, sharing, tolerance, honesty, patience and integrity underpin the new partnership agreement. Its key principles include “…service to indigenous communities, decisions fulfilled by consensus, and leadership in research excellence in scholarly endeavors,” as described in the letter of understanding.

“We seek to honor our different genealogies as we bring our kupuna with us to the table,” said Ty Kāwika Tengan, chair of ethnic studies at UH Mānoa. “We want to do those things that are positive to uplift the collective mana that comes when we pool this indigenous knowledge —these practices based in place that distinguish us as people of the Pacific.”

A UH Mānoa news release

—By Talia Ogliore